Australia, with a pair of mediocre NBA big men in Luc Longley and Chris Anstey; Canada, led by Dallas Mavericks point guard Steve Nash and Philadelphia 76ers center Todd MacCulloch; and Italy, which has one of Europe's best big men, Gregory Fucka, will battle Russia and Yugoslavia for silver and bronze. But no team seems strong enough to stay within 20 points of the Americans. The Dream Team will be as numbingly superior as ever, which Tomjanovich should find as comforting as a glass of warm milk.
How are Michael Johnson and Maurice Greene shaping up after their U.S. trials debacle?
Put it this way: They won't be clubbing together in Sydney. Each man came out of their acrimonious 200-meter showdown on July 23 with an injured hamstring and a decidedly negative vibe. Johnson was angry that he let himself be drawn into unseemly trash talk. "It was way, way beneath me, and I didn't enjoy it," he said. The impetuous Greene had no such regrets. "I went back to my hotel room and laughed every night," he said of the days leading up to the final. "It was funny, seeing Michael Johnson get rat-tied like that." Not finishing the race, however, rankled Greene, because it gave the impression he couldn't deal with the heat he'd created.
The two sprinters still diverge—at his core, Johnson is a pure professional; Greene a pure performer—but they'll share the men's track spotlight in Sydney. For Johnson, who turns 33 on Sept. 13, the 400 meters may be the final act of a brilliant 12-year international career. "In my opinion he's the greatest athlete ever in track and field," says Roger Black of Great Britain, 1996 silver medalist behind Johnson in the 400. Johnson's world record of 19-32 for the 200 at the Atlanta Games is considered by many to be the greatest track performance in history, and last summer he ran 43.18 in the 400, taking down Butch Reynolds's 11-year-old world mark in that event. Johnson is the only man to have doubled in the 200 and 400 at the Olympics. "And he no doubt generated more money than any [track] athlete in history," says Black. If Carl Lewis was the first to command big appearance fees, Johnson became the first track athlete-businessman when he signed an unprecedented six-year, $12 million contract with Nike in '97.
Yet Johnson has always spoken most eloquently with his feet, and he wants to deliver a dignified, memorable valedictory. "I just want to go win," he says. "I also want to run [under 43 seconds] before I leave the sport, and I would love to do that in Sydney. That would be a nice way to end my Olympic career."
Greene, 26, has more work left in the resume department. Even Johnson acknowledges that Greene is "the best 100-meter runner I've ever seen," a squat, powerful, fast-twitch machine perfectly suited to the explosive short sprint. He owns the world record (979) and two world tides at the distance and has broken 10 seconds 30 times, more than any other sprinter in history. But he needs much more. "Everybody knows who Carl Lewis is, but nobody knows Calvin Smith, and he ran very fast," says Greene, referring to a world-record holder from the early 1980s who never won an Olympic 100. "The fact is, I'm going to have to be around for a while and keep winning and keep running very fast. I'm going to have to get my Olympic gold medal." Greene is also building a 10,000-square-foot home outside Los Angeles, so he needs to keep making money.
Less than three weeks after pulling up in the trials Greene scorched a 9.94 in Zurich and told the media, "I'm baaaaack." Johnson made his return in Brussels on Aug. 25 and won the 400 in 44.07. Each will earn an individual gold in Sydney, but they'll leave a question forever unanswered: Who would have won the 200?
Can Bela Karolyi's gymnasts pull off another surprise?
Four years ago Kerri Strug made her heroic vault and the U.S. won its first team gold medal in gymnastics. Soon thereafter the storybook tale ended. The American women tumbled to sixth place at the 1997 and '99 world championships and won no individual medals either year. So bleak were U.S. prospects for Sydney that Bela Karolyi, who coached three members of the '96 team (his wife, Martha, was the U.S. head coach), was talked out of retirement last November and given the tide of national team coordinator. His mission: get the team back on the beam.
He held training camps at his Texas gym for top Olympic candidates, including five members of the Magnificent Seven of 1996. Two of the returnees, 23-year-old Dominique Dawes and 22-year-old Amy Chow, are headed to Sydney, adding international stature to an otherwise anonymous lineup. Three-time Olympian Dawes is a proven clutch performer; Chow has never looked better and will be a threat to win medals on the beam and the bars.