Originally created 05/15/00

Olympic notes: Local rowers likely to make team



HOUSTON -- The U.S. rowing team for the 2000 Olympics won't be decided until two sets of trials in June and August, but several athletes from the USRowing Training Center in Augusta likely will be on the team.

The women's quadruple sculls team has gone unchallenged, so national sculling coach Igor Grinko, based in Augusta, will pick the team. Last year's quad finished fourth at the world championships.

Both the Augusta Training Center and the Princeton Training Center have entered crews in the men's quads, and the trials in Camden, N.J., on June 7-12 are expected to feature fierce battles.

The Augusta boats will be favored in both the men's and women's doubles.

The National Sculling Center has been based in Augusta since 1994. During the 2000 season, Grinko has coached more than 30 prospective national-team athletes at the center. In sculling events, rowers compete with two oars.

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Active major leaguers won't compete in this year's Olympic baseball tournament, but some recently retired players will be given consideration.

Newly named Olympic coach Tommy Lasorda said the selection committee will look at recently retired players like Terry Steinbach, Chili Davis, Tim Raines, Jimmy Key, Pat Kelly, Tom Candiotti and Willie McGee. No players on a major league team will be selected because baseball does not want to interfere with pennant races during the Olympics, which will run Sept. 15-Oct. 1. The team will be made up mostly of minor league players from the AAA and AA levels.

Appearing at the United States Olympic Committee Media Summit designed to give reporters a preview of what to expect in Sydney, Lasorda said he "got chills" when he got the call to be manager. Lasorda, 72, is in his 51st year as a member of the Dodgers organization.

"Now I'll put on a USA jersey, and this one means more to me than anything," said Lasorda.

Lasorda said he received a congratulatory call from baseball legend Ted Williams, and left the Boston slugger speechless when he offered him an honorary coaching position. He said if Williams' health allows him to travel, he will be in Sydney.

Lasorda hopes to get Hall of Famer Lou Brock as one of the coaches for the team he wants to build around speed and defense. Wooden bats will be used in the Olympics for the first time, cutting down some of the heavy hitting seen in previous years. The U.S. roster will be selected by a USA Baseball committee around Aug. 23.

Sandy Alderson, executive vice president of operations for Major League Baseball, said there have been some discussions among baseball executives about letting major leaguers participate in a baseball World Cup tournament that would be held in November after the World Series. The discussions are not serious yet, and such a tournament would not begin until 2001 at the earliest.

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Tickets for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City will go on sale immediately after the closing ceremonies in Sydney. For the first time ever, Olympic tickets will be available online.

The Salt Lake Organizing Committee also will try to slow down scalpers by auctioning off the best seats at selected events. For instance, center ice at the women's figure skating finals will be put on the auction block.

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The USOC estimates it will take fewer athletes to Sydney than it has to other recent international events. "It looks like about 610 team members," said Sandy Baldwin, Chef de Mission for the U.S. delegation. By comparison, The United States had more than 900 athletes at the Pan American Games in Winnipeg last year.

While qualifying will continue into August for some sports, the average age on the team is expected to be around 26. Many athletes are staying in their sports longer as physical conditioning techniques improve and financial incentives increase.

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The U.S. team will start receiving its uniforms and equipment Aug. 15 in San Diego. From there, many athletes will go to camps around Australia and New Zealand to get acclimated before the start of the Olympics.

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In his first 100 days as Chief Executive Officer of the USOC, Norm Blake has downsized and reorganized, shifting the focus to performance by the athletes. Blake looks on the Olympic Committee's relationship with national governing bodies for the various sports as strategic business partnerships.

"The NGBs should be more focused on service to our athletes," he said. "We want the best facilities and the best training situations for our athletes. We are becoming more businesslike. This is a radical change."

Asked about reasons for the changes, Mike Moran, the USOC's Managing Director for Media and Public Relations, said, "The USOC has tried to be all things to all people, and it hasn't always worked."

Athletes from some of the lesser-known sports are worried that their funding will be cut if they don't start winning medals at the Olympics and other international competitions. Blake said no sport would be cut off because the USOC has set a minimum level of support. But those athletes who perform well in the international arena will find better USOC funding for their sports.

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While NBC and its companion cable networks will air 437.5 hours of Olympic programming in the United States, all of it will be on tape because Sydney is 15 hours ahead of the East Coast. NBC broadcast 171.5 hours of coverage from Atlanta in 1996.

NBC will offer the Olympics primarily in prime-time evening hours. MSNBC's coverage will be on from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays with replays from midnight to 7 a.m. CNBC programming will be on 5-9 p.m. weekdays and 4-9 p.m. weekends.

Real-time results will appear on www.nbcolympics.com. The finals of most of the major Olympic sports will be contested in the middle of the night in the United States. The NBC broadcasts will present the events as they happened the day before in Australia.

PAX TV, a new network appearing on many cable and satellite companies, will cover the U.S. Olympic trials in many sports beginning in June. @@