By NOEL GALLAGHER -- London Free Press
What do you call professional athletes competing at Sydney's Summer Games?
Lame gags aside, it's unsettling to see rich sports stars dominating competitions once restricted to amateurs. Take the tennis semifinal between Venus Williams and Monica Seles. It showcased their technical skills but none of the thrills delivered by a "special event."
These two superb athletes meet regularly on the big-money circuit, so their Olympic clash looked like just another ho-hum TV re-run.
Mind you, it's tough to maintain my anti-pro stand in the wake of yesterday's gold-medal victory by Canada's dynamic duo of Daniel Nestor and Sebastien Lareau, another pair of tennis court mercenaries.
And it's also tempting to get swept up in the Cinderella story being fashioned by our spunky basketball squad led by Steve Nash, Canada's gift to the NBA. But it's a foregone conclusion Nash's fellow pros on the U.S. Dream Team will cop gold. Competing to be No. 2 in any sport puts a sobering limit on one's excitement.
The Games used to be as obsessed with the athletes' "pure" amateur status as current Olympic officials say they're obsessed with competitors being drug free.
The late, great Native American athlete Jim Thorpe had to return medals he'd won as champion of the decathlon and pentathlon at the 1912 Stockholm Games. His crime? Making a couple of bucks playing semi-pro baseball. Now mega-millionaire athletes are very welcome at the Games and are fast becoming the big show's marquee figures.
Considering the laughably lax drug policies employed by pro sports leagues, just how long will it be before the Olympics abandon prohibition on "performance enhancing" substances? TV viewers will be left watching the best athletic contests money and drugs can produce.
Speaking of drugs, Down Under now refers to where NBC is burying its head on the doping scandal. Seems the broadcaster's interest in this wanes when it threatens to expose American athletes. NBC hasn't been this busy circling the wagons since the network was airing Wagon Train more than 40 years ago.
And don't hold your breath waiting for Bob Costas and crew to pursue the controversy too vigorously. Corporate sponsors and network execs call the shots at the Olympics and talk of American "heroes" cheating to win is bad for business.
The U.S. media has always taken a "holier than everybody else" on the drug question, but it's good to report not all American journalists adopt the "my country, right or wrong" philosophy.
Columnist Sam Donnellon of Knight Ridder Newspapers has censured his colleagues for exploiting hints, rumours and whispers about drug abuse by foreign athletes, "But go after one of our own, our biggest star, and well buddy, we want names and numbers. We want it confirmed," wrote Donnellon. "You want to stay clear of accusations and allegations? Lose to us."
Wanna bet he has trouble getting a press pass to the next Olympics?