Sydney's Games: A Bluffers Guide

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Aquatics

Pool sports, which offer the pace of sprinting, the grace of diving, the endurance of the 1,500 m and the aggression of water polo, are among the most popular in the Games program. They'll be held in the 17,500-seat Sydney International Aquatic Centre.

Swimming
Coastal-dwelling Australians are passionate about swimming, and at Sydney they'll be bent on regaining bragging rights from the U.S., the world's top swimming nation since the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Loud rock music between events, a fanatical hometown crowd and the prospect of several world records should see the Games off to a thundering start.

Men
Sprint czar Alex Popov of Russia will be trying for a three-peat and immortality at these Games in the 50-m and 100-m freestyle, events he won in Barcelona and Atlanta. His strongest challengers will be Americans Gary Hall Jr. and Neil Walker, Popov's training partner Michael Klim of Australia, and Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband. Australia's Ian "Thorpedo" Thorpe, at his first Olympics, is the hottest of favorites to win the 200-m and 400-m freestyle. He'll team up with Klim and Grant Hackett to power Australia to expected victory in the 4 x 200-m relay. Russian-born Lenny Krayzelburg, America's new golden boy of swimming, is the hottest tip for a 100-m and 200-m backstroke double. One of the best local contests will be in the 100-m butterfly, after Geoff Huegill beat world-record holder Klim at the Australian championships in May. Russia's Roman Sloudnov and Ed Moses of the U.S. should fight it out for gold in the 100-m breaststroke. In the 1,500 m, Australia's Kieren Perkins will be the dark horse; if he can beat younger rival Hackett, and Popov can hold off the pack in the sprints, the two old-timers will be the talk of the town.

Women
The Netherlands' Inge de Bruijn, who at 27 is smashing freestyle and butterfly sprint world records, could make it veterans' week at the pool. One of her main rivals will be American Jenny Thompson, a five-time relay gold medalist who is set to become her country's most decorated female Olympian. Thompson is yet to win an individual gold, but her pre-Games form has been superb. Her teammate Dara Torres will also challenge for top spot in the 'fly and 50-m freestyle. Australia's sporting sweetheart, Susie "Madame Butterfly" O'Neill will win her second gold in the 200-m if she can outpace Atlanta silver medalist and compatriot Petria Thomas. The 200-m freestyle should be a duel between O'Neill and reigning Olympic champion Claudia Poll of Costa Rica. In the 4 x 200-m relay, Australia is expected to steal the gold from the U.S.

In breaststroke, South Africa's Penny Heyns is the defending Olympic champion over 100 m and 200 m, though Masami Tanaka of Japan has posted better times in recent meets.

WHEN TO WATCH

Men

  • 50m freestyle Sept. 22
  • 100m freestyle Sept. 20
  • 200m freestyle Sept. 18
  • 400m freestyle Sept. 16
  • 4 x 200m relay Sept. 19
  • 100m backstroke Sept. 18
  • 200m backstroke Sept. 21
  • 100m butterfly Sept. 22
  • 100m breaststroke Sept. 17
  • 1,500m Sept. 23

Women

  • 50m freestyle Sept. 23
  • 100m freestyle Sept. 21
  • 200m freestyle Sept. 19
  • 4 x 200m relay Sept. 20
  • 100m butterfly Sept. 17
  • 200m butterfly Sept. 20
  • 100m breaststroke Sept. 17
  • 200m breaststroke Sept. 21

Diving
Already popular with spectators, diving is set to win more fans when synchronized diving makes its Games debut. Pairs must not only coordinate their tumbles but mirror each other's moves exactly.

Men
Russian Dmitri Sautin, platform gold medalist at Atlanta and reigning world champ in both the 3 m and 10 m, wants to be the first non-American to take out both events at an Olympics-and could win gold in all four men's events. But Chinese legend Xiong Ni, who lost his duel with American Greg Louganis for platform honors in Seoul, has come out of retirement to defend his springboard title. Also worth watching is Fernando Platas of Mexico. In platform, Sautin's main rival is two-time World Cup winner Tian Liang of China, who, with Hui Jia, is a favorite in the 10-m synchro.

