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The Seoul Games / Day 3 : Notes : It Isn’t in England, but This Fortnight Is Catching On in Tennis

<i> Times Sports Editor</i>

For many people, having tennis in the Olympics and having the big names in the sport competing just doesn’t feel right. Tennis has its Wimbledons and U.S. Opens, so it’s hard to see just how and where the Olympics fits in.

But as far as the female players here to compete for the United States, being in an Olympics doesn’t only feel right, it feels great.

“Now that I’m here, and now that I’ve gone through the opening ceremonies and marched with the team, I have a very special feeling for this,” said Chris Evert.

“I was among those who had reservations about this at first. I wondered about where the Olympics would fit. After all, we already have our showcase events (Wimbledon, plus the French, U.S. and Australian Opens). But the more I think about it, the more I think this could, someday, be bigger than all of them.”

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Pam Shriver, seeded No. 4 behind Steffi Graf, Evert and Gabriela Sabatini, was not among those who had reservations about tennis in the Olympics, or about playing if she had the chance.

“I didn’t hesitate for one minute,” she said. “I’d consider this to be the biggest moment in my life, were I to win the gold medal. What I’d really like to do is win the gold here, win at Wimbledon and then compare the two, how they feel.”

Shriver, a close friend and doubles partner of the world’s second-ranking player, American Martina Navratilova, who chose not to compete when she was asked 10 months ago, said that she had talked with Navratilova about her decision recently.

“I talked to her about it at the U.S. Open,” Shriver said, “and she seemed to have some second thoughts, even regrets. I kidded her about going to Barcelona in ’92. I told her we could play some old ladies doubles by then.”

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The situation with Evert playing and Navratilova not playing remains cloudy. Evert also turned down the U.S. Tennis Assn.'s invitation to play 10 months ago, but then changed her mind less than a month ago, when asked to reconsider by the USTA. That bumped Elise Burgin off the team and created a flap, since Burgin had been given the commitment long before. But the flap was really short-lived, since Burgin had slipped so badly in the rankings.

What was little known or written about, however, was that, according to Shriver, Navratilova could also have been asked to reconsider at that late date and wasn’t.

“That would have meant that Zina (Garrison) would have been bumped off,” Shriver said. “I don’t think anybody wanted that. Nor am I sure Martina would have changed her mind anyway.

“I think the mistake that was made was that they didn’t say, when they made the choices originally, that the team was provisional. The impression was that we were on the team. It was set.”

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Whatever happened to get them here, the three U.S. women’s team members couldn’t have been happier.

“I walked in with Chris to the stadium for opening ceremonies Saturday,” Garrison said, “and we looked at each other and we couldn’t believe it.

“I hardly ever smile, but I just couldn’t stop.”

Shriver said: “It was great. We met all sorts of people and athletes outside the stadium before we marched in. We are such an individual sport that we don’t get to mix with other athletes very much, so this was nice.

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“And then we got into the stadium and, well, it was just great fun, all the pigeons pooping on people. One girl got some right on her skirt--a gold-medal shot if I ever saw one.”

Even Coach Marty Riessen of the women’s team talked as if he were caught up in the Olympic feeling.

“We were in the Athletes Village and I was with Zina and she was talking to Jackie Joyner (-Kersee),” Riessen said, “and I kept standing there and they kept talking and I finally had to say to Zina, ‘Hey, this is great, I want to meet her, introduce me.’ ”

Add women’s tennis: Shriver said she had another reason for liking the Olympics, over and above just competing here and being part of the scene. “They’ve got us in co-ed dorms in the Athletes Village. I’d like to thank them for that.”

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In greeting one of the many busloads of media personnel making the tour of Panmunjom, the joint security area between South and North Korea, 1st Lt. Robert Feliu asked several reporters which publications they represented.

“I like to know who I’m talking to,” he said. “Sometimes, I have to be careful. A few days ago, we had a couple of reporters from Pravda.”

Just why reporters from a Communist country would want to see the demilitarized zone from the South instead of the North seemed strange.

“They said they were from the Czechoslovakia office,” Feliu said.

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Rick Smith is both a member of the U.S. shooting team and a pilot for Alaska Airlines. In order to qualify for the Olympics, Smith, 38, had to take the last of his vacation time in August. Then, to compete here, he had to use up his ’89 vacation time.

But he received word the other day that, in a gesture of friendship and good will, all his fellow captains who fly MD-80 planes for Alaska, as Smith does, have volunteered to work a day each for him so he can get back his ’89 vacation time.

“I was very touched,” Smith said.

There are 15 athletes on the U.S. Olympic team who have qualified for at least four Olympic teams. They are Edwin Moses, Henry Marsh, Francie Larrieu-Smith, Larry Myricks, Karin Smith and Mac Wilkins from track and field; Jill Sterkel from swimming; Darrell Pace from archery; Leonard Harvey Nitz from cycling; Bruce Davidson from equestrian; Robert Epeseth from rowing; Dave Gillman from canoe/kayak; Greg Louganis from diving; Cathy Tippett from rowing; and Peter Westbrook from fencing.

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The tussle between the U.S. basketball federation and the press continues.

When the U.S. men’s team made only a 10-minute visit to the interview room after its rout of Spain, in a session shortened by Korean translations and clumsy procedures for asking questions, there was again a feeling of hostility.

A spokesman for the team now says it is working on a new plan to loosen restrictions. Players will be available for 15 minutes, and then Coach John Thompson will be available for another 15 minutes.

However, nothing is official.

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“I don’t know anything about it,” said Tom McGrath, executive director of the Amateur Basketball Assn. of the United States. “When we do anything, we’ll tell you.”

As it has done in the past, ABA/USA is not imposing any restrictions on the women’s team. Coach Kay Yow and her players were available for an extended period after Monday’s game.

Times staff writer Mark Heisler contributed to this story.


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