A number of young American athletes who might have retired if they'd had a chance to compete in the Moscow Olympics have stayed in training for another four years in hopes of getting their shot here in 1984. One example is Bill Barrett, who broke the world record in the 200-meter individual medley at the 1980 US Olympic Trials only to be denied his opportunity that year because of the US boycott.
''The full impact of the boycott really didn't set in mentally for a couple of years,'' Barrett told reporters at the recent McDonald's International swimming meet here. ''But I feel it now, and a shot at an Olympic medal is something I really want as part of my swimming career. If I had gone to Moscow in 1980, I probably would have retired after we [UCLA] won the NCAA championships last year.''
Barrett, who is now 23, started swimming competitively when he was only four, but then quit at 12 because he wanted to play other sports like baseball, football, and basketball. He returned to swimming at 16, however, and now views those four years away from the pool as a welcome break.
''I'm not burned out yet,'' he said, referring to how many potentially great swimmers choose to retire before reaching his age.
Barrett, who was a Southeast Asian history major at UCLA, has since lost his 200-meter record to Alex Baumann of Canada. But last summer Bill was the 200 -meter silver medalist at the World Championships in Ecuador and probably would go on swimming indefinitely if he didn't have to make a living.
''Swimmers don't have trust fund arrangements like track and field athletes, '' Barrett said. ''That's why you hardly see anyone still competing once they get out of college.'' More women's events
Perhaps the best indication of the worldwide growth of women's sports is the fact that there will be 75 events for females at the 1984 Olympics - compared to none at the original modern Games in Athens in 1896.
One of the most talked-about new events this time will be the women's marathon - reflecting the widespread increase in the popularity of long-distance running. Only a few years ago, many track and field ''experts'' believed that women couldn't handle such distances. In fact, the longest previous race for women in the Olympics was the 1,500 meters. But officials of the Games recognized the current trends this time, adding both a 3,000 meter event and the 26-mile, 385-yard marathon.
Serious women's marathon running began in the early 1970s, and since then the proliferation of women's road races combined with widespread media coverage of champion runners like Grete Waitz of Norway and Joan Benoit of the United States has given the sport the kind of boost it needed to make it grow.
The women's track and field competition will also have a revised version of one of its regular events, the pentathlon. The javelin and a 200-meter dash have been added this year to the original five events (the 100-meter hurdles; shotput; high jump; long jump; and 800 meters), necessitating a name change for the competition, which will now be called the heptathlon. The equivalent event for the men, of course, is the 10-event decathlon. Historical perspective
When Los Angeles was picked to stage the 1932 Olympics, there was worldwide skepticism concerning the site right up to the start of the Games. L.A.'s reputation as a big-league city at that time hadn't progressed much beyond its movieland image, and there were doubts that maybe the local yokels couldn't handle anything this complex.
But reservations disappeared quickly once the Olympics got underway, things went smoothly, and one world record after another was broken. Despite the Great Depression, crowds exceeded expectations, and the '32 Games actually turned a profit - an example the 1984 Games are expected to duplicate.