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Olympic Scene / Atlanta 1996 : Connecticut Star Lobo Struggles to Adjust

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rebecca Lobo, the women’s college player of the year last season while at Connecticut, has not played well for the U.S. national basketball team and there is speculation that she might not make it to the Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

The 6-foot-4 Lobo, who led Connecticut to a 35-0 record, is averaging only six points per game, and those usually have come after Coach Tara VanDerveer has pulled her starters with the team holding a comfortable lead.

In the national team’s only close game this season, an 85-74 victory at Louisiana Tech last Tuesday, Lobo played four minutes and scored two points.

Lobo didn’t help her cause by showing up out of shape last October, when national team tryouts began. “Going from college to international basketball is a huge adjustment,” VanDerveer said. “Rebecca’s a great person, it’s just that she’s at another level of basketball now.”

The women’s team recently returned from an undefeated tour through Russia and Ukraine and is 20-0 against college teams, raising hopes it can challenge for the gold at Atlanta.

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The team leader is Lisa Leslie, the former USC standout, who is averaging a team-high 17 points and 21 minutes per game.

If Lobo is cut, possible replacements are said to be her 6-7 teammate at Connecticut, Kara Wolters, or 6-3 Daedra Charles, the former Tennessee standout now playing professionally in Italy.

FACTOID

The official opening of the new Olympic Stadium is scheduled for May 18 in a ceremony preceding an international track and field meet. The $230-million stadium will seat 85,000 during the Olympics, but will be reduced to between 45,000 and 50,000 for baseball’s Atlanta Braves when they begin play there in April, 1997.

NEWSMAKER

Joan Benoit Samuelson, who won the first Olympic women’s marathon in 1984 in Los Angeles, is trying to return to the Games. Samuelson, who has run the four fastest women’s marathons in U.S. history, has entered Saturday’s Olympic trials at Columbia, S.C.

“I’m just hoping to be competitive,” said Samuelson, who will be 39 in May. “It’s a tough field, and it just depends on the day. . . . I’d be happy just to make the team.”

But she will not be too disappointed if she doesn’t earn a berth by finishing in the top three. Samuelson, who lives in Freeport, Maine, has a husband and two children and no longer places the priority on running that she once did.

“There are things in my life that are just more important than running right now,” she said. “My life is different now. I used to live my life around running. Now, my running is done around my life.”

Samuelson won a five-mile race on Thanksgiving in Andover, Mass. She also ran in the Walt Disney Marathon in January but did not finish, running 14 miles on the course and four off the course.

Linda Somers, one of the trials favorites, said: “Joan Benoit Samuelson, who knows? . . . I heard she told a few people she was taking it very seriously, and anybody who can run as fast and as well as she can and says she’s taking it seriously, you have to stop and think about it. . . . I would never bet against her.”

LAUREL WREATH

Cooler heads prevailed when Dick Schultz, executive director of the U.S. Olympic Committee, ruled last week that cyclists from other countries can use the USOC’s velodrome at Colorado Springs, Colo., in the weeks leading to the Summer Olympics. The U.S. Cycling Federation initially rejected a request by the Australians, saying that the track should be reserved for U.S. athletes. But Schultz said that the United States needs to cooperate within the international sports community.

THORN WREATH

The International Olympic Committee once again caved in to the European Broadcasters Union, selling European television rights to the five Summer and Winter Games between 2000 and 2008 for $1.442 billion. For the same package, a U.S. network, NBC, paid $3.57 billion. The IOC said in the past that it had no choice but to sell to the EBU because there was no competition. In this case, at least two others, including Rupert Murdoch, bid more and were rejected.

THIS WEEK

With the U.S. Olympic swimming trials less then a month away, some of the country’s best will compete at the spring national championships Thursday through Sunday at Orlando, Fla.

But most of the attention will be focused on an appeal hearing involving Jessica Foschi, 15, of Long Island, who tested positive for an anabolic steroid at last summer’s national championships in Pasadena. U.S. Swimming’s leadership wants to overturn a board of review decision to put Foschi on two years probation instead of the standard two-year ban for first-time steroid offenses.

Olympic Scene Notes

Olympian gymnast Scott Keswick, who has been rehabilitating a back injury for nearly a year, will compete in several events Saturday for the UCLA alumni team at the Gilda Marx Invitational in Pauley Pavilion. . . . Olympian Kim Zmeskal has decided to cut back on training and take more college classes in Houston. She still is planning a comeback, but will not compete until May.

Among gymnasts expected to compete in the American Classic Friday and Saturday at Tulsa, Okla., are Shannon Miller, Jaycie Phelps, Amanda Borden and Dominique Dawes. The meet serves as a qualifier for the national championships and the individual event world championships. . . . For the record: Due to erroneous information provided to The Times by the U.S. Gymnastics Federation, an item in Olympic Scene reported that Kerri Strug will attend Stanford after the Olympics. She will attend UCLA.

Michael Johnson, who last summer became the first man to win both the 200 and 400 at track and field’s world championships, will receive the Jesse Owens International Trophy on Tuesday at New York. All living 100-meter Olympic gold medalists since Owens in 1936 were invited to attend the dinner. The only one who had not accepted as of last week was Carl Lewis. . . . Of the four meets in USA Track and Field’s indoor circuit, the closest to Southern California is scheduled for Friday night at Reno.

Times staff writers Elliott Almond, Earl Gustkey, Randy Harvey and Jim Hodges contributed to this story.


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