Posted on Saturday, May 22nd, 2010 at 2:10 am and is filed under Archive | 0

The original name of the Atlanta Olympic mascot was Whatizit (what is it?), later truncated to Izzy. Neither avatar was treated with anything like respect. Ditto the London 2012 efforts, launched a couple of days ago. Named Wenlock and Mandeville, they are more worthy of a similar question to the 1996 version, ie WTFizit?


I am, mercifully, travelling in the Far East, so have been spared the broader comments of our notoriously critical (and often funny) national press on this matter, but I did catch a TV interview with Sebastian Coe, CEO of London 2012, and he could barely suppress his embarassment at having to talk positively about these ‘things’.

Of course, logos and mascots are easy targets, but London 2012 seems to have got both designs, thus launches badly wrong. After the massive success of Berlino at the IAAF World Athletics Champs in Berlin last year, Wenlock and Mandeville (the two ‘things’) were bound to be a disaster. Yet Lord Seb reckons they are going to raise £14m ($20m) for the Games. Perhaps that was why he was so embarassed?

Charlie Francis, who died, aged 61 last week, was resolutely unembarassed about his status of international doping hate figure. He was, as I’m sure most people know, coach to the ‘disgraced’ (irony intended) Ben Johnson.

Had Charlie lived another week, he would have had the satisfaction of hearing about Tour de France winner and expulsee Floyd Landis’ revelations about his own and other top cyclists’ drug-taking. I would venture that we might have got another ‘told you so,’ out of Charlie.

I didn’t know Charlie as well as my colleagues Mike Hurst and Jim Ferstle did. And if you haven’t read their reminiscences of Charlie, I urge you to follow these links (see below).


But I was around Charlie a fair time during the mid-1980s, when Ben was burning up the tracks, first, in pursuit of Carl Lewis, then outrunning him, or as Charlie maintained Carl said, after losing to Ben in the Seoul 100m final – “Ben out-juiced me again”.

That sort of thing, you had to take with a pinch, if not a pound of salt from Charlie. An ex-Olympic sprinter himself, he was never slow to implicate others in his amoral crusade. He maintained that he was a realist, recognising very early that he had to take drugs himself, and advise his athletes to do so, in order to maintain, ‘a level playing field’.

Ben and Charlie were used as scapegoats for a whole generation, and more, of undiscovered dope-takers. But the best, and most poignant response to any revisionism on Charlie’s stance has been from Canadian contemporary, middle-distance Olympian Doug Consiglio, who has recently written, ‘years later I asked Charlie (who was then banned for life in Canada) if he ever felt a need to apologize to people like me, who had stayed clean, and were adversely affected by his actions. He told me something to the effect that I am a naive young athlete who is stupid to play by the rules.   Thanks Charlie.’

But, Consiglio, like every one else who knew Charlie, recognised that there was probably not a better sprint coach in the world. I’ve been around athletes most of my life, as a club runner and as a journalist. But I learned more about sprinting from Charlie’s book Speed Trap than I ever gleaned from club mates and coaches, and the dozens of sprint stars I’ve interviewed in the last 30 years.

On a personal note, Charlie could be very funny, perhaps without intending to be. He may have been unembarassed by his role as a steroid Svengali. But, as an inveterate smoker, he would be as embarassed as any schoolboy if you caught him catching a toke anywhere near a track.

Charlie’s legendary loyalty to his athletes was never better demonstrated when, at the Cologne track meeting prior to the 1987 World Champs, a particularly naive photographer parked himself on the track, barely 25 metres past the finish line – in Ben’s lane.
Inevitably, Johnson careered right into him, did a cartwheel, and ended up spread-eagled on the track. Fortuitously, he was not badly injured.

But Charlie, furious, was out of his seat, with a reaction time faster than Ben’s that day, and if the photographers’ league hadn’t conspired to block his path after the first couple of swings, and get the miscreant out of the stadium, and into a taxi to the airport pronto, then Charlie would have punched his lights and his cameras out.

In the end, nothing so became Charlie as the manner of his passing. As Mike Hurst reported, after a conversation with his widow Ange, among Charlie’s final words to her were, “Don’t cry sweetie, it’s been a good run”.

Now that, like the final word of a play about another fatally flawed figure, Cyrano de Bergerac, is what you call ‘panache’.

* http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/sport/more-sports/end-of-good-run-for-flawed-coach/story-e6frey6i-1225866355387
** http://downthebackstretch.blogspot.com/2010/05/funeral-for-friend.html)

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