For the first time since the end of World War II, the Summer Olympics will not be a metaphor for the cold war. Barcelona, a burly Mediterranean port where the fiesta cooks till dawn, seems the perfect setting for such celebration. The U.S. team, seasoned with veterans, may be able to resist the City of Marvels, but even sophisticated professionals are vulnerable to the siren song of the Olympics itself. “This is the only championship I’ve never won,” said Magic Johnson. “It’s the only thing missing in my career.” Echoed Michael Jordan: “It adds something to your life when you win a gold medal. You hear the whole world cheering.”
IF THEY WIN, IT’LL BE A DOUBLE TAKE
The name of the game in duet synchronized swimming is perfectly matched movement—which is why sisters Karen and Sarah Josephson have an unfair advantage. Other teams may train as hard. And they may have mastered the flamingo, the porpoise, the crane and other difficult moves. But when the going gets tough, the Josephsons can count on a helping hand from heredity: Karen and Sarah are identical twins—and when they’re swimming well, even their earlobes are synchronized.
Success in this demanding spoil isn’t just genetic, of course. The Josephsons, who have dominated synchronized swimming since 1988, put in six hours of pool practice each day, then run, lift weights and complete a series of flexibility drills. The results: beautiful form and a rapport Karen likens to ESP. “We try to perform as if we’re one person,” she says.
They’ve been swimming since they were 6-year-olds growing up in Bristol, Conn. The twins enrolled together at Ohio Slate in 1981 but were split up temporarily when Sarah made the ’84 Olympic team as a solo performer and Karen didn’t make the cut. Vowing to sync and swim together, they moved to Concord, Calif., in 1985, to work with the Walnut Creek Aquanuts, a club that specializes in synchronized swimming—and they won a silver medal in Seoul in ’88.
After Barcelona they both plan to apply to medical school—different ones. “It’ll be scary not to have someone to lean on,” says Karen. “But we’ll finally be able to say ‘I’ instead of ‘we’ all the time.”
A RUNNER WHO IS HAPPY TO BE BACK ON HER FEET
“Last year they were talking about cutting off my feet,” says Gail Devers. “My biggest fear was, ‘Will I walk again?’ The last thing on my mind was. ‘Will I run again?’ ”
This week Devers will be running, if not flying, when she competes in the 100-meter hurdles and in the 100-meter run. The pairing of these events, which overload the hamstrings, is highly unusual. The fact that Devers is in Barcelona at all is nearly miraculous.
Just after a disappointing performance in the 1988 Games in Seoul, “it seemed like I was falling apart in front of my eyes,” says Devers, 25. She lost 25 lbs. and much of her hair, and she shook uncontrollably. Her eyes started bulging. The belated diagnosis: Graves’s disease, the same thyroid condition that Barbara and George Bush suffer from. In September 1990 Devers started a nine-month radiation program and then resumed training. Too soon, it turned out. After developing painful sores—at first thought to be athlete’s foot—Devers could hardly walk. “Finally,” she says, “my husband [they have since divorced] carried me in to the doctors, and they told me they would have had to amputate if I’d walked on them for two more days.”
With medication and rest, she returned to training a year ago April, ran her first race a month later and regained her top form in the 100-meter hurdles last summer. “Basically,” she says, “I feel I’ve been given a second chance. I’ve definitely had my share of bad times, but the road looks pretty good ahead of me.”
DIFFERENT STROKES FROM A SWIMMER FOR ALL SEASONS
“Sometimes I wonder why I do this, it hurls so bad,” says Summer Sanders, 19, one afternoon before heading off to swim her daily 200 laps.
The reason for Sanders’s pain may soon become as plain as the much discussed rain in Spain. This could be a Summer to remember, a top candidate to medal in (gulp!) at least four events: the 100-meter and 200-meter butterfly and the 200-meter and 400-meter individual medley. She may also race in the 4-by-100-meter medley relay.
