Thursday, August 1, 1996
Smith victim of stooge-like planning
By JIM O'LEARY --
Executive Producer SLAM! Sports
ATLANTA -- It is the longest day in sport, and on this day it was the cruellest.
Alarm ringing at 4:45 a.m., in the starting blocks at 9 a.m., home to bed at midnight -- so you can roll out of the sack at first light to do it all over again. Nineteen-hour days, back to back, that test every pound of muscle and every ounce of nerve in an athlete's body. That's the Olympic decathlon.
The days are long but sometimes the night between them can seem longer.
Mike Smith had one of those nights as the Olympic decathlon passed the midway point.
Smith stands in 16th place, 292 points out of the final medal position and all but crushed, heading into Day 2 of the competition. Tired, dejected, disillusioned, he'll place his head on the pillow knowing that, even if he sleeps, there'll be no Olympic dream in Atlanta.
Smith's superiority in the two throwing events, discuss and javelin, guarantee he'll make up some ground Thursday, but not even Hercules could overcome the non-stop bungling of the people who have (dis)organized these Olympics.
Maybe it was unrealistic to expect that a group of Larrys and Moes who can't make a single bus schedule work would be able to organize a 10-event athletic competition like the decathlon.
The decathletes were supposed to have a four-hour break in the middle of the day, when the sun was at its hottest, to return to the village to cool off, eat and nap. Instead, the schedule fell hopelessly behind because Larry (or was it Moe?) slotted the pole vault and the decathlon for the same space in the Olympic Stadium at the same time. When push came to shove, the guys with the big sticks got the field and the decathletes were left to lolligag about and become a human stir fry.
They were stuck at the stadium all day. By the time Smith was elminated from the high jump at about 8 p.m., he was feeling fatigued, hungry, hot, lightheaded and irritated. He'd run out of gas and required an intravenous top-up of salt water before the start of the 400 metres.
But he didn't get the high test. His 400-metre time of 51.97 seconds may have been his slowest in the 10 years he has competed for Canada.
"I just felt stiff and slow,'' Smith said.
At one point, the schedule maker intended to push the 400 metres back 90 minutes, to 10:50 pm, for reasons only Curly might understand. It took a protest from the coaches (a sort of verbal smack on the noggin) to smarten him up, but it was too late to help Smith.
"Obviously the schedule changes affected everybody,'' Smith said. "I wasn't too happy about it. I've been up for about 17 hours. It's been a long day.''
Smith, 28, has won gold at Commonwealth Games, won major international meets and Canadian championships, but the Olympics have been unkind. In 1988, as Dave Steen was winning a bronze, Smith finished a respectable 14th in his rookie Olympics. By 1992 he was widely touted to medal, perhaps win gold, but instead wrecked a hamstring and went home after the first day.
He returned for a third crack with a new coach (Romanian Les Gramantic), a new address (Calgary) and a modified physique (more muscular). The Smith that lined up in the blocks Wednesday morning in the opening event, the 100-metre, was stronger, shrewder and more fit than the one that carried the flag to lead Team Canada into the Barcelona Games.
But nothing could have prepared him for the Atlanta Stooges. Their bungling caused some of the world's finest athletes to broil in the mid-day sun. Smith, the largest athlete in the field at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, was hurt the most.
He'll remember this day as being hot enough to melt an Olympic medal.