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Warning! International killer about to be set loose in L.A.
To promote last week's four-nation USA Cup volleyball tournament at the Los Angeles Forum, publicist John Black stuffed that message, unsigned, into about 100 plain white envelopes and mailed it to his media contacts across the country. The killer he was referring to was Steve Timmons, the U.S. national team's splendid spiker, who has knocked off more aliens than Sigourney Weaver. Black followed up three days later with a second message: Warning update: International killer sets sights on Soviets, French and Japanese in Los Angeles area.
When television columnist Rachel Shuster of USA Today got the first anonymous message, she grabbed the phone and called the Forum. Someone there told her to call the Los Angeles police, which she did. After receiving the second letter, she called the L.A. police again and they called the FBI. Following some detective work (the police department of Inglewood, Calif., the State Department and the embassies of Japan, France and the Soviet Union were all contacted during the investigation), the FBI traced the letter to the Forum, where Black explained it was just a come-on.
All of which has little to do with volleyball except to underline that it will take more than press-agentry and the combined security forces of the KGB and the French S�ret� to stop Timmons. None of the volleyball teams assembled in L.A. could do it. "The purpose of the American team is to prove it is unbeatable and to create an inferiority complex in the team it is playing," said Soviet coach Gennadi Parchin. "It succeeded extremely well."
In volleyball, Yankee ingenuity usually triumphs over Soviet might: The U.S. has won 26 of the last 35 matches between the two countries, including all seven this year. The Soviets last struck Olympic gold in 1980, and they were ranked No. 1 in May 1984 when the U.S. beat them in five games on Russian soil. With their top competitor a no-show later that year in Los Angeles, the Americans won the Olympic title. They completed international volleyball's triple crown by taking the 1985 World Cup in Tokyo and the '86 World Championship in Paris.
Timmons, the MVP of the '84 Games, is one of four former Olympians on the current U.S. team. All but one player on the 1988 roster grew up along the 150-mile stretch of Southern California sand between Santa Barbara and Laguna Beach. Timmons shares a house with teammate Karch Kiraly and Kiraly's wife, Janna, near the team training center in San Diego. Timmons markets his own line of beachwear and a volleyball the color of ballpark mustard. On weekends he tools up the freeway to the beach house of his girlfriend, Jeanie Buss, whose father, Jerry, owns the Forum, the Lakers and the Kings. "If there's one thing I'd like to improve between now and the Olympics," Timmons says, "it's my driving time between San Diego and L.A."
The U.S. team arrived in Los Angeles fresh from a four-match East Coast sweep of the Soviets. The teams shared planes and conversation, and the only uncomfortable moment came during a flight from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles when the pilot announced, "We'll be seeing Little Nikita, a film about a little boy who discovers that his parents are Soviet spies."
The Reds turned to the Americans; the Americans turned red. A few minutes later, the pilot came back on the air. "There's been a change in the movie," he said apologetically. "The new film is Shoot to Kill"
Which pretty well describes the U.S. team. On Wednesday night, June 22, the Americans defeated the Japanese, who will be their first-round opponent in Seoul. The match drew 2,517 fans, a disappointing crowd for a squad that had achieved its greatest glory just down the road in Long Beach four years before during the Olympics.
The U.S. bolted to an 8-1 lead before outside hitter Kiraly, nicknamed the Computer, malfunctioned. Pouncing on some sloppy setting and benefiting from some errant serves, the Japanese drew to within four. Kiraly, who in 1986 was named the world's best player by the International Volleyball Federation, got so frustrated that he slammed the heel of his hand into his forehead. He calls the move the Headsplitter.