Mark Starr

Stories by Mark Starr

  • One, Two and Three-Liners

    Of all the essentials for members of the press covering the Olympics—computer, cell phone, parka, warm boots, grappa---a sense of humor may be paramount. Nothing else helps you deal with the inevitable computer glitches, bus breakdowns, signage confusion and slow snakes through security. Nobody has preached that gospel with more effect—or with more funny lines—than Texan Bob Condron, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s point man in dealing with the beasts of the media. Condron, a veteran of a dozen Olympics, sent out regular tip sheets and advisories before and after we arrived in Torino. They are invaluable and oft-quoted. Here’s a best of Bob sampler:On Torino’s readiness: It’s like an 8 p.m. dinner party. Don’t show up at 7:55 or you’ll see someone in wet hair vacuuming the living room. It ain’t ready yet, but it will be. The Olympics will begin on time and couple of guys on skis will race each other no matter what.On the weather: One day you’re walking around in a sweater, the next day...
  • Homeward Bound

    It may have ended with a whimper and not a bang. But as Michelle Kwan fought back the inevitable tears that followed her decision to withdraw from the Torino Olympics, they were tears of sadness, but not of self-pity. Kwan had made it clear earlier that she understood that this was, after all, just sport and that the problems of one little person don't amount to a hill of beans when compared to what people endure in this world.Still, in less than 24 hours, her Olympic dream, her third Olympic venture, had been turned topsy-turvy. After celebrating Opening Ceremonies on Friday night, she took the ice Saturday morning for her first practice session feeling stiff and uncomfortable. When she came out of her second jump attempt, a triple flip, she said, “I knew I had done something.” Gamely, she tried another jump, but fell--and, with it, sensed something even bigger crashing. Her only hope was that with some therapy, the stiffness would go away. But by evening, it had worsened and she...
  • English as a Second Language

    I first visited Torino a dozen years ago, shortly before the first soccer World Cup to be held in America, to write a story on the Italian superstar and major hottie Roberto Baggio. I was struck at the time by how little English was spoken or understood in what was, after all, a major city, a town of almost a million people.Having traveled around Italy, I had always found that a little English accompanied by appropriately frantic arm gesticulations went a long way. But in Torino, an industrial city far off the tourist track, my efforts got me nowhere--or at least nothing beyond blank stares followed by rapid-fire Italian. My meager French didn't seem to help either, despite the fact that the French border is only a few hundred miles away. Nor did my even worse Spanish. I was definitely lost in translation. Just trying to find my hotel, a fairly prominent establishment near the train station in the heart of the city, was an ordeal.So I was pretty curious to see what changes 12 years...
  • Torino Treats

    It was 15 years ago that the late NEWSWEEK editor Maynard Parker summoned me to New York and offered me an extraordinary gateway to the world. I was to assume responsibility for our Olympic coverage starting in 1992, the last year in which both a Winter (Albertville, France) and Summer Games (Barcelona, Spain) were held.It is a reporter's natural conceit to act as if everything bad that happens to him professionally is a travesty, perhaps even a conspiracy, but the good is only his due. So while I was excited bordering on delirious about Maynard's surprise proposal/promotion, I worked hard to mask those feelings. I told him that it made complete sense: I was extremely knowledgeable about sports, passionate about the Olympics ever since I first watched the '56 Games from Melbourne, Australia, on a black-and-white TV, and, finally, had the distinct advantage of being able to order at restaurants in both French and Spanish.Maynard smiled and pinpointed my reputation--perhaps, alas, my...
  • The Winter Blues

    My favorite Olympics, the one where the sizzle truly lived up to the sell, was the 2000 Games in Sydney. From its opening splash, with triathletes braving shark-infested waters in the shadow of the incandescent Opera House, Sydney was a thrill ride. The Aussies, fueled by a love of sports and an expansive view of happy hour, were boisterously hospitable, as happy to host as we were to be hosted.Now almost six years later, that kind of Olympic excitement is finally stirring again. I sense the anticipation, the lure of a proud nation anxious to show off its prowess to the world. An epic celebration looms, perhaps even a great wall coming down. Alas, Beijing is still more than two years off. It is Torino 2006 that opens in less than a fortnight--and with a marked absence of anticipatory fervor. My friends in the States are amazed to discover that another Olympics is imminent and have no clue where it will take place. That may be par for the provincial. But I was startled to learn from...
  • The Truth About the Super Bowl

