COVER

A Galaxy of Foreign Stars

They come from far and wide but share a single goal in Atlanta: to win Olympic gold

PAUL GAINS July 22 1996
COVER

A Galaxy of Foreign Stars

They come from far and wide but share a single goal in Atlanta: to win Olympic gold

PAUL GAINS July 22 1996

A Galaxy of Foreign Stars

OLYMPICS

They come from far and wide but share a single goal in Atlanta: to win Olympic gold

PAUL GAINS

United States MISSION IMPOSSIBLE

To Americans, they are a Dream Team; to basketball players from other countries, they are a nightmare. America's defending world and Olympic champions have the skill to match their swagger and have such a lock on gold in Atlanta that the only real competition will be for silver-a battle that could include Croatia, Lithuania, Puerto Rico, Russia and Brazil. "You can't go one better than the silver medal," concedes Croatian for-

ward Dino Radja, whose team finished second at Barcelona in 1992 and who played last season with the NBA’s Boston Celtics. “The American team is impossible to beat, very impossible.” Ironically, the star-studded squad—including the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen—looked anything but unbeatable on July 6 against

U.S. college all-stars in Cleveland. Trailing by 17 points at halftime, they rallied for a 96-90 victory that left coach Lenny Wilkens admitting to disappointment. But the next day, they rebounded to hammer Brazil 109-68 and two days later clobbered China 119-58. ‘They have more talent coming off the bench,” said Brazilian coach Raimundo Nonato de Azevedo, “than we have in our starters.”

A lot is riding on Australia’s Kieren Perkins. The 23-year-old swimmer goes to Atlanta as his country’s best Olympic athlete—he is the defending 1,500-m freestyle champion, won silver in the 400-m freestyle at Barcelona and holds world records at both distances. But at the Australian Olympic trials in May, he barely made the team. Doctors found that he had an iron deficiency.

With his diet adjusted to compensate, Perkins went off to a training camp in Singapore vowing to get back

Kieren Perkins

THE IRON MAN

into form; within weeks he was racing near his best That has been encouraging, as has the state of his chief competition. For the first time since 1920, no American records were set at the U.S. Olympic trials. And the drug disqualification of seven Chinese swimmers at the 1994 Asian Games in Hiroshima, Japan, will likely discourage cheating in Atlanta. Perkins is ready. “I am looking forward to being as close as possible to my best when I defend my title in Atlanta,” he said. Canadian Olympic swimming coach Dave Johnson has no doubt of that. “He’s a great competitor and the Secretariat of men’s freestyle swimming,” says Johnson. “He has a remarkable record when the chips are down.”

Fu Mingxia FABULOUS FU

For China’s nearly Fu one-third Mingxia has of her been life, a first-rate diver—she was only 12 when she won the world championship. At Barcelona in 1992, she captured the gold medal in the 10-m platform event with a three-and-ahalf somersault in the tuck position. The victories were the culmination of years of intensive training that began at age 8 when she switched from gymnastics to diving. Since then, she has lived and labored at Beijing’s National Training Centre, where she practises endlessly in a regimen that includes academic study. Winning the world championship brought Fu her first material reward—a house for her and her family. And when she retires, she will live on the proceeds from a state-financed trust account.

But Atlanta is the immediate goal, and her coach, Yu Fen, told the China Sports Daily recently that Fu has a lock on the 10-m event. In fact, Yu said that Fu could take home the gold if she were only 80 per cent ready. The gold is not Fu’s only mission: she is being counted on to restore the image of China’s swim team, which was banned from the 1995 Pan-Pacific meet after positive tests for performance-enhancing drugs the year before.

Okkert Brits VAULTING OVER AN IDOL

While he was still a schoolboy, South Africa’s Okkert Brits admired world pole-vaulting champion Sergei Bubka so much that he named his dog after the Ukrainian star. Now the 22-year-old, six-foot, six-inch South African from the university town of Stellenbosch is trying to dethrone his idol. Brits beat Bubka three times on the European circuit last year—once when his poles were held up in customs and he had to borrow Bubka’s—but their decisive meeting will likely come in Atlanta.

Brits, who has trained at home, says the intense interest of the South African news media has heightened the pressure. “They don’t know about the sport,” he says. “The only thing they know is that you need to get the gold medal. Anything less will be a failure.” Even though he has never been closer to the crown, Brits is not discounting Bubka’s prowess. Although the Ukrainian failed in Barcelona, he has won five world championships and holds the world indoor record of 6.15 m (20.2 feet). “Bubka is obviously very good,” says Brits. “He has jumped 5.9 m (19.3 feet) over 100 times and I haven’t even competed that many times.”

