Friday, March 30, 2018

Sabotage at Sports City (#115)

Sabotage at Sports City coverThe ultimate in over-the-top ridiculousness for the Hardy Boys was when they went to pace in The Skyfire Puzzle (#85). It was stupid to think NASA would train a trio of — let’s face it — non-genius teenagers in less than a week, then shoot them into space to fight crime.

So Sabotage at Sports City (#115) will not overcome that mountain of wish-fulfillment and authorial laziness. But it may come in second, as the Hardys are allowed to investigate a terroristic threat at the Summer Olympics with little oversight and little need to cooperate with real law-enforcement agencies. Honestly, you’d think this would be exciting, but after reading this, I’m more interested in the Olympics than I am this book. I hope you’ll forgive me.

(Before I start, I have to mention that stupid cover tag: “Frank and Joe swing into action — to save the Summer Olympics!” That’s awful. I came up with a better one in about two minutes: “Frank and Joe have Olympics fever — and it could be fatal!” I’m sure, with some [or no] thought, you could do better than the Simon & Schuster copywriter or I did.)

I have long joked that Frank and Joe had insisted upon their amateur detective status because they were waiting for their opportunity to detective in the Olympics. They don’t get a chance to do so here; they detect at the Olympics, sure, but they have no competition and there’s no medal stand.

So: Chet Morton has a cousin, an Irish cousin, named Sean O’Malley. Sean is a marathon runner competing at the … at the … you know, the city and year of these Olympics are never mentioned. Sports City was written in 1992, when the Summer Olympics were held in Barcelona, Spain, but the boys are only “a thousand miles from home” (2). The 1996 Coca-Cola Games — er, Olympics — were held in Atlanta, which is a little under 900 miles from New York. That’s close enough, and unless Frank and Joe went back in time to the 1904 Olympics, held in St. Louis, I don’t think we’re going to find a Summer Olympic venue that fits that description better. On the other hand, the Tuscarawas River is mentioned as a site near the Games, and that’s in eastern Ohio, so who knows?

Frank, Joe, and Chet are at the Olympics to watch Sean, but that doesn’t stop them from getting tickets to the plum events: the decathlon, gymnastics, and front-row tickets for men’s basketball. Men’s basketball! In 1992, no Olympic event was more anticipated than men’s basketball, as the U.S. team featured professional players for the first time. It was a team of legends: of the twelve team members, only then-collegian Christian Laettner is not in the Basketball Hall of Fame, but he is — like eight of his teammates — in the College Basketball Hall of Fame. They were stars, with opponents seemingly more interested in getting photos with the Dream Team than beating them; they were dominant on their way to the gold, with their closest game being a 32-point whipping of Croatia for the gold medal. The team playing in Atlanta four years later (still called the Dream Team) was not as impressive, but it had five holdovers and another five Basketball Hall of Famers on its twelve-man roster. That Dream Team also went undefeated, with its narrowest victory a 22-point win over Lithuania; unlike the original, the 1996 version didn’t score 100 points every game — they topped the century mark only four out of eight times, and their lowest point total was 87.

Also: according to Charles Barkley, the 1992 Dream Team received death threats, making my discussion of the team even more appropriate for this book. (It’ll become apparent why later.)

Anyway, Joe holds onto the envelope with tickets as if it “held a couple of thousand dollar bills” (2). He’d better; I think the tickets might be worth more than a couple grand to scalpers. The envelope also holds tickets to gymnastics — always a hot ticket — and the decathlon. Chet (or Sean!) must really have some pull!

When Chet meets up with the Hardys, he’s cramming three ice-cream sandwiches into his face, concerned about a threatening letter sent to the chairman of the Olympic Committee, threatening to set an Olympic record by killing 53 people. (The real record is 11, when Palestinian terrorist group Black September killed 11 Israelis during the 1972 Munich Olympics. Anti-abortion terrorist Eric Robert Rudolph killed two non-athletes by bombing Centennial Park during the ’96 Olympics.) Fifty-three happens to be the number of marathon runners, explaining Chet’s extreme nervousness.

Sabotage looks to be on the program, as the lighting of the Olympic cauldron causes an explosion that knocks the torchbearer down the stairs. (The ’92 Olympic cauldron was lit by a flaming arrow, which was extremely cool; in ’96, Muhammad Ali, visibly affected by Parkinson’s, lit the cauldron. Sending Ali tumbling down the stairs would have been a tragedy.) Joe immediately pronounces the man dead from across the stadium. He’s wrong, of course; no one dies in a Hardy Boys book.

Despite the accident and death threat, Frank, Joe, and Chet are allowed to stroll through the Olympic Village to meet Sean for lunch (at a restaurant called “Track Meat”). During the meal, Frank realizes the marathon event has 53 entrants, which does nothing to reassure Sean. Chet recommends the Hardys, whom the narrator says have “earned reputations as hot young detectives” (2), to investigate the threats. Sure, why not? I can’t think of any difficulties that would be caused by their usual slipshod manner of investigation at one of the world’s premiere events. Security? Language difficulties? These trifles do not concern the Hardys! Sean thinks he can get security clearance for the Hardys through his coach. This works almost immediately, with the head of Olympic security giving them both security and athlete passes.

The next day, the swimming events are canceled because of an overabundance of chlorine in the water. (In the 2016 Rio Olympics, a pool’s water turned green because of a lack of chlorine.) Joe thinks this smacks of a “huge terrorist plot. International maybe” (19), which, sure — overcholorinating water is one of the biggest avenues of international terrorism. That’s why you have to sign a registry to buy chlorine — or at least that’s what the guy down at the pool supply store tells me. Anyway, the only witness falsely IDs a swimmer, so Frank and Joe give up on that angle. Joe doesn’t think the “terrorist” is an athlete, which Frank agrees with in the most awkward way possible: “I knew I was related to you for a good reason” (28). The reason you’re related to him is because your father inseminated your mother twice, dipstick.