    Writing about the Super Bowl is a sports columnist's most daunting challenge. We're talking about a game with a two-week buildup during which a benchwarmer's hangnail warrants at least as much attention as the Palestinian elections. Two weeks in which no Bus is left unboarded, in which every note on Big Ben is chimed, and during which every move of Shaun Alexander on the chessboard is scrutinized as if he were Garry Kasparov. Moreover, Motown hasn't received so much attention since Berry Gordy picked up shop and left for L.A.Really, what else is there for anyone to say?So I concluded that I could contribute the most by getting personal, by abandoning the perspective of the wise, all-knowing sportswriter and, instead, offering up the view of a fan--one who, as a forever seatholder in Foxboro for the New England Patriots, has more than a little recent Super Bowl experience. And what I can tell you is that win or lose, it doesn't matter all that much. Honestly. It won't change your...
  • Oprah's Revenge

    Don't you dare lie to Oprah Winfrey. Because if you do and then you get caught, she will drag you back onto her show and rake you over the coals for a solid hour. James Frey found that out the hard way on Thursday. The author of "A Million Little Pieces" has admitted falsifying parts of his best-selling memoir of drug and alcohol addiction and rehab, which Oprah picked for her on-air book club last fall.When Frey appeared on "Larry King Live" last week to defend himself, Oprah called in to support him. At that point, she began drawing as much flak as Frey from pundits who accused her of a cavalier attitude about truth vs. fiction.That plainly hurt, because one of the first things she said on the Thursday broadcast was, "I left the message [in the phone call to King] that the truth does not matter. And I am deeply sorry about that, because that is not what I believe." Now, "I feel duped," she told Frey on her syndicated talk show. "More importantly, I feel that you betrayed millions...
  • The Greatest NBA Performance Ever

    OK, let's all get down on our knees--that will work for the hero worship part of this exercise too--put our heads down and breathe slowly and deeply. It has been five days since Kobe Bryant left us breathless by dropping 81 points in a single game on the NBA landscape. By now we ought to be regaining our collective equilibrium.Only then can we talk about what happened on that memorable Sunday in the Staples Center. And perhaps more important, we can talk about what didn't happen. Clearly Kobe has established that the long-awaited "next Michael" actually arrived long ago. Of course, we all suspected that when Kobe first demonstrated that he was capable of scoring at will. When he began raining down game-winners from all over the court with defenders draped all over him. When his Lakers (or, if you prefer, Shaq's Lakers) won their championship three-peat. In the NBA pantheon, it now seems obvious that he will someday stand with his fellow guards--Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Jerry...
  • Play it Again, NFL

    The NFL has, in the past, had unfortunate off-field incidents on the eve of big games. Certainly the arrest of Atlanta Falcons defensive back Eugene Robinson for soliciting a prostitute and the mental meltdown of Oakland Raiders center Barret Robbins, both right before Super Bowls, proved to be sad and unwelcome distractions. But there may never have been an incident with quite the portent of the knife wound to the knee suffered by Indianapolis defensive back Nick Harper in a domestic altercation the night before his team's big game against Pittsburgh.Because the following afternoon, with his wife under arrest on battery charges, Harper scooped up a fumble in the final minute of the game and was racing down the field for what would have likely been the winning touchdown--and the most glorious moment in Indianapolis football history. All that stood in his way was a backpedaling quarterback, which is usually the equivalent of no obstacle at all.But somehow Ben Roethlisberger's...
  • Fab Four

    I know that many of my readers like to go back to my NFL preview columns and marvel at my acuity in the face of what, to most fans, is another unfathomable season. I will spare you the trouble. In the 11th paragraph of my Sept. 8 column, almost halfway through my lengthy prognostications, I produced this gem: "If forced to predict one young QB to have a breakout season, I'd go with Cincinnati's Carson Palmer."Wowie, kazowie, give that man a cigar. Never mind my other ramblings about Buffalo and Arizona in the playoffs and the Vikings in the Super Bowl. Never mind that I gave a thumbs-up to the reunion of Steve Mariucci and Jeff Garcia in Detroit and a thumbs-down to Joe Gibbs and the Redskins. I'm the guy who called Carson Palmer.Given that, I know that you are waiting breathlessly for me to once again demonstrate my wisdom as well as my extraordinary prescience. So as we head into this fab foursome weekend, every NFL fan's favorite of the season, here are my ramblings and gamblings...
  • Kwan at the Crossroads