A GUIDE TO THE GAMES

ARCHERY (Stone Mountain Park,

July 29 to Aug. 2) Watch for:

July Kyo-Moon Oh (Korea),Jo-Sun Kim (Korea), Kevin Sally (Canada)

ATHLETICS (Olympic Stadium,July 26 to Aug~ 3~ Watch for: M~e Powefi

(long jump, United States), Michael Johnson (200 m, 400 m, United States), Frank Fredericks (100 m, Namibia), Haile Gebrselassie (5,000 m, 10,000 m, Ethiopia),Yolanda Chen (triple jump, Russia), Kim Batten (400-m hurdles, United States), Gwen Torrence (100 m, United States), Dan O’Brien (decathlon, United States); from Canada, Michael Smith (decathlon), Donovan Bailey and Bruny Surin (100 m), Graham Hood ( 1,500 m), Charmaine Crooks (800 m)

BADMINTON (Georgia State University, July 24 to Aug. I) Watch for:

Ye Zhxoying (China, women’s), Susi Susanti (Indonesia, women’s); from Canada,Jamie Dawson (men’s), Denyse Julien (women’s)

BASEBALL (Fulton County Stadium, July 20 toAug.2) Watch for: United

States, Cuba, Korea; Canada not competing

MEN’S BASKETBALL (Georgia Dome,July 20 to Aug. 3) Watch for:

Dome,July to Aug. 3)

United States, Croatia, Lithuania, Russia, Puerto Rico; Canada not competing

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL (Morehouse College, July 21 to Aug. 4) Watch for:

United States, China, Brazil, Canada

BEACH VOLLEYBALL (Atlanta Beach, Jonesboro, July 23 to 28) Watch for:

Franco and Roberto Lopes (Brazil), Jackie Silva and Sandra Pires (Brazil),John Child and Mark Heese (Canada)

BOXING (Georgia Tech,July 20 to Aug. 4) Watch for: Selix Savon

(91 kg, Cuba), Anthony Harver (81 kg, United States), Alexander Lezin (over 91 kg, Russia); from Canada, David Defiagbon (91 kg), Mike Strange (60 kg)

CANOE/KAYAK (Ocoee Whitewater Center,Tenn., Lake Lanier, Ga.July 26

to Aug. 4)Watch for: Rita Koban (K-500 m, Hungary); from Canada, Renn Crichlow (K-500 m) and Caroline Brunet (K-500 m)

CYCLING (City of Atlanta—road, Stone Mountain Park—track, Georgia Interna-

tional Horse Park—mountain, July 21 to Aug. 3) Watch for: Laurent Jalabert (road, France), Miguel Indurain (time trial, Spain),Jeannie Longo (time trial, France), Darryn Hill (sprint,Australia), Rune Hoydahl (mountain, Norway); from Canada, Alison Sydor (mountain), Curt Harnett (track), Clara Hughes (time trial), Anne Samplonius (road)

DIVING (Georgia Tech Aquatic Center, July 26 to Aug. 2) Watch for:

1 Center, July 26 to Aug. 2) Watch for:

Tan Shuping (women’s three metre, China), Fu Mingxia (women’s 10 m, China), ^

Yu Zhoucheng (men’s three metre, China); from Canada, Anne Montmigny (women’s 10 m), Annie Pelletier (women’s three metre)

EQUESTRIAN (Georgia International Horse Park,July 20 to Aug. 4) Watch for: Hugo Simon (show jumping, Austria), Michelle Gibson (dressage, United States); from Canada, Ian Millar (show jumping),

Beth Underhill (show jumping)

Hk FENCING (Georgia World Ck Congress Center, July 20 to 25) Watch for: Eric Srecki (épée, France), Grigori Kirienko (sabre, Russia);JeanMarc Chouinard (épée, Canada)

JS FIELD HOCKEY (Clark Atlanta ' University/Morris Brown College, July 20 to Aug. 2) Watch for: men’s— Pakistan, Holland; women’s—Argentina, Australia; Canada not competing

GYMNASTICS (Georgia Dome, July 20 to 29) Watch for:

Li Xiaoshuang (men’s, China), Lilia Podkopayeva (women’s, Ukraine); from Canada, Kris Burley (men’s), Jennifer Exaltación (women’s)

RHYTHMIC GYMNASTICS (University of Georgia, Athens, Aug. I to Aug. 4) Watch for:

Maria Petrova (Bulgaria); Camille Martens (Canada)

JUDO (Georgia World Congress ^ Center, July 20 to 26) Watch for: David Douilet (95 kg plus, France), RyokoTamura (women’s 48 kg,Japan); from Canada, Nicolas Gill (86 kg), Michelle Buckingham (61 kg)

MODERN PENTATHLON (Wolf Creek Shooting Complex, Georgia World Congress Center, Georgia Tech Aquatic Center, Georgia International Horse Park,July 30) Watch for:

Dmitry Svatkovsky (Russia), Per-Olov Danielsson (Sweden),Akos Hanzely (Hungary); Canada not competing

