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Central L.A. Is Still a Gold Mine of Promising Olympic Athletes


The central Los Angeles area continues to turn out Olympic hopefuls from A to V--archery to volleyball.

Here's a look toward the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta:

Archery--Don Rabska of Los Angeles made the team for the 1995 Olympic Festival to be held next month in Denver. He finished third at the 1986 Championship of the Americas and has been ranked among the top 10 for the past 10 years. He just missed making the 1992 Olympic team. "I'm shooting better than I ever have," Rabska said. "I'm going to take one more stab at it."

Baseball--The USA baseball team began tryouts Wednesday at the team's training site in Millington, Tenn. USC starting left fielder Jacque Jones and starting catcher Chad Moellar were invited. Jones set a school record with a 28-game hitting streak and was a third-team All-American.

Basketball--Lisa Leslie, a three-time All-American at USC, should make the women's team. The 6-foot-5 forward won the 1994 Naismith Award as the nation's top women's basketball player. There will be no local stars playing men's basketball, since the team will be formed from NBA players.

Boxing--The central Los Angeles area is among the top three producers of amateur and national champions in the nation. And it has struck Olympic gold: Paul Gonzalez in 1984 at the Los Angeles games and Oscar De La Hoya in 1992 in Barcelona. Both are from East Los Angeles.

The top medal prospects for 1996 are Carlos Navarro of East Los Angeles, who is ranked No. 1 in the bantamweight division (119 pounds) by USA Boxing News, and top-ranked heavyweight Lamont Brewster, 201, who trains at Broadway Gym.

Other Olympic hopefuls: Pedro Pena of East L.A., 106, ranked as the No. 2 light-flyweight; Frank Carmona of East L.A., 125, up-and-coming featherweight contender; second-ranked Lance Whitaker at super heavyweight (201 pounds and over), who trains at Broadway Gym. Fidel Hernandez (156), who trains at Los Angeles Youth Athletic Club, has an outside chance.

Shooting--Sandra Utasy, who began competing with the ROTC shooting team at USC in 1991, was a member of the bronze medal-winning team at the 1994 Havana World Cup. She finished fourth at the 1994 Munich Invitational Airgun Championships. She also won the gold medal in air pistol and the women's national title at the 1994 USA Shooting National Championships.

Swimming--Four-time gold medal winner and world record-holder Janet Evans is an assistant women's swimming coach at USC. She is the two-time defending Olympic champion in the 800-meter freestyle.

Kristine Quance struggled with injuries during her sophomore season at USC, but won four NCAA titles as a freshman. She won the gold medal in the 400 individual medley and the silver in the 200 breaststroke at the 1993 Pan Pacific Games.

Alexis Larsen, Jean Todisco and Mike Merrell are other Trojan swimmers who are U.S. National team members. Larsen swam the ninth-fastest American time ever (16:19.03) in the 1,500 freestyle.

Track and Field--At the 1992 Olympics, Quincy Watts finally reached his peak to win the gold medal in the 400 meters in 43.50 seconds. He also ran a leg of the U.S. gold medal-winning 1,600-meter relay team. But the former USC standout is struggling. His best time this season is 45.42, which does not rank in the top 10.

Although age is finally catching up with Johnny Gray, the 34-year-old former Crenshaw High sprinter still could win a race on any given day. Gray, the 1992 bronze medalist in the 800 meters, has a season-best time of 1 minute 47.23 seconds.

The area also has three outstanding runners in the 110-meter high hurdles, all from USC. Mark Crear, who won the 1992 NCAA championship, has the fourth-best time in the nation at 13.37.

Former Trojan Robert Reading has been timed at 13.41 (sixth-best) and is the 1989 NCAA champion in this event. Another Trojan, Kehinde Lalde'fa, is the 1994 and 1995 Pacific 10 champion and will compete for Nigeria.

Lalde'fa and fellow countryman and teammate Udeme Ekpenyong will try out for the Nigerian Olympic team during the summer. Ekpenyong, a member of the 1992 Nigerian team, has run 20.64 in the 200 meters and 45.63 in the 400.

Several other USC athletes will compete for their native countries during the Olympics.

Balazs Kiss of USC has the best chance to medal in Atlanta. Kiss, a member of the 1992 Hungarian Olympic team, has won the NCAA championship three consecutive times, twice with record performances. His season-best of 268-10 ranks best in the world.

Other Trojans include Nils Fearnley from Norway in the javelin, Pedro Rodrigues of Portugal in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles, and Sau Ying Chan of Hong Kong in the women's 100-meter high hurdles.

Volleyball--Ex-USC stars Bryan Ivie, a two-time college player of the year, and Dan Greenbaum were on the '92 U.S. team, but fellow Trojan and former Loyola High standout Chris Underwood has the best chance to make the '96 team.

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