Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Illustration for article titled Anatomy of a Champion

Check this out—David Halberstam's 1996 Vanity Fair story on two Olympic hopefuls:

The American fencers spent three days living the comparative high life in Madrid after competing in La Coruña, on the western coast of Spain. They practiced during the day at a Madrid fencing club, and they lodged in two rooms at the Hotel Lisboa, which cost them $20 each a night. On tour they sometimes stayed in one room—breaking down hotel beds to put their mattresses on the floor was a necessary skill for American fencers. But at the Hotel Lisboa they had their own bathrooms, as well as telephones and television sets, so it was a considerable bargain. With a World Cup event coming up in Venice, they had to decide whether to stay on in Madrid or go to Rome.

It was not an easy call. On the side of Madrid was the relative luxury of the Hotel Lisboa and the fact that Madrid was significantly cheaper than Rome. In Rome’s favor was the fact that Nick Bravin (on the cover of this magazine), at 24 the senior member of the team as well as its de facto travel agent, translator, and general mentor, spoke better Italian than Spanish. Also, Bravin believed that the younger members of the team, who did not know Rome well, would benefit by wandering through the streets of one of the great cities of the world.

Rome it would be. The next morning Bravin went to a local travel agency, where he found that it would cost them some $700 each to fly to Rome, but less than $200 each to get there by train (second class)—a grim, cramped, exhausting 23-hour trip. The airfare represented a good deal of money for the team; their dilemma was of the kind shared by many amateur athletes from America who, while representing one of the richest countries in the world, play sports that do not televise well or about which the American public cares little. Bravin was certainly used to these kinds of problems and was skillful at getting around them; he soon found just what he was looking for—a leg of a Thai Airways flight that would take them from Madrid to Rome for about $100 a person.

At the Rome airport Bravin consulted his tattered notebook containing a list of the cheapest hotels in the world’s capitals and started calling around. At the first seven places, he struck out, but at the eighth, the Hotel Contilia, he found one room still available, at $120, or $30 a head. On this trip there were only four of them, rather than the usual five, since teammate Peter Devine was sick with the flu and had gone ahead to Venice to rest for the World Cup event there. They played hearts to see who got the worst bed—the one they jokingly called “the crippler.”

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