Men's Basketball U.S.
He is the player who will make sure the (super)stars are aligned,
the one who will see to it that the Dream Team lives up to the
second half of its name. Phoenix Suns point guard Jason Kidd is
the type of selfless distributor essential to a collection of
all-stars, especially one as loaded with firepower as the U.S.
men's basketball squad. Kidd's greatest offensive skill is
bringing out the talents of others. His job in Sydney will be to
lob alley-oops to Vince Carter and Kevin Garnett, to feed Allan
Houston and Ray Allen for jumpers, to drive the lane and dish the
ball to Alonzo Mourning and Vin Baker for dunks. He led the
victorious U.S. in assists during the Olympic qualifying
tournament in July 1999, and he's almost certain to do so again.
On the Dream Team's cruise to the gold medal, Kidd, 27, will be
the social director, making sure none of his teammates is left
out of the fun.
For Kidd, that is the fun. "There's nothing better than making
the pass that gives someone an easy hoop," he says. "Passing is
contagious. If I can help set that tone, it will make us an even
better team." --Phil Taylor
If there's anything more predictable than the nickname of
Honolulu-born world champion light flyweight (106-pound) Brian
Viloria--yep, it's Hawaiian Punch--it's the outcome of his fights.
Viloria, just 19 and perhaps the brightest prospect on the
12-boxer U.S. squad, is blessed with blinding speed and power to
match. In a USA Boxing-conducted test using a heavy bag equipped
with electronic sensors, the 5'4" Viloria registered more
punching force than any boxer up through welterweight (147
Viloria took up boxing at age six and began competing on the U.S.
mainland at 15. He braved very un-Hawaiian winters to attend
Northern Michigan on a boxing scholarship, training under 1996
U.S. Olympic coach Al Mitchell. Last March, Viloria suffered his
only loss of the past two years 4-1 to '99 Pan Am Games bronze
medalist Ivan Calderon of Puerto Rico. He bounced back last month
to beat Calderon 19-4. Viloria, who will go to Sydney as a big
(O.K., not so big) favorite, has already been approached by
promoters about turning pro. "I'm not worrying about that," he
says. "I just want to go there, do my job and take home a gold
medal." --L. Jon Wertheim
If your image of the star shortstop on the U.S.'s defending gold
medal softball team is a spunky little blonde with a medical
degree, brace yourself. Crystl Bustos, 23, has replaced Dr. Dot
Richardson, 38, as America's infield linchpin and cleanup hitter.
The muscular 5'8" Bustos, from Canyon Country, Calif., lacks Dr.
Dot's bubbly personality, but her ability to sting a first
baseman's palm from the hole and clout softballs over fences
figures to earn her scores of admirers by the Games' end.
Twice juco player of the year while at Palm Beach (Fla.)
Community College, Bustos joined the Women's Professional
Softball League in 1998. She holds the league's season records
for average (.400) and home runs (10). After U.S. coach Ralph
Raymond persuaded her to join the national team in June 1999,
Bustos smacked a team-high 18 hits and 15 RBIs in the Pan Am
Games in Winnipeg the next month, and Richardson gamely moved to
Roommates as well as teammates, Bustos and Richardson have formed
a mutual-admiration society. "Her power is awesome," says
Richardson. "To play beside her is an honor." Says Bustos, "Dot's
a terrific teacher." --Kelley King
Ivan Ivankov will lose his title in Sydney: He'll no longer be
the greatest gymnast who has never competed at an Olympics.
Ivankov, 25, won the all-around at the world championships in
1994 and '97 and the European crowns in '94 and '96. But two
weeks before the Atlanta Games he tore his right Achilles tendon.
