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Top 10 stories of the Games SUMMER OLYMPICS: A FANS' GUIDE

1. The world's fastest human

Track star Michael Johnson gave the world another taste of his amazing speed at the U.S. Olympic trials, setting a world record in the 200-meter dash (19.66 seconds). He will be the heavy favorite to win the gold medal in the 100 and 200 meters, even though he finished second to Namibia's Frankie Fredericks in the 200 at a recent international meet.

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This year's Carl Lewis? Maybe, but Johnson doesn't have the same kind of charisma and won't be competing in as many events as Lewis did in 1984, when he won three gold medals and emerged as one of history's greatest Olympians.

Lewis did not qualify for the '96 Olympics in any of the sprint events, but he did manage to make his fourth U.S. team in the long jump. He is not expected to be a medal favorite, but is definitely a crowd favorite, and will get a chance to end his impressive Olympic career in front of an appreciative American audience.

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2. They might be giants

Well, we know that Shaquille O'Neal is. The U.S. Olympic basketball team - the Dream Team - got off to a slow start against the U.S. Select 22-and-Under team in its pre-Olympic tour, but the NBA stars crushed Brazil the next day and sent a frightening message to the rest of the basketball world:

Watch out.

The United States has dominated basketball for much of the sport's Olympic history and this year doesn't figure to be an exception. If the U.S. team doesn't win the gold medal, whoever does will have pulled an upset of the order of the U.S. ice hockey team in 1980.

3. Panic on Peachtree Street

The prospect of being Olympic host always sends a shiver through a city's planning department because of the tremendous logistical problems associated with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of visitors.

In Los Angeles in 1984, organizers feared that the convergence of the Olympics and several other local events would create unprecedented gridlock, causing planners to dub one particularly frightening day "Black Friday." But a successful media campaign aimed at persuading local drivers to stay off the roads prevented a traffic disaster.

That might not be possible in Atlanta, where locals fear that the city's complicated road system will not be able to handle the overload. The plan is to close parts of the city to automobile traffic and emphasize mass transit, but there still is great concern that the Games will turn the downtown area into a giant parking lot.

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4. Waterworld

The Olympic swimming competition - which will take place at Georgia Tech - will be of particular interest to local fans. Beth Botsford and Whitney Metzler of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club will compete for the United States, and Meadowbrook Swim Club coach Murray Stephens will be in Atlanta as an Olympic coach for the first time in his distinguished career.

Slow times at the Olympic trials raised concern that the U.S. team might not be a major force at the Games, but several Americans are considered strong medal contenders. Tom Dolan of Arlington, Va., dominated the trials and could compete for as many as four medals.

Amanda Beard, a 14-year-old from California, could emerge as the new darling of the sport. She also performed very well at the trials and displayed a youthful enthusiasm that should endear her to the international media.

5. Baseball and politics

Baseball has not really caught on as a major Olympic sport yet, but the eight-team Olympic tournament will not be without some intrigue. Cuba is considered a strong medal contender, but the recent defection of the team's top pitcher in Atlanta has thinned the roster and set the stage for possible controversy at the Games.

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The multimillion-dollar signings of recent Cuban defectors Livan Hernandez and Osvaldo Fernandez by major-league clubs in the United States only figure to encourage more Cuban players to jump the national team.

The entire Cuban Olympic movement is in turmoil. Two top boxing hopefuls - Ramon Garbey and Joel Casamayor - also defected recently.

6. Fast women

Sprinter Gwen Torrence will be looking to strike gold in her hometown, competing as the favorite in the 100 meters and the 4x100 relay.

Torrence finished fourth in the 100 in the '92 games and made headlines by accusing several competitors - including American rival Gail Devers - of using performance-enhancing drugs. Torrence edged Devers in the Olympic trials, setting up a showdown in Atlanta.

It remains to be seen whether Torrence will get a chance to defend her 1992 gold medal in the 200 meters. She finished fourth at the trials and will be the alternate for that event.