Women
Chinese divers have won every women's gold since 1988. If she can win two events, Fu Mingxia will become the first diver ever to amass five Olympic gold medals. The 1996 platform and springboard champ, who also won the 3-m gold in Barcelona, Fu will focus on springboard at Sydney. Her greatest rival in the individual event will be her synchro partner, Guo Jingjing, an individual and synchro victor at the 2000 World Cup. The pair will be pressed by Russia's synchro stars Yulia Pakhalina and Vera Ilyina. In the platform, Canadian Ann Montminy is the main threat to China's Li Na, a former gymnast, and 1999 World Cup 10-m winner Sang Xue; the Chinese pair are also favorites in the 10-m synchro.

WHEN TO WATCH

Men

  • 3m springboard Sept. 26
  • 3m synchro springbd Sept. 28
  • 10m platform Sept. 30
  • 10m synchro platfm Sept. 23

Women

  • 3m springboard Sept. 28
  • 3m synchro springbd Sept. 23
  • 10m platform Sept. 24
  • 10m synchro platfm Sept. 28

Synchronized Swimming
Besides having poise, strength and flexibility, synchronized swimmers must be able to hold their breath for long periods while upside down underwater, stay high in the water, cut clean, confident strokes- and make it all look easy.

Duets
Russian world champion Olga Brousnikina and her partner Maria Kisseleva blitzed the Sydney Synchro 2000 Open in April with four perfect 10s. They'll be pursued by Japan's Miya Tachibana and Miho Takeda and France's Virginie Dedieu and Myriam Lignot.

Team
Since the sport's debut at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, the U.S. and Canada have reigned supreme, between them winning every gold and silver medal. But they could yet be unseated by Russia, the victors at Synchro 2000.

WHEN TO WATCH

  • Duet final Sept. 26
  • Team final Sept. 29

Water Polo
With 85% of their bodies submerged, competitors in water polo can get away with a lot, which explains why this theoretically non-contact sport is one of the rougher events at the Olympics.

Men
Water polo stars Hungary, who won six gold medals between 1928 and 1980, are again powerful and hungry for another win. They'll face strong opposition from Atlanta champs Spain, as well as Croatia, Russia and traditional rivals Italy.

Women
Notably absent from the draw are Italy, the reigning world champions, who were beaten by Russia in a qualifying tournament. While Russia is in with a chance, they'll have to beat the Netherlands, who have probably the best player in the world in Ingrid Leijendekker, and Australia.

WHEN TO WATCH

  • Men's final Oct. 1
  • Women's final Sept. 23

Archery

The secret in this sport is focus: the ability to think of nothing but hitting a target the size of a thumbnail from 70 m away -in a competition where the difference between gold and silver can come down to less than 1 mm.

Men
Italy's Michele Frangilli and French star Lionel Torres will have to out-shoot the South Koreans and Australians. In the team event, Korea's cause should be helped by the absence of Atlanta star Justin Huish from the U.S. team, which beat Korea in 1996. But the U.S. will be a force, as will Sweden and world champs and 1996 bronze medalists Italy.

Women
Since world No. 1 Wiebke Nulle, of Germany, missed selection, Alison Williamson, the veteran British archer she displaced, will meet No. 2-ranked He Ying of China. American Karen Scavotto will also be worth watching. In the team event, Korea is the favorite.

WHEN TO WATCH

Men

  • Individual Sept. 20
  • Team Sept. 22

Women

  • Individual Sept. 19
  • Team sept. 21

Athletics

The centerpiece of every Olympics both ancient and modern, athletics is the Games' largest sport. This year 2,000 participants will vie for gold in 46 events (up from 44 in Atlanta, with women contesting the pole vault and hammer throw for the first time).

