Greetings, Olympic sports fans! You are out there, aren’t you? NBC Universal sure hopes you are. Because if you aren’t, and you decide to spend the next three weeks watching anything except the hammer-throw quarterfinals, heat six of the women’s 4-x-400 relay, and profiles of the Hungarian dressage team, there are going to be some TV executives committing suicide. Well, assisted suicide, maybe. If you’re a Nielsen viewer, there might even be a camera in your house — and if it catches you switching to Greatest American Dog during the trampoline semifinal, an animatronic chain will yank a pin from a grenade crammed in the mouth of whichever NBC marketing executive promised a 17 share to the suits upstairs at 30 Rock.
So, lives are in your hands. No one is telling you what to do, but think twice before you turn on Don’t Forget the Lyrics!, or any other non-Olympic programming for that matter, next week. Besides, it’s not like the Olympics are completely boring. True, the actual sporting competitions have lately taken a back seat, drama-wise, to the question of whether terrorists will strike during the Games, or whether the budget can be managed by the IOC without two dollars out of every three ending up in mysterious accounts in Antigua, or whether Chinese guards will bayonet free-Tibet protesters along the torch route, or, indeed, whether NBC will be felled by yet another disappointing ratings showing. But that’s not to say the athletes aren’t providing some sordid entertainment themselves.In fact, just like regular athletes, Olympians frequently rack up ugly arrests. Who can forget these anti-heroes of sports-crime?
The lover’s lane rapist
This was a recent one, actually. Alvin Henry was a one-time Olympic sprinter, a New Yorker who ran for Trinidad and Tobago. He went to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney on the T&T 4-x-100 team, but never actually ran in the Games. He returned to America, however, and did some running there. This past month, Henry was arrested 16 days after a rape in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, when the victim identified him while riding around the park with police. Henry had allegedly raped the woman at gunpoint and was a suspect in numerous other sexual assaults dating back to 2003. The unknown serial rapist had been called the “Lover’s Lane Rapist” because he frequently targeted women he had seen having sex with their boyfriends in the park — he told one of the victims he had taped her in the act. “I knew something wasn’t right with him,” Henry’s cousin told New York papers.
Folks here in the states didn’t hear too much about this: Alexander Tikhonov — a member of four gold-medal biathlon teams for the Soviet Union between 1968 and 1980 — was convicted of a murder plot some years back but won’t be going to jail for it. (This is the kind of story that only makes sense if you’ve lived in Russia.) In 2000, Tikhonov got involved in a dispute between metals magnate Mikhail Zhivilo and ham-faced Kemerovo province governor (and former presidential candidate) Aman Tuleyev. In Russia, the most dangerous people alive are the owners of aluminum companies — those guys come out of the womb drunkenly waving Soviet TT pistols around the delivery room. Zhivilo was no exception, and he hired Tikhonov to assassinate Tuleyev. Tikhonov gave his brother the job; the brother hired two yahoos, who went straight to the ex-KGB to rat him out; and everybody (including Zhivilo) was arrested. Then a weird thing happened. Tikhonov got furloughed to celebrate (and I’m not kidding here) the 55th anniversary of Russia’s victory over the Germans in World War II. He then took off for Europe for a few years because he wasn’t “feeling well.” When he came back, it was decided he didn’t need to go to jail after all. So that’s where he is now, retired and — as the Russians would say — picking strawberries.
The bicycle thief
Then there was George Tajirian, a bicyclist on the 1968 Iraqi Olympic team. Tajirian moved to Mexico City later in life and started a tourist agency, which he used for a couple years to smuggle illegals into the US in the late ‘90s. Dude was flying around the world, charging people 10 and 15 grand for phony documents. Anyway, the Justice Department nailed him and seven others in El Paso. Maybe he’ll be the star of the next Iraqi-prison version of Breaking Away. (Incidentally, the upcoming Games will feature an athlete caught in a vaguely similar offense — Ethiopian-born Ayele Seteng, a 53 year old who will be running in the marathon for Israel, was busted recently for defrauding two tourists by taking money from them in exchange for transport to Israel that never materialized. Israeli sports minister Raleb Majadele said the government will do all it can to intervene for Seteng — not for the athlete, but “for the sake of sport.”)