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1988 Olympics May Show How Deceiving That 1984 Medal Count Was for the U.S.

September 27, 1987|MIKE RABUN | United Press International

COLORADO SPRINGS — Of all the records set during the Los Angeles Olympics, the one that most pleased the win-hungry American sporting public came in the music category.

-- Most times one national anthem played: Star Spangled Banner, 83.

With the absence of the Soviet Union and East Germany from the 1984 Olympics, the home-country heroes were able to dominate as no other nation has before. Not even the Soviets were able to win that many gold medals in 1980 when the United States and other western nations boycotted the Moscow Games.

Americans won 21 gold medals in swimming, 16 in track and field, 9 in boxing, 9 in wrestling, 5 in gymnastics, 4 in cycling, 3 in the equestrian events, 3 in shooting, 3 in yachting, 2 in basketball, 2 in diving, 2 in rowing, 2 in synchronized swimming and 1 each in archery and volleyball.

The next best gold medal total was produced by Romania with 20. The United States won 174 medals overall. West Germany was next at 59.

But, as one official at the United States Olympic Committee put it:

"There is no doubt about it. There will be a sobering re-evaluation of the medal table in Seoul."

If the Seoul Olympics do take place and do become the first boycott-free Games since 1972, the United States will learn how it truly stacks up against the rest of the world. And it may be an unpleasant lesson.

The money is there, the training, nutrition and sports medicine talents have been brought to bear and those who oversee the United States Olympic Committee feel there are more elite athletes in the country than ever before.

The USOC and the governing bodies which rule amateur sport in the United States, find themselves, however, in the midst of an evolving process aimed at significantly boosting performance level. Until that process begins to bear fruit, the battle for Olympic medals will be a tough one.

That is not to say the United States is going to come up empty in Seoul.

"We feel we will have our best Olympic team in history," said USOC president Robert H. Helmick. "We have progressed every year in virtually all of our sports and we are extremely happy with the progress.

"The 1988 Games will be very competitive because most of the countries have expressed an intent to compete. It should be an exciting competition in 1988."

Americans should again post large win totals in men's swimming and should continue their strong showing in such sports as archery, yachting, diving and the equestrian events.

But the United States has come in for recent shocks in basketball (losing the gold medal to Brazil in the Pan American Games), boxing (Cuba won 10 gold medals in the Pan American Games) and track and field (East Germany led in gold medals and total medals at the world championships in Rome after America had led in both categories four years earlier).

Eastern European countries will likely overwhelm the United States in wrestling, judo, weightlifting. Isolated gains can be expected, however, in rowing, cycling and shooting.

To combat the rest of the world, the USOC has aggressively gone into the marketplace and will easily reach its four-year budget of $135 million. A lucrative licensing program that produces everything from caps to jewelery is starting to bring the USOC another windfall.

The necessary monies will apparently be there for years to come in order for the American Olympic effort to produce the best athletes possible. How that is to be done is currently being formulated among the USOC brass and is expected to be the subject of a major announcement early next year.

As USOC officials see it, part of the problem in bringing athletes to the top of their potential lies in the deteriorating financial conditions within the NCAA.

"We feel what we seeing and what we are responding to," said USOC public information director Mike Moran, "is the demise of college programs in Olympic sports. Schools are dropping gymnastics and wrestling and swimming. It is very obvious that colleges are facing severe financial problems. The governing bodies, then, are having to pick up the slack as far as competitions and training are concerned.

"Elite athletes who benefit from college programs are being squeezed. They are just as well-conditioned as any in the world. They are better fed. We have learned a lot in terms of nutrition. But how do you keep the talent pool active when you lose these opportunities to compete? It's up to us to find innovative ways to give athletes the resources they need."

If the United States is in for a surprise in 1988, the Soviet Union may be in for a major shock. The Russians have been passed by the East Germans in many of the sports in which they are chief rivals. The Soviets' answer will likely be to simply pour more government money into their efforts.

Opinion polls requested by the USOC still make it clear the American public does not want an Olympic program subsidized by the government.

"But they do approve of corporate fund-raising and other innovations we are trying," Moran said. "I think the evidence of this work will be seen down the road. We may be more successful in 1992 (in Barcelona). That's when a lot of this work will begin to pay off."

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