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September 12, 2000
Stars and superstarsAndy O'Brien
There are the Marion Jones', the Michael Johnsons and the Maurice Greenes. All these have been grabbing the limelight prior to the Games. But there are others too who might be stars at the Games. But they don't receive as much hype as the American superstars.
Take the case of Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco, who is a man on a mission. Four years ago in Atlanta, at the tender age of 21, he was about to take the lead with a lap remaining in the men's 1500-meter final. At the precise moment that he made his move, his legs became tangled and he fell hard to the track. He got up but finished last. In the room at his spartan training compound, he has a picture of himself draped in the Moroccan flag with tears streaming down his face after the race. He has subsequently lowered the world records in the mile and 1500 meters and has lost only one race during that time. He is a two-time world champion at 1500 meters, and it will take a construction truck to keep this young man from winning gold in Sydney.
Then there is Haile Gebrselassie, the diminutive Ethiopian, 5,000 and 10,000-metre World record holder. He will attempt to defend his 10,000 Olympic crown. He left the track in Atlanta with his feet bloodied and blistered from the hot, hard track surface that was designed for sprinters. But the cooler conditions in Sydney should be to his liking, and there's still no runner in the world who can match his devastating kick in the last 400 meters.
Don't forget Wilson Kipketer of Denmark -- that's right, Denmark. He has sacrificed much to finally contest an Olympic race. A native of Kenya, he left his homeland to study in Denmark in 1990 and fell in love with the country. He represented his adopted country when he won the 800 meters at the 1995 World Championships, but you must wait seven years to become a citizen of Denmark, and he refused to represent Kenya in Atlanta. He has twice lowered the world record and is a three-time world champion. In Sydney, he will take his first Olympic steps.
Of all the Olympic track and field events there is no one gold medal that takes the most winning and that is the decathlon. It decides the supreme athlete as it were. Can decathlon world record holder Tomas Dvorak of the Czech Republic break the 9,000-point barrier? He took the record from America's Dan O'Brien last year, falling a tantalising six points short of 9,000 -- a number O'Brien had always vowed he'd crack first. O'Brien will not be defending his Olympic title because of an untimely injury that dashed his hopes just a week before the U.S. trials, but Dvorak has been unstoppable since winning the bronze medal in Atlanta. He took gold at the 1997 and 1999 World championships.
The conditions in Sydney will have a large impact on Dvorak's quest, but he looks to be unbeatable at this juncture.
One event to look out for is making its debut at the Olympics. What a showdown there will be for the first Olympic women's pole vault gold. World record holder Stacy Dragila, who notched the first indoor World championship (1997) and the first outdoor World championship (1999) by tying the World record at the time, will face off against another hometown favourite: Emma George of Australia.
And in the American camp how can we forget Gail Devers who has now made four U.S. Olympic teams in the 100-metre hurdles. She didn't make it out of the semis in Seoul in 1988, she fell while leading the race off the last hurdle in Barcelona four years later, and she finished fourth in Atlanta. Don't feel sorry for Gail, though. In 1992 and 1996, she was the 100-metre gold medallist. She's only running the hurdles and the 4x100 this time, and she's never been better in the hurdles than she is right now, having lowered her American record at July's Olympic Trials (12.33). Maybe this is her year.
Visiting the sydney Games Japanese style
Remember the saying "Only in America". Well only the Japanese can do this. A group of Japanese businessmen are flying in to watch the Olympics and they won't even be staying in a hotel in Sydney or even visiting the Olympic City.
A Tokyo travel agency has chartered a flight for Japanese businessmen who want to see the Japan-Brazil soccer match in Brisbane next Wednesday. Soccer has a big following in Japan and what bigger game can the national team play than an Olympic encounter against the best team in the world: Brazil.
So 180 businessmen will travel on Tuesday evening after work to Tokyo's Narita airport. They will board an aircraft and fly to Brisbane, arrive on Wednesday morning, watch the game and get back on the aircraft to arrive at 7am in Tokyo to go to work on Thursday morning. This means the passengers will only have to take one day's leave to travel to the Games. Apparently the only luggage the visitors have to carry is a clean white shirt to wear to work the next day.
And they won't be the only Japanese Olympic visitors who will not be going to Sydney. Other soccer fans visiting Australia for the Games will travel only to Brisbane and Canberra for their national team's matches. However, in most cases they will spend a day or three in Australia's capital city, which is hosting football matches.
Other Japanese tourists -- about double the amount that went to the Atlanta Games -- will be in Sydney during the Games.
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