Men
If any sporting event can stop the world in its tracks, it's the men's 100-m sprint. Although the fastest human in history, Maurice Greene of the U.S. has been beaten this season by Trinidad and Tobago's Atlanta bronze medalist Ato Boldon and by Britain's Dwain Chambers. The world champion is expected to take the gold-and help the U.S. 4 x 100-m relay team beat defending Games champs Canada. A serious injury almost ended Donovan Bailey's career, but if Canada's Atlanta gold medalist and former world record holder can come back and win the 100 m, it will be one of the biggest stories of the Games. The 200 m was the most anticipated event of the men's program until injuries forced out Greene and U.S. Olympic champion and record holder Michael Johnson. Now Boldon is expected to outrun the sentimental favorite, four-time Olympic silver medalist Frankie Fredericks of Namibia. With 12 of the 15 fastest times in history, Johnson is the hottest of favorites to repeat his 1996 400-m win. And unless they drop the baton, the Johnson-anchored, world-record holding U.S. 4 x 400-m relay team should repeat their winning Atlanta performance.

The middle- and long- distance events should produce some unforgettable races. Three-time 800-m world champion Wilson Kipketer of Denmark (formerly Kenya) will make his Olympic debut. Close on his heels will be South Africa's Hezekiel Sepeng, Algeria's Djabir Said-Guerni, and 800-m specialist Andre Bucher of Switzerland. Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj will be trying to banish memories of the stumble that cost him a medal in the 1,500 m at Atlanta and to capture the only major title that still eludes him. Ethiopia's Haile Gebrselassie is on track for double gold in the 5,000 m and 10,000 m.

There will be some great duels in the field events. With his two-year drug ban halved, Cuban world-record holder Javier Sotomayor is keen to repeat his winning high-jump performance at Barcelona.

But U.S. Atlanta victor Charles Austin is in top form, as is Russian world champ Vyacheslav Voronin. Despite his 35 world records, Ukrainian vaulting legend Sergei Bubka hasn't won an Olympic medal since 1988. His farewell performance in Sydney is unlikely to break that trend, with Russian Maxim Tarasov still the favorite. Now that four-time gold medalist Carl Lewis has left the sand pit, the long jump should be a duel between Cuban triple world champion Ivan Pedroso and Atlanta runner-up James Beckford of Jamaica. In the javelin, Finnish world champ Aki Parviainen is the main obstacle to Jan Zelezny's goal of becoming the event's first three-time gold medalist. In the decathlon, Czech world record holder Tomas Dvorak is short of rivals.

Women
No track athlete since Paavo Nurmi (in 1924) has won five gold medals at a single Games. Can Marion Jones match the Flying Finn's record? The U.S. superstar will be going all out to finish the 100 m and 200 m ahead of teammate Inger Miller, and will also anchor America's defense of their Olympic titles in the 4 x 100-m and 4 x 400-m relays. Australia expects gold from Cathy Freeman in the 400 m, and the 1996 silver medalist and world champion looks ready to deliver-unlike defending Olympic champion Marie-Jose Perec of France, who has refused to race her rival since returning to competition after a viral illness.

Russia's Svetlana Masterkova is hoping to repeat her 1996 double victory in the 800 m and 1,500 m. She'll be pursued by Czech 800-m world champion Ludmila Formanova and Atlanta 1,500-m silver medalist Gabriella Szabo of Romania, who is also slated to beat Morocco's Zahra Ouaziz to the 5,000-m gold.

Though they used to exchange world records, U.S. world champion pole vaulter Stacy Dragila has lately left Australia's Emma George in her wake. With 10 of the 12 best throws ever, including the current world record, Mihaela Melinte of Romania is almost certain to win the hammer's inaugural gold medal.

WHEN TO WATCH

Men

  • 100m Sept. 23
  • 4x100m Sept. 30
  • 200m Sept. 28
  • 400m Sept. 25
  • 4x400m Sept. 30
  • 800m Sept. 27
  • 1,500m Sept. 29
  • 5,000m Sept. 30
  • 10,000m Sept. 25
  • high jump Sept. 24
  • pole vault Sept. 29
  • long jump Sept. 28
  • shot put Sept. 22
  • decathlon Sept. 27-28

Women

  • 100m Sept. 23
  • 200m Sept. 28
  • 4x100m Sept. 30
  • 4x400m Sept. 30
  • 400m Sept. 25
  • 800m Sept. 25
  • 1,500m Sept. 30
  • 5,000m Sept. 25
  • pole vault Sept. 25
  • hammer throw Sept. 29