;p> MOMENTS: The first week of the Summer Games had everything--exhilaration, pathos, surprise and sheer awe. Some highlights:
IF INTIMIDATION WERE AN Olympic event, Aleksandr Karelin would own it. The Russian behemoth stands 6 feet 3, weighs nearly 300 pounds and wrings out men his own size like damp washcloths. Karelin is the long-reigning king of heavyweight Greco-Roman wrestling. He hadn't lost a match in 10 years when he confronted American Matt Ghaffari in Atlanta last week. And he had pummeled Ghaffari in 20 previous encounters. To no one's surprise, Karelin beat the poor man again Tuesday night, 1-0 in overtime, to secure a third consecutive Olympic gold medal. Ghaffari told a reporter afterward, "It's like wrestling King Kong." (Despite all the punishment he has taken from Karelin, Ghaffari keeps his picture on the wall for inspiration.)
At home in Novosibirsk, Siberia, Karelin holds down a day job as a colonel in the Russian tax police and keeps fit by running through snowdrifts carrying armloads of logs. Fans hail him as the "meanest man in the world" or the "strongest animal on Earth" (he reportedly weighed 15 pounds at birth). Humorist Dave Barry depicts him as the bouncer at the toughest bar in hell. But Karelin insists he's actually a sensitive fellow, well schooled in literature and rhetoric, who loves nothing more than the opera. "I am a lot more fun away from the mat," he told reporters after last week's victory. That's very good news.
FORGET SHAQ AND SCOTtie and those overhyped, overpaid men pummeling all opponents in their way. The sweetest Dream Team so far is the U.S. women ... pummeling all opponents in their way. Take last Thursday's game against Zaire. Before 31,230 flag-waving fans, the largest crowd ever to see a women's game, the Americans steamed to a 107-47 victory.
Seven players scored in double figures, including 6-foot-2 forward Carla McGhee (right). The 28-year-old McGhee, who's come back from a near-fatal car accident, supplies inspiration. Star 6-foot-5 center Lisa Leslie brings the charm. She scored only four points on Thursday. But afterward, changed into her jeans and makeup, Leslie answered all questions with a smiling diplomacy that belied her on-court ferocity. That skill should serve her well when she turns pro or continues to model--or both. Look out, Michael: here comes the competition.
IN SOUTH KOREA, IT'S A national passion. In the United States, it's a game played mostly by high-school kids in the Northeast. So in their match against Korea last week, the U. S. women started as underdogs. They took a surprising two-goal lead, then held on under a withering noon sun as the Koreans tied. With less than a minute to play, a Korean player fouled little Tracey Fuchs, setting up one final shot. The inbounds pass went to Fuchs, who teed it up in front of the goal for striker Barb Marois. As Korean defenders desperately rushed at her, Marois struck the ball into the net, bouncing it off the telltale wooden strip inside the goal. As the announcer cried in Lake Placid, Do you believe in miracles?
NEWSWEEK'S (IMPARtial) judges have voted, and it's unanimous. Best new Olympic sport: beach volleyball. Best cheering section: Brazil's, at the Atlanta Beach. Some fuddy-duddies had bemoaned the addition of a sport with as much potential for leering as for athleticism. But the 9,000-seat center-court stadium was jammed every day last week, the fans rocking to the feats in front of them and to the beats of the Village People's "YMCA." Not bad for an Atlanta Beach venue 230 miles from the nearest saltwater (though salted Margaritas were plentiful).
Nobody had a bigger thirst for fun, though, than the Brazilians. Thank two cheerleaders sponsored by a Rio pharmacy chain--D'Artagnan, a trumpet player, and Seven Ball, a very large gyrating man in a blond wig--for keeping things fired up. Where else could you hear the Brazilian national anthem samba style, or friendly cheers in Portuguese like "Vai errar" (You're going to make a mistake) while the opposing side served? Brian and Tammy Baughman drove down from Indiana to cheer for the United States, whose men beat the Brazilians last Thursday. But that was in the sand, not the stands. Said Tammy: "Twenty of them were louder than 2,000 of us."
BEING THE WORLD'S BEST gymnast takes more strength and agility than your most brilliant competitor can muster--but just a little more. As China's Li Xiaoshuang began the final rotation of the men's individual all-around competition, he was virtually tied with Russia's Aleksei Nemov. But for the spring-loaded 22-year-old Li, a mere half-point lead yielded gold.
FOR PURE OLYMPIAN heartbreak, pitcher Lisa Fernandez probably takes the gold. The U.S. women's softball team was undefeated and had a 1-0 lead against Australia last Friday going into the bottom of the 10th inning. Fernandez was perfect--she hadn't allowed a single base runner. There were two outs and two strikes on the Aussie batter. Then Fernandez threw a "fatty," Joanne Brown hit a home run and the United States lost an international game for just the second time since 1986. "I had two strikes on her," said a sobbing Fernandez afterward. "It hurts."
That one bad pitch made a winner of Australian pitcher Tanya Harding. Like America's Tonya, she has been controversial. Harding joined UCLA in midseason and led it to the 1995 NCAA title. She then left school without taking any final exams, leading to charges that the series MVP was "a hired gun," or even a "hired bazooka."
But the Americans truly beat themselves. In the fifth inning on Friday Dani Tyler of the United States hit a potentially game-winning home run that was disallowed when she failed to touch the plate. The Americans are still in the medal round, but this great team may now be remembered for its few bizarre errors.
DESPITE HAVING THE most off-putting name in sport, three-day eventingis always a whale of a show. It opens with the top-hatted dressage, then moves to the brutal endurance competition and concludes with show jumping. As a concession to the Dixie heat, the Olympic cross-country course was cut to less than four miles, witth just 25 jumps. But several of those jumps offer options. The rider can take the difficult, but faster, alternative, or choose an easier jump at the cost of precious seconds. At the Atlanta course last week, no trickier choice was presented than at the ominous number 13.
With one ride to go, the Americans were close to the Aussies. At the head of the U.S. crew was Capt. Mark Phillips, once a gold medalist and the erstwhile husband of Princess Anne. Cap'n Mark advised Jill Henneberg--a 21-year-old registered nurse who had made the team astride a $600 pickup named Nirvana--to play 13 safe. Though American David O'Connor (below) had negotiated it, his wife, Karen, had failed there. "I wanna do the bridge," Henneberg replied, taking the hard way out. So, down the slope came Nirvana to 13, into the pond, then whirling to the bridge. The mare clattered into the boards, her rider tumbling off. Henneberg banged her crop against the bridge and then tried to console the animal she called her best friend.