SPORTS CALENDAR

December 31-January 2

Four-star college/pro football weekend

With New Year's Day falling on Sunday, the most important bowl games - Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Rose, and Cotton - will be played Monday, Jan. 2. But first come four other bowl contests and four National Football League wild-card playoff games.

January 4-7

Snowflake International Precision Competition

Figure skating without jumps? Can it be? Definitely, when competition is among teams of 12 to 24 skaters in the sport's fastest-growing discipline. Junior- and senior-level teams from 10 countries will show off their synchronized footwork in Detroit. The first world precision championships are scheduled for 1998.

January 5-8

Mercedes Championships (men's golf)

``Win to be in'' is the catch phrase at the PGA Tour's 1995 lead-off event, held in Carlsbad, Calif. The field is limited to winners of officially sanctioned 1994 tournaments, plus the British Open. British and PGA Championship winner Nick Price is slated to head the exclusive entry list.

January 12-20

America's Cup Defender Trials (sailing)

The trials, like May's cup races, will be held off San Diego. At stake is a slot as the United States boat in the world's most famous yacht race. Bill Koch, who helped skipper the 1992 America's Cup winner, has pulled together an all-female crew to sail his new boat, America3. Team Dennis Conner and PACT '95 will provide the competition. The round-robin series ends in early spring.

January 16-29

Australian Open tennis

The opening Grand Slam event is played on the hard courts of the National Tennis Center in Melbourne. The tournament, during the Southern summer,can be among the hottest all year. This year's field is loaded with top contenders: Defending champion Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi top the men's list, and Steffi Graf, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, and Conchita Martinez the women's.

January 15

Vietnam Marathon

Alternating between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the race pulls into the former city for its fifth annual running. About 500 entrants are anticipated. The event, one of a growing number of ``exotic marathons,'' appeals to international adventure travelers.

January 21

Reese's International Gymnastics Cup

Using a scoring format that encourages showmanship, a field of elite gymnasts will compete for nearly $50,000 in prize money in this unusual meet, which comes to Portland, Ore., after its debut in Baltimore last year. Music can be used by men or women with any apparatus, not just with the women's floor exercise, and costumes and props are welcome.

January 29

Super Bowl XXIX

At this point only one thing is certain: There will be no rematch of last January's game. After four successive, unsuccessful trips to the National Football League championship, the Buffalo Bills failed to make the playoffs. The Dallas Cowboys, however, are in the hunt again, hoping they can advance to Miami's Joe Robbie Stadium for a shot at being the first team to win three straight Super Bowls. The favored teams so far, though, are the San Francisco 49ers (14-2) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3).

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