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FIVE TO WATCH : Who Will Be the Stars of '88 Olympic Games? These Up-and-Coming U.S. Athletes Could Be the Ones Who Steal the Spotlight in Seoul

July 28, 1985|STEVE SPRINGER | Times Staff Writer

Her face may stare at you across the breakfast table every morning. From a box of cereal.

Or maybe you see her on the way to work on that billboard across the freeway. Or on your TV or the magazine bulging out of your mailbox.

One thing's for sure. There is no getting away from Mary Lou Retton.

But once upon a time--was it really just a year ago?-- most sports fans in this country had probably never heard of the teen-aged gymnast with the perky smile.

That's Olympic magic for you.

One gold medal later and she has joined a long list, from Johnny Weissmuller to Jesse Owens to Bruce Jenner, athletes whose Olympic performances catapulted them into a permanent spot in the nation's consciousness.

Even as you read this, a whole new crew of perky, smiling American youngsters are laboring away in relative obscurity, at dawn's light, at great personal expense, at the cost of all else, to be next in line for that glorifying trip up to the elevated stage where gold medals are dispensed. Some teen-ager you may have inadvertently bumped into today, you might be furiously chasing for a handshake or an autograph three years hence, after the Olympic flame has been rekindled in Seoul, South Korea.

Who are they, these Olympians of the future?

It's an educated guess at best, but the following are five of the best bets for 1988:

ERIKA HANSEN, Swimmer

The possibility that America's next superstar swimmer might come out of the little Germantown Academy Aquatic Club is not really that surprising.

The club may be tucked away in Fort Washington in the Pennsylvania countryside, 22 miles outside of Philadelphia, part of the 226-year-old Germantown Academy, but it is certainly not isolated from the world swimming scene.

Sue Heon, a member of the 1984 U.S. Olympic swim team, trained at Germantown under Coach Dick Shoulberg. So did Polly Wendy, a member of U.S. teams at both the 1982 world championships and the '83 Pan-Am Games.

That pair owns the fourth- and fifth-fastest times ever, respectively, for U.S. women in the 400 individual medley.

But now they have been left in the wake of the newest pride and joy of Germantown, 15-year-old Erika Hansen, a 5-6, 111-pound native of King of Prussia, Pa.

Hansen's 4:45.58 in the 400 IM in the U.S. long-course nationals in Fort Lauderdale last year broke an age group record (14 and under) of American gold medalist Tracy Caulkins and was the second-fastest time ever for a woman from this country, the fastest being the mark (4:39.57) Caulkins set at age 21.

As fast as she was moving at the nationals, though, Hansen found another potential future American superstar almost literally breathing down her neck. Fifteen-year-old Michelle Griglione finished that race in 4:45.75, breaking Caulkins' standard as well.

Hansen also owns another of Caulkins' former 14-and-under records after swimming the 200 IM in 2:17.1.

Hansen had a brief flirtation with an Olympic spot last year, finishing third in the Trials. Had she made the team, her best in the 400 IM would have been good enough for a silver medal.

Instead, she went to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where she won the 200 butterfly and 400 IM and had the highest point total in the senior national championships. It was, however, an event that did not draw any Olympic performers because it came right after the Games.

Illness struck Hansen in the fall. She missed nine weeks of training due to a cystic tumor she had removed from her back and a subsequent case of chicken pox. When she returned to competition in the national short-course championships at East Los Angeles College in April, she lost both the 200 and 400 IM to Griglione.

But she has now plunged back into a training schedule at Germantown that stretches to seven hours some days.

Now in her fifth year as a swimmer for the Germantown club, she will enter the tenth grade in the fall with a 4.0 grade point average.

"She loves to work," Shoulberg said. "She's technically very sound. She's very quiet, but loves to race anybody and is very methodical."

Does Hansen worry that such dedication to one phase of her life might be robbing her of others inherent to most teen-agers?

"I've thought about that," she said. "But the things I'm doing and the traveling I'm getting in makes up for it. It's better than something I might be thinking I'm missing."

SABRINA MAR, Gymnast

After the compulsories of the U.S. Gym Federation championships had been completed last month in Jacksonville, Fla., Sabrina Mar was second among the women.

As she entered the last round, she was tied.

When she had finished, she knew her only remaining pursuer, Kelly Garrison from Oklahoma, needed a 9.6 on floor exercise to win. Garrison, however, stepped out of bounds and finished with a 9.45.

"I couldn't believe the congratulations," Mar said. "I kind of sat there for awhile. I didn't know what had happened."

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