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ATHENS 2004

Moments To Watch

August 08, 2004|Helene Elliott

Times staff writer Helene Elliott has five suggestions for good viewing in Athens (finals in bold):

* The men's and women's marathons. The races will start in Marathon, where it all began. Can't beat that for authenticity. They'll end at the 1896 Olympic stadium, one of the newer buildings in this ancient land. (Women, Aug. 22; men, Aug. 29.)

* Swimmer Michael Phelps matching -- or surpassing -- Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals in one Olympics. Ian Crocker of the U.S. and Ian Thorpe of Australia might swim between him and the record -- and the $1-million bonus Phelps' sponsor, Speedo, has offered if he succeeds. (Aug. 14-21.)

* The women's soccer tournament. This will be the international farewell for pioneers Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett, Brandi Chastain and Kristine Lilly. Can they recapture the spirit that carried them to a gold medal in 1996 and put their posters on the walls of thousands of young girls? (Aug. 11-26; final, Aug. 26.)

* Rulon Gardner, minus a toe lost to frostbite and with pins in his wrist after another of his mishaps, defends his Greco-Roman heavyweight wrestling title. He plans to leave his shoes on the mat after his last match, the traditional sign of a wrestler's retirement. When he's done, the sport will lose a fun personality -- but at Athens it will gain some great stories, with the first Olympic women's wrestling tournament, in which every woman has overcome a parental, psychological or physical obstacle to be there. (Aug. 22-29; finals--women's freestyle, Aug. 23; men's Greco-Roman, Aug. 25-26; men's freestyle, Aug. 28-29.)

* The men's basketball tournament. The rest of the world has caught up to the U.S., which couldn't entice more than a couple of top-notch NBA players to wear the red, white and blue. If Detroit Piston Coach Larry Brown guides this young group to gold, he will have earned NBA and Olympic titles in the same year; he also won a gold medal as a player in 1964. If anyone defeats the U.S., blame NBA Commissioner David Stern's zeal for spreading the gospel of basketball around the globe. (Aug. 14-28; final, Aug. 28.)

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