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WORLD SPORTS SCENE : German Teen Swim Star Treads Into Some Dangerous Territory

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Franziska van Almsick, Germany’s young swimming star and teen idol, had such a wild week in and out of the pool at the European Championships in Vienna it is difficult to know where to start.

Van Almsick, 17, was reeling last weekend after a Vienna tabloid published an earlier interview in Swiss and French publications in which she reportedly identified Adolf Hitler as her favorite character in history. She also said she had read Hitler’s book, “Mein Kampf,” which is banned in Germany.

“If you ask people about Hitler, you just hear that he was evil, totally stupid and that he killed lots of people,” the former East German was quoted as saying. “Actually he was quite clever. I had read ‘Mein Kampf’ and suddenly understand how he did it.”

Confronted with the quotes, van Almsick told reporters: “What’s the problem with this? It’s just disappointing that something I say can be twisted so much.

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“I am not a Hitler fan. I am very interested in German history, and the Second World War belongs to Adolf Hitler. It’s not forbidden to be interested in such things.”

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Van Almsick, who at 14 won four Olympic medals in Barcelona, was edged out of the finals of the 200 freestyle last week, just as she was at the World Championships last September in Rome. In Italy, however, sponsors were able to persuade a German teammate to exchange places--a little money goes a long ways--and van Almsick won the final in a world-record time of 1 minute 56.78 seconds.

This time after finishing ninth, van Almsick was relegated to the consolation final because no one would change places again. Van Almsick, who still won five gold medals and one silver at the European Championships, recorded the day’s fastest time by almost three seconds and set a meet record. But it was another German, Kerstin Kielgass, who won the 200 gold medal.

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Dawn Fraser, Australian swimming star of three Olympics spanning from 1956 to 1964, called for mandatory drug tests before all major international swimming meets while in Fukuoka, Japan, for the World University Games. Fraser, 57, said testing would remove suspicion that haunts China’s women swimmers.

“At the moment, China is becoming known as a nation of cheats,” she said. “You just have to look at the build of some of the Chinese women swimmers and you are immediately suspicious. The only way to be sure of stamping out drug abuse is to test every swimmer--across the board.”

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In 1992, cyclist Lance Armstrong made his long-awaited professional debut in the Classico San Sebastian cycling event in Spain with disastrous results. He finished last and later recalled that he decided to quit then and there. But by the next day, Armstrong reconsidered and since has forged a respectable career, including winning the world road racing championship two years ago.

Now Armstrong, 23, who finished the Tour de France for the first time this summer, has reached another milestone. Two weeks ago he became the first American to win a European classic race by winning at San Sebastian.

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Kenya’s Moses Kiptanui received a $50,000 bonus from organizers of the recent World Class meet at Zurich, Switzerland, after breaking the world record in the steeplechase. He said he appreciated that considerably more than he did the horse he received as a bonus this summer after breaking the world record in the 5,000 meters at Rome.

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“I hear it’s getting fat in the stables,” he said. “Maybe I’ll go running with it when I get back.”

World Scene Notes

In 1993, 101 Chinese swimmers were ranked among the top 25 in various events. In ’94, the number was 58. This year? Nine. Only one champion from last year’s team at the World Championships at Rome, butterflyer Liu Limin, is representing China in the World University Games at Fukuoka, Japan. She won the 100-meter butterfly Thursday. . . . Intermediate hurdler Kevin Young and quarter-miler Quincy Watts were training partners at Westwood when they won Olympic gold medals three years ago at Barcelona. After they went their separate ways, Watts to Northridge to work under Coach Bob Kersee and Young to Atlanta, their careers declined. Thinking it might not be a coincidence, they have been working out together again recently at Northridge. . . . Sprinter Carl Lewis donated $25,000 to the Mickey Mantle Foundation to help a drive that will result in the distribution of 1 million organ donor cards at major league baseball parks around the country on Labor Day weekend. . . . In USA Boxing’s latest rankings, three Southern California fighters are ranked No. 1 in their divisions--bantamweight Carlos Navarro of Los Angeles, light welterweight Fernando Vargas of Oxnard and super heavyweight Lance Whitaker of Granada Hills.

Times staff writer Randy Harvey contributed to this story.


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