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ATHENS 2004

Americans Optimistic They'll Reach 100-Medal Goal

August 21, 2004|Alan Abrahamson | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — A week into the 2004 Olympics, with swimming winding down and track and field gearing up, American athletes lead the overall count and still hold a reasonable shot at winning the 100 medals the U.S. Olympic Committee set as a target for the Athens Games, officials said Friday.

Through Friday night, U.S. athletes had won 40 medals, led by the swimming team's 25. Still to come: track and field, wrestling, taekwondo and the medal rounds in sports such as basketball, softball and beach volleyball.

Four years ago, at the Sydney Games, the U.S. team had won 40 medals after seven days. The U.S. team finished with 97 medals, 40 gold, both tops on the charts. Russia was second in the overall count with 88.

The USOC came into the Athens Games with an announced goal of 100 medals. "It's always been a stretch to get to 100," Steve Roush, the USOC's managing director of sport partnerships, said Friday. "And we're going to keep stretching."

Jim Scherr, the USOC's chief executive, said, "We're not backing off."

A week into the 2004 Games, the U.S. also leads the gold-medal count with 17. China is second overall with 36, and second in the gold count with 15. China, however, has traditionally fielded weak track and field teams.

Already looking ahead to 2008 and the Beijing Olympics, when China is expected to more seriously challenge the U.S. for the overall medal lead, USOC officials have begun to assess how to fix what has gone awry here -- in particular, the unexpectedly poor showing by the U.S. tennis program.

Stars Andy Roddick and Venus Williams were eliminated before the medal rounds. The women's team also was hurt by the late injury withdrawals of stars Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati.

"When people heard the names coming to Athens, they expected big numbers for the U.S. in the medal count. We'll have to deal with that," Roush said.

On the other hand, the U.S. also has gained medals in sports it hadn't been counting on winning.

In cycling, the U.S. has won three medals, including Tyler Hamilton's gold in the men's individual time trial. In gymnastics, Carly Patterson and Paul Hamm rallied in their final routines, each winning the all-around title. And in fencing, Mariel Zagunis won gold in women's sabre, Sada Jacobson the bronze.

The track and field team remains a question mark. Some pre-Games speculation had the U.S. men's shotput team going 1-2-3, but at Olympia on Wednesday, only Adam Nelson earned a medal, a silver. John Godina finished ninth and Reese Hoffa failed to qualify for the finals.

Torri Edwards, a medal contender in the 100- and 200-meter sprints, was ruled out of the Games after testing positive for a banned stimulant. She drew a two-year suspension.

USA Track and Field officials nonetheless remain confident that Americans can win 17 to 20 medals -- relying in part on new faces such as Allyson Felix (200 meters), Brenda Taylor (400-meter hurdles), Breaux Greer (javelin) and Justin Gatlin (sprints).

In Sydney, U.S. track and field athletes won 20 medals. In Atlanta in 1996, they won 23.

The swim team won 33 medals from Sydney. U.S. officials knew that performance wasn't likely to be duplicated in Athens, for a number of reasons, including tougher competition. "In Sydney, the team just got on an extraordinary roll, not unlike what happens in a basketball game when everybody gets hot on the same night," said Chuck Wielgus, executive director of USA Swimming.

Michael Phelps, of course, has held up his part of the bargain. He has won five gold medals and two bronze so far.

"I still think his best swimming is ahead of him," Wielgus said. "In Beijing, he's going to be an absolute force."

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