Guggenheim can leave this Hall out

Jul 13, 2004 4:26 AM

As Las Vegas continues to grow and expand, geographically and recreationally — and hopefully culturally — I was delighted to hear that the Guggenheim Museum in New York is thinking of opening a branch here.

For openers, they could fill a wing with the art of Gaming Today, thus enshrining the hundreds of bewitching models who have graced these pages. They deserve it, for Vegas, without couture or couturieres, has more models than New York, Paris and Rome combined.

While the Guggenheim mulls that possibility and major league baseball considers Vegas as a possible expansion site, life goes on in athletics, same old.

Last weekend it was swimming trials for the Olympics, and Gary Hall Jr., the blonde Adonis of the Pools, was spouting water and words.

I know of Hall’s heroics in swimming, eight Olympic medals and more to come in Athens, where he will emulate his father, a three-time Olympian.

I know of his worldwide work with diabetes, which he conquered to win two gold medals in Australia in 2000, and a silver and bronze.

He generated controversy there, in a swimming country, by predicting the U.S. "would smash Australia like a guitar," which resulted in a payback by the Australian 400-meter relay team, which strummed imaginary guitars after their hero Ian Thorpe passed Hall on the anchor leg for victory.

Now Hall is creating controversy again, announcing that Olympic sprinter Marion Jones should be barred for life. Jones has not yet been disqualified from competition and has been battling legally against charges she used drugs, but apparently she enraged Hall by saying she never tested positive.

Hall says she used an undetectable steroid — how he knows I’m not sure — and says she cheated. He says "not only is it cheating, it’s theft, because she’s taking away opportunities from other athletes," adding that ”˜there’s only a handful of athletes that get the attention they deserve" — he being one — and "that’s worth something financially and it’s what keeps us going for another four years." I always thought it was because of the love for the sport.

I don’t defer to Gary Hall Jr. or anyone else in my intense dislike of chemistry in athletics, whether human or equine. I have spent a good part of my career chasing that demon in racing, and have encountered the same problem track and field (and swimming) have encountered, and what Hall referred to: undetectable drugs.

Despite this, I am not ready to indict or convict Marion Jones, nor defend her for that matter.

Whether she is barred, for an indefinite period or for life, is not for Gary Hall Jr. to decide, and those whose job it is have not yet done that.

Hall is handsome and heroic, but he is not a judge or jury. He is a very good swimmer, and he should stick to that and to his work with diabetes.

It is interesting that Lance Armstrong, like Hall a world class athlete who overcame a physical disaster — in his case cancer — now is seeking his sixth Tour de France championship. Like Jones, he has been accused frequently, in the European press, of using drugs. Like Jones, he denies it vigorously. Unlike her, no one has suggested he be barred from the Tour de France, or anywhere else, for the good reason that they have no evidence or proof.

In track and field and cycling and horse racing and swimming, the answer is not public pronouncements that people or horses should be barred.

The answer is that those sports, and all sports, should spend more money than they do on research to detect the undetectables. Track and field has started that, and it has led to circumstantial evidence that some athletes have used substances and taken tests for which there is no scientific reason.

That, unfortunately, as mnch as I and Gary Hall Jr. detest chemistry in athletics, is not ground for barring someone. Until the undetectables can be detected, Gary Hall Jr. should stay underwater.