Let the Games Begin

In 1984 the summer Olympic Games began in Los Angeles without the Soviet Union and other Soviet-bloc nations. Their absence followed an American-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow summer Games. Fifty-two years earlier in L.A., the Games began with 39 countries present. Only 11 came to St. Louis in 1904.

On July 19, nearly everyone - 10,700 athletes from 197 countries - will be in Olympic Stadium in Atlanta when the Games begin.

These Games will be distinguished from those that came before by more than the number of participants. They are the most commercialized in Olympic history: a projected $1 billion in sales by the time the Games end. The International Olympic Committee (IOC), having negotiated $5.5 billion worth of TV rights deals through 2008, is more prosperous than ever. So, too, are more Olympic athletes from more countries. And then, of course, there is the Georgia heat.

But what makes the Olympics the Olympics is something that has never changed and, we hope, never will: competition, courage, and triumph. Consider a few examples before the 1996 Centennial Games even begin:

*Dagbovi Senakwami, who learned to swim two years ago, quit his job in Harlem and trained to represent his native country, Togo. Though he did not reach qualifying time in the 100-meter freestyle, the IOC was willing to overlook it to give underrepresented countries a chance. Togo, however, maintains Senakwami isn't good enough. Senakwami is going anyway - as a spectator - and is determined to swim in the 2000 Games. "I have sacrificed everything I have."

*Cuban runner Ana Fidelia Quirot, a bronze medalist at 800 meters in 1992, was badly burned in 1993 while cooking in her kitchen. She will be in Atlanta, competing for the gold.

*Samir Karabasid, a white-water racer representing Bosnia-Herzegovina, arrived in the US with a kayak patched with duct tape. He will be his country's sole paddler. Last week, during a practice run, his boat fell apart. US kayaker Scott Shipley gave Karabasid his boat. Of his chances at a medal, Karabasid said, "The goal is already achieved - to get here."

What makes the Olympics the Olympics has never changed.

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