ST. LOUIS -- It has been pushed into the shadow of the World Cup soccer tournament, but the 10-day U.S. Olympic Festival opened yesterday with a schedule of 37 events that will take place in and around the St. Louis metropolitan area.
The pre-Olympic competition features more than 3,000 athletes from throughout the United States, including more than 60 from Maryland. Many have previous experience in international competition, but most will be getting their first taste of competition in an Olympic-style setting.
Call it a dress rehearsal for the 1996 Games in Atlanta, where many of the competitors in the '94 Olympic Festival could become household names.
There will be figure skating here, but it may seem relatively tame in the aftermath of the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding controversy that marred the national championships and carried over to the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.
There will be soccer this weekend, but it doesn't figure to get much air time as a suddenly soccer-crazy nation prepares for the U.S. team to take on Brazil on Monday in the second round of the World Cup.
There will be basketball, but the Dream Team won't compete until the World Championships are held next month in Toronto. The men's and women's basketball will involve four "junior" dream teams, competing against each other in a three-day regional tournament that begins tomorrow at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
There also will be baseball, track and field, boxing, tennis, bowling, water sports, field hockey, equestrian events and a variety of lesser known sports, their venues dotting the landscape around the St. Louis area and southern Illinois.
"St. Louis has all the elements to be an Olympic city or a Pan-American city or whatever it wants to be," said U.S. Olympic Committee executive director Harvey Schiller. "Everything is in place."
Of course, with Atlanta playing host to the Olympics in 1996, it may be decades before the summer Games return to the United States, but the city may have another agenda. Like Baltimore, it would like to acquire an NFL franchise and perhaps lure the NBA back to town. But references to anything but the Olympic spirit were not appreciated during yesterday's opening news conference.
"We don't need any more Paul Tagliabue jokes," said Olympic Festival-94 president Mike Dyer. "When this is over, people are going to see that St. Louis can do the job."
The Olympic Festival brings together hundreds of amateurs who have a chance to be the Olympic heroes of 1996, and Maryland will be well represented -- particularly in the sport that has suddenly captured the heart of America.
Four Maryland natives are on the roster of the men's East regional soccer team, which opens round-robin play on Sunday night at the St. Louis Soccer Park: Hamisi Amani-Dove of Columbia (Rutgers), Clint Peay of Columbia (Virginia), Zach Thornton of Edgewood (Loyola) and A.J. Wood of Rockville (Virginia). Tod Herskovitz of the University of Maryland is playing for the North team.
The women's East regional soccer team features three local players: Jill Rutten of Silver Spring (North Carolina State), Thori Staples of Joppatowne (N.C. State) and late addition Randi Goldblatt, who is the University of Maryland's all-time goal scorer. Two other University of Maryland players are on the South team: Michelle Demko and Erin Taylor.
University of Maryland forward Keith Booth, who originally was expected to take part in the men's basketball competition, will not participate, but the Terrapins will be represented on the court this weekend. Guard Kwana Williams of the Maryland women's team is a member of the East roster.
The festival has attracted more than 80 former Olympians, led by Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who will compete in the 100-meter hurdles and high jump.
Among the other athletes of note are diver Kent Ferguson, who is competing in his ninth festival; archers Darrell Pace and Rick McKinney, both four-time Olympians, and two-time Olympian Connie Price-Smith, who will compete in the shot put.
The most-watched sports during the first weekend of the festival are likely to be figure skating, swimming and boxing. The rhythmic gymnastics competition, featuring Olympian Tamara Levinson of Silver Spring, begins on Monday, but men's and women's artistic gymnastics will be part of a final weekend that also features track and field and the medal games for baseball, ice hockey and soccer.
MARYLANDERS AT FESTIVAL
Maryland athletes scheduled to participate in the 1994 U.S. Olympic Festival:
Hamisi Amani-Dove, Columbia, soccer; Jay Antonelli, Owings Mills, wrestling; Ray Austin, Frostburg, roller skating; Andy Bair, Manchester, baseball; Brian Barth, Cumberland, roller skating; Tracy Bartko, Hughesville, equestrian; Carry Bayse, Annapolis, water polo; Robert Bofinger, Frederick, double canoe; Margaret Boutilier, Baltimore, field hockey; Rebecca Brown, Monkton, kayak.