ROWING (Lake Lanier,July 21 to 28) Watch for: Maria Bradin (women’s singles, Sweden), Iztok Cop (men’s singles, Slovenia); from Canada, Silken Laumann (women’s singles), Marnie McBean and Kathleen Heddle (women’s doubles), Colleen Miller and Wendy Wiebe (lightweight doubles), Derek Porter (men’s singles)

jT SHOOTING (Wolf Creek

Shooting Complex, July 20 to 27) Watch for: Eva Ewe (rifle, Germany), Torsten Krebs (rifle,Austria); from Canada, Cynthia Meyer (double trap), George Leary (trap)

zjK SOCCER (Athens; Birmingham,

Ala.; Miama; Orlando, Fla.; Washington;July 20 to Aug. 3) Watch for: men’s—Brazil, Argentina, Italy; women’s—Norway, United States, China; Canada not competing

Cuba

ISLAND OF DREAMS

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lor Cuba’s Olympic baseball I team, there is good news and bad news. The bad includes recent defections from the team—notably of righthanded pitchers Livian Hernandez, 21, who has signed with the Florida Marlins, and Osvaldo Fernandez, 28, now a San Francisco Giant. Last week, Rolando Arrojo, a 28-year-old right-hander regarded as Cuba’s best pitcher, defected as well. He said he would seek residency in the

Dominican Republic so he could become a free agent and play in the major leagues.

The good news is that Cuba— a baseball hothouse that produces great players and, since the revolution in 1959, has generally kept them there—remains a potent threat to repeat its gold-medal-winning performance of four years ago. “They are pretty darn impressive,” says Ken Lee, a spokesman for the U.S. Olympic team. But for

the embattled Cubans, there is more at stake than a ball game. Given the nation’s strained relations with the United States, beating the Americans in baseball—and grabbing a gold medal—would do wonders for national pride.

Michael Johnson CHALLENGING HISTORY

merican Michael Johnson has the distinction of being the man to beat in two events in Atlanta. The 33-year-old ^Dallas resident is hoping to match his performance at last year’s world track and field championships in Göteborg, Sweden, where he captured both the 200-m and the 400-m sprints. And at the U.S. Olympic trials last month, he set a new world record—19.66 seconds—in the 200 m.

Johnson’s abilities are such that the British Athletics Federation decided to ban him from a London meet on July 12 to avoid demoralizing British runners. No one has ever won Olympic gold in both the 200-m and 400-m races. If Johnson succeeds, it would help restore America’s sagging track-andfield fortunes and also bring more commercial sponsors—his current crop includes Nike and Ray Ban—bearing Olympicsized chequebooks. However, says Johnson’s business agent Brad Hunt: “He is not doing it to satisfy the accountants and their calculators. He is doing it to make Olympic history.”

Lilia Podkopayeva THE BREADWINNER

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eventeen is a little young to be responsible for .three generations of family, but it likely rein' forces the competitiveness of gymnast Lilia Podkopayeva. The native of crime-ridden Donetsk in Ukraine won $5,000 at an invitational meet in Hamilton last fall. The money went towards providing an apartment for her unemployed mother, her grandparents and a younger brother (her father abandoned the family when she was a young girl).

Then she won the vault and all-around titles at the world championship last October. In May, she added the European title and now has a chance in Atlanta to follow in the footsteps of Olympic champions like Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci. But she will be challenged—especially by 23-year-old Svetlana Boginskaya of Belarus.

Unlike other Ukrainian sports celebrities—such as pole-vaulting’s Sergei Bubka and soccer’s Andrei Kanchelskis—Podkopayeva is relatively unknown even at home. But Olympic gold would change all that and probably lead to greater rewards for the teenage breadwinner.

Claudia Poll SISTER ACT II

When Silvia Poll returned home to Costa Rica from the 1988 Seoul Olympics, exuberant citizens paraded her through the streets and the government declared a national holiday. All that was for winning a silver medal in swimming.

The tiny Central American country of three million may be in for an even bigger party. Silvia’s kid sister Claudia, holder of two world championship gold medals in the 200-m and 400-m freestyle events, will be in Atlanta. So will Silvia—as an accredited Olympic radio broadcaster who will keep the folks at home up to date. The sisters were born in Nicaragua to

German parents, who moved to Costa Rica in 1977. Claudia, a university business administration student, has been training six hours a day with members of the national men’s team. Given her country’s great expectations, says assistant coach Montserrat Hidalgo, “we are just trying to keep things cool and keep the pressure off her.”

Andre Agassi THE CELEBRITY GAME

Hyperbole is as much a part of Andre Agassi’s makeup as the baseline drive. “I expect the Olympics to be the greatest two weeks of my life as a professional athlete,” he says. ‘To be one of thousands of athletes coming together for one common purpose, to win a medal, is quite an honor.” It would, he added, be just as good as winning the U.S. Open or Wimbledon.

