Primed and Pumped for Seoul

updated 09/19/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/19/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The 1988 Summer Olympics, beginning this Friday in South Korea, may turn into one of the best competitions of the Games' 92 years; they will certainly be the best since 1976, which was the last time that the Games were not boycotted by either the U.S. or the Soviet Union. South Korea has pumped $3 billion into state-of-the-art facilities, and NBC has persuaded the host nation to turn its clocks back an hour so Americans can see most of the action in prime time. A strong U.S. team features such stars as distance runner Mary Decker Slaney; swimmers Matt Biondi and Janet Evans, who could take nine medals between them; and the swift sisters-in-law Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Florence Griffith Joyner (PEOPLE, Aug. 29). Here's a look at eight of America's best, brightest, strongest and fastest. Some of these American hopefuls, such as archer Denise Parker, 14, and the wrestling Koslowski twins, 29, will be making their Olympic debuts; others, most notably hurdle ironman Edwin Moses, 33, who won his first medal in 1976, are old hands—and feet. For these veterans, the XXIV Olympiad may be a last hurrah. They hope it will be loud.

BROTHERS IN ARMS

Twin U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman wrestlers Dennis and Duane Koslowski, 29, remember the day in seventh grade when they moved from the parochial school they had been attending in Doland, S.Dak., to a public school. "The kids were pointing at us, saying, 'Look at the Polacks,' " Duane (right, above) recalls. "We were tall, skinny skinheads, and I'm sure we smelled like a barn." When sides were chosen for tackle football, they were picked last. "But we were so damn tough from rough housing together that we just whipped them," Duane says. "The next day we were team captains."

The Koslowski twins are leaders again, this time on the U.S. Olympic wrestling team. The brothers also exemplify an endangered Olympic species: the true amateur athlete. Duane, 245 lbs. and an insurance salesman, will wrestle in the superheavyweight class, in which he has been national champion for three years. Dennis, 25 lbs. lighter and a chiropractor, ranks No. 2 in the world in the heavyweight division and is a medal favorite. Greco-Roman wrestling, unlike the more familiar forms, bars using the legs for anything except balance. For Americans, a great moment in 1984 came when U.S. Greco-Roman wrestler Jeff Blatnick, who had overcome Hodgkin disease, won a gold.

For the Koslowskis, twinship has been a boon to competition. At a meet in Sweden last February, Duane, who had won his match by default, wandered off, unaware that he had to step onto the mat to claim his medal. Dennis, standing nearby, simply walked out and accepted the award. "No one said a word," Duane says. "They didn't know." The brothers say their closeness is responsible for their success. Their mother died when they were 2, and six years later their father, Henry, overcome by the rigors of farm work, was forced to send the twins and their three older siblings to live with relatives. Luckily, the twins stayed together. "It was kind of rough, only seeing our father every two or three weeks," says Dennis, who is married and has a 2-year-old daughter. Adds Duane: "Our aunt and uncle did all they could, but neither of us could have made it without the help of the other."

The boys eventually spurred each other on to become high school and Division III NCAA wrestling champs. After college, Duane dropped out of wrestling, while Dennis switched to Greco-Roman and just missed making the last Olympics. "I watched those Games and really felt for Dennis, "says Duane. "The people he had beaten in training were suddenly gold and silver medalists."

Then and there Duane decided Dennis needed him. He quit his job in Yankton, S.Dak., and moved with his wife and two children to Minneapolis. It took six months for Duane—who had to learn Greco-Roman—to score a point on his brother. It took another six before he scored another. But in 1986 Duane joined Dennis as a U.S. Greco-Roman champion by winning the U.S. Open.

If both Koslowskis were to earn medals this month, theirs would be a storybook ending. But Duane insists that one would be enough. "I know it sounds corny, but when people ask me who I would choose to win a medal, I always say Dennis because of his disappointment in 1984. That's our strength. When I dream of winning a medal, I never dream of just me. I win a medal, and Dennis wins a medal, and then we celebrate."

BACKYARD GOLD

Except for four hours out of every day, Denise Parker is a typical 14-year-old kid who's crazy about animals, especially her dog, Bonzo, and her two cats, Alexis and Buffy. One recent afternoon she appeared with a litter of kittens she had found up the street from her family's house in South Jordan, Utah. "I had to clean up their eyes," she recounts, through a gleam of braces. "They couldn't see because they were all full of gook."

