Big Olympics for Canada; why marathon trials?
So much happened at the Olympics there's no end to the things one wants to write about - even one who viewed them from afar via TV. So before we consign the Los Angeles Games to mothballs, here are a few last postscripts.
* Somewhat overlooked in all the excitement about US success, China's athletic emergence, and the Soviet boycott was the outstanding performance of Canadian athletes. Canada was fourth in the overall medal count with 44, including 10 golds - far better than ever before. Canadian swimmers won four golds (their first in 72 years), while others came in canoeing, diving, shooting , gymnastics, and rowing. The showing was particularly strong in two new events added for their combination of athleticism and grace, as Lori Fung won the rhythmic gymnastics gold while Carolyn Waldo took second place in the synchronized swimming solo competiton and the Canadian team also claimed a silver in the duet.
* America's neighbor to the south, Mexico, also came out better than it had at either Montreal or Moscow with two golds and six medals overall. The Mexicans swept their specialty, the walking races, with Ernesto Canto and Raul Gonzalez finishing 1-2 in the 20-kilometer event and Gonzalez coming back to take the 50k - all to the delight of the L.A. area's big Mexican-American community.
* The disappointing showings of American male marathoners opens up again the controversy over the US trial system. One issue is whether this country should continue its virtually unique policy of subjecting even its top athletes to the risks of one-shot trials. But if we do continue to use such a system, there is still the question of timing - especially in a race as long and arduous as the marathon.
The US men's trial was held May 26 - and both TV commentator Marty Liquori and long-time marathon star Bill Rodgers expressed the opinion that this wasn't enough time for full recovery. They said some leading competitors hadn't run that far for between six months and a year.
Joan Benoit did win the women's marathon after competing in trials, but the fact that one exceptional and determined athlete was able to overcome such a disadvantage hardly proves that others should be forced to try it. And as for Frank Shorter's victory in 1972, one needs only to point out that he is the lone US winner of the race since 1908, and the only one to win a medal of any kind since 1924.
The message is clear: If we must have marathon trials, let's make them early enough that they don't put our runners at a disadvantage in the Games.
* Just as Reggie Jackson and other baseball players have turned the ''home run trot'' into a virtual art form, so have some Olympians developed superior ''gold medal gyrations.'' There are plenty of candidates, but in my book the winners in this category are Canadian swimmers Victor Davis and Alex Baumann. Davis, who won the 200 breaststroke, showed us the victory grimace to end all victory grimaces. And if there was anything Baumann did better than swim the individual medley (he won both of them) it was the way he virtually exploded out of the pool in triumph afterward.