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April 1

Backwards Mile

On April Fool's Day, the New York Health & Racquet Club teams up with the New York Road Runners Club for a road race in reverse. Runners will make two backward trips around pothole-peppered Delacorte Oval in Central Park. Bud Badyna, last year's men's winner, owns the course record of 6 min., 40 sec.

Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race

Two estimable British universities take to the Thames for their annual 4.25-mile rowing showdown in the heart of London. This reportedly is the third-most-popular sports event in the United Kingdom after the Football Association Cup soccer finals and the Grand National Steeplechase (sorry, Wimbledon). A two-boat race when it started in 1829, it now attracts many overseas entrants.

April 1 and 3

Men's Final Four (basketball)

Sports fans expect excitement from this event and often get it. Last year, President Clinton took time out to watch the University of Arkansas beat Duke University in the championship game. This time, Arkansas, North Carolina, UCLA, and Oklahoma State are the survivors of the 64-team playoff that began three weeks ago at various regional sites and will conclude in Seattle's Kingdome.

April 2

Baseball season opens

Major-league baseball enters the twilight zone. Barring a breakthrough in owner-player negotiations, replacement players -- mostly minor leaguers and big-league retreads -- will take the field instead of on-strike regulars. The opening game will be played at night, with the Florida Marlins hosting the New York Mets.

April 6-9

Masters golf tournament

It's the only major men's tournament played on the same course each year, the lush Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, where putts can roll forever. Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal, who in 1994 became the sixth European to win it in the last seven years, is looking for another green jacket. The most-watched newcomer will be United States Amateur champion Tiger Woods.

April 17

Boston Marathon

The biggie is next year's 100th Boston race, but old No. 99 shapes up as a classic with a strong field led by defending champions Cosmas Ndeti of Kenya and Germany's Uta Pippig.

April 22 and 23

National Football League draft

Months, even years, of scouting and player evaluations will be on the line. The expansion Carolina Panthers own the right to the top choice. Expected early picks are the Alcorn State quarterback Steve McNair and Penn State running back Ki-Jana Carter.

April 23

BOC Challenge finish (sailing)

Based on previous years, the first boats in this solo round-the-world race will arrive in Charleston, S.C., on or around the 23rd. Twenty boats set out from this southern port Sept. 17; 12 (not including one entry missing at sea) are expected to begin the last leg from Punta del Este, Uruguay, on April 1.

April 26 to May 7

Tour DuPont (cycling)

This stage race is the closest thing America has to the Tour de France. Traversing the Blue Ridge and the Great Smokies may not be quite as thrilling as negotiating the Alps, but $300,000 in prize money should ensure some pretty frenzied pedaling.

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