Amid the patriotic pomp and circumstance of the Atlanta Games,
the U.S. has four new forums for showing off its best and
brightest athletes. The addition of beach volleyball, mountain
biking, softball and women's soccer to the Olympics is expected
to produce a fresh spate of American heroes.
U.S. duos are among the gold medal favorites in both men's and
women's beach volleyball, but the competition should play out
like another episode of the sport's long-running soap opera, As
the World Tans. Nancy Reno and Holly McPeak, who make up the top
U.S. women's team, barely speak to each other away from the
beach. On the men's side the game's two most celebrated
performers, Karch Kiraly and Sinjin Smith, could be headed for
an all-American final that would display their bitter rivalry on
a world stage.
Kiraly and Smith are former party buddies and teammates on
UCLA's 1979 national championship squad. But Kiraly is upset
because Smith, who hasn't won a beach volleyball tournament in
this country since 1993, qualified for the Olympics, along with
partner Carl Henkel, by stacking up points abroad. Under the
controversial guidelines of the Federation Internationale de
Volleyball (FIVB), Smith-Henkel gained an Olympic berth by
dominating a European circuit that is considered weaker than the
Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) tour, over which
Kiraly and partner Kent Steffes reign. Kiraly-Steffes and the
third U.S. entry, Mike Dodd and Mike Whitmarsh, earned their
Olympic berths at the U.S. trials in June. Kiraly believes the
top three pairs from the AVP tour should have been given
automatic tickets to Atlanta.
"It's two kings of the beach fighting for their turf," McPeak
says of Kiraly and Smith. But at least the feuding men are on
opposite sides of the net. Since last November teammates Reno
and McPeak have been involved in the messiest oceanside dispute
since Frankie Avalon's cinematic spats with Annette Funicello.
Though their on-court chemistry has helped them become one of
the world's best tandems, Reno and McPeak have lifestyles that
mix like oil and water. Reno, 30, is an earthy surfer whose idea
of high fashion is a tie-dyed T-shirt, while the 27-year-old
McPeak moves as fluidly through trendy boutiques as she does on
the sand. "I'm into hip-hop and rap and artists like Seal,"
McPeak says. "Reno lives and dies with the Grateful Dead. I like
fashion and dressing up. She has trouble matching things." And
we're not talking just about clothes.
Last year, despite winning 11 consecutive tournaments with
McPeak, Reno dropped her partner because she felt they were
burned out and needed a break to work on individual aspects of
their game. Reno hooked up with Karolyn Kirby, but that
experiment lasted only three tournaments (two of which they
lost) before Reno resumed her partnership with McPeak in
February. The old pairing resumed its domination of the women's
circuit and, based on FIVB point standings, became the first
U.S. team to qualify for the Olympics. Things seemed to be going
smoothly until late April, when, after a couple of rough
outings, Reno dumped McPeak again in favor of Kirby.
Then McPeak told USA Today that Reno "couldn't care less about
anything or anyone else" and suggested the two should not bother
teaming at the Olympics. Reno responded by unloading on McPeak,
saying she didn't appreciate the public criticism.
In some ways Reno's switch to Kirby made sense. Reno is a 5'11"
net specialist, and the equally tall Kirby helped free up her
partner from continuous blocking duty. The 5'7" McPeak is a
great defender and setter. Nevertheless, Reno and McPeak were
locked in as an Olympic entry and they regained their on-court
harmony in early June to win a tournament in Austin.
"For me, getting selected to the Olympics was special," McPeak
says. "For Reno, it wasn't a big deal. It put a lot of pressure
on her, and I don't think she likes that. So her solution was to
end the partnership. But we'll make it work because we're the
best team in the world." That's something they will have to
prove on the beach, especially after failing to win their next
three tournaments following Austin.
Whatever their fortunes, neither McPeak nor Reno is likely to
leave Atlanta as the darling of the extreme-sports crowd. That
honor almost certainly will belong to mountain biker Juliana
Furtado, the gold medal favorite and three-time World Cup
cross-country champion. The 29-year-old Furtado routinely
receives marriage proposals during races and often is far enough
in the lead to offer retorts such as, "How much money do you
make?" Not that she needs it. Furtado owns three houses and
pulls in enough cash from sponsors--an estimated $400,000
annually--to bust the Velcro fastener on the ratty nylon wallet
A former skiing prodigy who was forced to quit that sport after
undergoing five reconstructive knee surgeries, Furtado has
persevered thanks to a bizarre fusion of espresso, merlot and
gusto. She has also, in the past two years, endured a
life-threatening blood infection, an epileptic seizure and the
suicide of her mother. Then there was the assortment of
accidental cuts, bumps and bruises. "I'm the biggest klutz in
the world," she says. "I like my chances at the Olympics--if I
can stay in one piece."
Soccer is one of the sports in which the U.S. women have a
better shot at a gold medal than their male counterparts. The
U.S. won the first women's World Cup in 1991 and finished third
last year, losing to eventual champion Norway. Those two
countries, along with China and Germany, will field the
strongest teams at the Olympics, and the American women hope
that a strong showing in Atlanta will do for them what the '94
World Cup did for the U.S. men's team in terms of boosting their
popularity. If so, ebullient midfielder Julie Foudy could become
the female equivalent of Alexi Lalas.
Earlier this year Foudy got to play politician when she and
eight other team members were locked out of training camp by the
U.S. Soccer Federation in a dispute over money. The federation
said it would make bonus payments to the players only if they
won the gold medal in Atlanta, but the women wanted smaller
bonuses for winning a silver or a bronze. An amicable solution
was reached after Foudy and teammate Carla Overbeck met with
In fact, Foudy has a sharp wit with a playful edge. That's
evidenced by the nickname she gave the Sanford, Fla., house that
she shares with teammates Overbeck, Carin Gabarra and Kristine
Lilly. "It's called Booters with Hooters," says Foudy, 25, a
former Stanford star who will attend the university's medical
school in the fall of 1997.
Another medical-minded athlete is softball standout Dot
Richardson, 34, the shortstop on a U.S. team that has a 110-1
record against international competition since 1986. Richardson,
who is due to begin her third year as a resident in orthopedic
surgery on Aug. 1, batted .469 in leading the U.S. to the 1995
Pan Am Games gold medal. However, this Olympic team also happens
to have the finest pitching staff--led by Lisa Fernandez,
Michele Granger, Lori Harrigan, Michele Smith and 18-year-old
sensation Christa Williams--ever assembled in the women's game.
Richardson and U.S. coach Ralph Raymond say Williams could
emerge as the staff ace in Atlanta, where she may have less
trouble with opposing hitters than with Richardson's Name That
Tune contests. "I start singing a song as far back as I can
remember, back to my eight-track-tape days," Richardson says.
"Christa doesn't do very well."
However, there is one tune Richardson and Williams--and perhaps
their counterparts in beach volleyball, mountain biking and
women's soccer--are likely to sing together in Atlanta: The
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Reno (right) and McPeak (center) make a great tandem, but they don't see eye to eye off the beach. [Woman, Holly McPeak, and Nancy Reno playing beach volleyball]
COLOR PHOTO: DOUG PENSINGER/ALLSPORT Players like Foudy, in a match against China, have kept the U.S. women one step ahead of the pack. [Julie Foudy and others playing soccer]
COLOR PHOTO: PASCAL RONDEAU/ALLSPORT If she wins the women's mountain bike race, Furtado will have traveled the bumpiest road to a gold medal. [Juliana Furtado]