November 22, 2005

Tough Love, and Not So Tough

Stories pop up with some regularity about the shocking powers of world-class athletes who (gasp!) like to eat junk food, or (horror!) aren't all that keen on training, or some such nonsense. A couple of weeks ago I found a hilarious example: Randy Starkman has a piece in the Toronto Star about US speedskating star Chad Hedrick, subtitled American known to show up for practice drunk. I got quite a few chuckles from Starkman's over-the-top descriptions:

Hedrick is an incredible story, even beyond his remarkable capacity to train when most would be incapacitated
and coach Bart Schouten's quotes:
You've got to give him five minutes to find his balance, but then he's okay … He does come drunk at practice every now and then, but he still does his practice harder than anybody else … One time he showed up late this year because he'd been drinking and I told him, 'If you go drink, you get here on time.'

Isn't it refreshing to see a coach whos got his priorities straight? I don't mind if you're drunk, but dammit, I won't stand for tardiness!

Octavian Belu, coach of the Romanian women's gymnastics team, is not quite as open-minded as Schouten. After an incident in which three national team athletes went to a nightclub and stayed out until four in the morning, Belu summarily dissolved the team. He also requested that his contract be terminated, stating that there wasn’t any justification for the money he was earning as the coach of the Olympic team. Two of the nightclubbers are representing Romania at the world championships as I write this, but Belu is apparently promising that he'll make a new national team in 2006, "when the members of the junior team will be old enough." He probably has the team already selected!

I doubt that many NCAA coaches would disband their teams (or offer to surrender their salaries) due to excessive athlete partying, and most don't have quite as much dictatorial power as Mr. Belu. It's clear, on the other hand, that some of them have very little tolerance for insubordination. Over on her highly entertaining blog, Flash tells the story of how her devotion to the Oakland Raiders cost her a 21-mile run at 0500 on an Indiana winter morning. (No word on whether Flash ever showed up to practice drunk, or what the resulting punishment was.)

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