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Let the wild rumpus begin


FOR FOUR YEARS the world argues the power politics, arrogance, corruption, drugging and professionalism of the Olympic Movement. But when the fire is lit and the Games begin, all that vanishes for two weeks and a bit. The athletes take over. Everyone else, be still.

With the Cold War gone, the spectacle is more purely about sport, as was intended at the start of the modern Games in 1896, than in most of its history.

Instead of power politics and the vain pursuit of national glory, the world is visited with the spectacle of International Olympic Committee members as free-loaders selling their votes for venues to the most lavish host city.

It is plagued with scandals of performance-enhancing drugs whose developers stay a step ahead of tests devised to catch them.

It has seen the nobility of pure amateurism -- competition for the sake of winning and not for vulgar gain -- disappear from the face of the earth. How minor those difficulties are compared with the waging of the Cold War through weightlifting and sprints. Pure competition remains, as does the fabled U.S. strength in specialties from shooting (natch) to softball.

Will Marion Jones win her five golds? Will minor leaguers keep U.S. dominance of baseball? Is the Dream Team due for come-uppance? Will Elise Ray bring gymnastics gold home to Columbia, Md.? Are the Cubans as tough boxers as ever? Do high-tech swimsuits make such a difference?

These are the questions that matter now. And they are important, as the young people of the world compete to show who is swiftest, strongest, supplest, most elegant and has the most stamina and grace under pressure.

This is the Summer Games, which begins in winter and lasts into spring, Down Under. It is the made-for-television Games that cannot be seen live in North America south of Canada, being taped for prime time by NBC.

Marylanders will want to see how Sydney copes and benefits as Baltimore-Washington perfects its pitch for the 2012 Games.

Let the argy-bargy subside and the Games begin. For a magic two weeks and three weekends, it's all about the sport.

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