Kournikova, Duncan: some not going to Olympics
By HAL BOCK -- The Associated Press
Time was, athletes would fly backward to get to the Olympics. No more. Many stars, including Anna Kournikova and Tim Duncan, are saying no to a trip to Sydney next month.
They were joined on Tuesday by the biggest bailout of all when top-ranked Pete Sampras told the U.S. Tennis Association he would not play.
Sampras, who won a record 13th Grand Slam title last month at Wimbledon and then passed up the Davis Cup semifinals, said he simply didn't want to make the long trip to the games, which come shortly after the U.S. Open.
Jan-Michael Gambill also turned down a chance to play, opening a spot on the U.S. team for Jeff Tarango, best known for his tantrums at Wimbledon.
European 200-metre champion Doug Walker also is passing on Sydney after deciding he was not in good enough shape to compete at the British Olympic trials. The Scottish sprinter was suspended for a positive drug test in November 1998. But he won the right in court to run at the trials while his case goes to arbitration.
Jelena Dokic, Australia's top-ranked tennis player, said she would only play if organizers let her stay at home instead of in the Olympic Village. She also wants her father accredited as her coach, and wants to wear the equipment and clothes provided by her sponsors.
Al Oerter, the first athlete to win the same Olympic track and field event four times with gold medals in the discus in 1956, 1960, 1964 and 1968, wondered about those decisions.
"It's kind of disappointing for several reasons," he said Tuesday from his Florida home. "This is the Olympics. They're missing the experience of a lifetime. They lose the chance to experience a whole lot of things they will never experience again. Years later, they might look back and say, 'I missed something unique. I should have done that.'
"Beyond that, it's the opportunity to represent your country. It's the atmosphere, an event that comes around only once every four years. There ain't no next year."
Oerter's first Olympics came at Melbourne, at a time when air travel was less sophisticated.
"We faced backwards on a military air transport," he said. "It was a 40-hour trip. We landed in every little island between here and Australia. But you know what? It's the Games. Everybody was there. What better environment to compete in?"
Kournikova joined No. 1 Martina Hingis on the Olympic tennis sidelines.
"Let us say this -- the interests of the Olympic Games and the interests of the tennis player differ," Alexei Selivanenko, vice president of the Russian Tennis Federation, said of Kournikova. "Her career considerations come first here."
Duncan, coming off knee surgery, has advised Olympic officials that he wants out, according to the San Antonio Express-News. He feels the Olympic schedule would offer him little rest. Practice begins Aug. 25 in Hawaii and the gold medal game Oct. 1 is days before NBA training camps begin.
Vlade Divac of the Sacramento Kings and star guard Aleksandar Djordjevic told their Yugoslav team that Olympic training is too long and they want to spend more time with their families.
For Dokic, the tennis at Sydney is an easy commute. For athletes travelling from other continents, the journey to Australia is a long haul.
Oeter was asked about the trip.
"I block that out," he said.