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Tuesday, February 19, 2002
Curling up in bed alone

By Jeff Merron and Eric Neel
Special to Page 2

To be an Olympic champion, you must be totally dedicated, you must make sacrifices ... nothing can distract you from the single-minded pursuit of your Olympic dream.

Not even your spouse.

Ewan MacDonald
British curler Ewan MacDonald, left, might be craving human contact after more than a week of sleeping alone.
Ewan and Fiona MacDonald, married members of the British curling team, know this, and that's why they announced they will not have sex throughout the Olympic fortnight. To avoid temptation, they've even stayed in separate hotels.

You gotta admire their commitment, but has abstinence really helped their performance?

Rocky Balboa's manager said, "Women weaken legs," and coaches and trainers have long claimed that funny business the night before a game saps an athlete's strength and leaves him or her distracted from the business at hand.

What's more, some believe that athletes who are, shall we say, frustrated, are more aggressive. "Sex makes you happy. Happy people do not run a 3:47 mile," said world-class miler Marty Liquori.

Then again, too much aggression can be a problem -- Tyson was clearly a little too hungry when he bit into Holyfield -- especially in sports requiring finesse, like curling.

On the other hand, a recent study by Italian researchers, who presumably know something about amore, found that more sex = more aggression, not less. An active sex life leads to higher testosterone levels, they say. Canadian downhill skier Karin Lee Gardner and 1972 Olympic 800-meter champion Dave Wottle would agree: each claimed that pre-race sex not only felt good, it helped their causes.

One scientist says there's absolutely no harm in making whoopie. Ian Shrier, a Canadian sports physiologist, found that sex is not really taxing at all. "If you think about the amount of energy that most couples expend when they're having sex, it's pretty minor in comparison to a lot of the other activities we do," he said on the Australian radio program, "The Sports Factor," last year.

Of course, for single people looking for love or something less lasting, other energies are expended in the sexual context -- the whole pickup scene can be tiring and stressful, Shrier noted. And word has it that the search for private rendezvous spots in the dorm-style Olympic village is pretty exhausting in and of itself.

In many ways, the Olympics are the ultimate love-in: The athletes and their admirers gathered in Salt Lake City have 250,000 condoms available to them for those cold nights in the Olympic Village. There's no shortage of young, fit partners available, and it's clear that many athletes don't mind seeing some buttons fly the night before competition.

But for the MacDonalds, who've known each other since they were 14, sex just shouldn't be all that exciting or taxing any more -- Shrier pointed out that sex between married partners burns only 25 to 50 calories, or about the equivalent of walking up two flights of stairs.

Maybe sex isn't the real distraction for the MacDonalds, after all. When you listen to Ewan explain their Olympic setup, it sounds like intermarriage competition is actually what's driving them wild. "If she gets a gold and I don't," he said, "then the no-sex rule might continue."

Fiona's still got a chance. The British women face Sweden in a playoff today, to determine which team will make the semifinals. Ewan might want to rethink his abstinence strategy, though -- the British men finished the curling round-robin with a 3-6 record, ahead of only the hapless French team.

"Closer Look" will be a regular Page 2 feature, exploring a hot sports topic in greater detail.