For the Record

Dispatches, June 1997

For the Record
By Todd Balf and Paul Kvinta

Look East, Track Fans
"If the races justify the hoopla, fine," says Pete Cava, communications director of USA Track & Field. "But many of us are afraid that these big-money matchups may just lead to a lot of hokey crap." Cava is referring to this month's super-hyped Toronto event pitting Olympic 100-meter gold medalist Donovan Bailey and 200-meter champion Michael Johnson in a $2 million, made-for-TV sprint over 150 meters. Yet if there is a reason to be thankful for the sudden boom in match-racing, it's not the sub-15-second duel in Canada, but rather a pairing that will be held one day earlier at the Adriaan Paulen Memorial meet in Holland, featuring Ethiopian 5,000-meter world champion Haile Gebrselassie and Noureddine Morceli of Algeria, who holds world records in the mile, the 1,500, and the 2,000. The two African Olympians will go head-to-head over two miles for a chance at $1 million, the only catch being that the winner must crack eight minutes to collect his seven-figure prize — a format that promises to inspire leave-it-all-on-the-track performances. "Two consecutive four-minute miles is on the edge of what's humanly possible," concedes Gebrselassie's manager, Jos Hermens, noting that the current record is more than seven and a half seconds slower. "But these two runners may just be able to push each other there."

Who Needs Natural Wonders?
I've Got a Faux Rainforest!
"Hey, I can't solve all the world's problems," says Miami philanthropist Robert Kramer. Maybe not, but with an endangered jewel like the Everglades right next door, one wonders why an environmentally concerned benefactor would instead funnel $1 million into a 3.5-acre, man-made rainforest. In March, Kramer — trustee of the multimillion-dollar Simons Charitable Trust — dropped the sum on the Fairchild Tropical Garden in Coral Gables. The research facility, which studies endangered flora and educates visitors on the dangers facing Caribbean wildlands, features the only "tropical rainforest" in the continental United States, complete with liana vines, strangler figs, ferns, palms, iguanas — and sprinkler heads suspended 25 feet in the air to provide the requisite "rain." South Florida environmentalists don't begrudge Fairchild the money, but they do think a priority check is in order. "People don't look at problems in their own backyards," says Alan Farago, the Sierra Club's Everglades specialist. "What about investing in our own declining environment?" Replies an intrigued Kramer, "Hmmm. The Everglades is a worthy project. Maybe I'll give to it next year."

A Good Campsite Is Harder to Find
If the trail you're hiking this summer suddenly intersects an unexpected four-lane, blame that new government topo map you bought before heading out. In response to federal budget cuts, the U.S. Geological Survey has begun implementing a new mapmaking policy in which "revised" topos are printed without the areas they cover having been resurveyed — an approach that critics claim has resulted in maps lacking the detail that backcountry users rely on. USGS cartographer Frank Beck counters by saying that the agency's maps are more than adequate, adding that he believes the fuss will die down once people get used to them. "Just because a new road goes in," insists Beck, "that doesn't mean the old contour lines become completely useless."

Let the Litigation Begin
It takes something fairly extraordinary to rock environmentalists back on their heels, but the Supreme Court came close last March with a unanimous decision to allow business interests — and not just greens — to sue the government under the Endangered Species Act. The landmark case, you may recall, involved Oregon ranchers who claimed officials "overenforced" the Act in 1992 when they suspended water delivery to area ranches to protect two species of fish (see "How Green Was My Valley," Dispatches, February). In the wake of the verdict, environmentalists like Sierra Club lobbyist Melinda Pierce could only offer measured sound bites. "The environmental community applauds increased access to the court," Pierce said, "but we expect a flood of suits alleging overenforcement." Such fear is probably not off base: The ink had barely dried on the court's ruling when the Columbia River Alliance, a group of water users, power companies, and barge owners, filed suit charging overenforcement in the way dams are operated to protect salmon.

The (Dirty Little) Secret of My Success
Going into Australia's classic Bells Beach surf contest late last March, the boys from Down Under were in a slump like never before. American surfers, and in particular five-time world champion Kelly Slater, had been dominating the early season, continuing a roll that saw the well-disciplined Yanks take ten of 12 ASP tour events last year. "It was starting to get embarrassing," says Matt Hoy, one of the tour's most unrepentant carousers, who at number seven was the highest-ranked Aussie in '96. "People were starting to say maybe we should stop partying so much and get serious like the Americans." Provided a spark when Californian Taylor Knox bounced a decidedly blas‰ Slater in the fourth round, the Australians jumped on the opportunity. To the delight of 10,000 revved-up countrymen in attendance, the 26-year-old Hoy and 31-year-old Damien Hardman sizzled in the heavy, eight- to ten-foot surf, advancing to the first all-Aussie final in four years. Hoy outpointed Hardman to take the crown, but now seems reluctant to give up the good life for a shot at Slater's title. "I guess I've shot myself in the foot," he confides. "Now everybody expects me to do well."

Just Smush It
"There's too many people making rules for Europe," asserts Dutch clog maker Eelke Scheregon. "In less than four years, clogs will die out for the working people." Admittedly, Scheregon's cause is unlikely to spark massive civil unrest, but his defensiveness isn't hard to understand. It seems the European Union is demanding that wooden clogs, still worn by nearly 800,000 Dutch farmers and gardeners, must now meet the same safety standards as steel-toed work boots — or they'll be forced by law to go the way of the leather football helmet. What's an enterprising Hollander with a backlog of poplar footwear to do? Beat hell out of his wares to prove their mettle, of course. This month, after weeks of dunking the shoes in all manner of fluids, hammering nails into them, and attempting to crush them with 500-pound weights, the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research will release the results of its tests, hoping to gain EU approval for the continued use of clogs. Scheregon thinks they have a convincing case. "When the cow is standing on the foot, you know, I think it's OK," he explains. "Maybe the clog breaks, but the foot is fine. The toes are still there."

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