An Olympian peers at 1984 games and perceives 'winners' everywhere

The 1984 Olympics may still seem a long way off, but these things have a way of creeping up, so it's not a bad idea to look ahead now and then and keep tabs on developments.

In this connection, a recent interview with 1976 swimming superstar John Naber raised some interesting points that aren't yet generally realized -- or at least haven't been mentioned very widely.

One of these is the carry-over effect that the US boycott of the 1980 Games in Moscow is certain to have.

"It will be eight years since the United States has been represented," Naber pointed out. "This will be the first time for such a situation -- except, of course, for those war years when there were no games. All the world will be interested to see how we do.

"This will increase the caliber of performance by all countries -- including the USA," he added. "We can expect outstanding performances once again in those sports where we've been successful in the past, and even in some where we haven't done so well before."

A key reason for the latter prediction, Naber pointed out, is the fact that, as host country, the United States will be permitted to enter most team sports without the necessity of meeting the qualifying standards imposed for other nations. This is an advantage the Americans haven't had in the summer games in more than half a century -- since the last time they were held in this country, also in Los Angeles, in 1932.

One thing this does, of course, is permit a country to participate in sports where its team almost certainly wouldn't otherwise make it. This helps develop that sport in the nation involved, and also creates a bit more spectator interest, but isn't likely to matter much in terms of medals.

The more significant aspect concerns teams that are good enough to be potential contenders anyway. Such a squad has a big edge if it can set up an entire program long in advance aimed at the Olympics themselves, rather than being forced to worry about surviving a qualifying tournament first.

"When you're assured a spot, the training can be a lot more disciplined -- a lot more single-minded," Naber explained.

Water polo and men's volleyball are two sports in which the USA hopes to benefit from this system. The Americans also will get free berths in soccer, team handball, and field hockey, though the chances for success appear quite a bit less in these competitions.

Unfortunately, women's volleyball is the one sport where the automatic entry won't apply. The competition as of now is limited to six teams, and that's only enough for actual qualifiers, with no room for free entries.

Of course the US women, who almost certainly would have been top medal contenders last year had there not been a boycott of the Moscow games, should have a good chance to qualify anyway. It won't be any sure thing, though (the powerful Cuban team figures to be the main obstacle). And in any event, they won't have the advantage cited by Naber of knowing their status in advance.

Returning to the question of carry-over effects from the boycott. Naber noted that many other countries, including such sporting powers as Japan and West Germany, will also be making their first appearances in eight years and will be equally eager to do well. But of course the main focus will be on the showing of the United States, because of both this country's long tradition of excellence and its role as the host nation.

And what of the Soviets? Is there even the remotest possibility that they would try to spoil the party by answering the 1980 boycott with one of their own?

"No," Naber said emphatically. "And I'll give you three reasons.

"The first one -- and really the only one you need -- is that President Brezhnev said they would be here.We can argue with Carter and Reagan, but the way their system works, if he says it, you know it's going to happen.

"A second reason is that they're so zeroed in on the Olympics as the central focus of sports activity. In the United States, we had all sorts of other things going on last spring and summer to distract us. While the decision was being made not to attend the games, the basketball and hockey playoffs were going on, the baseball season under way, the Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500 coming up. During the summer there was baseball -- could George Brett hit . 400 and all that? And the big golf and tennis tournaments. Then comes the World Series, and later the Super Bowl. But the Soviets don't have all that. Their entire sports program is geared around a four-year goal: the Olympics.

"And finally, in the last three Olympics the Soviets have proved themselves to be the premier athletic country overall. Now what better place could they find to display their wares than in Los Angeles -- here on our own turf? It's impossible to imagine them passing up that opportunity."

AS for the preparations for the games, Naber, who is a member of the board of directors of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, says everything is moving along according to plan.

"It's a different organizational setup this time," he pointed out. "Prior to this, the games were always awarded to a city, and thus tax dollars were involved. This time, they've been awarded to the LAOOC, which is a private organization raising funds through business involvement and contributions."

Commercial sponsorship is nothing new for the Olympics, but never before has it been done entirely privately or on such a grand scale.The LAOOC is concentrating largely on the corporate giants -- companies like McDonald's (which is building the $4 million swimming pool), Atlantic-Richfield, Southland Corporation, United Airlines, etc. -- to come up with the lion's share of support. With this kind of help, plus the fact that so many events can be held in existing facilities like the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Forum, UCLA's Pauley Pavilion, etc., Naber says his group is confident that the 1984 Olympics can do something that no other Olympic Games have done in recent times -- finish in the black.

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