Which will it be, a drug-free Olympics or the most doped Games ever?
From the creatine and steroids that are being abused on high school football teams to the HGH (human growth hormone) and EPO that enhance recovery time and, thus, improve training for world-class athletes, performance-enhancing substances have altered the sports landscape.
Last week, the International Olympic Committee trumpeted its steps to police the use of EPO - the hormone erthyropoietin. EPO, which increases the production of oxygen-rich red blood cells, was developed to help victims of kidney diseases but has become the banned substance of choice among endurance athletes who cheat.
Should there be an epidemic of injuries, illness, and a desire for family time among cyclists and distance runners in early September, the assumption will be that the absentees decided that risk of a positive drug test wasn't worth the possible reward of Olympic gold.
The IOC's stance on drugs has long been held in contempt.
At best, it's a Keystone Cops operation, always one step behind the bad guy; at worst, it's a foul system in which positive tests for stars are covered up.
Giving credence to the conspiracy theorists is the lawsuit alleging corruption in the U.S. Olympic Committee brought by Dr. Wade Exum, its former drug-control director.
Clean athletes themselves share the blame, because they use insinuation instead of coming out and pointing directly at cheaters.
The IOC was patting itself on the back last week, but its plans to test for EPO are neither all-encompassing nor in the books.
Of approximately 10,000 athletes in Sydney, as few as 300 could be randomly tested for EPO.
The IOC will review the matter again in late August, and it will face pressure to back down. Expect legal challenges to the validity of the blood and urine tests that jointly confirm a positive for EPO.
How complicated are the turf wars over training aids, be they illegal or legal?
An American firm is suing the Australian organizers, who have banned the company's altitude-simulating tents in the Olympic village. Athletes sleep in an oxygen-deprived environment, thus increasing their lung capacity.
As an example of a bureaucracy having to flirt with a deadline, the EPO situation parallels the swimsuit controversy that has engulfed USA Swimming.
When U.S. trials begin Wednesday in Indianapolis, competitors will be allowed to wear full-body suits.
Speedo, Nike, and other manufacturers tout them as aiding buoyancy, which in itself is against the rules. In June, USA Swimming banned the suits' use at the trials, arguing that they weren't readily available to everyone.
The governing body did a flip last month, when it bowed to the threat of legal action by manufacturers and approved the suits for use at the trials.
A hospital theft two weeks ago in central Australia added to the intrigue over EPO and the IOC. Nearly 1,000 syringes containing the drug were stolen from a hospital in Alice Springs. The syringes are worth millions on the black market - and they don't have to get by Aussie customs inspectors.
Mount St. Joe's hopefuls
Could the Mount St. Joseph Class of 1998 produce two Olympians?
Once a week, Tom Hannan and Mark Teixeira have a long-distance conversation, updating their Olympic dreams. Each has the same goal, but their paths, one objective and the other subjective, couldn't be more varied.
Hannan is a swimmer at the University of Texas, and to get to Sydney, he needs to finish in the top two at the U.S. trials. The 100-meter butterfly is his best shot.
Teixeira is regarded as the nation's best amateur baseball player, and he could be selected No. 1 in the 2001 free-agent draft, after his junior year at Georgia Tech.
Olympic baseball has gone professional, but the third baseman hopes that manager Tom Lasorda and the rest of the selection committee are open to a collegian on the U.S. roster.
Teixeira has been the batting star for the national team, the collegians who in years past would have been Olympians.
The national team completed a 25-game tour of the United States last Tuesday, when Teixeira hit his second walk-off home run of the summer. Both came in extra innings and beat Taiwan.
The national team will return from a tournament in The Netherlands on Aug. 15. The U.S. Olympic roster will be announced Aug. 23.
Joanna Zeiger, the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health doctoral student who will represent the United States in the first Olympic triathlon, was second in the Newfoundland World Cup on July 30. ... Bruce Bennett, who has coached U.S. freestyle wrestlers since 1992, will be the head coach at the U.S. Naval Academy after the Games. ... John Ellinger, the former UMBC coach who directs the national under-17 soccer team, will assist Clive Charles on the U.S. Olympic men's team. ... Kentucky men's basketball coach Tubby Smith, a St. Mary's County native, is one of Rudy Tomjanovich's assistants on Dream Team III. ... How deep is Kenya in the men's 5,000 meters? Led by Sammy Kipketer, five Kenyans - and eight men, all told - went under 13 minutes in a race in Oslo, Norway. The Olympic record is 13:05.59.
Paul McMullen can be reached at McMullenSun@aol.com or 410-332-6662 .