But not as lucrative, and money is the engine on the pro circuit. 4Tie flamboyant Agassi, third-ranked men’s player in the world and celebrity pitchman, is getting a reported $140 million in a 10-year promotional deal with Nike. Recently, Davis Cup supporters criticized Agassi for not signing up to represent the United States; he got into even more hot water for suggesting that the Davis Cup matches should be cancelled in Olympic years.

Agassi’s performance has been suspect recently, and in Atlanta he will face a world-class field that includes countryman Pete Sampras, Croatia’s Goran Ivanisevic and Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia. But if he is on his game, Agassi may well get a medal to go with his money.

Brazil KICKING A JINX

For Brazil’s impassioned soccer team, this is the year to break the jinx. Although the Latin American giant has won four World Cup tournaments, it has never won at the Olympics— and even failed to qualify for the 1992 Games in Barcelona

This time around, the brilliant Brazilians did not lose a single qualifying match, but coach Mario Zagallo is taking no chances. He has reinforced his lineup with three of the single-named stars of Brazilian soccer: Juninho, a powerhouse who played last winter with Middlesbrough in the English Premier League; fullback Roberto Carlos, signed recently by Real Madrid; and midfield-

er Rivaldo. Olympic rules allow each team to have three players over the age of 23, and the gifted striker Bebeto—32 and one of the heroes of Brazil’s World Cup victory two years ago—will alk so be added.

« Brazil’s main Olympic I competition is likely to I come from Portugal 5 and Australia. Zagallo I complains that some of his team’s pre-Olympic opponents were content to play defensively instead of to win—a tactic designed to blunt Brazil’s freewheeling offence. “This is not the way to beat Brazil,” says Graham Leggat, a TV soccer analyst and former Scottish star. “You beat Brazil by attacking them because they are not expecting it. But having said that, they are a formidable side.”

Sfr* SOFTBALL (Golden Park, Columbus, Ga.,July 21 to 30) Watch for: men’s—New Zealand, United States,Japan (Canada not competing); women’s—United States, China,Australia, Canada

^ SWIMMING (Georgia Tech aquatic Center, July 20 to 26) Watch for: Kieren Perkins (1,500-m freestyle, Australia), Samantha Riley (100-m breaststroke, Australia), Aleksandr Popov (50and 100-m freestyle sprints, Russia); from Canada,Joanne Malar (400-m individual medley),Jessica Deglau (200-m butterfly), Curtis Myden (200-m and 400-m individual medley)

jV SYNCHRONIZED SWIMMING (Georgia Tech Aquatic Center, July 30 to Aug. 2) Watch for: United States, Canada,Japan, Russia

TABLE TENNIS (Georgia World r\ Congress Center, July 23 to Aug. I ) Watch for: Kong Linghui (men’s, China),WangTao (men’s, China), Deng Yaping (women’s, China), Qiao Hong (women’s, China); from Canada,Johnny Huang (men’s singles), Lijuan Geng (women’s singles)

J*. TEAM HANDBALL (Georgia World Congress Center/Dome, July 24 to Aug. 4) Watch for: men’s— France; women’s—Korea; Canada not competing

^jk TENNIS (Stone Mountain Park, fV July 23 to Aug. 3) Watch for: Steffi Graf (Germany), Monica Seles (United States), Andre Agassi (United States), Pete Sampras (United States); from Canada, Patricia Hy-Boulais, Grant Connell and Daniel Nestor (men’s doubles)

V VOLLEYBALL (Omni Colliseum Vs and University of Georgia, Athens,

July 20 to Aug. 4) Watch for: men’s— Italy, Brazil (Canada not competing); women’s—Brazil, China, Canada

J WATER POLO (Georgia Tech ^ Aquatic Center, July 20 to 28) Watch for: Hungary, Italy, Greece; Canada not competing

\ WEIGHTLIFTING (Georgia World ^ Congress Center, July 20 to 30) Watch for: Naim Suleymanoglu (68 kg,Turkey); Serge Tremblay (83 kg, Canada)

WRESTLING (Georgia World Congress Center, July 20 to Aug. 2) Watch for: Alexander Carelin (heavyweight, Russia),Vladimir Jordanov (52 kg, Bulgaria), Buvaisa Saitiev (74 kg, Russia); Guivi Sissaouri (57 kg, Canada)

YACHTING (Wassaw Sound, ^ Savannah, Ga.July 22 to Aug. I) Watch for: Kristine Roug (Europe class, Denmark),Aaron McIntosh (sailboard, New Zealand); from Canada, Tina Moberg-Parker (Europe class), Richard Clarke (Finn class), Ross Macdonald and Eric Jesperson (Star class), Carol-Ann Alie (Mistral class)