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US Paddling Team Conducts An Olympic Talent Hunt

WANTED: Women with Olympic aspirations; no particular athletic experience required. This, in a nutshell, is the central message of a new recruitment program from the United States Canoe and Kayak Team. The team, which assumes responsibility for developing international-caliber flat-water and white-water competitors in the US, realizes it must be proactive in order to expand the talent pool in the women's flat-water sprint class.

''Unlike many other sports on the Olympic program,'' says Chuck Wielgus, the team's program director, ''we do not have the advantage of being an interscholastic or intercollegiate sport. Because of that, American youth is not exposed to our sport in a systematic way.''

If every spot were filled on the US canoe and kayak team for the 1996 centennial Olympics in Atlanta, six women paddlers would be sent. The canoe and kayak team has decided to take a do-it-yourself approach to athlete development. It has invited any interested woman athlete who is an American citizen between the ages of 17 and 25 to participate in regional recruitment clinics that offer an introduction to the sport and fitness testing.

From there, those serious about moving up the flat-water ladder will be enrolled in summer development programs and put on an accelerated learning track. The top 30 prospects will then be invited to participate in a High Potential Camp at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif.

The US men flat-water paddlers have collected four Olympic medals since 1984. Results in the women's flat-water sprints, however, have lagged, with no top-four finishes in the same period.

Mario Andretti speaks on the value of college

FOR a guy who never attended college, retired auto racer Mario Andretti gave quite a commencement speech at the New England Institute of Technology. ''Remember that success is a process, not a pedestal on which to perch,'' he told graduates of the Warwick, R.I., school earlier this month.

The college presented him with his first honorary degree, a science doctorate, and an award that honors an inspirational person who exemplifies the qualities that make America great.

At age 13, Andretti entered a program sponsored by the Italian government to develop young drivers. He and his family eventually settled in Nazareth, Pa. He went on to become the only driver in history to win the Daytona 500 (1967), the Indianapolis 500 (1969), and the Formula One world championship (1978). ''Had I gone to college I believe I would have been able to think more strategically. I would have been able to analyze with my race engineers more effectively,'' he told New England Tech's commencement audience.

Touching other bases

*Pop quiz: Who is the only sub-six footer ever to win the National Basketball Association's Slam Dunk contest? Clue: He's still an active player for the Sacramento Kings. (Answer appears below.)

*For soccer ever to achieve the status of football, basketball, and baseball in American culture, the sport may need more glory, especially for high school and college players. Grass-roots participation is part of the equation, but what is still missing is the sense of importance that crowds, pep rallies, media coverage, bands, and cheerleaders bring to other team sports such as football and basketball.

*Have you seen a tennis racket lately? Some, like the Dunlop Max Predator, don't conform to the old stereotypes. Manufacturers have pushed the envelope, within allowable limits, of size and shape. Over-sized hitting surfaces with enlarged sweet spots and light graphite frames are ''in.'' The Predator is also an inch and half longer than any other racket on the market, making for greater swing acceleration. The more innovative new rackets are expensive, too: The suggested retail price of the Predator is $225. The Wilson Sledgehammer goes for $290, and the ProKennex Kinetic for $250.

*Quiz answer: Spud Webb. The 5 ft. 7 in. guard won the NBA's third annual Slam Dunk contest in 1986. This season he was the league's top free-throw shooter, with a .934 accuracy percentage.

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