In spite of Soviet slipperiness on the subject, the prospect is improving that the USSR will, in the end, send a team to the Los Angeles Olympics next summer.
Ever since the last Olympiad when the United States led a boycott of the Moscow Games, Soviet officials have hedged on whether or not they will be here.
But Olympic relations with the Soviets dropped to a low point in the weeks following their downing of the Korean airliner over Soviet airspace Sept. 1.
In quick succession, the California Legislature passed a resolution including a strong request for the US government to ban the Soviets, a petition drive was launched in favor of the same ban, and the Soviets began canceling out of pre-Olympic sports events and meetings.
By now, however, many of these developments have either lost their momentum or begun to reverse themselves.
It has become apparent that many California legislators voted for the resolution not knowing the Olympic ban was included in it. The petitioners still seek to pass similar resolutions in the other 49 states and the US Congress, but they have adjusted their signature goal from a million to 100,000.
Perhaps most significantly, the Soviets are sending a major delegation of top sports officials to Los Angeles the first week in December. The officials are coming to gather technical information for preparing their team. While Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee (LAOOC) spokesmen have been careful not to infer too much from the Soviet visit, it marks a change in pattern from September's cancellations.
Soviet athletes also joined in an International Olympic Committee resolution, passed last week in a Lausanne, Switzerland, meeting, opposing any Olympic boycotting.
The LAOOC has received a ticket order from the Soviets as well, and is in the process of filling it.
''I think the Soviet Union is coming to these games,'' asserts Peter V. Ueberroth, LAOOC president. He offers four reasons:
* The Olympics are many times more important to the Soviet system than to the American, because of the international audience.
* The Soviets don't want the international flak that the US still gets for boycotting the Moscow Games.
* China will participate.
* International media will be focused heavily here.
''I think they'll be there,'' says Richard Espry, author of the 1979 book ''Politics of the Olympic Games.'' The games give them an important forum to display their national vigor and prowess for domestic and international audiences, he explains.