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

July 14, 1996|By Complied by Sun staff writers Peter Schmuck and Don Markus

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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