The Russians are coming.
For the first time since 1983, Soviet bicyclists will compete against top U.S. riders on the Olympic Velodrome at Cal State Dominguez Hills in the USA-USSR Michelob Challenge on Oct. 2-4.
It will be the first head-to-head meeting of top U.S. and Soviet riders since a pre-Olympic international meet that opened the Velodrome in 1983. The Soviets and others Eastern Bloc countries that dominate track riding--notably East Germany--chose to skip the 1984 Olympics. American sprint specialists Mark Gorski and Nelson Vails won the gold and silver on the Carson track.
The Michelob Challenge will be the first dual meet between the two superpowers and a test of America's cyclists. Vails and U.S. sprint champion Scott Berryman were in town this week to promote the event.
The meet will include matched sprints, team and individual pursuits, a keirin (motorcycle-paced) competition and tandems.
If the Soviets bring their top riders, the lineup will include current world champion Viatcheslav Ekimov and his predecessor, Nicolais Kovche.
Berryman said the Soviets are tough to predict, but he said Ekimov "last year just decimated world records and made it look easy."
Berryman, America's rising sprint star at age 24, said the elite U.S. riders "are basically on a par" with the East Europeans and benefited from their strong showing in the last Olympics. "We're just starting to catch up. Now our program is building. With meets like this we're starting to see corporate support," Berryman said.
Berryman, an extremely muscular specimen in a sport where many of the competitors are rangy, said he is still in his "gradual climb up, trying to break the international level now."
He gave notice he may have arrived when he recently won at nationals despite suffering a serious injury only weeks earlier. "I felt kind of burned out because I broke my shoulder in Czechoslovakia, and there were only three weeks to nationals," Berryman said. "I felt like I'd lost too much training. So I trained hard and it paid off."
The 26-year-old Vails is known as the Cheetah for his explosiveness and colorful personality, but the Cheetah has been spotty this year and apparently is holding his own cold war with Berryman, his protege. Vails failed to show up at Dominguez Hills with Berryman, preferring to hold his own press briefing on a different day. The two, among the few black U.S. riders of international quality, have split up as a tandem as well.
"We changed (partners) after my injury. We talked about it and thought it was for the best," Berryman said. "I also thought it was best for my individual sprint career."
Gorski, the 1984 gold medalist, will also ride against the Soviets and will probably shoot for the 1988 Olympics, when he'll be over 30. Berryman said this is one sport, however, where experience is as valuable as strength--particularly in the sprints, track cycling's glamour event, where tactics can be as important as speed.
"I think I have a lot of time in the sport because it takes so long to get to the level where you start to understand the nuances," he said.
The Summer Pro Basketball League is under way at Loyola Marymount with four games a day starting at 1:45.
The free-agent team lineups include a few South Bay products: Mike Wnek out of Biola (by way of Bishop Montgomery High), Butch Hays, the former St. Bernard High star who has been playing in England, and William Alexander from Cal State Dominguez Hills.
However, the NBA team rosters are less settled because of the player contract problems with the league. NBA players with contracts--many of whom occasionally compete in the summer league--may not be able to play this year, limiting the league to rookies and free agents.
However, the league goes on, with or without big-name players. Quadruple-headers run through Aug. 14 when the last contest will be a free-agent all-star game. Playoffs begin Aug. 15, starting with the free-agent division semifinals followed by the NBA Division semis. On Aug. 16, the free agent championship will start at 5 p.m., preceding the NBA Division final at 7:15.
Morningside and St. Mary's Academy will be among 20 high school teams competing in the Bellarmine-Jefferson Summer Hoop Finale girls basketball tournament starting Friday. St. Mary's, featuring two-time all-South Bay guard Tammy Booker, will open against Fontana at 11 a.m. Friday.
Powerful Morningside, one of four teams to receive an opening-day bye, plays at 6 p.m. Saturday against the winner of Pasadena vs. Notre Dame. Morningside is led by all-CIF forward Shaunda Greene and 6-4 center Lisa Leslie. Other teams to receiver first-round byes are Lynwood, Muir and Santa Barbara.
The tournament continues through next Thursday with the third-place game scheduled for 7 p.m. and the championship at 8:10. All games are at Bellarmine-Jefferson in Burbank.