ALPHABETIZING THE SUMMER GAMES World's political changes serve as letter opener for athletes

THE BALTIMORE SUN

1992 Summer Olympics A to Z

Albania. Kept home for 20 years by a communist regime bent on repression, Albania returns to the Summer Games with an eight-athlete team that includes Frank Leskaj, 23, a swimmer from Miami who holds dual citizenship.

Bubka. Born in Ukraine, a resident of Berlin, once a cog in the old Soviet sports machine, Sergei Bubka calls himself a "citizen of the world." While other athletes are grounded, Bubka flies, setting world records in the pole vault nearly every time he competes. His current standard: 20 feet, 1/2 inch.

Cuba. Fidel Castro & Co. are back in the Olympics for the first time since 1980. Food may be rationed, and the sugar cane harvest may be dismal, but gold medals can still be produced by the likes of high-jumper Javier Sotomayor, 800-meter runner Ana Quirot, a baseball team that American scouts can look at, but never touch, and a boxing team that is led by brawler Felix Savon.

Darnyi. If he were a country, Hungary's Tamas Darnyi would have finished sixth in the men's standings at the 1991 world championships. He won two golds and set two world records in the 200- and 400-meter individual medleys and a bronze in the butterfly. Left virtually blind in one eye because of a childhood snowball fight, Darnyi rarely sees another swimmer in a race. Usually, he is far ahead of the field.

Europe. A stage and a state of mind for an Olympics held to honor the united Europe. The greatest athletes wintered in Albertville, France. Now, they'll summer in Barcelona, Spain. The last time Europe was the host for two games was in 1952 with the winter events in Oslo, Norway, and the summer events in Helsinki, Finland.

Fu Mingxia. She looks like a gymnast, or even a dancer, but

14-year-old Fu Mingxia of China is a world champion platform diver. Fu trains up to 10 hours a day, visits her parents twice a year and is just the latest prodigy developed by China's diving assembly line. Gao Min hopes to win her second consecutive Olympic gold in the 3-meter springboard competition. Sun Shuwei is the reigning men's platform world champion.

Germany. One country. One team. One flag. Three years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the newest unified Olympic power is still trying to blend the remnants of the old East with the stability of the West. From the old, they'll continue to pile up medals in sports such as canoe-kayak, shooting and rowing and women's track and field. From the new, they'll emerge as contenders in men's field hockey and sailing.

Heptathlon. To be considered the world's greatest women's athlete, you must run the 100 hurdles, the 200 and the 800, throw the shot put and the javelin, and leap in the long jump and high jump. All in two days. American Jackie Joyner-Kersee has the world record, the 1984 Olympic silver medal and the 1988 gold. Now, she's being pushed for supremacy by Germany's Sabine Braun.

Independent Team. The country is plunged in ethnic war, the United Nations is applying economic and political sanctions, so what are Yugoslav athletes to do? Accept a name change to Independent Team. Wear white. And receive medals while the Olympic anthem plays and the Olympic flag rises.

Johnsons. One is destined for gold, the other redemption. American Michael Johnson, who runs the 200 meters with the ferocity of a fullback plowing through the line, isn't simply after a medal, he's out to break a 13-year-old world record. Canadian Ben Johnson, returning to the Olympics four years after being stripped of his 100 gold, will try to win another medal, this time, while racing drug-free.

Kenya. From the Rift Valley, the world's greatest distance runners have raced on a long, hard road to glory. So powerful is the Kenyan track team that reigning 800-meter world champion Billy Konchellah and reigning 1,500 Olympic champion Peter Rono failed to make the cut to Barcelona. The new stars to watch include William Tanui in the 800, David Kibet in the 1,500, Yobes Ondieki in the 5,000, Richard Chelimo in the 10,000 and Matthew Birir in the steeplechase.

Lithuania. A story of rebirth after generations of rule by the Soviet Union. Led by an NBA-star, Sarunas Marciulionis, fueled by donations from the Grateful Dead and a resort in Monaco, tiny, independent Lithuania is coming to Barcelona as the team most likely to win the silver medal in men's basketball.

Marathon. A 26-mile, 385-yard race of attrition will end with the most spectacular and heart-pounding climb in Olympic history, a two-mile ascent to the stadium atop Montjuic. Experts say the race will be won on the relatively flat stage that leads to the hill overlooking the city. But if they're wrong, these could become races for the ages. Poland's Wanda Panfil is favored among the women, and Italy's Gelindo Bordin seeks to defend his men's title.