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7. On a roll

The U.S. women's gymnastics team is deep in talent and long on charisma, from spritely Nadia Comaneci-wannabe Dominique Moceanu, to 19-year-old Dominique Dawes of Gaithersburg, to the nation's most decorated gymnast, Shannon Miller.

There was controversy at the Olympic trials when Moceanu and Miller were unable to compete because of injuries, but successfully petitioned USA Gymnastics to be admitted to the team on the basis of earlier scores from the national championships.

No doubt, there was some disgruntlement among the gymnasts who might have won those two spots on the U.S. team, but the decision to include Moceanu and Miller greatly enhanced the U.S. team's medal potential.

8. Turning up the heat

This could be the hottest Olympiad in history. Temperatures in Georgia figure to average in the 90s, which could have a significant impact on the endurance events.

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The men's and women's marathons have been scheduled early in the morning, but even then the heat and humidity could be stifling.

There is one area where the sizzling temperatures could have a positive effect: concession sales. Visitors are being advised to drink at least 16 ounces of water a day, with the "official bottled water of the Olympic Games" selling at concession stands for $2.75 per 16-ounce bottle.

9. Hoop dreams

USA Basketball will find out soon if its one-year experiment with a women's national team has been a success. The women's team has played together for a year - with each player living on a $50,000 stipend - and should be a strong contender for Olympic gold.

Teresa Edwards will be making her fourth Olympic bid, extending her own record for Olympic appearances by a member of the U.S. women's squad.

Many of the players from this year's team are expected to join a newly formed professional women's basketball circuit after the Olympics.

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10. British bulldog

British grandfather Linford Christie will be trying to win his second consecutive gold medal in the 100-meter dash.

Christie already is the oldest runner ever to win the 100. He was 32 when he sprinted to a gold medal in Barcelona. Now, he wants to break the age barrier again, and he has entered the 200 meters and the 4 x 100 relay for good measure.

Does anyone seriously expect him to outrace American Michael Johnson in either of the premier sprint events? Just Christie, who will be the top story of this Olympiad if he wins either race.

Most controversial

1. 1936 Berlin Games: Jesse Owens upstages Hitler

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2. 1972 Munich Games: Arab terrorists kill 11 Israeli athletes

3. 1980 Moscow Games: United States-led boycott

4. 1984 Los Angeles Games: Eastern-bloc boycott in retaliation for 1980 U.S.-led boycott

5. 1968 Mexico City Games: "Black Power" demonstration

6. 1906 Athens Games: Not recognized by International Olympic Committee

Greatest American Olympic heroes

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1. Jesse Owens

2. Jim Thorpe

3. Wilma Rudolph

4. Mark Spitz

5. Carl Lewis

6. Babe Didrikson

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7. Bob Beamon

8. Greg Louganis

9. Rafer Johnson

10. Mary Lou Retton

Biggest injustices

1. Jim Thorpe's medals being revoked (restored in 1982)

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2. United States-Soviet Union basketball final restarted twice after final buzzer (1972)

3. U.S. runners banned after "black power" salute during medal ceremony (1968)

4. U.S. sprinters miss heats after schedule mix-up (1972)

5. Judges rob boxer Roy Jones Jr. of gold medal (1988)

6. Swimmer Rick DeMont loses gold medal after unknowingly taking a banned substance to treat his asthma (1972)

U.S. Olympians to Watch

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Michael Johnson: Gold medal favorite in 200- and 400-meter events.

4 Dominique Moceanu: Could be next Nadia Comaneci.

Gwen Torrence: Should come out of Atlanta as world's fastest woman.

Tom Dolan: Should be dominant U.S. swimmer.

Amanda Beard: California 14-year-old is new darling of swimming world.

Carl Lewis: Olympic swan song in the long jump.

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Beth Botsford: Baltimore backstroker is best local hope for a medal.

Mark Lenzi: Came out of retirement to defend 1992 diving gold.

