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The HOME TEAM

September 04, 1988|MICHELE KORT | Michele Kort has covered sports for seven years and is a frequent contributor to Ms.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA is the hotbed of American Olympic talent. An amazing one-quarter of the 650-member 1988 United States team hails from California, and about two-thirds of those athletes--more than 100 American Olympians--are from the Southern California area. (The state of New York is a distant second with about 30 Olympians.)

The locals will participate in more than 20 of the 27 Olympic sports. We will send to Seoul swimmers, divers, equestrians, rowers, sailors, baseball players, soccer players, team handball and basketball players. The water polo team and the men's volleyball team seem to require a California driver's license for entry, and the U.S. track and field squad--the largest American contingent--has drawn about 20% of its members from Southern California.

To represent this extraordinary home team, we've chosen 16 athletes. Some of them will undoubtedly take the gold medal in their sport. Others are more likely to place. A few are definitely long shots. But all are local heroes just the same. Each represents the aspirations, the long years of training and the remarkable dedication of the many.

FLORENCE GRIFFITH-JOYNER

LOS ANGELES

Track and Field

Florence Griffith-Joyner, 28, used to be known for her long, glitzy fingernails and sexy one-legged tights. Now she's known for the nails, the clothes and for being the fastest woman in the world, with her record-shattering, warp-speed time of 10.49 seconds in the 100 meters. In Seoul, she is favored to win the 100- and 200-meter sprints and to help the 4x100 relay team to a gold.

Griffith-Joyner grew up in Watts, where she began her track career at age 8 with the Sugar Ray Robinson Youth Foundation. She excelled in track at Cal State Northridge and UCLA and won a silver medal in the 200 meters in the '84 Games. But by 1986 she was out of training ("She was this wide," says ex-coach Bob Kersee) and into a bank job. She's since trimmed her weight and her nails (they used to be six inches) and, ironically, used long-distance running to improve her sprint speed. Griffith-Joyner says she'll maintain that strategy in Seoul. But it looks like she'll have to lose at least part of her trademark flash. The legless U.S. uniforms, she says "are really cute and I like them. I just wish one was long--so I could cut off a leg."

GREG LOUGANIS

MALIBU

Diving

Greg Louganis says he doesn't analyze his fellow divers; he doesn't even watch them. But don't other divers always peek at their competition? More exasperated than immodest, Louganis replies, "I don't know--I'm not any other diver."

In fact, Louganis, 28, is generally considered the best diver ever . He won a silver medal in the '76 Olympic platform event, then, stymied by the 1980 boycott, waited eight years for his 1984 golds in platform and springboard. This year, although he's nursing an injured wrist and faces stiff competition from Chinese and American divers, he is favored in both events again.

Louganis may be around for the 1992 Games, but first he's going to try out his dancing and acting skills in musical theater. He does watch others perform in that field, and his heroine is Angela Lansbury, whom he's never met. "She did send me a telegram when I made my professional dance debut," says Louganis, more animated than when talking about diving. "She said, 'Welcome to the theater, break a leg.' I thought that was really wonderful."

EDWIN MOSES

NEWPORT BEACH

Track and Field

Edwin Moses admits that the science of physics has changed so much in the past decade that his 10-year-old bachelor's degree in the subject is hopelessly outdated. But Moses' seemingly scientific understanding of the 400-meter hurdles remains entirely current. The world-record holder in the event hasn't lost a step (and rarely a race) since he first won an Olympic gold medal in 1976. And though he just turned 33, Moses is still the favorite. "Age will not affect me in the next two months," he quipped after winning the trials against Andre Phillips and Kevin Young, who, with West Germany's Harald Schmid, should be his Olympic competition.

Moses is a standout as much for his sunglasses and gold neck chains as for his extraordinarily long stride. And although his rivals have begun to close the gap, he says that stride won't fail him: "They're waiting for me to slow down, but when I'm at my best (in Seoul), you'll see a lot more space (between us) at the finish."

STEVE LEWIS / FREMONT

MIKE MARSH / INGLEWOOD

KEVIN YOUNG / LOS ANGELES

DANNY EVERETT / LOS ANGELES

Track and Field

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