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Monday, August 21, 2000

You want Aleksandr Parygin or Tiger Woods?

  Does it make any sense that modern pentathlon is in the Olympics, but golf is not?

 Greg Norman doesn't think so.

 "I think it's a crying shame," the Shark said recently. "If we look at the demographics of golf on a global basis, it far exceeds a lot of demographics of other Olympic sports."

 He's right, although there are a couple of sides to this argument.

 Golf is much more popular on a world-wide scale than modern pentathlon, a sport practised by a few hundred Europeans with loads of money and nothing much better to do. Golf, meanwhile, is played all over the world by millions of people with loads of money and nothing much better to do.

 Professional whining

 It should be noted that neither sport is huge in sub-Sahara Africa, Tibet and most of the islands of Indonesia.

 On the other hand, if golf is to be included, do we have to go through the misery of reading how the best players in the world can't compete at the Games because it conflicts with their pro schedules? This is the kind of crap that occurs when pro sports are added to the Olympics. Pro basketball and tennis players have dropped out of the Sydney Games like flies -- sore this and tired that. As long as there's no money to be won, the Olympics will be a secondary event to multi-millionaire athletes. At least to the modern pentathlon guys, the Olympics is the biggest event on their calendar.

 Still, why not golf, even if a lot of the big names bail? Imagine Mike Weir pulling on a red and white jersey with the Maple Leaf to tee off against Tiger Woods of the U.S., Vijay Singh from Fiji and Colin Montgomerie representing Britain.

 Did anyone get excited when Aleksandr Parygin of Kazakhstan defeated Eduard Zenovka of Russia for the modern pentathlon gold in Atlanta four years ago? Okay, maybe a few decadent Kazakhs.

 The answer is money. If the IOC finally begins to pay athletes a set amount for gold, silver and bronze -- and they can afford it, nudge, nudge, wink, wink -- the big names will show up. And don't give us that bull about the Olympics being for amateur athletes. Donovan Bailey is less amateur than any CFL player. Almost all the kids competing in Sydney next month are full-time athletes. You can't compete at that level anymore by rowing with the lads on weekends. The Olympics are supposed to be the best against the best. Forget about the amateur and pro labels. There really is no such thing anymore. Triathletes train just as hard as pro basketball players. So what if they make $3.6 million a year less. It's the same commitment to the same end.

 And by the way, fencing, swimming, shooting, cross-country running and riding on a horse make up modern pentathlon, just in case you missed the last broadcast of Modern Pentathlon Night in Canada.

 FORE YOUR INFORMATION: Golf was an Olympic sport in the early 1900s and the last guy to win the gold was Toronto's George Lyon in 1904. He accepted his medal by walking the path to the ceremony on his hands. Lyon defeated Chandler Egan of the U.S. in the final. Now there's a golf name.

 HORSING AROUND: Next time you hear an athlete or journalist whine about the length of the trip to Australia for the Olympics, think about our four-legged friends.

 And when you're finished thinking about dogs, take a minute to think of those poor horses who will compete in equestrian events in Sydney.

 A total of 237 horses will be chartered to the Games by the Sydney Organizing Committee. For Canadian horses, who probably don't get a whole pile of stuff from Roots, the trip will take about 30 hours, and that doesn't include the two-week quarantine they must undergo at home before making the trip. Bet they don't fly business class.

 FIVE RING CIRCUS: Is this appropriate or what? The media centre in Sydney is on the site of what used to be cattle and horse pavilions. Imagine the stink and the filth. Worse still, imagine what it was like when the livestock were there ... Heavyweight boxer Michael Bennett, who will fight for the U.S. in Sydney, learned only three months ago that he will be able to enter Australia for the Olympics. Bennett, 29, was released from prison two years ago after completing a seven-year term for armed robbery. In prison, the Chicago native earned a college degree, found God and learned how to box. Nice story. Ironic that his destination will be in Australia, a country originally colonized by British convicts.