Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 1, 2000

As the Olympics wind down for another four years, America sits back and beams with pride as we once again showed the rest of the world who’s boss.

We had some great moments. Tommy Lasorda’s baseball team beating Cuba has been compared by some to the U.S. hockey team’s defeat of the heavily-favored Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics (I don’t personally think the win was on that grand a scale, but it’s a nice gold to have).

The U.S. did pretty well is just about every major summer Olympic sport – swimming, track, tennis, basketball… You name it, we won it.

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So why, then, didn’t Americans bother to watch? More than that, why don’t Americans seem to care?

Timing and location are part of the reason. Australia is a long way off, and many people have a hard time being overly concerned with anything happening half a world away. Being forced to watch events on 10-hour tape delays further lessened people’s interest.

Also, the Olympics were held terribly late this year. I think people have a greater tendency to watch the Olympics when there’s nothing else on. Holding the Olympics during football season and the baseball wild-card race was not such a good idea.

But I don’t think those were the main reasons for most people’s lack of interest. What turned me off personally, and I think what bugged most other Americans, was the unfortunate side-show that drug scandals became in Sydney.

It would take more space than I have here – heck, more space than I have on this page – to discuss each drug scandal that took place this year.

But there were enough to make watching the Olympics reminiscent of NFL football’s first attempt at instant replay. You never celebrated a touchdown until all the officials were sure it was a score and then verified it with the ref upstairs. Olympic athletes this year appeared to hold their breath until the drug testing was over, not the event in which they competed.

It would be easy to accuse the athletes of cheating and commend Olympic officials for keeping such a close eye on the proceedings.

But some of the drug charges seem a bit unfair. Some athletes lost medals because of cold medicine – over-the-counter drugs that Olympic officials admitted had no effect on the athletes’ performance.

Admittedly, coaches and athletes should be aware of what is and is not allowed by Olympic rules. The vast majority of the fault in those cases lies in those athletes and coaches’ negligence.

But why are such drugs against the rules? If they in no way help or hurt athletes’ performances, why the big deal?

It’s dangerous, I know, to call for less strict drug testing. I’m reminded of a Saturday Night Live episode a few years back called &uot;The All-Drug Olympics&uot; in which a steroid-pumped weight lifter tears off his arms trying to clean and jerk several tons. Not something we want to see in Salt Lake.

Also, it is important to note that some athletes took performance-enhancing drugs and did not deserve the medals they were rightfully denied.

But with the Olympic Games coming back to the United States in two years, I hope Olympic officials come up with a better system of screening for illegal drugs, and I hope the athletes shape up without those drugs’ aid.

Most of the problems of these Olympics could have been avoided. We’ve got two years to make sure we do.

Nick Adams is sports editor at The Democrat. He can be reached at (601) 445-3632, or by e-mail at nick.adams@natchezdemocrat.com.