Nadia's coach: US gymnasts will rely on him in Seoul

With Mary Lou Retton retired, the most prominent figure in American gymnastics is probably a mustachioed coach who towers over his tiny female pupils. Bela Karolyi gets the kind of results that demand attention. At last week's US Olympic trials, half of the six young women to make the American team, plus both alternates, listed Karolyi as their coach, just as Retton once did and Romania's Nadia Comaneci before her. Oddly, only with the resignation of US coach Don Peters several days ago does it appear that Karolyi will have a meaningful role in Seoul.

Rather than name a new national team coach, the United States Gymnastics Federation has abolished the idea for the women and decided to use the personal coaches of the team members. These gymnasts are almost entirely teen-age girls who seem to benefit from having their regular coaches nearby.

Karolyi is easily the best known of the five mentors and should be an animated presence on the competition floor, where each country is restricted to three coaches at any one time. He frequently bearhugs his gymnasts after they perform well.

Peters, the US Olympic coach in 1984, returned to the post after his successor, Greg Marsden, quit in March. Peters's departure was prompted by what he called a lack of support by the gymnastics federation.

Mike Jacki, the federation's executive director, talks about the need to change from a subjective voting selection procedure for choosing the US coaches to a ``performance-related system.''

To Peters this probably sounds like an endorsement for Karolyi, who began a highly successful gymnastics school in Houston after defecting from Romania.

Ironically, one of Bela's most talented prot'eg'es is Kristie Phillips, who briefly trained under Peters in Huntington Beach, Calif., before she returned to the Karolyi camp earlier this year.

Phillips, who was once thought to be the American heir apparent to Retton, is gradually returning to form, but finished eighth at the Olympic trials in Salt Lake City. That means she's only an alternate, but Karolyi thinks she's the most dynamic performer the US has and suggests that the actual Olympic starting lineup not be determined until the last minute.

Phoebe Mills won the trials and joins other Karolyi products Brandy Johnson and Chelle Stack as official Olympic team members. The others are Kelly Garrison-Steves, Hope Spivey, and Melissa Marlowe. Sharing alternate status with Phillips is Rhonda Faehn.

Karolyi, whose attention-attracting antics have been viewed with suspicion by some in the American gymnastics community, was basically thrown a bone when named chief of the sport's US Olympic delegation. Feeling a bit unappreciated, he resigned that lightweight assignment a month or so ago.

Now it appears he will have an opportunity to place himself squarely in the Seoul spotlight even as his wife, Marta, is barred from it. She had been an assistant to Peters until the national coaching staff was scrapped. Strange intrasquad scrimmage

Pro football's preseason training camps produce some pretty peculiar incidents. One of the most bizarre this summer may have occurred in Rhode Island, where three members of the New England Patriots got into a scuffle. Reports indicate that punter Rich Camarillo and placekicker Tony Franklin taunted all-pro linebacker Andre Tippett at a local restaurant. Kickers have no business taking on the big boys, especially one with a black belt in karate. Camarillo had his nose smashed and was fined, along with Franklin, to boot. Canadian football in the US?

With the National Football League dragging its heels on expansion, the Canadian Football League is beginning to look longingly at some franchise-less American cities. CFL commissioner Doug Mitchell thinks his league should consider placing teams in vacated NFL markets like Oakland, Baltimore, and St. Louis, before anyone else does. He even has an eye on New York, deserted by the New Jersey-based Giants and Jets, as well as such former United States Football League beachheads as Birmingham, Ala.; Portland, Ore.; and Memphis.

Crossing the border holds the potential for boosting declining interest in the CFL. But the league might have to drop or modify some its distinctive rules. American fans might not be ready for 12 players on a side, a 55-yard line, a one-point play called a rouge, three downs, frequent punts, and a championship game played for the Grey Cup. Lakers can't get lazy

Next season is almost here for the Los Angeles Lakers, who had better be careful they don't go soft during their scheduled Hawaiian training camp in October. It's not just that the team would like to win three successive National Basketball Association championships, something no club has done since the Boston Celtics completed an eight-year reign in 1966; it's also a matter of local bragging rights. The Lakers have been L.A.'s basketball pride and joy for years, but now the lowly Clippers, who moved up the road from San Diego four years ago, are bidding to become a viable competing attraction.

While no one's expecting all those celebrities occupying the Lakers' courtside seats to shift loyalties overnight, the temptation is sure to grow.

Labeled ``the best NCAA team in the NBA'' by Sports Illustrated, the Clipppers are loaded with young talent, including Danny Manning, the No. 1 choice in the latest draft. Manning, Charles Smith, and Gary Grant will join a trio of first-rounders from a year ago (Reggie Williams, Joe Wolf, and Ken Norman), in forming a strong nucleus for years to come.

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