“Summer is good at all the strokes,” says Richard Quick, her former coach at Stanford University and now an Olympic coach. “And she has a feel for the water, kind of like the touch of a good basketball shooter.”
Summer wasn’t exactly born with that “feel.” Indeed her mother, Barbara, a flight attendant—her father, Bob, is a dentist—remembers little Summer wailing and hanging onto the side of the pool. But as she mounted the starting block for her first race at age 4, she underwent a transformation. Her tears and quivering lip, says Barbara, were replaced by a look of determination.
For the most part, Sanders’s non-swimming friends are unacquainted with this look. “She’s so intent on being a normal person,” says pal Heather McClurg, “you wouldn’t know she was a swimmer unless you asked her about it.” Summer’s friends know the former freshman homecoming princess at Roseville (Calif.) High School as a Pink Floyd fan with a talent for belching who dresses down with sufficient conviction to earn the nickname Scummer.
The Sanders who is showing up in Barcelona, however, is about as laid back as a feeding shark—and just as hungry. “In my eyes,” she says, “I’ll never be good. I want to be great.”
PLAYING POLO UNDERWATER AND WITHOUT A PONY
Excuse me, goalie Craig Wilson, what is the U.S. water polo team’s greatest strength?
“We have great ability to come from behind.”
And it’s greatest weakness?
“We get behind.”
The truth is, thanks to the overly modest Wilson, the U.S. team doesn’t get behind all that much. At 35, one of the oldest men in the pool, the 6’5″ University of California at Santa Barbara grad with a 77-inch wingspan is widely regarded as one of the sport’s best goalies. The Davis, Calif., native, has minded the U.S. national team net since 1981.
Still, Wilson himself is no slouch at scoring. In 1984, after a tournament in Budapest, he was matching vodkas with the U.S.S.R. team when a Soviet player asked him for a favor. “This Russian approached me and gave me a package,” says Wilson. “He asked if I could give it to an American girl he met the year before in Malibu.”
Wilson gave the package, which had a ring in it, to the girl, Maria, now 30, and two years later he married her. She’ll be in Barcelona watching Craig block shots, biting her nails, she says, “until there are none left.”
TWO COUPLES ON THE SAME CAREER TRACK
Everyone knows about the loneliness of the long-distance runner. Everyone, that is, except Aaron Ramirez and Shelly Steely, who are husband and wife and are in Barcelona to compete in the 10,000 meters and 3,000 meters, respectively. Normally they’d be unique—the last U.S. couple to compete in the Olympics were Hal Connelly and Olga Fikatova, a hammer thrower and a discus thrower, in 1964. This year though they’ve got couple competition: David Patrick and Sandra Farmer-Patrick, both 400-meter hurdlers, who away from the track take life’s hurdles together.
Ramirez, 28 and from Mission, Tex., met Steely, 29, from Reading, Pa., at an international meet in 1989. Today they are among the handful of runners who actually make their living from track. Their profession can he grueling: Last summer they entered so many meets that they canceled their honeymoon rather than face another airplane flight. There was no hesitation, however, about boarding the plane for Spain.
Patrick, 32, and the former Sandra Farmer, 29, who now live outside Austin, Tex., also met at a meet, in 1983. In 1988 they both just missed qualifying for the Olympics—he finished fourth in the trials, she was disqualified for running in a competitor’s lane—but did succeed in getting married.
What’s it like having a spouse compete in the same Olympics? “Emotionally there’s a lot of stress,” says Ramirez, “because I want her to do well.”
