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REPORT

Ueberroth Praises Athens Organizers

August 13, 2004|Bill Dwyre | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — It had been 20 years to the day that Peter Ueberroth performed his last official public Olympic duties. That was when, as president of the organizing committee, he presided over the closing ceremony of the Los Angeles Games.

So, Thursday was a quiet return of sorts for the new CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, who appeared at a news conference with other USOC officials and newly elected U.S. flag-bearer Dawn Staley.

Ueberroth had been the commissioner of baseball, the head of a Los Angeles rebuilding project in the wake of the riots, a recent candidate for governor of California and a successful businessman who, among other things, owns a major part of the Pebble Beach golf and resort complex.

Now, he was back.

"The Greeks are to be congratulated," he said. "They have completed the first step of their miracle.

"The facilities are spectacular. They have a cleaner city. They have improved transportation long term. The first gold medal of these Olympics has already been awarded, to the Athens organizers."

USOC Executive Director Jim Scheer, appearing with Ueberroth, chef de mission Herm Frazier and Staley, pointed to areas of Ueberroth's leadership that were reminiscent of 1984, when the Los Angeles Games were run with unflinching decisiveness.

Scheer said the USOC leadership had taken a stance that, in most things, the athletes come first. His example was that, unlike past opening ceremony marches in which the first several rows behind the flag-bearer were manned by USOC administrators, this time it will be athletes there.

Scheer was asked, in light of the world disdain for Americans, if Staley would dip the flag as she passes as a gesture to Olympic and Greek officials.

"No," Scheer said, "that won't change."

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Staley said that the first call she had to make with the news of her honor was to her mother.

"Soon as I make that call, the whole world will know," Staley said.

Staley, starting point guard for the women's basketball team, said her flag-bearer vote went to Kevin Hall, the sailor who is being allowed to compete here despite the doses of testosterone he takes in the aftermath of testicular cancer.

She also said they'd be proud of her in her North Philadelphia neighborhood, which she described as "a place where there are hard-working, blue-collar people who do things the hard way, even if they don't have to."

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Martina Navratilova, who at 47 is playing in her first Olympics and cherishing it, explained her previous absences, some of them at times when she was the top female player in the world.

In 1988, when she declined to play and went so far as to say "Tennis doesn't belong in the Olympics," she said it was more fatigue than philosophy.

"I was just really burned out then," she said. "The thought of flying to Korea for yet another tournament was just too much. I didn't mind the thought of being at the Olympics, just the thought of playing more tennis.

"Then, in '92, I had a contract with World Team Tennis and the rules were that you had to play Fed Cup to go to the Olympics, and the Fed Cup conflicted with WTT, so I decided not to break my contract. By '96 I was retired and in 2000 I had just started back on the tour."

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Zina Garrison, the U.S. women's tennis coach, indicated that she might not have stressed enough the Aug. 7 deadline for outside replacement of team members because of injury or illness. Jennifer Capriati and Serena Williams pulled out this week, after the deadline, and left the U.S. team with four players for three singles spots and two doubles spots.

When Serena pulled out Wednesday, the U.S. team had to give up a singles spot to Australia's Samantha Stosur. Coincidentally the draw that was made Thursday placed Stosur against American Lisa Raymond in an opening match.

"The date was clear in my mind," Garrison said, "but maybe I didn't let them know enough."

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