SEOUL — Soviet television has 28 correspondents here for the Summer Olympics, which is more than twice as many as it had in Washington for the Ronald Reagan-Mikhail Gorbachev summit. As popular as Gorbachev is at home, Sergei Bubka is more so.
Although the Soviet media is now permitted to report bad news, they will be hard-pressed to find it in Seoul. The Soviet Union is expected to win more gold medals than any other country, perhaps as many as 50.
That is one more than the Soviets won in Montreal 12 years ago, the last time all three athletic superpowers, including the United States and East Germany, came together for the Summer Games.
East Germany won 40 gold medals in Montreal, six more than the United States. The prediction is that the Americans will reverse that this time by almost the same count, but it won't surprise anyone if they finish third again.
Most U.S. athletes say that they can live with that. At least, they know that the value of the medals they do win won't be devalued because of a boycott by Soviet Bloc countries.
"The 1984 Olympics mean a lot to me," said swimmer Mary T. Meagher, who won three gold medals in Los Angeles. "There was a little empty feeling, not having them there. It gives me more emphasis for now."
You want emphasis?
Listen to UCLA women's track and field Coach Bob Kersee, who has trained seven members of the U.S. team.
"We couldn't go (to Moscow) in '80, and they didn't show in '84," he said. "Let's get together in Seoul and get it on."
A sport-by-sport look at the Games:
MEN: In a rivalry that extended beyond the competition, Darrell Pace of Hamilton, Ohio and Rick McKinney of Gilbert, Ariz. dominated men's archery for years in the United States. Neither would allow the other to shoot at an apple on his head, although both could split it if they were so inclined.
Pace was the 1976 and 1984 Olympic champion, and McKinney won the silver medal in 1984.
But Jay Barrs of Mesa, Ariz. emerged last year as the nation's best, winning two gold medals at the Pan American Games along with a silver and a bronze at the World Championships.
Any of the three could win an individual medal, although the Soviet Union's Vladimir Esheev, 1987 world champion, is the favorite. Together, the Americans should contend for the team championship along with archers from the Soviet Union, East Germany, West Germany, South Korea and China.
WOMEN: Three years ago, the best U.S. woman archer was devastating the 12-and-under division in her home state of Utah. Now, Denise Parker, 14, appears ready to take on the world's best.
Even though the United States is not expected to challenge the Soviet Union, South Korea, China and West Germany for a team medal, Parker, the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic team, is an individual medal contender.
MEN: You could put together a medal-contending team with the players that U.S. Coach John Thompson of Georgetown University has cut.
Is this team so good that it couldn't find a place for point guards Pooh Richardson, David Rivers or Rod Strickland? Or off guards Rex Chapman or Todd Lichti? How about forwards Danny Ferry or Sean Elliott?
Well, it is a pretty good team. It couldn't be otherwise with players such as Danny Manning, J.R. Reid, Hersey Hawkins and David Robinson, although Robinson, the former Navy center, has yet to find his land legs.
But is it good enough to beat the Soviets?
Even without their injured franchise center, 7-3 Arvidas Sabonis, the Soviets looked good recently in a three-game series against the Atlanta Hawks. OK, so it's out of season, and the Hawks aren't in highlight film form, but it's still an NBA team.
The United States and the Soviets are in different brackets, but if they reach the championship rounds, they could meet for the first time in the Olympics since 1972, when the Soviets won on a controversial basket at the end.
Teams most likely to spoil the possibility of a rematch are Yugoslavia and Brazil, which upset the United States in the 1987 Pan American Games final.
WOMEN: Until 1986, the Soviets had never lost a game in a major tournament, either the Olympics or the World Championships. They were the real Big Red Machine.
But the United States, which won the gold medal in 1984 when the Soviets boycotted, beat them in the 1986 Goodwill Games in Moscow, and then, to prove it wasn't an upset, beat them a month later, again in Moscow, at the World Championships.
Kay Yow of North Carolina State, who coached the United States to first place in both of those 1986 tournaments, liked that team so much that she selected 9 of the 12 players for this year's team.
Most notable among the missing is Cheryl Miller, the four-time All-American from USC who suffered a knee injury last year and hadn't recovered enough to impress Yow that she could still contribute at the international level.