Al Cantello's efforts to ride a camel in Bahrain and that nation's attempts to build a world-class track team show a common tendency to backfire. But Bahrain has an advantage Cantello doesn't - a seemingly limitless flow of oil and money.
A Persian Gulf state of only 231 square miles, mostly desert above and oil below. Bahrain recently hosted a two-week sports science symposium. It attracted athletes and officials from all the Gulf states and its faculty listed 17 Americans including Cantello, Navy's cross-country and field-events coach.
Among the lecturers were Dr. Charles Berry, the astronauts' medical man, and Dr. David Geiger, who designed the covering for the indoor stadium in Pontiac, Mich.
After a quick tour of Bahrain, Geiger's imagination ran a little rampant, according to Cantello.
"He wanted to put a roof over the whole country." Cantello said, "and keep it at 70 degrees all the time."
As it was the temperature bounced between 110 and 115, which isn't conducive to much distance work.
Each morning, a Rolls Royce with fur floor mats would come to Cantello's luxury hotel and transport him to Isa Town Stadium, where he would instruct a willing group of Bahraini soldiers - one discus thrower, one javelin thrower and two shot putters.
"The javelin man had a sore arm," said Cantello, former world holder in the event. "They would all come at 3 a.m. workout for an hour and a half, have lunch and go home. It was too hot to work out in the afternoon. That was their army duty, training for track and field. When somebody appears to have some ability, they put him in the army and assign him to athletics."
Thus far, visible success has been confined to soccer, a sport watched by overflow crowds of 15,000-plus and extensively televised. The soccer coach is an English import and when Cantello asked a Bahraini about his salary, speculating at $35,000 the reply was: "A month sure."
Equipment simply pours in and Cantello got a look at a shipment.
"There were piles of waterproof crates," he said. "It looked like a stockyard. It was an arrogant display of material - Universal gyms. women's dises, projectors. They had a treadmill flown in for $2,400 and it didn't work.
"Qatar ordered 3,000 pair of shoes at one whack. When there's so much money involved, the temptations are great to fiddle with kickbacks. Greed destroys you. You can destroy yourself. One guy had a nervous breakdown. He couldn't handle it."
One high school coach from California didn't destroy himself but he hurriedly disappeared after allegedly pocketing $350,000 in kickbacks on athletic shipments to Saudi Arabia.
"The Arabs threatened to behead huim," Cantello said, "so he became very scarce."
Cantello reported close attention at lectures from the 276 students, many of whom were receiving college credit through the sponsoring United States Sports Academy, an affiliate of the University of South Alabama.
"There was a problem with a couple of coaches who had been to the East German School of sports at Leipzig." Cantello said. "They would sometimes contradict what the coaches were telling them and they would repeat, 'Leipzig, Leipzig.'"
Saudi Arabia reportedly invested $20 million in its athletic package with the Whittaker Corp. In Bahrain, the U.S. Sports Academy has developed a national coaching program, established a coordinated school sport plan and evaluated the physical fitness of all 65,000 school-age children. Weekly sports education programs are shown on TV. There are more than 70 sports clubs in a nation with a population of only 250,000.
Cantello found the youngsters enthusiastic, despite their limitations.
A bunch of kids was diving off a monument into a reservoir," Cantello said, "so Bruce Mitchell, the New Mexico diving coach held a clinic on the spot.
"If money can buy motivation in terms of athletes, there's no limit to what can be accomplished. It's going to come down to leadership."
Right row the leadership is provided by 28-year-old Shaikh Isa bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa, secretary general of the Supreme Council for Youth and Sport. He owns the luxury hotel, and the Rolls Royce with fur floor mats and a string of Arabian horses.
"It's like a pro football owner who wants bigger and better toys." Cantello said. "If they make progress to satisfy him, they'll be OK."