Sydney's Games: A Bluffers Guide

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Sailing

With Sydney Harbour as its stunning backdrop, sailing will be an ornament to the Games. Four of the Olympic courses are within the Harbour and two outside the Heads, with racing in 11 events across nine classes. Although the host nation is expected to be a regular on the podium, Australia's sailors will need more than local knowledge to stay in front-most of the international teams have sailed in Sydney for the past three summers, ensuring they know the waters and weather almost as well as their Australian rivals.

Men and Open
Only the Soling class event-in which 8-m-long boats engage in America's Cupstyle duels-involves one-on-one match racing; the rest are fleet races. In the open Laser class, current world champion Robert Scheidt of Brazil will defend his Olympic title against tough competitors like Great Britain's Ben Ainslie. Making their first Olympic appearance will be the 49er skiffs, in which German pair Marcus Baur and Philip Barth are favorites. Australian Lars Kleppich is a strong chance in the Mistral sailboard event, as are New Zealand champion Aaron McIntosh and Atlanta gold medalist Nikolaos Kaklamanakis of Greece.

Women
As well as five open events, the Olympics have women-only contests in three classes: the 470 double-handed dinghy, the Europe single-handed dinghy, and the Mistral sailboard. Greece and world No. 1 Ukraine are expected to be strong challengers in the 470. But an upset sprung by Australians Jenny Armstrong and Belinda Stowell is a possibility. New Zealand, France and Italy should vie for honors in the sailboard, with world No. 4 Jessica Crisp of Australia an outside chance. The Europe class will pit Denmark's Atlanta gold medalist Kristine Roug against current world champion Margriet Matthysse of the Netherlands and Australia's Melanie Dennison, who finished second behind Matthysse at last year's world championships.

WHEN TO WATCH

  • All Sailing races Sept. 17-30

Shooting

Shooting has been one of the most experimental Olympic sports, trying and discarding military weapons, and targets from humanoid dummies to birds and deer. The Sydney competition program includes 17 events in four disciplines: shotgun, rifle, pistol and running-target. In all but shotgun, where clay targets fly from traps, marksmen fire at sheets emblazoned with 10 concentric circles and set at distances of 10, 25 or 50 m. There are variations in shooting position (standing, kneeling or prone) and movement (in running-target, competitors have 2.5 or 5 sec. to track and hit a paper mark).

Men
In the 25-m rapid-fire pistol, reigning Olympic and world champion Ralf Schumann, of Germany, will be pressing for his third consecutive gold medal and 11th world record. A gripping match is expected in the 10-m air pistol between Italian Roberto Di Donna, who won gold in Atlanta, and China's Wang Yifu, the victor in Barcelona. Former International Shooter of the Year Jozef Gonci of Slovakia will feature in the 10-m air rifle. Watch for Australia's defending Olympic champions, Michael Diamond, who scored 149 out of 150 in the shotgun trap, and Russell Mark, victor in the double trap.

Women
All eyes will be on Germany's Sonja Pfeilschifter, the current world champion in the 50-m standard rifle three-position event and former female International Shooter of the Year. She'll also shoot it out with China's Zhao Yinghui in the 10-m air rifle. Another top contender is China's Zhang Shan, who would have welcomed the inclusion of the skeet on the women's program for Sydney. Zhang won gold in the event at Barcelona against an open field, but at Atlanta it was made a men-only event.

WHEN TO WATCH

Men

  • 25m Rapid-Fire Pistol Sept. 21
  • 10m Air Pistol Sept. 16
  • 10m Air Rifle Sept. 18
  • Trap Sept. 17
  • Double Trap Sept. 20

Women

  • 50m Rifle 3 Positions Sept. 20
  • 10m Air Rifle Sept. 16

Softball

Softball had been around for more than a century before its first appearance at the Atlanta Games. The eight qualifiers for Sydney-Australia, Canada, China, Cuba, Italy, Japan, New Zealand and the U.S.-will play a round robin from which the top four will advance to the semis.

Winners of the last four world titles, the Americans specialize in winning streaks, having won 106 straight games between 1986 and '95. But several teams could cause an upset in Sydney. Australia, the only side to beat the U.S. in Atlanta, will be dangerous, as will Asian champions China and perhaps Cuba.

WHEN TO WATCH

  • Final Sept. 26

Table Tennis

Shots with names like the chop, the hit and the kill belie table tennis' genteel British origins as an after-dinner game. Initially promoted as a family recreation, table tennis has been transformed by passionate players and innovative coaches into a high-speed duel with the psychological intensity of chess and the lightning cut and thrust of swordplay. The Godzilla of modern table tennis is China, which has won nine of the 12 gold medals awarded since the event joined the Olympics in 1988.

Men
China's Liu Guoliang (the reigning Olympic and world champion) and teammates Kong Linghui and Liu Guozheng will need all their speed, wits and skill to fend off second seed Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus and Sweden's Jörgen Persson and Jan-Ove Waldner. Known as "the Magician," Waldner is, at 34, a decade older than Kong and Liu, but he appears to be in winning form.

In the doubles, China's Kong and Liu, and teammates Wang Liqin and Yan Sen, could be run close by Chinese Taipei's Chang Yuan-Su and Chiang Peng-Lung, and France's Patrick Chila and Jean-Philippe Gatien.

Women
China has so far won all but one of the gold medals awarded in women's table tennis. Can its dominance last? Hard on the top-ranking heels of Wang Nan and Li Ju will be former compatriot Chen Jing, who won gold in 1988, then moved to Taiwan and took silver for her adopted home at Atlanta. In the doubles, Chinese pairs Wang and Li, and Sun Jin and Yang Ying, can't afford to be complacent; Chen Jing and Xu Jing of Chinese Taipei will be doing their utmost to oust them from the top spot.

WHEN TO WATCH

Men

  • Singles Sept. 25
  • Doubles Sept. 23

Women

  • Singles Sept. 24
  • Doubles Sept. 22

Taekwondo

One of Asia's large family of martial arts, Korean taekwondo is making its debut as an Olympic medal sport. As in boxing and judo, the divisions are determined by weight, and the Olympic format, with the traditional eight classes compressed into four, has forced some champions either to bulk up or lose weight to qualify. Menacing kicks and piston-like punches are judged by how cleanly they strike the scoring areas (head, abdomen and sides) of the opponent. Bouts of three 3-min. rounds are won by knockout, points decision or default.

Men
As undisputed world champs, the Koreans will be under heavy pressure: their public expects at least three taekwondo gold medals. The greatest hopes hang on heavy- weight Kim Kyoung-hun, who is aiming to take out the 80+ kg division over Australian world No. 3 Daniel Trenton and giant Frenchman Pascal Gentil. In the under-80-kg division, Mexican Victor Estrada Garibay is a leading gold-medal prospect, but the two-man teams from Iran, Spain and Chinese Taipei-Korea's main global rivals-will not be giving ground easily.

Women
Korea's Hyang Mi Cho will be hard to beat in the heavyweight class. In the lighter division, world No. 1 American Kay Poe, dubbed the "Tiny Taekwondo Terror," looks like the strongest contender.

WHEN TO WATCH

Men

  • 80+kg Sept. 30
  • Under-80kg Sept. 29

Women

  • 67+kg Sept. 29
  • Under-49kg Sept. 27