The Summer Olympics: Notebook

  • Share
  • Read Later

Wireless World

Everybody at the Olympics seems to be on the mobile. Athletes, coaches, officials and fans are constantly whispering into their cell phones, often driving others nuts. On the night of the opening ceremony, 125,000 calls were made from inside the main Olympic Stadium, including thousands placed by athletes as they marched in the opening parade. At the weightlifting venue, the ringing of mobiles frequently disrupted the concentration of lifters, leading to speculation that some of the calls were deliberately placed to disturb opponents.

Raising the Bar

Some firsts are good; others are as welcome as the plague. The weightlifting venue in the Sydney Convention Center saw plenty of both last week: Colombia's first-ever Olympic gold, India's first women's medal, Mexico's first weight- lifting gold and, sadly, the first woman lifter to be stripped of gold for a positive drug test. But you'd expect a lot of firsts: this is the initial appearance of women's weightlifting as an Olympic sport.

Colombia's Maria Isabel Urrutia was overwhelmed by the weight of her gold. "It's a huge responsibility for me to win the medal," she said. "It's the first time in history the Colombian anthem has been played at the Olympics." Meanwhile Indian Karnam Malleswari was thrilled with her bronze in the 69-kg class, particularly since the media at home has been less than kind about her, um, chubbiness. "If anyone is still in doubt about my weight," she says, "ask me or my coach."

Having won the first gold of the competition Bulgarian Izabela Dragneva had the dubious distinction of becoming the first woman lifter to have her medal taken away, after testing positive, like countrymen Ivan Ivanov and Sevdalin Angelov, for a banned diuretic. Now she's also the first woman weightlifter to be sent home.

The Champ!

Maybe you've heard of Millie, Syd and Ollie, the three official Olympic mascots. But what about Stuarti, the forgotten mascot? His Greek name is Antechinus, and he's a small, brown carnivorous marsupial native to Sydney. This is his big month—but not because of the Olympics. He has his own marathon event. He spends the first and only year of his life fattening himself up, and then for about six weeks at the end of summer he does nothing but mate. He doesn't eat, he doesn't sleep, he doesn't do anything else. Sometimes he will copulate for 36 hours at a time. Right around September, all of the male stuarties just keel over and die of exhaustion. Kind of like the ultimate closing ceremony. "They basically disintegrate," says Sydney biologist Geoff Ross. "But don't be too upset. After all, he dies in a state of ecstasy." Too bad the i.o.c. did away with demonstration sports.

Needle Park

Sydneysiders may cherish their easygoing reputation and the Australian concept of the "fair go" (everyone deserves a kick at goal in the great footy game of life), but the stocking of the Olympic Village with bins for used syringes would a—ppear to be taking things too far. More than 700 receptacles were installed on Sept. 19 following complaints by cleaning staff who found several used syringes in athletes' trash cans. Despite appearances, Olympic Village managers are not encouraging illegal doping. Most of the syringes are used for vitamin injections, according to Dr. Ken Crichton, head of athlete care in the Village, who says many sportsmen believe that such injections can help ward off infections. How is the cleaning crew holding up under the pressure of the most crowded Olympics ever? "Imagine a house of men," says one. "Imagine your worst scenario, and triple it."

Speed Queen

She was pegged for possible gold in the 400-m dash, but Marie-JosE Perec outdid her competitors by sprinting an additional 6,000 km. When the French track star mysteriously turned up in Singapore a day before her race heats were set to begin, it became clear that Perec was not so much running as running away. Friends say the three-time Olympic gold medalist was simply overwhelmed by the prospect of racing against Aussie darling and Olympic torchbearer Cathy Freeman. Others sniped that she was worried about failing a drug test. Whatever the reason, one of Sydney's great match-ups had failed to materialize, and France's La Gazelle had lost her once-vaunted grace.

High Five

You wouldn't think Steve Redgrave, gold-medal winner in each of the previous four Olympics, would have anything more to prove. But his British crew was seeded an unflattering fourth in the coxless four, downgraded after a loss earlier this year. Last weekend the oarsman who had announced his intention to retire at Atlanta—swearing at the '96 Games: "Anyone sees me go anywhere near a boat again, you have my permission to shoot me"—converted his fury into a fifth title at Sydney. "Most of the racing we do does not have passion. Today had passion," said Redgrave, after his crew edged the Italians by the width of an oar. Redgrave is now the only man to have won gold medals in an endurance sport at five successive Olympics.

Redgrave's Olympic honors started in Los Angeles in 1984 in the coxed four. After that, he earned three straight Olympic triumphs in the coxless pair. In between, he earned nine World Championships. "You have to be very single-minded about what you're trying to achieve," he says, with no trace of irony. A 1997 diagnosis of late-onset diabetes was just a hiccup in 20 years of dedicated training. That 1996 retirement, by the way, lasted only a few months. In Sydney, Redgrave said: "There's a likelihood this could be my last Olympics." Unless something ticks him off again.

Face Time

Orlando Vasquez of Nicaragua looks oddly relaxed for a man hoisting hundreds of pounds of steel overhead. The calm demeanor turned out to be no reflection of success: he placed 18th in his weight class. An in-depth review of other athletes' methods seems to prove there is no correlation between facial elastics and medal prospects.

How he placed
15th, men's 56-kg (123-lb.) category

How she placed
9th, women's 75-kg (165-lb.) category

WANDA RIJO Dominican Republic
How she placed
8th, women's 75-kg (165-lb.) category

How she placed
10th, women's 75-kg (165-lb.) category