World's political changes serve as letter opener for athletes


July 19, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

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.

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