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A LOOK AT THE OTHER SPORTS : Post-Olympic Fortunes of U.S. Teams in Basketball, Gymnastics, Swimming, and Track and Field Are Well-Known; But what is the status of U.S. Teams in Lesser-known Sports? Here's an Update : THE NEW SPORTS : Tennis and Table Tennis Are In for the '88 Games, but Baseball Is Still Pitching for Major League Status

July 28, 1985|MIKE PENNER | Times Staff Writer

Tennis and baseball had their tryouts as demonstration sports during the 1984 Olympic Games and, amid inspired competition and impressive crowds, both earned passing grades.

But only one was able to graduate to full-fledged medal status for 1988.

Tennis received the go-ahead after Stefan Edberg, Jimmy Arias and Co. proved that professionals could, indeed, participate in the Summer Games without crumbling the Olympic program at its foundations. Pros 20 years old and younger were allowed to compete in the tennis demonstration and proceedings went so smoothly that the International Olympic Committee decided to bring the sport back for the Seoul Games--with even more lenient restrictions.

The age limit for Olympic tennis competitors has been increased to 23-and-under, making tennis one of three sports (hockey and soccer being the others) to receive approval for partial professional participation in 1988.

That excites those involved in the Olympic tennis movement for two reasons.

One is the fact that two of the hottest current properties in the sport--newly crowned Wimbledon champion Boris Becker and French Open semifinalist Gabriela Sabatini--will be eligible for the '88 competition. That could earn the new kid on the block a bit of attention.

"Becker could be the best player in the world by then," said Jack Kramer, who served as Olympic tournament director in 1984. "If he wants to play, tennis could make a great impression in the Olympics. With Becker and Sabatini eligible, it looks outstanding for us."

The other reason is the role tennis has played in altering Olympic history. The 1984 demonstration marked the first time professionals were allowed to compete in any part of the Olympics.

Lobbyists for Olympic baseball, however, wish that the IOC had been in more of a precedent-setting mood when it established its agenda for the Seoul Games.

While tennis and its miniature cousin, table tennis, received approval as new official sports, baseball was again relegated to demonstration sport status--along with badminton and Tae Kwon Do, a form of martial arts popular in Korea.

So, baseball will have to wait until at least 1992 before making its debut as an Olympic medal sport.

"In Korea, baseball is the No. 1 spectator sport, but Seoul is not pushing for baseball to be a part of the Games the way L.A. did," said Wanda Rutledge, administrative director for the United States Baseball Federation. "They do not want to go out on a limb for a sport that is not played in the Soviet-Bloc countries.

"And, the IOC has misgivings about it, because baseball is an all-male sport and it's a team sport. The IOC is opposed to adding team sports because of security problems--there are a lot more people to accommodate--and because team sports promote nationalism, rather than individual excellence."

The International Baseball Assn. tried to alleviate the all-male problem by filing a joint petition for Olympic status with the International Softball Federation--men's baseball and women's softball under the combined entry of "baseball."

The IOC's response: We'll consider you for 1992. As for '88, we'll give baseball another eight-team demonstration tournament . . . and we'll think about some kind of demonstration for softball. Maybe a one-day, two-team event; maybe a four-team trial run.

An official decision will be made at next year's meeting of the executive board of the IOC.

So, the only new sports that will contribute to the Olympic medal count in 1988 will both involve serves, rackets, nets and rallies. And at this point, the United States appears a gold-medal longshot in both tennis and ping pong.

Of those who will be eligible in '88, Becker and Michael Westphal of West Germany, Edberg of Sweden, Pat Cash and Mark Kratzmann of Australia, and Guy Forget of France figure among the early favorites in the men's tennis division. Sabatini of Argentina, Helena Sukova of Czechoslovakia, Manuela Maleeva of Bulgaria, Steffi Graf of West Germany, Andrea Temesvari of Hungary, Catherine Tanvier and Pascale Paradis of France, Annabel Croft of Great Britain and Rafaella Reggi of Italy are at the top of the women's class of '88.

Those with the best hopes from the U.S. include Aaron Krickstein and Jimmy Brown in the men's division; Carling Bassett, Kathy Rinaldi, Kathy Horvath, Camille Benjamin and Melissa Gurney in the women's.

Hopes for U.S. gold are even slimmer in table tennis, a sport long dominated by the countries of Eastern Asia. China has won the last four women's world championships and six of the last seven men's titles. Japan and North Korea are also perennial contenders, with Sweden and Poland recent breakthroughs.

In this spring's world championships, Sweden placed No. 2 to China, followed by No. 3 Poland, No. 4 Japan and No. 5 North Korea. The United States placed 14th in the men's division and 28th in the women's.

"We're a definite long shot," said Tom Wintrich, editor of Spin magazine, the official publication of the United States Tennis Assn. "But we're not worrying about it. We're kind of gearing our preparations for 1992."

For the first time ever, the United States has a national training center for table tennis--as part of the U.S. Olympic training complex in Colorado Springs.

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