Only a bronze?

July 28, 1992

Anita Nall is probably Baltimore's most famous athlete since Cal Ripken. But when Ripken's performance is sub-par (an event of distressing regularity of late), there is always tomorrow, always next week, next season.

No such luxury for Olympic performers. Ms. Nall will have to wait until the 1996 Olympics, when she will be an old lady of 20, to win the gold medal denied her last night in the 200-meter breaststroke. The winner, Kyoko Iwasaki of Japan, turned 14 six days ago, on the same day Ms. Nall turned 16.

Ms. Nall no doubt feels devastated. In the hothouse atmosphere of the Olympics (figuratively and, this year, literally), expectations come with capital "E's," and those with the highest Expectations are the athletes themselves.

There is something unfair about basing an athlete's "success" or "failure" on a single performance, a performance in view of the entire global village. We felt that again last winter in the figure skating events at the Winter Olympics in France. As superb athletes tumbled to the ice, taking four years of hopes and dreams with them, we wished there were a better way to judge these events, some way to judge a performance over time.

Yet winning an Olympic bronze medal is so far beyond the aspirations of most of us mere mortals that we consider an Olympic third place more than just adequate; we consider it a superb accomplishment.

Even Lutherville native Jill Johnson, who could not advance beyond the preliminaries in the breaststroke yesterday, is a winner -- a winner for having made it to the Olympics by dint of rigorous training at the advanced (for swimmers) age of 23.

St. Louis sports psychologist James M. Jarvis pointed out on the page opposite last Friday that a mere tenth of 1 percent of us have the genetic gifts to become Olympic performers.

So let us celebrate these two young Maryland women who have demonstrated how far they can go with grueling training and the physical gifts so few of us possess.

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