    Seldom has such wrath descended on me as it did last year when I wrote a column pleading with Michelle Kwan to hang up her skates. Her legion fans couldn't have been any angrier with me had I taken a baseball bat to her knees in order to effect that wish.Truth is, I was motivated only by respect and affection for a great champion and ultimate class act. I hoped Kwan, at a relatively ancient--by her sport's standards--25 years old, could be spared another painful season of Olympic disappointment. I didn't want to watch her golden dream unravel one more time. Still, I wasn't surprised when she ignored my advice. Women have been ignoring my advice--almost all of them without subsequent regret--for as long as I can remember.This, however, may prove to be the exception. We may all be watching as my worst fears for Michelle are realized. Her career may be coming to a sad and disappointing end--perhaps the inevitable crush of 13 years of competition at the highest levels. Yesterday Kwan...
  • Fast Chat: Sebastian Coe

    Five glamour cities competed to win the 2012 Olympic Games. In the end, London upset favored Paris. British M.P. and Olympics legend Sebastian Coe, who heads London 2012, talked to Mark Starr.We didn't really have any period at all other than the night of the result, because 12 hours later we got the phone call about the bombings in London.If it's just seen as another seven-year construction project, you won't keep people with you. I'm determined to talk about the why rather than the how. When you talk with anybody who's not a technician, the first response is "This is fantastic, because my son or daughter will be 20 or 21 at the time of the Games." People see it through the eyes of children.London is best placed of all cities to deal with the global nature of what we're looking at. We are the world's most popular destination for young people, the world's most fashionable city for young people. If you want to start a youth movement, you start it in London. Band Aid. Live Aid. We are...
  • Seth Wescott

    Seth Wescott couldn't have imagined a worse start. As he burst out of the gate for his semifinal run at this year's World Snowboard Championships, the binding on his boots let loose. For the first 100 yards he tried to stay calm while he reattached the binding on the run. But no boarder is better than Wescott--thanks, he says, to a childhood spent on a skateboard--at generating speed on the flats and exploding off the rolls along the course. With his boot firmly reanchored, he was soon surging past his three rivals en route to his first world title. "I had the biggest smile on my face after each run," says the 29-year-old veteran of a decade of pro snowboarding. "I believe fun and success go hand in hand."The Winter Olympics have, of late, adopted that very view--striving to get hipper and sexier. In recent years crowd-pleasing, daredevil competitions such as freestyle skiing, halfpipe and short-track speed skating have been added to the Olympic mix. And in February in Turin,...
  • Who Cares About Turin?

    Olympics are replete with drama, often before opening ceremonies even take place. In 2002, the world anxiously awaited the Salt Lake City Games, nervous about an American Olympics only a few months after 9/11. In 2004, Athens raced the clock as everyone wondered if the Greeks could get the roof on the Olympic Stadium before the torch arrived. And there is already anticipation of Beijing 2008, viewed as China's coming-out party and, inevitably, a corporate feeding frenzy. But the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, are less than two months away, and not many people--inside or outside of Italy--seem aware of it. If Salt Lake was the Security Games and Athens the Will They Be Ready Games, then Turin is the Stealth Games, coming up quickly under the radar.Italy has bet more than $15 billion that when the Olympics do open on Feb. 10, the world will be watching. And it is counting on the aura of the rings to transform the nation's fourth largest city from a drab and fading automotive...
  • Football Winners, Classroom Flops

    Among the many fascinating things you don't know about me is that I once was on stage with Bill Murray. Well, in the interest of honest and full disclosure, make that almost on stage with him. He was a little-known but rising talent with Chicago's legendary Second City comedy troupe and I was a young reporter for The Wall Street Journal hanging out for a story--far longer than necessary--at the comedy club. On my final night, the gang invited me to join them onstage during the postshow improvisations. I drank relentlessly throughout the performance and the combination of booze and stage terror--fright doesn't do justice to what I was feeling--rendered me incapable of proceeding with my debut. Or, in fact, proceeding with anything at all.Murray said something withering. I choose to believe it was with a twinkle in his eye, preferring to recall it as camaraderie rather than contempt. Since then, nobody has been able to make me laugh quite like he does. I can recite chapter and verse....
  • Sports: Duds Go Out of Bounds