Dana Chladek: Marylander was first-ever American woman to medal (1992) in single kayak event.

Lawrence Clay-Bey: Super-heavyweight boxer trying to rise above legal problems.

The best from around the world

1. Vitaly Scherbo, gymnastics, Belarus: Has won six Olympic titles and was not supposed to be in Atlanta. But a near-fatal car accident involving his wife, Irina, changed his plans.

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2. Ana Fidelia Quirot, track and field, Cuba: She'll be running the 800 meters for the leader for whom she is named, Fidel Castro, as well as for the memory of the premature baby she lost after a 1992 fire covered her body in third-degree burns.

3. Maria Multola, track and field, Mozambique: Now living and training in Eugene, Oregon, she'll be the favorite in the 800 and might possibly try to go after the 1,500 against two Algerians, defending champion Hassiba Boulmerka and Nourredine Morcelli.

4. Sergei Bubka, track and field, Ukraine: The 32-year-old king of the pole vault is going after his third straight Olympic gold medals. Ranked No. 1 for 11 of the past 13 years.

5. Felix Savon, boxing, Cuba: The competition should only hope that Savon defects as two of his teammates did recently. Should dominate the heavyweight division as he did in Barcelona and Seoul.

6. Le Jingyi, swimmer, China: Jingyi, the favorite in the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle, and her teammates will be the biggest story early on during these Games. The controversy surrounding the Chinese and allegations of doping have kept them out of most international competitions the past year.

7. Stephen Redgrave, rowing, Great Britian: Will be going after a piece of Olympic history when he tries to become the first athlete in history to win gold medals at four consecutive Olympics.

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8. Jonathan Edwards, track and field, Great Britain: The first man to surpass 60 feet in the triple jump, Edwards had been previously denied a chance at the Olympics because his religious beliefs prevented him from competing on Sunday. Now that he can, the competition doesn't have a prayer.

9. Uta Pipig, track and field, Germany: Having won this year's Boston Marathon for the third straight time despite severe stomach cramps, Pipig will have to deal with the heat and humidity of an August morning in Atlanta.

10. Naim Suleymanoglu, weightlifting, Turkey: Nicknamed "The Pocket Hercules", he seeks his third straight Olympic gold for his adopted country.

Trouble sports for the U.S. team

1. Track and Field: Depending on the event, but Great Britain, Russia and Canada have the best teams aside from the Americans.

2. Basketball: Nobody is going to compete with Dream Team III, but the women's team might get some competition from China and Australia.

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3. Baseball: If Cuba can hold onto the rest of its team, it should come down to the July 28 matchup giving one or the other the edge for the gold.

4. Boxing: Most experts don't figure more than a couple of medals for the U.S. team, which means the rest will go to Cuba and a number of the Eastern bloc countries.

5. Soccer: The U.S. men will likely go out early, but the women's road to the gold might be blocked by the Norwegians as it was in last year's world championships.

6. Water Polo: The U.S., ranked fourth in the world, will have the home-pool advantage, but Hungary, Italy and Russian could dunk the Americans.

7. Gymnastics: If the American men don't stop themselves, there's any number of countries that will, most likely China. The American women have their best team ever, but Ukraine's Lilia Podkopayeva, Russia's Svetlana Chorkina and Svetlana Boganskaya, a former Olympic champion, will all have a chance to medal.

8. Diving: Though Americans Mark Lenzi and Mary Ellen Clark have made tremendous comebacks, China's Sun Shuwei and Fu Mingxia are the favorites in the men's and women's platform.

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9. Swimming: This could be the driest year in the Olympic pool ever for the Americans. The Chinese women are a question since reportedly cleaning up their act. The Australians beat the Americans in the same pool last year at the Pan Pacific Championships. The U.S. men are stronger, but also lack depth.

10. Table Tennis: Did you see the movie "Forest Gump?" Won't LTC happen here. Even our best players are Chinese emigres, and they weren't nearly the best in their home country.

Pub Date: 7/14/96


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