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USA! USA!: As Games Kick Off, It’s a Hometown Party

July 19, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ The world may have been invited, but these Olympic Games are, once again, an American party.

American athletes will win the most medals. American crowds will cheer them on. And everywhere in Atlanta, American economic might will be on boastful display.

``There’s going to be a lot of patriotism and a lot of unity and country spirit,″ wrestler Bruce Baumgartner predicted Friday, hours before he carried the flag into the opening ceremonies at the head of the U.S. team.

Baumgartner, a mountainous Pennsylvanian and unabashed patriot, has won Olympic medals in Los Angeles, Seoul and Barcelona. He knows what a home crowd can mean. ``It will be a very big advantage to be in the United States,″ he said.

These games won’t match the 1984 Los Angeles games for sheer American dominance. Then, the United States racked up an almost embarrassing 174 medals _ 83 of them gold _ in the absence of the archrival Soviet-bloc teams.

But the Atlanta Olympics could rival those games for sheer American exuberance and patriotism. And they have already set an Olympic record for corporate chauvinism: Foreign visitors face a nonstop assault of American commercial images that have prompted some to dub these the ``Coca-Cola Olympics.″

Medal-wise, most people expect the United States to be the biggest winner in Atlanta. ``We’re going to do very well,″ said Dick Schultz, executive director of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Schultz said U.S. athletes might not win as many gold medals as in the 1992 Barcelona Games, when they won 37. One reason is the breakup of the Soviet Union: With no Soviet colossus facing the United States, there are actually more athletes competing from the former Soviet states, now independent nations.

Still, Schultz said he expects the United States to increase its overall medal count from Barcelona, when American athletes won 108 medals, second to the Unified Team.

Home-court advantage is one reason _ and not just for the obvious reasons.

``A lot of it has to do less with the actual playing field ... as it does just with the familiarity with the people, the language, the food,″ Baumgartner said. ``We’re not in a foreign country, we’re not isolated, we can travel, we can speak the language.″

``It’s really tough playing on someone else’s home court,″ said U.S. basketball star Teresa Edwards, a Georgia native. ``I’ve done that, and I’m really looking forward to playing at home.″

Another reason to expect U.S. success is that the International Olympic Committee has added sports to these Olympics that strongly favor Americans. Beach volleyball, women’s softball and women’s soccer are all likely gold mines for the U.S. team.

The prospect of the Olympics as an all-American love-in obviously disturbs some of the competitors and fans from other countries. But some simply accept it as the way things are.

The Toronto Star newspaper recently recalled, somewhat wistfully, the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

``It would be lovely,″ the Star wrote, ``if the fans in Atlanta this summer were as sporting, as kind hosts, as were the Norwegians. Perhaps they won’t be. A lot is being said and written about the spirit of the impending Atlanta Games, much of it concerning the sea of red, white and blue that is about to engulf everyone.

``Well, maybe it will. But why worry about it? If it’s OK for Canadians to root on our terrific young athletic representatives _ and it is _ then isn’t the vice versa for other nations, including the host?″

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