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First State Games of America Set

January 7, 1998

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ State games competitors have another goal to aspire to with the first State Games of America set for next year.

An estimated 8,000 athletes from 40 states will convene in St. Louis, site of the 1994 Olympic Festival, from Aug. 6-9, 1999. Participants will qualify from among a half-million athletes who compete in games such as the Show-Me Games in Missouri.

St. Louis also has first right of refusal for a second games in 2001, and organizers envision moving the event around the country after that.

Competition will be in 15 sports with sites in the city, St. Louis County and southwestern Illinois that were built or enhanced for the Olympic Festival. Jackie Joyner-Kersee, chairwoman of the St. Louis Sports Commission and national spokeswoman for the games, said this is the next best thing.

``I was sad to see when the Olympic Festival dissolved because I thought those were great programs for our grass roots,″ Joyner-Kersee said. ``You talk about me winning Olympic gold meals ... it didn’t start at the collegeiate level, it didn’t start when I was 19 or 20, it started on the grass roots.″

Organizers believe the State Games of America will succeed where the Olympic Festival failed because it is run at a fraction of the cost. The budget for the first games is $2 million, compared with $14 million for the Festival.

Unlike the Festival, there won’t be housing for athletes or an Olympic village, and athletes also will foot their own travel bills. Entry fees to participate probably will be $25-$50.

``It’s the national concept of the Olympic Festival, but it’s the grass-roots activity of the state games,″ said Frank Viverito, president of the St. Louis Sports Commission. ``It’s top-caliber competition but it is not elite athlete competition.″

Sports in the State Games of America are basketball, gymnastics, soccer, hockey, figure skating, diving, tennis, volleyball, track and field, wrestling, softball, swimming, bowling, road racing and Taekwondo.

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