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Wednesday, September 20, 2000

Birthday suits the norm in waterpolo

 SYDNEY - One of the qualities of sport at the Olympic level is the competition lays bare the incredible athletic talents of the athletes.

 If you hang around the waterpolo pool, there's a pretty good chance you'll see a lot more than that. They're ripping through more bathing suits at the Ryde Aquatic Centre than in the making of the movie Jaws. Bondi Beach, site of beach volleyball, was supposed to be the place for a titillation.


 A Russian player swam up to Australian centre back Naomi Castle in their game, grabbed her breast and ripped the suit right off it. What she was left with was something that looked like it was bought out of the back of a men's magazine or out of a shop on Ste-Catherine St. in Montreal.

 Castle, being the modest Australian lass that she is, played for about 90 seconds before modesty overcame her competitiveness and she left the game.

 Just because Castle is recognized as one of the best defenders in the world and the fact she was forced to leave the game was, of course, merely a coincidence. When they say a player undressed another on a play in waterpolo, they mean it.

 The Russians wrecked 10 swimsuits in that game. At about $100 wholesale, that can put a pretty good dent in an amateur team's budget.

 "They're expensive suits," said Canadian captain Cora Campbell. "And they're getting ripped like crazy." It's been suggested the Russian players are using their naked aggression to prey on the modesty of some women. Athletes must often let it all hang out to achieve excellence, but they are speaking of giving their all, not showing all they've got.

 "The Russians are the worst ones," said Campbell, who's from Calgary. "There's been a lot of grabbing of the chest, the backs of the arms, fingers to the throat and kicking. They play that way to get you off your game or to get you to retaliate."

 When asked about the modesty issue, she didn't blush. "I don't get out," she said. "I'd played naked if I had to."

 Canadian driver Waneek Horn-Miller, who looks fiercely from the cover of Time wearing only a waterpolo ball, had to go underwater the other night to shed a shredded suit and pull on a fresh uni. So has Jana Salat. Tuesday Ann Dow had to do the same.

 The Canadian women got four of the new suits apiece, but some of them are giving them to players like Sue Gardiner, the big centre forward who is in the middle of the mauling.

 If you don't include boxing, wrestling, judo or those other sports where hitting, clutching and grabbing are the whole idea, waterpolo is the most vicious sport here.

 At this point in the program, eyes are black, arms are pink (from fingernail scratches, mostly) and teams are in the red because of the escalating swimsuit cost.

 "It's a pretty big problem for us," said Istvan Gorgenyi, the coach of the Australian team. "It's a little disappointing because I anticipated this problem and I started writing letters about it 15 or 16 months ago for them to develop a perfect suit."

 The people involved in the game see that the bathing suit issue exposes an underlying problem in the game. Suits are getting ripped because players are being mauled and prevented from scoring.

 Sound familiar?

 It's not unlike the constant discussion in Canada about obstruction in the National Hockey League and how it levels the playing field, allowing slower, less talented players to drag those who are gifted down to their level.

 It makes for boring hockey on many nights. Unfortunately for female fans, there remains little chance of seeing, say, Eric Lindros going au naturel, no matter how much he been groped.

 All the wrestling and grabbing in waterpolo keeps the better players from getting open and scoring goals.

 "It's a very serious issue for the future of our game and what direction we want waterpolo to take," said Gorgenyi. "This wrestling game or a spectacular game?" So, as much as sex sells - and we've seen a lot of skin at these Games - the waterpolo types figure no nudes is good nudes.