If Olympic medalists Eric Bergoust and Gordy Sheer are representive of their peers, world-class athletes with an eye on the 2002 Winter Games are intently focused on current competition instead of the scandal rocking the Salt Lake Organizing Committee and the International Olympic Committee.
Salt Lake Olympic bid officials are under investigations by the IOC, the U.S. Olympic Committee and the U.S. Justice Department for allegedly giving scholarships to relatives of IOC members, providing IOC members with free medical services and giving numerous gifts and cash to IOC delegates.All these actions are in violation of IOC rules and seen as possible bribery attempts to win IOC delegate votes in Salt Lake City's successful bid to host the 2002 Games.
"This is the first I've heard about it," said Bergoust when informed of the SLOC scandal just prior to Christmas.
He acknowledged being completely caught up in national and international competition rather than following the scandal that may taint the IOC and Salt Lake City's hosting of the 2002 Games.
Bergoust captured the gold medal in men's freestyle aerials at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. He has since moved from his native Montana to Park City, relocating both his residence and training to the host city for the aerials competition in 2002.
It's not as if Bergoust were completely removed from possibly hearing initial media reports of the SLOC/IOC woes. Besides his Utah residency, Bergoust had been competing in aerials in the United States when reports of the scandal first broke in early December.
Sheer, who teamed with Chris Thorpe to win the men's luge doubles silver in Nagano, first heard of the SLOC scandal half a world away. News came on the BBC World Service while Sheer and other members of the U.S. luge team were competing in World Cup events, first in Latvia and then in Germany.
"It was one of the major news stories of the day and wasn't treated as simply a sporting issue," Sheer said. "The BBC seemed to focus more on the corruption within the IOC rather than singling out SLOC. SLOC was merely mentioned as one of the many cities which had taken part in such activities."
Both Sheer and Bergoust say they are hardly concerned with the issue of any possible improprieties with Salt Lake's Olympic bid and possible fallout from the various probe.
"We are pretty much focused on the task at hand -- winning medals in World Cup competition," said Sheer. "It's unfortunate this has happened, but apparently it's the price of doing business at that level. The selection process obviously needs to be looked at more closely in the future."
Added Bergoust: "The business side of it is not going to help me jump any better."
The cost of SLOC's practices in question -- initially reported to be just under a half-million dollars -- caught the eye of Sheer, who competes in one of several winter sports starving for increased attention and funding.
"The sum of money paid out for 'assistance' is substantial when seen through the eyes of an athlete in a relatively obscure sport," Sheer said. "I could think of a hundred better uses for that money."
Just as Bergoust moved to Park City, the U.S. Luge Association has an increased interest in Utah. The association has turned a Jeremy Ranch home into a makeshift headquarters and dormitory for team members while training and competing at the Utah Winter Sports Park.
"It is unfortunate that such a situation has occurred. For the sake of all Utahns, we wish it weren't so," said Sandy Caligiore, the public relations manager for the luge association.
However, the incidents and investigations won't affect the U.S. luge team or any other national team in its ongoing competitions and preparations for the 2002 Games.
"Over the next three years, our priority is to assist Salt Lake City in the preparation of its world-class venue," Caligiore said. "Thereafter, our sole interest is to maximize our training time there and win more Olympic medals."