Forgive U.S. weightlifting coach Roger Nielsen if his mind isn't totally focused on the competition when he steps off the plane in Barcelona. Nielsen, you see, is also a 20-year veteran of the FBI who has specialized in counterterrorism for most of his law-enforcement career. "Although nothing has happened recently," he says, "I keep my eyes open whenever I travel overseas."
How can one man lift two such heavy responsibilities? "It is a constant juggling act," says the 44-year-old Nielsen, who trains lifters at Sayre Park Gym in Chicago. "I've been lucky that the FBI has been very helpful and very flexible with my schedule."
When he's not coaching the American weightlifters, an unpaid position he has held for three years, Nielsen teaches FBI agents in Chicago the finer points of physical fitness, survival training, firearms, self-defense and SWAT-like tactics. His lessons are taught from experience.
"There were some pretty hairy situations," says Nielsen of his days in the field. "I was working on domestic terrorism, tracking fugitives and escaped convicts. We had one operation where we rendered some devices harmless. [Here he chuckles at the recollection.] There were bombs that we intercepted and defused, making arrests before anything happened."
Nielsen and his weightlifters would like to defuse the favored Eastern Europeans in Barcelona, but they know that recent history is stacked against them—no U.S. lifter has placed higher than eighth in a major international meet in three years. Says Nielsen, "Based on the current international ranking list, we are fairly optimistic that we will move up a notch. I don't know if we'll win a medal or not, but we are improving."
Even if his charges come home empty-handed, this G-man doesn't think some Olympic success is untouchable.
If the least unexpected qualifier for the Olympic men's basketball tournament came out of Oregon last week, you had to go to Aragon to find the most unexpected. Germany, whose only previous Olympic hoops appearances were the result of other nations' boycotts (in 1980 and '84) or automatic bids for hosting the Games (in '36 and '72), played well enough in the European qualifying tournament in Aragon, a region of northeastern Spain, to earn a berth in the Olympics.
All 12 German players are from what was once West Germany, so the team's success has nothing to do with reunification. The main reason for Germany's qualifying is Indiana Pacer forward Detlef Schrempf, who is playing for his nation's team for the first time in seven years because he wants to increase fan interest in his sport, which is languishing in his homeland. "German basketball is getting better and better, but support for it isn't," says Schrempf. "Our national team is better than France's and Italy's, yet their leagues are stronger because sponsors there go crazy over basketball."
The German team, which could not afford warmup suits, includes such Grand Teutons as the 6'9" Schrempf, 7'1" former NBA journeyman Uwe Blab and Hansi Gnad, a 6'9" Division II All-America who played at Alaska- Anchorage in the mid-1980s. Also helping out is North Carolina senior-to-be Henrik R�dl. "Henrik has all that UNC structure in him, so I always tell him to come back and play some fast-break street ball with us," says Henning Harnisch, the 6'7", 24-year-old forward whose in der Luft style and headband-tamed tresses may be just the things the German team needs to divert some national attention from soccer and tennis.