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Sydney's Games: A Bluffers Guide

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Badminton

Asian nations have dominated at the Games since competition began in 1992, but the Danes give them a run for their money. Singles

Men
With Atlanta champ Poul-Erik Hoyer-Larsen of Denmark now the world No. 6, the gold looks set to be fought out between his compatriot Peter Gade Christensen and world No. 1 Taufik Hidayat, Indonesia's sensational 19-year-old.

Women
At No. 2, world champion Camilla Martin of Denmark is the only non-Chinese in the world top 5. Her biggest threat will be the whiplash racket of No. 1 Gong Zhichao.

Doubles

Men
Indonesia's "Rexy and Ricky" (their surnames are Mainaky and Subagja) won gold at

Atlanta but have lost ground in world rankings to Korean world champs Ha Tae Kwon and Kim Dong Moon, and Great Britain's Nathan Robertson and Simon Archer, who has the fastest smash at 260 km/h.

Women
With the No. 1 ranking, Atlanta gold and the 1999 world championship, China's Ge Fei and Gu Jun appear to have the contest sewn up.

Mixed

Koreans Kim Dong-moon (who won at Atlanta with Gil Young-ah) and Ra Kyung are reigning world champs and odds-on favorites.

WHEN TO WATCH

Men

  • Singles Sept. 23
  • Doubles Sept. 21

Women

  • Singles Sept. 22
  • Doubles Sept. 23

Mixed Doubles Sept. 21

Baseball

Cuba have been in a league of their own since baseball joined the Games program in 1992. But they'll face a tough test in Sydney, where professionals will compete for the first time. Australia's hopes of winning their first medal in baseball soared last year when they twice toppled Cuba-though the latter were without several star performers, including third baseman Omar Linares, widely regarded as the world's best player. Playing at home and spearheaded by star catcher and U.S. 1999 All Star Dave Nilsson, the Australians will take some beating. Japan, silver medalists in Atlanta, are capable of going one better this time, but Asian champions Korea will also present formidable competition. The U.S. squad, though made up of minor leaguers (the major league clubs wouldn't release their players for the Games), shouldn't be discounted. But Cuba remain favorites to retain their golden monopoly.

WHEN TO WATCH

Final Sept. 27

Basketball

The U.S. dominates Olympic basketball-all the more so since the demise of its greatest rival, the Soviet Union.

Men
Can anyone topple the U.S. Dream Team? In its pool matches, the U.S.-led by dunk maestro Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett, Jason Kidd and Alonzo Mourning-will face China, Lithuania, Italy, France and New Zealand. The other pool, including Australia's Boomers, Russia and Yugoslavia, could throw up some interesting challengers to the Dream Team in the later rounds. Australia's crack outside shooters Shane Heal and Andrew Gaze (at his fifth Olympics) could prove hard to handle, while close to the basket NBA players Luc Longley and Chris Anstey will want to stand tall in front of their home crowd. Still, they'll need lots of luck to improve on their fourth placing in Atlanta.

Women
The U.S. women are reigning Olympic champs, having lost only one game in their last 24 Olympic outings. Their main threats are Australia and Brazil, 1996 bronze and silver medalists respectively. As in the men's event, hometown support and experience could see the local Opals playing the U.S. for gold in one of the best team contests of the Games.

WHEN TO WATCH

Men Oct. 1

Women Sept. 30

Boxing

Olympic boxing has spawned numerous champions, including Muhammad Ali and Cuba's Teˇfilo Stevenson. An amateurs- only policy has favored communist nations that ban professional boxing; since Barcelona, Cuba have won 11 of the 24 gold medals. There is no seeding, so the two best fighters in each of the 12 divisions could meet in the first round.

The Cubans are confident of a clean sweep. Their biggest obstacle will be the Americans, who won three gold medals at Seoul. Cuban heavyweight (91 kg) Felix Savˇn and middleweight (75 kg) Ariel Hernandez are each seeking a third straight gold. Out to block Savˇn's way is world champ Michael Bennett of the U.S., who learned to box while serving time for armed robbery.

WHEN TO WATCH

48, 54, 60, 67, 75, 91 kgSept. 30

51, 57, 63.5, 71, 81, 91+kg Oct. 1