Korea's Olympic tug of war; Stanford student eyes skating title

The political football of the 1988 Seoul Olympics is already clearly identified. Fidel Castro focused attention on it again the other day when he threatened a Cuban boycott of the competition if the two Koreas don't join to host the games, as he has recommended. The Olympics were awarded to Seoul, which is in South Korea, but North Korea wants part of the action and Soviet-bloc countries are in the North's corner. Wrangling over this issue will surely continue, but some progress has already been made. The two sides reached an agreement in principle last month to allow North Korea to host at least one Olympic cycling event.

Ideally the North would like a 50-50 split, but considering the preparations Seoul has already made for the games, organizers are reluctant to give up much. A student ice princess?

With defending champion Tiffany Chin below peak form after a period of physical rehabilitation, Debi Thomas could grab the figure skating spotlight at this week's US championships in Uniondale, N.Y. Thomas, 18, the silver medalist last year and the highest-ranking black skater in history, has performed well in several recent international competitions.

That has surprised some observers, who realize school and figure skating generally don't mix at the sport's highest level. Thomas has had to cut back in her training somewhat, yet she appears primed to become the first coed since Tenley Albright in the early 1950s to win a national title.

In Europe, meanwhile, East Germany's Katarina Witt has her sights set on achieving a different, though equally rare, feat. The Olympic champion just won the European title for a fourth straight time, and with a victory at Geneva in March she would become the first woman since Peggy Fleming (1966 to '68) to secure three straight world crowns. Touching other bases

North Carolina's basketball team is No. 1 in the country, but somehow it doesn't seem that good. Maybe that's because there really isn't a dominant college team this year, and the Tar Heels just happen to be the best of the lot. Then, too, Carolina seems slow for a team of its stature. Credit Dean Smith with another masterly coaching job, for his players are obviously getting full value out of their talents and exhibit the usual Smith-instilled trademarks -- poise and confidence. A case in point was this week's showdown against No. 2 Georgia Tech, in which North Carolina erased a 59-46 deficit and eventually pulled out a 78-77 victory in overtime. North Carolina, now 22-1, lost to Virginia last week.

The Battle of I-70 concluded months ago with Kansas City beating St. Louis in the all-Missouri World Series, but a disputed umpire's call in Game 6 has not been forgotten, especially by Cardinal fans. Many of them have been buying a poster of ``The Call,'' a painting that captures the moment when umpire Don Denkinger called Kansas City's Jorge Orta safe at first. Replays showed Orta was out, but Denkinger stood by his call and the Royals, trailing 1-0, rallied to win in the bottom of the ninth, evening the Series 3-3. From there, K.C. went on to win the seventh game and the championship, leaving the Cardinal camp wondering ``What if . . . ?''

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, whose 17-year career just keeps rolling along, may feel a little like Methuselah when he suits up for Sunday's National Basketball Association All-Star Game in Dallas. At 38, the Los Angeles center is a year older than three players who will appear in the previous day's old-timers' game -- Dave Cowens, Pete Maravich, and Calvin Murphy.

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