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Wednesday, September 27, 2000

Medals don't make Olympians

Williams misses point of Games


 SYDNEY -- You can win a million Olympic medals.

 It still doesn't make you an Olympian.

 There's a definite difference. And you can see that difference in American tennis star Venus Williams.

 She may compete at the Olympics. She may stand on the podium. They may play her national anthem while she's standing up there.

 NOT AN OLYMPIAN

 But she is not an Olympian.

 In fact, she would be the perfect choice as poster child for why pros shouldn't be allowed in the Games.

 Someone asked her this week what the difference between playing in the Olympics and in a Grand Slam was.

 Her answer?

 "Well, you don't get (Tour) points here."

 How that's for a G'Day, mate?

 When Winnipeg badminton player Kara Solmundson was eliminated from the Games last week, she laughed and said, "My matches are over, but my Olympics are just beginning."

 What she meant was it was time to soak in the unique Olympic atmosphere. To walk the grounds. To attend other sporting events and cheer on her fellow Canadians. To meet people from around the world.

 And enjoy the host city.

 That's what being an Olympian is all about.

 "If you don't do that," said Solmundson, "then you're just going to another badminton tournament. I do that all the time.

 "Here, this is something special. Because every sport is on a different schedule, travelling to different parts of the globe, we don't get this opportunity very often to interact with each other all in one place."

 How did Little Miss Olympian Venus Williams stack up to that statement?

 She said, "No, I'm not going to any other sports. I don't have the time."

 We understand why she's busy. She's played both singles and doubles, something like 11 matches in 10 days, and that's a lot of tennis.

 But she's also 20 years old. You don't get worn out when you're 20 years old.

 She should be out meeting people. Getting a new perspective on life.

 She won't get this chance very often.

 Soon, she'll be back on the Tour, travelling around on a whirlwind schedule, going from airport to hotel to tennis court, and back to the airport again.

 That's the nature of pro sports. I'll talk to old hockey or baseball players, and ask them for their impressions of this city or that city.

 And they'll say: "Well, I only got to see the hockey rink or the baseball diamond.'

 Ask Venus Williams what she thought of the Olympics and what do you expect her to say?

 The tennis court was nice?

 INTERESTING PEOPLE

 Winnipeg softballers Heather and Sandy Newsham were only in Sydney two days when they were asked if they met any interesting people.

 "Tons," said Sandy. "We would just walk around the village and say 'hi' to people. It's amazing how many will stop and chat. We saw Nelson Mandela. We saw athletes that we watched on TV growing up.

 "It's been tremendous that way."

 The sisters met people just by taking a stroll through the village.

 Even if you've played 11 matches in 10 days, walking doesn't take a whole lot of effort.

 But ask Venus how many neat and interesting people she has met since she's been here, and she said, "Well, I think -- I met some people -- I don't remember. I didn't rightly know them, I don't remember."

 Wha-? That proves it.

 Venus is from Mars.

 Even her coach here, Billie Jean King, is out meeting folks from around the world.

 "The essence of the Olympics is meeting other athletes and building relationships outside your own sport," said King. "That's why the Olympics are so great."

 Hopefully, King rubs off on Miss Venus.

 Most people here search for pleasant company. Or someone to trade pins with.

 Venus Williams is still looking for her Tour points.

 She may win Olympic medals.

 But that doesn't make her an Olympian.