"Like that," he says, "everything that's my life, everything
finish." Ivankov underwent surgery and a grueling rehab. He
returned from the injury a year later and won the worlds but
since then has had follow-up operations in France and Finland to
arrest an infection and remove scar tissue. In the last six
months, healthy again, he has trained furiously, he says, and
recaptured his old panache. "I like to do gymnastics that makes
people think, Why can't everybody do this like him," he says. In
May he won four medals at the European championships. "It's not
the same as the Olympics," he says. "I want to feel the Olympic
spirit. Everybody talks about it, and I don't know what is this
thing--it's my inspiration." --Brian Cazeneuve
Inge de Bruijn
Swimming The Netherlands
When Inge De Bruijn, a swimmer of steady accomplishment but
little renown, broke world records seven times in a three-week
span in May and June, she drew unwanted comparisons to Michelle
Smith, the Irishwoman who rose from mediocrity to win three gold
medals at the Atlanta Olympics, only to be suspended for
allegedly cheating on a drug test in 1998. Australia's Susie
O'Neill, the '96 Olympic champion in the 200-meter butterfly,
called De Bruijn's marks "pretty suss," as in suspicious. They
may be suss, but they're also stag, as in staggering. In May, De
Bruijn, 27, swam the 100 fly in 56.69, smashing Jenny Thompson's
world record by 1.19 seconds. Before Thompson set the record, by
.05, Mary Meagher had held it for 18 years. De Bruijn lowered the
mark again in July, to 56.64. She now holds the records in that
event and in the 50 and 100 freestyles.
Yet this is a woman who declined a spot on the Dutch team in 1996
because, she says, she was burned out. The turnaround came in
'97, when she met Paul Bergen, the Virginia-based coach who works
with De Bruijn when her boyfriend, Jacco Verhaeren, isn't
coaching her in Holland. Bergen coaxed De Bruijn into adopting a
windmill stroke and started her on a regimen that includes up to
eight hours a day of weight training, biking, rope climbing and
swimming. Add to that the bodysuit De Bruijn began wearing last
year, and her ascension, she insists, is really very log, as in
logical. "It's pretty sad," De Bruijn recently told The
Australian, "but right now, if you perform well in any sport,
they cut your head off." --B.C.
More than anything, nine-year-old Li Na wanted to dive. She told
her father, Yin Huayuan, that she didn't want to keep
participating in acrobatics competitions. She balked at taking
gymnastics classes. A diving board was what she wanted, though
there was no provincial team in her region of China and no way to
dive competitively unless she left home to train in Beijing.
Finally, her father took her to a nearby pool, and before long
she was plunging fearlessly off a makeshift 30-foot tower. There
was one problem: Li Na couldn't swim. She could flip, twist and
land on her head with surprising ease, but she needed her father,
once a nationally ranked marathon runner, to jump in and rescue
She swims fine now and has only gotten better as a diver. At the
1998 Asian Games she earned a silver medal, at age 14. "I don't
think I'm too young," she said then. "I think this is the best
age." These days, under Beijing-based national coach Wu Guocun,
Li, 16, isn't allowed to go home to visit her parents, even
though her mom, Meichin, works for a provincial sports
commission. After two World Cup wins this year, Li is favored to
take the individual 10-meter and the synchronized platform, with
teammate Sang Xue. --B.C.
Freestyle Wrestling U.S.
At just 250 pounds, Kerry McCoy has pestered his way to the top
of the heavyweight (286-pound) division. "My goal is to tire the
bigger guy out," says McCoy, 26, who has been bulking up since
his former weight class (220) was eliminated after the 1996
Games. "I move around constantly."
In clinching his first Olympic berth, however, McCoy's key move
was westward. After finishing second to eventual world champ
Stephen Neal at the 1999 U.S. world-team trials--with his third
loss to Neal that year--McCoy, a Penn State assistant coach and
two-time NCAA champion for the Nittany Lions, left Happy Valley
for the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. The
move paid off: McCoy won the national title in April, then upset
Neal in a best-of-three series at the Olympic trials in July.
Neal's out of the picture, but McCoy still has at least one worry
about Sydney. "I hear there are snakes and spiders crawling all
over the place down there," he says with a shudder. His
opponents, of course, will have their hands full with a pest of a
different nature. --K.K.
After Michellie Jones won her first world title, in Muskoka,
Ont., in 1992, she and Peter Coulson, her husband and coach,
bought a mini pinscher and named him Muskoka. In '93 Jones won
again, in Manchester, England, and soon Moskoka had a playmate,
also a mini pinscher, named Manchester.
Since 1990, Jones, 31, and Coulson have lived eight months a year
in Carlsbad, Calif., to be close to the U.S. racing circuit, but
she's primed for a return to Sydney, where her sport will make
its Olympic debut. Jones's gutsiest feat was getting a bronze at
the '97 worlds in Perth, after a bike crash left her with a gash
on her leg. During the run she left bloody footprints on the
road. When Jones won April's World Cup event held on the Olympic
course, she stamped herself as the Games favorite. If form holds,
expect a mini pinscher named Sydney. --B.C.