US Olympic Festival set to open in Carolina; All-Star reflections

For those who may have difficulty in sorting out this summer's major sports event, here are some clues on how to clearly identify the United States Olympic Festival. It's the competition that began nearly a week before its opening ceremony (the first gold medal was awarded Tuesday, while the opening festivities are being held tomorrow night in order to attract the largest possible crowd and TV audience).

It's the one in which spectators need a road map as much as a program. Five North Carolina communities - Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Greensboro, and Cary - are hosting the event.

It's the one that will receive 44 hours of ESPN coverage over the next 10 days.

It's the one in which each athlete is American, and the teams regional - North, South, East and West.

Yes, some may confuse this amateur, 34-sport event, held in non-Olympic years, with the World University Games, which end Sunday in Yugoslavia, or the Pan American Games, which open in Indianapolis Aug. 7. But even though some athletes have made commitments to enter these other events and not the Olympic Festival, the folks in North Carolina who are putting on the show are so sure it has the ``right stuff'' that they've brought in five Mercury Seven astronauts to lead tomorrow night's parade of 3,000 athletes into Raleigh's Carter-Finley Stadium.

Ticket sales have exceeded $1.9 million, and every seat for the opening ceremony, swimming, synchronizied swimming, diving, and the equestian events has been snapped up.

The Olympic Festival began as the National Sports Festival in 1978, but underwent a name change before last year's competition in Houston in order to better identify the festival's role in the Olympic movement.

Originally conceived by Robert Kane, a US Olympic Committee president, the event continues to provide seasoned world-class athletes and young Olympic hopefuls a between-Games crucible for developing and testing their abilities.

Competition to land the USOC's showcase event has grown tremendously, with communities bidding for the right to host it just as they do for the Olympics. This is the first time more than one city has been involved. In anticipation of heavier traffic shuttling between the various venues, North Carolina stepped-up the completion of a stretch of Interstate highway.

Next year the festival moves to Oklahoma City, then on to Minneapolis-St. Paul in 1990 and Los Angeles in 1991. Baseball's best pitchers eclipse top hitters

Pitching duels can be a joy to watch, but they're not what most people want to see in baseball's All-Star Game, where constant pitching changes prevent much individual drama from building. The allure of these contests more squarely rests on the opportunity they afford hitters to show their stuff. Consequently, Tuesday night's game in Oakland was not what you'd call great viewing, since the opposing teams blew smoke rings at each other during 12 scoreless innings.

It finally was left to Montreal's Tim Raines, the only player with more than one hit and the game's MVP, to triple home a pair of runs in the top of the 13th to give the National League a 2-0 victory and the American Leaguers their 14th defeat in the last 16 years.

At various times, NBC broadcasters Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola described the lack of offense as ``boring'' and a ``silent movie,'' but there's probably no way of getting around the fact that pitchers generally have the upper hand in these confrontations, since they don't have to hold anything back in brief appearances and face batters unfamiliar with their assortment of pitches. Altogether 15 pitchers saw action, with Lee Smith of the Chicago Cubs getting credit for the win and Oakland's Jay Howell getting saddled with the loss. Star selection rumblings

Those not selected to play in baseball's All-Star Game now sometimes make almost as much news as those who are. The situation was apparent before this week's game in Oakland, when many stories were written and broadcast about disgruntled players left off the American and National League rosters. These angered players have seemed more vocal in recent years, perhaps because of their frustration in missing opportunities to collect hefty all-star contract bonuses. All the sour grapes cast an unwanted cloud around the event, and do nothing to enhance the image of players as gracious sportsmen.

Obviously, bonuses complicate the whole selection process, placing undue pressure on the selectors. Baseball generally would be better off without these incentives, which begin to shift the emphasis from honor to money.

The highest honor, and the least squawking, might result if the selections were either handed entirely over to the players or shared with them. This was the situation for a dozen years, starting in 1958, with players, managers, and coaches all given input. As it is now, the fans choose eight starters on each all-star team, and the managers select the reserves and pitchers.

Fan voting was reintroduced in 1970 as a means to generate greater interest in the game. Unfortunately, the fans often vote from memory and based on sentiment. Cycling for the library

Reading may be a sedentary activity, but the act of supporting your local libraries is not. That message should be clear on Sunday, when teams of cyclists take part in an interesting fundraiser for the Denver public libraries. The event, called the Denver Little 500, is modelled after the Indiana University race that was featured in the movie, ``Breaking Away,'' and which, in turn, is styled after the Indianapolis 500 auto race.

Denver's version is a little less ambitious than IU's, with 24 rather than 33 teams covering 30 instead of 50 miles, but the atmosphere should be similar. And to help make clear the connection to the original Little 500, three members of the team that inspired the movie will be riding, including screenwriter Steve Tesich.

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