Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
The line has indeed been crossed. Around this time, the international governing body for swimming has just voted to remove the word "amateur" from its name and its rules. Some of the Olympic athletes are complaining that they don't have the opportunity to go pro in their sport even though it's obvious someone is making money from their labors, so other sports federations with amateur restrictions are likely feeling the heat. There can be no going back, just as in tennis in 1968.
To be simultaneously fair and catty to Evert, her figurative tennis odometer had reached 1,000,000 miles years ago. She has been saying she has difficulty getting "psyched up" for matches, sometimes even at the majors and/or against top rivals, for years. Yes, she's jaded, and that's a big problem because she's a professional entertainer, but she's jaded about everything, not just the Olympics. She's a highly exceptional case. Steffi is certainly giving it everything she has, and if she sounds like a punch-drunk fighter, it's because of everything she's gone through in the past two months, not because she doesn't care about the Olympics.
SPORTS OF THE TIMES; Crossing The Magic Line
September 30, 1988
New York Times
SEOUL, South Korea— THERE will barely be time for Cynthia Cooper to unpack her bags in Los Angeles before she has to leave for Italy. This is the bitter reality for the best female basketball players in the United States, where there is no place to play after college ball.
No time to visit friends, no time to display the gold medal she won yesterday when the United States beat Yugoslavia in the final.
''I can average 40 points in Italy but I never get the full joy from it,'' Cooper said. ''In the States, I could be like Magic Johnson, not that I'm that good. . . .''
Most of the American men, who lost to a deserving Soviet team in the semifinals on Wednesday, will soon be attending their first professional training camp, the big time for them.
But the 12 American women felt like Magic Johnson winning a second straight National Basketball Association title last June. This is what the Olympics are supposed to be: the biggest event in all the sports that were formerly called ''amateur.''
For better and for worse, that term so beloved in the age of Avery Brundage has almost no usefulness in the era of Juan Antonio Samaranch. More than half the women on the United States team earn quite liveable salaries in Italy or Japan.
''It's easy money,'' admitted Jennifer Gillom, who plays in Bologna, Italy. ''A couple of games a week, practice, lots of time.''
For these nomads, there are foreign leagues, and the world championships, and the 1990 Goodwill Games in Seattle, and the Summer Games every four years.
For canoers and kayakers, archers and equestrians, weight lifters and wrestlers, the Summer Games are it. They materialize into our consciousness once every four years, so skilled and so eager.
But there is a level of athlete that already has other summits, bigger payoffs, deeper thrills. There is no easy way to define who they are, except to say, as former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart is believed to have said about obscenity, ''I can't define it, but I know it when I see it.''
YOU could call it the Gretzky Gap. The Connors Chasm. The Valenzuela Valley. The Maradona Measure. This week it was surely The Evert Edge. Nothing personal against Mrs. Johnson's son Earvin, but you could also call it The Magic Line.
There is a grade of professional for whom the Olympic Games would be a cute diversion, an extra honor, perhaps a noblesse oblige, a national responsibility, or just another business trip. That was what Evert made it sound like this week when she was eliminated from the first gold-medal Olympic tennis event since 1924.
''It's very difficult when you are a tennis player and you have great tournaments like Wimbledon, the United States Open, the French, to get 100 percent psyched up for the Olympics,'' Evert said, albeit after losing to the unseeded Raffaella Reggi.
Evert's belated desire to be an Olympian - or more likely her advisors telling her it would be good business - caused Elise Burgin, a respected but unspectacular professional, to be crudely bumped from the team.
For Burgin, the Games would have been a gas. Even Steffi Graf, one match away from the Golden Slam, sounds like a punch-drunk fighter trying to stay on her feet at the end of a 15-round championship brawl.
Although the networks would surely love to have Wayne Gretzky and Larry Bird and Darryl Strawberry in the Olympics, it is important for big-buck sports to show some restraint.
Socialist countries like the Soviet Union, the German Democratic Republic and absent Cuba have developed state athletes for whom the Summer and Winter Games are the ultimate goal. Wait until the Soviet Union gets the hang of baseball in a decade or two.
But Mark Marquess, the baseball coach from Stanford University, who led the United States to a demonstration-sport gold medal on Wednesday, put in a huge plug for college players to continue to represent the United States.
''I believe 19- and 20-year-olds would have more enthusiasm than older players,'' Marquess said. ''I want it to stay the way it is.''
THERE is serious movement to open the Summer Games even more. Marginal pro hockey players carpetbagged into the Winter Games last February. And yesterday Borislav Stankovitz of Yugoslavia, the general secretary of the world basketball federation, endorsed crossing the Magic Line.
Stankovitz said the board would meet in April to consider accepting full-fledged professionals into world events. The Soviet Union has proposed limiting the 1990 world championship teams to two professionals each.
Stankovitz explained why he favors admitting professionals:
''There are no longer any basketball players who do not receive some money,'' he began. ''Also, we have over 200 million people playing basketball around the world but outside this large family there are only 300 players - the best players in the world. This is absurd.
''And technically speaking, the professional teams are stronger than ours, but we believe that all players should play against the best. If we admit professionals, once again the Americans will be the strongest. But that gap will be reduced.''
Stankovitz makes good sense on all three points, but he overlooks the attitude of professionals, or soon-to-be professionals. While John Thompson's selection and coaching must be questioned, the real problem may have been that these 12 players had more important career tests ahead of them. For them, this may have been an interesting summer interlude, at best. Now they go on to see if they can handle Michael Jordan.
The most respectful thing anybody could do for the Olympic movement is to make each category be the highest competition for all the players, not another whistlestop on a tour. Evert, one of the great competitors in sport, could not get up for the Summer Games. It's called The Magic Line.