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harloo
Aug 16th, 2004, 11:14 PM
Martina slams Olympic money machine



BY FILIP BONDY
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER

ATHENS - Martina Navratilova feels older than 47 at these Summer Games, older than the Olympic flame.
"I wish I was 27," she said last night after a first-round doubles victory with partner Lisa Raymond. "I feel like I don't belong. I look around, they all look 10."

Those other athletes are a bit older than that, but they sound like toddlers if you compare their perceptions to those of Navratilova. As you might expect, Martina at her first Olympics is no shrinking laurel wreath.

In short order last night, Navratilova ripped corporate sponsors, the hypocrisy of the Olympic movemen, and George Bush. She said she would always be a Czech. You thought maybe she didn't want to be wearing the U.S. uniform, but that wasn't her point at all.

"Oh, no, no, no, no, absolutely not," she said. "I'm in absolute disagreement with the policies of our administration, and certainly am in great hopes that John Kerry will win this fall. But you know, I'm still proud to be an American. That will always be the case ... 'Star-Spangled Banner,' man."

She had never come to the Olympics before, though she might have cleaned up. Tennis became a full medal sport for the second time in 1988 at Seoul, when Steffi Graf won the women's singles competition. Navratilova became a U.S. citizen in 1981, won her last Wimbledon singles in 1990, and might have given Graf a run for her medal.

Navratilova always expressed ambiguity about the event, and even wondered whether tennis should be a part of it. There is still plenty wrong with the Games, she said, but she has decided that tennis is a global sport that deserves representation - more than say, biathlon.

"I have mixed emotions about how the whole thing is run because everybody makes money off it but the athletes," she said of the Olympics. "I'm still not in agreement with this Olympic ideal, all this stuff, because that's a bunch of baloney that was started by Pierre de Coubertin. That was just a way of keeping the riffraff away from the rich people.

"They're trying to keep it pure, but that means that only people that pay money can have their logos out there. People that don't pay money to the Olympic committee or various federations can't be seen."

Navratilova spent much of the Opening Ceremony posing with other athletes for photos (she noted that the U.S. basketball players were not as generous). She talked at length with wrestler Rulon Gardner, "a fellow country bumpkin," about being an athlete from a small town. Gardner has said that Martina is his favorite athlete ever.

She likes watching the women's team sports the most. Her memories of past Olympic heroes include Czech gymnast Vera Caslavska and American sprinter Bob Hayes. After 58 Grand Slam titles in singles and doubles, a gold medal would be something different, if nothing else.

Last night Navratilova and Raymond had no trouble dispatching the Ukrainian doubles team of Yuliya Beygeizimer and Tetyana Perebiynis, 6-0, 6-2. They had to win twice, because their lost their first match point on an overrule.

After waiting this long, Navratilova could afford to wait another point, to hit another forehand.