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Goodwill Games To Get Underway

July 18, 1998

Cue the national anthems. Unfurl the flags. Get those patriotic juices flowing one more time. The Goodwill Games, the world’s third international sports event in five months, get under way on Sunday.

After the Winter Olympics in Japan and the World Cup in France, New York plays host to Ted Turner’s games for the next 15 days, continuing an impressive workout for the passports of world class athletes.

Turner invented these games following the tit-for-tat Olympic boycotts by the United States and the Soviet Union in 1980 and 1984 as a paean for peace. Now, the Goodwill Games are still around, while the Soviet Union is not.

This adventure has not been cheap. The Goodwill Games have been swimming in red ink right from the start. The first three editions in Moscow, Seattle, and St. Petersburg, Russia, lost $26 million, $44 million and $39 million respectively.

Ticket sales for this year’s events have been sluggish at best. Days before the opening events, organizers had sold about one-third of the 600,000 available tickets.

Turner is hardly disturbed by that.

``You don’t evaluate everything on whether you make a profit or not,″ the billionaire said. ``There are other ways of valuing things. Teachers don’t make a lot of money but they make a contribution.″

So, the games are his contribution, and in the absence of a Cold War cause, they come equipped with their own designated charities _ The Boys and Girls Club of America and UNICEF International.

The magic number for this event is 15 _ 1,500 athletes competing in 15 sports in 15 days. That represents something of streamlining for the games, down from the more than 3,000 athletes that participated in the first Goodwill event in 1986.

The stage this time is New York City and suburban Long Island, and Turner knows that could pose something of a problem.

``This is the first time in the history of New York that there is a world class sporting event of this magnitude here,″ he said. ``The biggest negative is that New York is so large. The event could get lost here.″

The basketball, boxing and wrestling competitions will take place at Madison Square Garden. Most of the other action _ track, swimming and diving, figure skating, gymnastics, women’s soccer and water polo _ is set for the Nassau County Coliseum and surrounding facilities on Long Island.

Organizers have trucked tons of sand into Central Park’s Wollman Rink for beach volleyball. The triathlon will follow an intriguing course from Battery Park to Central Park.

The setting is impressive, but the athletes are the show.

From the start, the games went after and got some big names. Olympic 200- and 400-meter champion Michael Johnson appears on the event’s posters around town, and the track events include Dan O’Brien and Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Sprinters like Marion Jones, Ato Boldon, Donovan Bailey and Maurice Greene give those races marquee quality.

Michelle Kwan, Todd Eldredge and Michael Weiss headline the figure skating. Double gold medalist swimmer Alexander Popov is here, and Dominique Dawes and Dominique Moceanu from the gold medal gymnastics team are entered. Cuba’s boxing team includes Olympic gold winners Felix Savon, Ariel Hernandez and Maikro Romero.

Still, there are gaps in this shadow Olympics.

Johnson, citing injuries that have limited his preparation, will compete only in the 400, skipping the 200 and the double that he achieved at Atlanta in 1996.

Gwen Torrence, the world’s top-ranked women’s 100-meter runner in 1994 and 1995, will miss the event because of an injured left leg.

The anticipated swimming showdown between longtime rivals Popov and Gary Hall fell through when Hall withdrew after being suspended following a positive test for marijuana.

Amy Van Dyken, who won four gold medals at the 1996 Olympics, is also missing after surgery to repair torn cartilage in her right shoulder.

America’s wrestling team will have just two returning medalists from last year’s world championships _ 138-pound silver winner Cary Kolat of Lockhaven, Pa., and 187-pound gold winner Les Gutches of Corvallis, Ore.

The individual events format is finals-only with no qualifying rounds. And Turner has spiced the competition with $5 million in prize money and performance incentives that pay up to $100,000 for world records.

From the start, there was some concern that these games were an exercise in duplication, that the real competition was in the Olympics. Turner has always battled that perception and has tried to separate these games with their own slogan: ``Where the world’s best prove it.″

That part starts Sunday.

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