Alumni share tales of covering Olympics

“I went to the beach volleyball courts as much to look at the scantily clad athletes as to see the results of the game,” Northwestern alumnus Mike Wilbon said, as the audience in the McCormick Tribune Center gasped.

“If looking at cute girls is a crime, then lock me up,” continued Wilbon, a Washington Post legend and co-host of the popular sports commentary show “Pardon the Interruption.”

Wilbon’s banter with his fellow guests reflected the laid-back atmosphere of the panel that he and fellow Medill School of Journalism alumni, USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan and L.A. Times sports columnist Alan Abrahamson, conducted at Monday’s Crain Lecture Series discussion. They spoke to an audience of nearly 200 about the 2004 Summer Olympics.

The three old friends and former Medill classmates exchanged jokes and opinions about all things sports-related.

“When you know people that well, you can have a great conversation without being afraid to embarrass anyone or show anyone up,” Brennan said.

The discussion often steered to steroid controversies that plagued the Olympic Games.

“It’s the first time in modern Olympic history that (the International Olympic Committee) is serious about catching cheaters,” said Abrahamson, who has covered the doping debate in the Olympics and in professional baseball.

Brennan said Olympic athletes face much more rigorous standards for drug testing than Major League Baseball players. She added that Barry Bonds flaunts taking a single drug test, while Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, less than half Bonds’ age, has been tested “100 times in his career.”

Brennan also addressed the ice skating, gymnastics and diving judging controversies of the past two Olympic Games and said she doesn’t think they will go away.

“Every Olympic Games, there will be an issue with a judged sport. The stakes are just too high,” she said. “The only amateurs in the Olympics are the people running the sports.”

Though the lecture was intended to cover the Olympics, the panelists discussed everything from beach volleyball bikinis to the future of men’s basketball.

Wilbon connected the U.S. basketball team’s Olympic losses to the growing globalization of the sport.

“After soccer, basketball is the global game,” he said. “These guys around the world don’t have to look up to (Charles) Barkley and (Michael) Jordan anymore. They have their own hometown heroes.”

Morgan Campbell, Medill ’99, a staff reporter at the Toronto Star, was visiting family in Chicago and decided to stop by and listen to the lecture.

“I wish I could have been up there, because a lot of the stuff they said I didn’t agree with (especially about doping),” he said. “But it was a good way to spend an afternoon on my vacation.”

The panel discussion ended with Abrahamson thanking the “purple hand of God” for guiding the Wildcats to victory over Ohio State on Oct. 2, a statement that was followed by prolonged applause from the audience.

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