Nightmare. The common reaction among their opponents every time the pros of the American men's basketball team play in Barcelona. At this level, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird are all but untouchable, and unbeatable. The demolition opens against Angola and closes with the gold-medal game Aug. 8. A far more interesting tournament will decide the women's gold, with the Americans, led by Teresa Edwards, holding a slight edge.

Official Olympic sponsors. Mars bar stands on the streets of Barcelona. Copiers by Xerox. Computers by IBM. What are the Games coming to? A giant corporate show. Even the U.S. team budget of $297 million was financed 42 percent by corporate sponsors and 28 percent by television revenue.

Pins. Money can buy nearly everything from tickets to the opening ceremonies to T-shirts, but it will take shrewd dealing to pick off the hot pins of the 1992 Summer Games -- new issues from Croatia, Lithuania and Estonia, and the last of the Soviet-style hammer-and-sickle numbers.

Qualifiers. A little-known Olympic fact: Each nation is entitled to have one athlete in every event. The rest must meet qualifying standards.

Ramblas. A street like none other, cutting through the heart of the old city of Barcelona, crammed full with shops, restaurants, cafes and best of all, pedestrians, out for a midnight stroll.

South Africa. Thirty-two years after being tossed from the Olympics for the policy of apartheid, the South Africans are returning to the Summer Games with a team that is predominantly white. Elana Meyer is the country's best medal hope, in the women's 10,000 meters. But it is the appearance of African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela at the opening ceremonies that is expected to cap South Africa's dramatic re-emergence on a world stage.

TripleCast. What Heaven's Gate was to Hollywood, NBC's TripleCast may be to television. The network paid $401 million for the American broadcast rights for the Olympics, but could gush $50 million in red ink alone on the TripleCast. Will Americans plunk down $125 for wall-to-wall Olympics coverage in the dead of summer when they can see the highlights for free at night? Answer that correctly, and you, too, could become a network executive.

Unified Team. Once more, for old-time's sake, the remnants of the old Soviet Union will compete as one at the Olympics. Gymnastics, track and field, shooting, wrestling, boxing and rowing remain strengths. But sports' big red machine is running out of gas. By 1994, the union will disappear, leaving in its wake poorly funded teams from each of the republics.

Vicario. In her hometown of Barcelona, she is known simply as little Arantxa. But on her tiny shoulders, tennis player Arantxa Sanchez Vicario will carry the hopes of a city and a country as she attempts to win a gold medal against the likes of Germany's Steffi Graf and America's Jennifer Capriati, Mary Joe Fernandez and Zina Garrison. Another Sanchez, Arantxa's brother Emilio, will face off on clay against Germany's Boris Becker and Michael Stich, Sweden's Stefan Edberg, and America's Pete Sampras, Michael Chang and Jim Courier.

Women. Forget the Dream Team. The Americans to watch in Barcelona are the 15 women of the U.S. swimming team. With the East German drug factory closed, the Chinese sputtering and the Australians bringing only a few stars, the Americans could claim a half-dozen or more golds. World-record holders Anita Nall (200 breaststroke) and Jenny Thompson (100 freestyle), 1988 triple gold-medalist Janet Evans and 1992 five-race threat Summer Sanders lead swimming's newest dynasty.

X-rays. Could be important for a U.S. women's gymnastics team, which includes Betty Okino with stress fractures in her back, Michelle Campi with a broken elbow and Dominique Dawes with a severely strained ankle.

Yachting. This isn't the America's Cup, which means money doesn't buy medals. But it might help to be part of royalty. Among the favorites in the soling class is the Spanish boat skippered by the Prince of Bourbon, whose father happens to be King Juan Carlos.

Zmeskal. Courageous. Compact. Competitive. Kim Zmeskal, the 1991 all-around world champion, is the gymnast most likely to steal America's heart. Although she was beaten on a technicality by Shannon Miller at last month's U.S. trials in Baltimore, Zmeskal remains the favorite for the all-around gold and the leader of a team expected to win the silver. The Soviets, competing as the Unified Team and led by Svetlana Boginskaya and Tatyana Gutsu, are the choice for the team gold.

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