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Tuesday, September 26, 2000

Americans in a state of denial

  SYDNEY -- See Marion run.

 See Marion jump.

 See America deny.

 Marion Jones begins the pursuit of her 200-metre and long jump crowns today. You can be sure that in the United States, never is heard a discouraging word.

 Yes, her husband and coach, C.J. Hunter, had levels of nandrolone -- a banned steroid -- 1,000 times higher than normal. That's probably because as an American athlete, he's 1,000 times the man. Any linkage between Hunter, the drug cheat, and Jones, who stood to become the athletic icon of the new millennium, will be drowned out by the flapping sound of Old Glory.

 Yesterday, I wrote that Jones' pursuit of a record five Olympic golds would now be forever tainted. I should have included an essential addendum: Outside of America.

 I love Americans. It's America that ticks me off. Get them in groups of 200 million or more and they become unbearable.

 America is the only country on Earth where ignorance is considered a virtue.

 "This isn't like it is at home."

 "All I need to know, I find in the Bible."

 "I do not recollect the details of that conversation, senator."

 Denial is a national art form and doubt can be wiped away with one chant: "USA, USA."

 Notice to the United States from the rest of the world: Shut up already.

 Moments before their introduction at the Sydney opening ceremony, the Americans began their "USA" chant. They were shouted down by athletes from around the world. The non-American athletes were united not in their own nationalism but by disdain for the Americans' nauseating jingoism.

 But you can't shout down an athletic system reminiscent of the old East German outfit in its ability to churn out drug cheats.

 U.S. officials are very concerned with athletes who use performance-enhancing drugs -- as long as they aren't their own. American women's coach Richard Thorpe said last week he was convinced there were cheats in the pool. So did American swimmer Jenny Thompson. Dutch swimmers Peter van den Hoogenband and Inge de Bruijn were grilled by American journos after their gold-medal swims. But when American Misty Hyman broke her personal-best time by three seconds, no one thought to ask the question.

 In the wake of Hunter's positive test for steroids, NBC host Bob Costas was soothing the folks back home. Since the steroid Hunter was nabbed for was outdated, Costas said, something was fishy. If Hunter was really using a steroid, it would be an undetectable one.

 All this hokum flies in the face of a growing mountain of evidence.

 Dr.Wade Exum, who ran the U.S. doping-control program for the 1996 Atlanta Games, said half of the American athletes caught doping went unpunished and some went on to win medals.

 "The world perception is that the USOC (United States Olympic Committee) does not run a doping-control program, they run a controlled-doping program," he said.

 The International Olympic Committee's medical chief, Prince Alexandre de Merode, said a cone of silence enveloped U.S. athletes who cheated at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

 Let's see, who did get caught at Seoul? Oh yes, Ben Johnson, who was stripped of his medal and who set off the Dubin inquiry, that heartfelt and typically sincere Canadian effort to rid sports of cheaters.

 Contrast that to the United States, where the sound you hear from American officials comes from a door being closed. Sound familiar? You are witnessing the same code of silence and absence of contrition displayed in 1998 after the U.S. hockey team vandalized a room at the athletes village in Nagano.

 When will the rest of us learn? When you're the United States, you don't give medals back and you are not accountable for what you do. You take whatever you must to win and you do whatever you please. To ward off any nasty truths or repercussions, simply reach for the flag.