Fortunately for Frank and Joe, the sabotage escalates. The uneven bars are greased, causing a Chinese athlete to injure himself. Sean and his roommate get a threatening note. Frank thinks another marathoner might be trying to scare off his competition, so Frank and Joe start looking into the field, particularly the frontrunner, Maddox “Mad Dog” Pomereau. They learn nothing, but during lunch, they meet Sean’s Swedish swimming athlete-with-benefits, Sigrid. (Well, that’s my interpretation, anyway.) Sigrid has a mad-on for Olympic officials after a failed appeal in the previous Olympics, so Frank and Joe expand their suspect pool to the female half of the Olympic population. Later, a flash of anger and getting caught snooping in a locker causes the brothers to consider American boxer Charles “Chili Pepper” Morgan as a suspect.

As you can tell, Frank and Joe have no idea who to investigate.

After a hit-and-run incident, Sean’s roommate is forced to miss the race. The next day, Frank, Joe, and Chet are in the stadium, watching the decathlon while waiting for the marathoners. The standout decathlete is American Adam Conner, an ambidextrous athlete who has somehow overcome his weak events while his twin, Cory, had to abandon his decathlon dreams after an injury; Cory is pursuing a career in awful announcing. Adam wins the event with a record 9,100 points — and as the current world record, set in 2015 by Ashton Eaton, is 9,045, it would still be the world (and Olympic) record.

Sean and Mad Dog lead the marathon, with most of the rest not getting much attention. Most of those mentioned are American or European, with only one “African” (66) runner mentioned; Today, Africans — particularly East Africans — dominate marathoning, but that wasn’t the case at the ’92 Olympics; Hwang Young-Cho, from South Korea, took the gold, and Koichi Morishita, a Japanese runner, took the silver. (Germany’s Stephan Freigang finished third.) But East Asians dominated the event, with Japan placing three of the top eight runners and South Korea taking two of the top ten. The only African runner in the top 20 was Salah Kokaich from Morocco; he finished sixth. By the ’96 Olympics, the demographics had changed again, with the medals being taken by Josia Thugwane (South Africa), Lee Bong-Ju (South Korea), and Erick Wainaina (Kenya) respectively. But in 2000, a trio of Ethiopians swept the medals; in 2008, it went Kenya, Morocco, and Ethiopia. In the last two Olympics, the only non-African nation to take a medal was the US, which snagged bronze in 2016.

Anyway, Mad Dog edges out Sean, and an unnamed Nigerian finishes third. Frank and Joe lose their balance in the crowd’s excitement. (Joe gets his concussion for the book.) Smelling conspiracy, they look for the terrorists but find no one. Later, in Sean’s room, they find a cake decorated with shamrocks and Olympic symbols; suspecting nothing, they dig in. But the cake is a lie laced with knockout drops. While they’re unconscious, someone steals the cake, the Hardys’ wallets, and both sets of Olympic IDs. In a low point, a security guard prevents Frank from claiming the cake, found in the garbage, as evidence. Joe happens across Sigrid, but she’s obviously not their suspect. And just to reassure regular readers, Joe gets attacked by a Great Dane, the dog of Cory’s video editor, Vinnie. Vinnie claims he’s been ordered not to let the boys see any video.

In a rare bit of decent detecting, Frank and Joe try role-playing to figure out who the culprit is. That doesn’t really work, but the watermark on one of the threatening notes matches those from the broadcast center. Later, they get a call from someone who has info on the culprit; Frank and Joe inform the security head the next day when they get replacement IDs. Catherine Barton, the head of security, in turn informs the FBI. (The Feebs in turn have informed Barton that Sean’s roommate was hit by a drunk, not a terrorist.) The FBI has already noticed the watermark clue — sorry, Frank! It’s almost as if the FBI has investigated crimes before!

As it turns out, the tip was a waste of the Hardys’ (and the FBI’s) time. On the way back to the Olympics, the brothers run out of gas on the railroad tracks, and their car is hit by a train. Frank and Joe are delayed for hours — hours! — answering questions after having caused a train accident. That’s somewhat accurate, at least. They also have to apologize for the destruction of one of security’s cars, which seems a bit light.

But in a discussion with Chet, Frank has a brainstorm: The Conners are the culprits, making threats and pulling pranks to cover for Cory’s impersonation of Adam in Adam’s weak events. After breaking into Cory’s room and convincing Vinnie to let them see some tape (Vinnie doesn’t resist much, to be fair), they’re convinced that Adam’s ambidexterity is an excuse to conceal Cory’s different handedness. Afterward, the Hardys are attacked by two masked men about the Conners’ height; they’re saved by a wandering security guard.

The next day, the Hardys convince the IOC to give them a hearing. All their evidence is circumstantial, leaving the Conners smirking, but when Frank notices Cory’s tie was tied in a right-handed style forty minutes after it was tied left-handed. Cory immediately crumbles, and the twins confess to everything except pushing Frank and Joe during the marathon. (That was just crowd enthusiasm.)

Justice wins, and Frank and Joe are victorious! Chet has a silver medalist in the family! But unfortunately, he has no photos of the Olympics, even though he was snapping away throughout the events — he forgot to load his camera. [sad trombone] Oh, Chet, all you’re good for is giving Frank and Joe opportunities to show their awesomeness!

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