When Farmer-Patrick wants to persuade her husband to take a break from training, the medium is the massage. “I tell him, ‘Give your body a rest,’ ” she says. ” ‘Otherwise, don’t ask me to rub your legs when you’re finished.’ ”
IT’S HER BIRTHDAY, AND SHE’LL FLY IF SHE HAS TO
August 8 is Suzy Hamilton’s 24th birthday, and she wouldn’t mind giving herself a present. That’s when the finals of the women’s 1,500 meters will be run, and an Olympic medal would be just reward for a lot of years spent on the track. Hamilton, a native of Stevens Point, Wis., has been competing since she was 11. “I was always beating the boys in school,” she says. At the University of Wisconsin, she won a record nine NCAA championships. Now, says Hamilton, who hopes for an acting career and a chance to compete in the ’96 Olympics, “my goals are unlimited.”
BEAM ME UP: EXPRESS TRAINING TO BARCELONA
Want to get your kid into the Olympics? Gel him or her to watch more television. It worked for Belty Okino. who learned gymnastics by watching videotapes, reading books and adhering to the regimen of an inexperienced but passionate coach her mother, Aurelia, a computer programmer. In 1989, Betty teamed up with a professional coach—legend Bela Karolyi. The next year, as a virtual unknown, she finished second in the all-around al the U.S. Gymnastics Championships.
At 5’4½” and 98 lbs., Okino. who was born in Uganda and grew up in a Chicago suburb, towers over most rivals, who are built along the Lilliputian lines of her 4’7″, 80-lb. teammate Kim Zmeskal. “I dream at night sometimes of winning the gold,” says Okino. She is already assured of gymnastics immortality in one respect: Last year at the Worlds, she pulled oil a triple pirouette on the beam that nobody had ever seen before. It’s now known, simply, as the Okino.
HI, WORLD, AND WELCOME TO MR. JORDAN’S NEIGHBORHOOD
Every great performer knows when his moment has arrived, and Michael Jordan is still biding his time. He kept his levitation act under wraps during the preliminary Tournament of the Americas, except against Panama, when he came off the bench to score 15. Even then the world’s greatest basketball player didn’t begin to air out his game—only unfurl his personality a little. He smiled and chatted with the Panamanian player allegedly guarding him, and when the player went to confer with his coach, Jordan, stealing an old Harlem Globetrotter routine, went right along with him. “I’m not too serious now,” he said afterward. “I’m going to have a good time.”
Later the team spent a Eurochic week in Monte Carlo. And if the guys go right on partying in Barcelona, why not? In the walk-up to the Olympics. the Dream Team blew out opponents by an average of 51.5 points, leaving the other teams scrambling for photo opportunities.
Indeed, Jordan, 29, prepared for Barcelona by going with the rest of the team to Monte Carlo, where he reportedly attracted large crowds at the craps table and helped close the casino at 4 A.M. Jordan seemed to be on holiday. But fellow Dream Teamer Magic Johnson knows better. “There will probably be a time for Michael to have to dominate,” Johnson has said. “He’ll go, ‘OK, let me show the world.’ ” Stay tuned for a glimpse of the phenomenon the great Larry Bird deferred to as “God disguised as Michael Jordan.”
A CYCLIST WHO’S DETERMINED NOT TO SPIN HER WHEELS
“I have this reputation for being lazy—that I won’t pay the price for what it takes to win,” says long-distance cyclist Inga Thompson. “I do train less than other people. I stop the moment I feel fatigued.”
Strange talk for a world-class athlete, especially one who placed second in the 50-mile road race at the ’92 World Championships and dominated the Olympic trials. But Thompson, 28, a Reno native, is a very unusual Olympian. She proved that in 1984 when, as a nationally ranked distance runner, she earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic cycling team only three months after first competing in the sport.
That success, she believes, came at a cost. After the ’84 Olympics, where she finished 21st, Thompson was bedridden for six months—”sleeping 23 hours a day”—with what was later diagnosed as the Epstein-Barr virus. Though doctors were vague about the connection, Thompson believes overtraining played a role in her illness, and she refuses to risk a recurrence. “The fear of losing my health is so overwhelming,” says Inga, “that I ride about half of what my competitors do. Maybe it’s cost me a World Championship, but these days I can say that I enjoy what I do.”