    In recent years the NBA has spent a lot of time defending its young players, insisting that fans would come to embrace its next generation as worthy successors to the Michael, Magic and Larry era. But as America's love affair with the NBA game has faded, commissioner David Stern is conceding that it's time for those players to undergo a fashion makeover. But unlike most makeovers, the NBA version is actually designed to make players look less hip--and, specifically, less hip-hop. The league's label for its new dress code is "business casual," taking aim at such mainstays of NBA arena style as outsize T-shirts, hats, do-rags, sunglasses, headphones and big chains. The bling ban will be backed by fines and, if required, suspensions, though Stern believes disciplinary action won't prove necessary. "When it's properly understood," he says, "it will be embraced."That understanding may take a while. Some players have already denounced the new code as racist, an attack on black culture....
  • Sports: To Play or Not To Play

    It seemed to be cause for celebration: Tedy Bruschi, defensive centerpiece of three New England Patriots Super Bowl championships, returned to practice last week eight months after a stroke that threatened to end his career (and seven months after surgery to repair a hole in his heart). But some observers are greeting his comeback with considerable consternation. Though Bruschi, 32, says his medical team was unanimous in clearing him to play, and the Patriots insist that the final decision rested with "Bruschi and his family," prominent ex-NFLers decried the return as too perilous. Even the response of rabid Pats fans was muted. "People are wondering, 'Why risk it?' " says Gerry Callahan, cohost of WEEI's popular morning sports talk show. "We all thought he was smarter than that." Bruschi told reporters, "I'm living life one day at a time right now. I'm very fortunate that I'm still able to play the game that I love."Bostonians have an acute sensitivity to such issues. Twelve years...
  • NFL: WORKING OVERTIME

    Andy Benoit has written his NFL preview for nine seasons now--rather remarkable, since he's just 19 years old. This year the Boise, Idaho, teen scored big: a three-book deal with Ballantine. He talked "Andy Benoit's Touchdown 2005" with Peri's Mark Starr.With all the pros out there, why should anybody listen to a 19-year-old?Three reasons: I know what I'm talking about. I'm too young to have developed much tact, so it makes for better reading. And in the world of sports, young is better these days. Think LeBron James, Michelle Wie.Does that mean that you were even better when you were 11?Well, it's harder to criticize an 11-year-old.You foresee any surprises this season?The Arizona Cardinals will make a run at the division title, mainly because the division [NFC West] they play in is terrible. And I picked Pittsburgh to finish third in the AFC North. The Steelers don't know how to put together back-to-back successful seasons.What's your Super Bowl prediction?New England and...
  • Starr Gazing: Palmeiro's Stumble

    Dave Stewart, the estimable former star pitcher for Oakland and Toronto, had a rather interesting take when his one-time A's teammate, Jose Canseco, published his accusatory book on steroids. Stewart reportedly said that Canseco was a lot of things--by implication, many of them unflattering--but that he had never known Canseco to be a liar.I had much the same reaction to Canseco's naming names in his book. He only named four, and three of those--including Rafael Palmeiro--were largely inconsequential when it came to the slugger's literary success. The book was always destined to make headlines once he talked about shooting up with Mark McGwire, whose 70-home-run season and playful record chase with Sammy Sosa was credited with, if not baseball's salvation, at least its reinvigoration. I saw no reason for Canseco to make up any other names. And if he was going to make them up, why stop at a paltry four? After all, he played 17 seasons for seven different teams yet only fingered a few...
  • Starr Gazing: Raising Hall of Fame Standards

