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Women as Stars? Tell Us a Story We Don't Know

Atlanta 1996 Olympics / The Countdown: 5 Days to the
Games | Olympic Scene

July 14, 1996|RANDY HARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — National politics had its so-called "Year of the Woman" in 1992. Now much of the media has designated that as the theme for the 1996 Olympics. The women of summer were the subject of cover stories in Newsweek and the New York Times Sunday Magazine and have been featured in numerous other publications.

If they are referring to quantity, they have a point. Of the 10,361 athletes expected to compete here in the 16 days between July 20 and Aug. 4, a record 3,779 are women. Although far from equal opportunity, that is a 40% increase over 1992 in Barcelona.

But if they are referring to quality, they are late arriving at the scene. Women have had a significant impact on the Summer Olympics for decades, starting in 1932 in Los Angeles when legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice wrote: "The pick of the world's greatest athletes are here, and yet the most remarkable of the lot doesn't happen to be a member of the male species. Her name is Babe Didriksen."

The Netherlands' Fanny Blankers-Koen won four track and field gold medals in 1948; Soviet gymnast Laryssa Latynina won the first of her 18 medals--more than any other athlete in history--in 1956; Wilma Rudolph, Donna de Varona and the Soviets' Press sisters are among the most memorable athletes from 1960, Wyomia Tyus and Czech gymnast Vera Caslavska from 1968.

American television caught on to the appeal of women's gymnastics with Caslavska, catapulting the sport to equal status with track and field four years later with the coverage of Olga Korbut. Then came Nadia Comaneci in 1976 and Mary Lou Retton in '84.

Today, if Nielsen ratings are an indicator, women's gymnastics is the most popular sport in the Summer Olympics. (With athletes such as Sonja Henie, Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Katarina Witt and Oksana Baiul, women's figure skating has long been the marquee event of the Winter Games.)

In some Olympic sports, women have become role models for the men. Decathlete Dan O'Brien is favored to win a gold medal this year, but he said that would not entirely satisfy him. He will not be fulfilled, he said, until he becomes "Jackie Joyneresque."

If Michael Johnson wins the 200 and 400 meters here, he likely will be remembered as the star of the Centennial Games. But he will not become the first track and field athlete to achieve that double. A woman, Valerie Brisco, did it in 1984.

FACTOID

With 15,000 athletes, coaches and officials, a staff of 10,000 and its own ZIP code, the Olympic Village will be Georgia's sixth-largest city.

NEWSMAKER

Although she has not completely recovered from a stress fracture in her right shin, it appears as if U.S. gymnast Dominique Moceanu will compete in the Olympics. That has caused concern among those who criticize women's gymnastics because of the pressures placed on the competitors--most of them teenagers--by peers, parents and coaches.

Moceanu's parents advise critics to relax.

No, they say, they are not allowing their 14-year-old daughter to compete here simply because that is her desire.

No, they say, they are not forcing her to compete here simply because that is their desire.

"We wanted to know what the doctors had to say, and then we made our decision," Moceanu's mother, Camelia, said by telephone Saturday from the family's home in Houston, referring to her and her husband. "The doctors said it was OK."

Moceanu, who last year became the United States' youngest all-around national champion and finished fifth in the world, did not compete in the U.S. trials two weeks ago but was waived onto the Olympic team because of her scores in this year's nationals.

Her mother said that doctors since have told them that they are surprised at Moceanu's rapid rate of recovery. A new portable ultrasound device called the Sonic Accelerated Fractured Healing System has helped.

"She is very strong for her age," Camelia said.

That does not mean that she has been performing without pain since resuming workouts a week ago. Her coach, Bela Karolyi, said that as a concession she probably would compete in only two events--the balance beam and uneven bars--in an exhibition Saturday night in Greensboro, N.C.

But despite published reports that suggest otherwise, she does not plan to eliminate the more difficult tricks from her routines.

"That's news to me," Camelia said of the speculation. "She's doing almost everything right now."

LAUREL WREATH

The people of Atlanta have been more burdened than anyone by price gouging, traffic congestion and the unrelenting sound of jackhammers, but, with few exceptions, they have not forgotten their manners. Or their sense of humor.

THORN WREATH

If the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games gets its act together before Friday night's opening ceremony, all will be forgiven. But so far, the organizing committee is not so good. ACOG's inefficiency is surpassed only by its arrogance.

Olympic Scene Notes

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