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IN SELECTING the teams for our fantasy Olympic tournament, we
found Team USA the toughest to choose. Some players helped us by
effectively cutting themselves. When the Oakland Athletics' Mark
McGwire, a 1984 U.S. Olympian, was asked if he would give up a
few weeks of the season to participate in the Games again, he
said, "No way." The spirit of Baron de Coubertin was flowing in
Ken Griffey Jr., however, who, when asked the same question,
said, "That is something to dream about." So Junior makes it as
our rightfielder, ceding the centerfield spot to leadoff man
Lofton. Our desire to get Belle's bat into the lineup means the
U.S. team is really susceptible to only one thing: fly balls to
left. Belle could start at DH, but that would mean no Vaughn,
who was edged out at first by Thomas. Playing Belle and Vaughn
also means omitting Gwynn from the starting lineup, but should a
late-inning situation require a pinch hitter, having one of the
best hitters in history on the bench could come in handy.

In the infield, Thomas and Williams were easy picks. Shortstop
was a tough one, though. While leaving Cal Ripken Jr. off any
All-America team would be roughly akin to leaving the smile off
the Mona Lisa, the pick here is 1995 National League MVP Larkin.
Sorry, Cal, but statistics don't lie: You hit .262 with 17
homers, 88 RBIs and no steals; Larkin hit .319, had 15 home
runs, drove in 66 runs and stole 51 bases. The toughest call in
the infield was at second base, where Knoblauch gets the nod
over the Astros' Biggio. Their stats are virtually
identical--Biggio is more of a long-ball threat, but Knoblauch,
one of the game's most prolific gappers, actually outslugged him
last year. They are both fast, good fielders and righthanded
hitters. Intangibles break the deadlock--we'll take Knoblauch
because he's a little scrappier.

On the hill, the first two starters were a given. Maddux is the
ace, and Johnson is the...uh, other ace. We chose Mussina over
Atlanta's Tom Glavine because Mussina has been remarkably
consistent: He has a career winning percentage of .703 and has
never lost more than two games in a row. The stopper is Wohlers,
who showed in the World Series that he could be trusted to hold
the slimmest of leads--not that this team would often have just
a slim lead.

--Mark Bechtel

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO With a battery of Johnson (top left) and Piazza (above), the bat of Williams (left) and the speed of Lofton, would the U.S. be unbeatable? Not necessarily. [Randy Johnson]

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: V.J. LOVERO (2) [See caption above--Mike Piazza; Matt Williams]

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID LIAM KYLE [See caption above--Kenny Lofton]

P Greg Maddux, Braves
P Randy Johnson, Mariners
P Mike Mussina, Orioles
P Mark Wohlers, Braves