    Tonight in Seattle, or one of the next few nights there, Baltimore Orioles first basemen Rafael Palmeiro will lace his 3,000th base hit, thus joining one of baseball's most exclusive clubs. Only Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray have ever compiled 3,000 hits along with 500 home runs.My baseball friends say that, as a result of this rare milestone, Palmeiro is destined for Cooperstown--that either 500 home runs or 3,000 hits is usually sufficient to punch your Hall of Fame ticket. Thus the combo makes it a "no-brainer," they say. Palmeiro, who will turn 41 in September, has shown no inclination to retire and put it to the test. With 566 home runs to date, he may pass both his fading teammate Sammy Sosa and the 600 mark next season--putting him fifth all-time behind only Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds and Willie Mays.But what so many of us love about baseball is that it is the most delectable brain food. Every decision on the field, every analysis of a player or a team off...
  • HOST CITIES: OLYMPIC CALCULATIONS

    If New York City loses its bid for the 2012 Olympics this week, the United States immediately becomes a heavy favorite to host the next Summer Games in 2016. On Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee will vote on 2012, with Paris and London regarded as front runners. If a European favorite does win, the U.S. Olympic Committee could ordain New York as its 2016 candidate, but is more likely to reopen competition. In 2002, when New York won USOC backing for the 2012 bid, 9/11 was a uniquely compelling factor. Some rivals said that New York's victory was more about politics than the quality of its proposal. San Francisco (the losing finalist to New York), Washington, Houston and Los Angeles could all compete to become the official American designate for 2016.Whichever city prevailed at home would have a big edge. The IOC prefers to rotate its Games around the world. And both Europe (Athens 2004 and the presumed 2012 winner) and Pacific Rim nations (Sydney 2000 and Beijing 2008)...
  • Starr Gazing: Off the Podium

    A year ago I summed up the chances of New York winning the 2012 Olympics rather succinctly: no way, no how!My wisdom had barely floated out onto the Internet when Jay Kriegel, executive director of the city's Olympic-bid committee, NYC2012, was on the phone to me. I braced myself for a harangue, as only a New Yorker can harangue. But Kriegel's tone was more pitying than punitive. "Mark, Mark, you're wrong. You just don't get it," he lamented, assuring me that New York's bid was riding the wings of destiny. Or riding something equally poetic.That's how the New York campaign was run, on the wings of the two "ch"s--charm and chutzpah--both of which abound there. It was easy to surrender to NYC2012's absolute certainty and unabashed enthusiasm. But charm and chutzpah can carry you only so far. And today in Singapore, they collided with reality, as the International Olympic Committee swiftly dispatched the New York bid, on its second of four secret ballots.In truth, New York's Singapore...
  • 'This Is Winnable'

    NEWSWEEK: Do you still believe that New York can win?Daniel Doctoroff: This is winnable. But I think anybody who says they know what is going to happen is deluding themselves.How much was New York's bid hurt by the West Side stadium deal falling apart at the last minute?If we hadn't come up with a solution [afterward], it would have been a fatal liability. But I think there is a sense of relief that it was resolved and wonder that it could get resolved in such a dramatic way. Obviously there are plusses and minuses in relation to the West Side. But this solution didn't deviate from our fundamental concepts. And we are talking about an area [in Queens] that hosted 96 million people for two world's fairs. I think we found a solution that works for pretty much everyone.How much of a handicap is it for New York getting lower technical ratings from the IOC evaluation committee than Paris or London?Most of that related to the stadium issue. Now that that question has been answered, there...
  • Starr Gazing: Retiring at the Top

    When Ted Williams reported to spring training with the Boston Red Sox in 1960, his prospects for the season ahead seemed rather unsettled. Of course, Williams, the man many regard as the finest hitter in the history of baseball, had spent a career unsettling pretty much everyone--opposing pitchers with his prowess, fans with his oft-cantankerous temperament and the press with his unwavering hostility.Still, nobody would have wished it to end so badly. The previous season, when he had turned 41, Williams, hobbled by injuries and with two wartime military stints behind him, was no longer "the splendid splinter" of legend. He had hit a meager .254, almost 100 points below his lifetime average, with just 10 home runs. Nobody wanted to witness any further ravages of time through a long, tortuous season.Instead, Williams scripted one final season of magic. He batted .316 (second best in the league), his on-base percentage was .452 (for comparison, 1960 home-run champ Mickey Mantle's was ...
  • Starr Gazing: The Buenos Aires Connection

