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Thursday, August 31, 2000
IOC now under criticism from former great Australian distance runner

 BRISBANE, Australia (AP) -- The International Olympic Committee, plagued by scandal for the past year, now is under siege from Australian Ron Clarke, one of the greatest distance runners in history and the final torch bearer for the 1956 Melbourne Games.

 The outspoken Clarke is critical of some aspects of the IOC's handling of the games and the organization's conduct overall.

 The 63-year-old Clarke, now a successful businessman, dislikes the manner in which the games' opening ceremonies are conducted, believes that tickets are grossly overpriced, and thinks there are several "meaningless" sports crammed into the Olympics.

 "The IOC keeps its head in the sand ... look at the way it handled the boycotts (of the Moscow Games in 1980 and the Los Angeles Games in 1984), and the way it wastes money on inconsequential conferences and traveling the world for no good reason," Clarke said in his office overlooking the Runaway Bay marina.

 "As for the opening ceremonies, they're an extravagant waste of money. They're geared for the officials and the hangers-on instead of the athletes. The competitors should march into the stadium and sit in the stands. They shouldn't have to stand in the middle of the arena.

 "The opening ceremony should be a display of folk dancing and the culture of the country hosting the games. That doesn't mean whiz-bang rockets and dancing kangaroos."

 Clarke also thinks ticket prices are about three times what they should be, and spectators are paying big money to see sports in which some professional athletes should not be participating -- tennis, basketball and soccer, for instance.

 "The games are wonderful, and for every athlete who participates, the Olympics should be the most important event that they can win," said Clarke, who expressed many of his opinions last year in "Fixing The Olympics," one of 10 books he has written. "In tennis, it doesn't matter who wins. It's a travesty. It's the same with the other sports."

 Clarke was inferring that tennis' Grand Slam tournaments -- Wimbledon, and the Australian, U.S. and French Opens -- carry much more weight than an Olympic gold medal.

 He added that basketball, soccer and hockey also have more meaningful events than the Olympics.

 If the pros are going to participate, they should "cherish and relish" an Olympic gold medal, Clarke said.

 Clarke, the 1964 Olympic bronze medalist at 10,000 meters, also disagrees with the way IOC officials are elected.

 "They should be elected by various Olympic committees instead of electing themselves," he said.

 Clarke was such an outstanding runner that in 1956, when he was only 19, he earned a place in Australian folklore by lighting the flame at the opening ceremony for the Olympic Games in Melbourne.

 "The Olympic Games are very special," he said. "I thought I would do very well in them, especially in 1968."

 As it turned out, the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games (in which he won four silver medals) were about the only competitions Clarke came up short. During his illustrious career, he set 19 world records at distances from two miles to the one-hour run. He was the first to break 13 minutes for three miles and 28 minutes for 10,000 meters, and he set world bests at one mile and two miles as a junior.

 At the games, though, the only medal he got was the bronze in the 10,000 in 1964 when he was captain of the Australian Olympic team. That, he said, was the highlight of his career.

 During the next four years, Clarke set many records and came into the 1968 Olympics as the favorite.

 Going from the sea level of Melbourne to the high altitude of Mexico City (7,546 feet), Clarke said, "Realistically, I had no chance, but I was determined to win gold or nothing."

 Toward that effort, Clarke made a series of bold surges, but the pack kept catching up with him.

 "The strategy was right, but the delivery was bad," he said. "That was the only race I ever mucked up."

 In the end, Clarke faded and wound up a disappointing eighth, the first non-altitude runner to finish.

 "I just jogged in when I realized I couldn't win," he said. "I gave up."

 As he crossed the line, he collapsed.

 Clarke is convinced that the race triggered the problems that in 1991 forced him to undergo open heart surgery for a valve replacement.

 Now, the chief executive officer of the $150 million Couran Cove resort where the U.S. team trained for a week before moving to Brisbane, and managing director of the new $30 million Runaway Bay Super Sports Center, site of an Olympic tuneup meet Sept. 10, Clarke has some advice for this year's Olympians.

 "They should enjoy the event," he said. "Everyone is too intent on winning gold. They don't relish the moment. I've heard competitors say later they were scared to death, that they ran on fear.

 "I ran on excitement, never on fear."

 For the Sydney Games, Clarke will enjoy the excitement, since he has tickets for several events, including track and field, cycling, equestrian and beach volleyball.

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