'Greta Garbo of athletics' hides out

Olympics 2000 Notebook

Frenchwoman Marie-Jose Perec, a three-time Olympic track champion so reclusive and mysterious she's been dubbed the "Greta Garbo of athletics," withdrew from the Sydney Games and a chance at history.

Perec, two-time defending champion in the 400 meters and a rival of favorite Cathy Freeman of Australia in the 400, flew to Singapore after claiming that a man forced his way into her room and threatened her. She left one day before today's first-round heats in her event.

Led by Lenny Krayzelburg's victory in the 200-meter backstroke, the United States celebrated its biggest night yet in the Olympic pool, winning eight medals yesterday - two in each of the four finals. Jenny Thompson shared a bronze in the 100-meter freestyle with US teammate Dara Torres, tying in 54.43. Her third-place finish made her the most decorated woman swimmer in history with nine career medals.

The US has 25 medals - including a leading nine golds - with two days remaining in the eight-day meet. The host Aussies have 12 medals, but just four golds. The US is one medal and four golds away from tying its 26-medal haul four years ago in Atlanta.

Lisa Fernandez gave up a two-run homer as Australia rallied in the bottom of the 13th inning to win 2-1 and send the US softball team to a shocking third consecutive extra-inning loss yesterday after 112 straight victories. Fernandez struck out 25 and gave up just two hits.

In the closest game a US men's basketball team has played using NBA players, the US beat Lithuania 85-76. The Americans led by only five points in the final minute. In Barcelona, no team came within 32 points of the US "dream team"; in Atlanta, no one got closer than 22.

Defending tennis champion and top seed Lindsay Davenport was forced to withdraw after spraining her left foot, meaning there can be no US medal sweep: Only Venus Williams and Monica Seles remain in the women's draw. Jeff Tarango is the only remaining US man.

With bright eyes and a captivating smile reminiscent of another Romanian darling, tiny Andreea Raducan captured the women's gymnastics all-around gold medal yesterday - and the fans' hearts, too. Only 4-foot-10 and nine days shy of her 17th birthday, Raducan easily won with 38.893 points, the first Romanian to take the all-around gold since Nadia Comaneci in 1976.

As if that weren't triumph enough for the Romanian team, which also won the team gold, Simona Amanar and Maria Olaru took the silver and the bronze medals. It's the first time a country has swept the all-around since the former Soviet Union did it in 1960.

It was a scene nobody can remember seeing before - a vault set two inches too low. And at the Olympics no less. The women's all-around gymnastics finals were thrown into an overtime of sorts Thursday when five gymnasts from the first two rotations took the option of re-performing their vaults because of the botched setting.

American champion Elise Ray opened the night with a pair of awful vaults and scored a 7.618, then spent the rest of the night knowing she had no chance for a medal. She took the option of performing the vaults over and scored a 9.487, finishing 14th instead of 35th.

Today is being viewed with trepidation by the Sydney Organizing Committee because more than 400,000 people - double the previous peak - are expected to attend the Games. Among the challenges: the 110,000-capacity Olympic Stadium must be filled and emptied twice in the same day.

Since the modern Olympics started in Athens in 1896, there have been approximately 10,000 medals awarded.

Only about half the nations that have competed, however, have won a medal.

The US has been in the Olympics 23 times - missing only the boycotted Moscow Games of 1980 - and has won 833 golds, 2,015 total.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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