    ABC needs a lot more folks like me who are willing to accept the challenge of recruiting viewers during the NBA Finals.I serve as point man for a group of longtime basketball fans who simply have no stomach for three-hour contests that resemble the Mike Tyson-Kevin McBride fight far more than the "Showtime" ballet of the NBA's glory years. Nor for more timeouts than my kid saw as a 5-year-old.Since I am obliged to watch, I take on the responsibility of calling my pals sometime late in the third quarter, just before they're lost to Jon Stewart, to alert them if the game threatens to become interesting. I did that for the first time during Sunday's fifth game. When I called around the next morning to see if the gang had stuck with it through the dramatic overtime ending, all, in fact, had. But nobody was overly grateful for the heads-up. There was this sense that they had endured rather than thrilled. I could almost hear my brother shaking his head as he said, "It's just so hard to...
  • Starr Gazing: The Return of the Zen Master

    Hollywood sequels seldom rise to the level of the original production, and Phil Jackson's return to coach the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant doesn't figure to be an exception.We sportswriters have had more than our fair share of fun abusing Detroit Pistons Coach Larry Brown for his wandering ways. The man certainly does, as the old Joni Mitchell song goes, "got the urge for going." Since he first took the reins of the American Basketball Association's Carolina Cougars more than three decades ago, Brown has gone on to coach seven different NBA teams and two college squads. And win or lose in this NBA finals against the San Antonio Spurs, Brown seems poised, after just two seasons in Motown, to make another leap, most likely to a front office job with the Cleveland Cavaliers.But while 10 teams in 33 seasons suggest that Brown may struggle with the loyalty thing, all that to-ing and fro-ing has provided us with a unique perspective on his coaching abilities. He is, arguably, the...
  • Starr Gazing: 'Queer Eye' for the Baseball Guys

    Everybody knows that my state, my home, my Massachusetts, often finds itself out of sync with the rest of the country. While that tends to be a rule rather than an exception, our idiosyncratic ways still make news. (And I'm not even talking about this week's perjury indictment of Thomas M. Finneran, our former speaker of the House; that's just business as usual to which, I suspect, folks everywhere can relate.)Recently, we made national headlines on a couple of other counts. One was regarded as serious, but really wasn't. The other was deemed frivolous, but was, to my mind, far more serious. The "serious" news was the revelation that Massachusetts drivers ranked 49th in the nation in knowledge of the rules of the road. (No. 50 was neighboring Rhode Island, which would be part of our Bay State but for a tiny religious schism in the Puritan community almost 400 years ago.)Of course, nobody who has driven, or even walked, in Boston for five minutes would be the least surprised by our...
  • CHINA: A JUMP-START ON 2008

    If you think Yao Ming is China's hottest sports star, you're... an American. The new kid on the block--literally, on the blocks--in China is Liu Xiang, who last summer was the first Chinese male to win an Olympic track-and-field gold medal, tying the 110-meter hurdles world record in the process. Liu, 22, makes his U.S. debut Saturday at the Prefontaine Classic in Oregon; he'll race in New York City next week. "It's tough for a track athlete to rise to the level of a Yao Ming," says Mark Wetmore, whose Global Athletics & Marketing represents China's track-and-field federation. "But there's a real buzz around Liu."Liu is a singular sensation now. But with Beijing's hosting the '08 Games, nobody believes he'll remain that way. "When the Chinese put their minds to it, they can be among the best in any sport," says Jill Geer of USA Track & Field. China finished third in the overall medal count in Athens and should contend for the top spot in '08. Olympics watchers think it won't...
  • Starr Gazing: The Race for 2012

    I wax nostalgic quite often, a plague of the aging baby boomer. Still, I never imagined I could be sentimental about the olden days of the International Olympic Committee, back when that great autocrat, Juan Antonio Samaranch, ruled the roost.But that was before the IOC booted some of its most notorious rogues and brought in a Rogge of a different sort. Samaranch successor Jacques Rogge ventured so far out on the reformer's limb that, in awarding future Olympics, bribery actually became a no-no. Thus it has become increasingly difficult, absent naked corruption, to parse the selection process. Still, with the vote on the 2012 Games just a month away, it would be decidedly unsporting not to at least try. So here's the latest intelligence from the land of the rings.Pretty much everybody within the five circles believes that the long race to host the Games has come down to the three glamour cities of the Western world: Paris, London and New York. (Moscow and Madrid are expected to be...