When officials from the International Management Group and USA Track & Field were creating this winter's five-meet indoor series, they had little hope that L.A.'s Sunkist Invitational would become part of it. They wanted to own the meets, but they suspected that longtime Sunkist promoter Al Franken didn't want to sell. They were right.
"They would have kept me as a figurehead, but they wouldn't have let me do things my way," Franken said. "It would have been like someone from the outside coming into the UCLA basketball program and telling John Wooden how to coach. I'm not comparing myself to John Wooden, but, after 35 years with this meet, I don't need any counsel."
If Franken had sold, the only advantage for the meet would have been the network television exposure it would have received the next afternoon on NBC as part of the series, he said. As it is, Saturday night's meet at the Sports Arena will be televised the next day on ESPN.
As for the 31 athletes under contract to participate in the series, Franken received commitments from several because they are competing the night before only a short flight away in Reno.
The meet doesn't appear to have many outstanding matchups, like Friday night's Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden had, but there are some headliners, including Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Maria Mutola, Said Aouita, Danny Harris and Jon Drummond. A member of a gospel group, Drummond will record the national anthem to be played before the meet.
Although his meet is not included, Franken wants the series to be a success "because the sport needs the exposure desperately." But he is not optimistic. USATF reportedly could lose as much as $650,000 on the venture.
Despite objections from the International Olympic Committee's medical commission and some athletes, it appears as if the International Amateur Athletic Federation, which governs track and field, and tradition have won a battle in Atlanta.
Although the weather is expected to be hot and very humid, the IAAF insisted that the men's marathon during the 1996 Summer Olympics start in the late afternoon so that it will conclude at the beginning of the closing ceremony in the main stadium.
"I wouldn't say the start time has been finalized, but we're pretty close to it," said Dave Maggard, sports director for Atlanta's organizing committee. "The IAAF believes that the qualifying standards will be high enough that only the best-conditioned athletes will be entered and that they will have enough time to prepare for the conditions."
Counters Mark Plaatjes, the United States' 1993 marathon world champion: "People are going to be falling left, right and center."
Trivia: Who is the reigning U.S. women's figure skating champion.
Answer: No one.
Nancy Kerrigan won the championship in 1993, then did not defend it last year because of the whack to her knee on the day before the competition started. Tonya Harding won the title, but the U.S. Figure Skating Assn. declared it vacated after she confessed to aiding in the cover up of the conspiracy against Kerrigan.
As a 13 year old, Michelle Kwan of Torrance finished second to Harding and is favored to become the sport's youngest champion win this year's competition, which begins this week at Providence, R.I.
U.S. Swimming will present its resolution to ban China from this summer's Pan Pacific Championships in Atlanta to the three other charter Pan Pacific nations, Australia, Canada and Japan, at a meeting next Sunday in Honolulu. It has a good chance of acceptance because swimming officials from Australia and Canada have been even more outspoken than those from the United States about the use of performance-enhancing drugs by Chinese swimmers.
World Scene Notes
Southern California boxers named to the U.S. National Select team are bantamweight Carlos Navarro, featherweight Frank Carmona and heavyweight Lamon Brewster of Los Angeles, light welterweight Fernando Vargas of Oxnard, super heavyweight Lance Whitaker of Northridge and heavyweight Juan Cruz of San Diego. . . . The favorite to win the IOC's June vote to organize the 2002 Winter Games, Salt Lake City, will not bid again if it is not selected. . . . NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman had talks last week with international ice hockey officials about the prospect of NHL players participating in the Winter Olympics, but the NHLPA has warned that nothing can be finalized without its input. . . . Part two of Bud Greenspan's film, "Lillehammer '94: 16 Days of Glory," can be seen next Sunday night on The Disney Channel. . . . If field conditions in Buenos Aires, Argentina don't improve, USA Baseball officials are threatening to pull their team out of next month's Pan American Games. The team from St. John's University was selected to represent the United States.