So far, so normal. It's only when Parker is in her backyard for four hours a day that her life becomes unusual. She picks up a customized fiberglass bow, pulls a sapphire-blue arrow from a quiver attached to her waist and notches the shaft on the bowstring. Although the bow has a 34-pound draw weight, Parker, who is 5' 4" and weighs 105 lbs., pulls the string back smoothly and sights a target on the garage wall, 20 yards away. She releases, and the arrow slams into the gold bull's-eye. So does the next arrow. And the next. At 55 yards, Denise (practicing in Provo, below) hits bull's-eyes seven out of 10 times. Which is why she is the top woman archer in America and the youngest ever to win a spot on the U.S. Women's Archery team.

Parker was just 10 when her stepfather, Earl, a printer, asked her if she'd like to tag along with him on a trip to a nearby archery range. Earl had been thinking of taking up bow hunting. She was smitten with the sport, and within months she was winning every tournament in the area. In April 1987 she won the Indoor Nationals. "Everybody told me then that I should give the Olympics a shot," she says. "I hadn't ever thought of it." In August 1987, she took the gold at the Pan Am Games and her coach, Tim Strickland, gives her a good chance for a medal against the top-rated South Koreans and Soviets. "Denise has experienced a lot of pressure, but she still excels," he says. "That's the mark of a born winner."

In preparation for Seoul, Parker has practiced six days a week, jogged and lifted weights. "I don't like to shoot alone, so Dad [her stepfather] always goes with me," she says. "The person with the lowest score does the dishes." Her new fame has moved boys around the country to send her mash notes, the thought of which makes her nose crinkle in distaste. "I'd rather play football with a boy than date one," Denise says. "I hope people think I'm still the same as before all this happened. Mom still makes me take out the trash and shake the rugs."

But rarely, if ever, does she have to do the dishes.

THE GREAT RACE

If, as expected, Carl Lewis (with trainer, right) and Canadian rival Ben Johnson meet in the finals of the 100-meter dash on Sept. 24, the encounter could be the most historic event of the 1988 Olympics. Lewis beat Johnson in Zurich last month, but many experts expect the sprint to be a re-creation of their meeting at the World Track and Field Championships in Rome last autumn. There, in the Stadio Olimpico, Johnson led Lewis from the start and finished in an astounding 9.83 seconds, a full 10th of a second faster than the world record—which Lewis equaled in that same race. But if Lewis should win again, he stands a good chance of repeating his four 1984 gold medals in the 100 and 200 meter dashes, 4 X 100-meter relay and long jump. "I'm running the best I've ever run," says Lewis, who has seldom been overtaken by modesty. "The competition is better than it was in 1984. But I've also risen."

So, Lewis hopes, has his image. In 1984 he put off both press and public with his haughty, unapproachable demeanor. Lately, Lewis has been practicing his humility. "Most of the people who criticize me have never met me," he says. But he clearly enjoys the spoils of his sport. A lucrative contract to endorse a Japanese running shoe helped buy him a new home in an exclusive area of Houston. A black Porsche sits in the driveway. He spends his spare time relaxing with his close-knit family (sister Carol, 25, is competing in the long jump), collecting crystal (one cherished piece is from Jack Nicholson), playing his own compositions on the piano and pursuing a singing career.

Characteristically, Lewis is confident about his rendezvous with destiny. "This is my last shot, probably—not definitely, but probably," he says. "I want it to be my best shot."

RETURN OF A NATIVE

Never confuse Ping-Pong with table tennis, even though they are played just the same: The former is the name, owned by Table Tennis Inc., of a game played in basement rec rooms; table tennis is the world's second most popular sport (behind soccer), a grueling contest in which opponents stand several yards apart, whaling away with catlike reflexes at a 2.5-gram white plastic ball that can travel up to 100 mph. In South Korea, table tennis is the national passion.

Fittingly, then, Seoul will be the stage for table tennis' grand entrance as an official Olympic sport, and the trip to South Korea will be a homecoming for Insook Bhushan. Born there 36 years ago, she immigrated to the U.S. with her family when she was 22 and has won every North American tournament she has played in for 10 years. "She's a defensive tactician, a chopper and a master of underspin," says Bob Tretheway, program director of the U.S. Table Tennis Association. "She has a fine chance of winning a medal and will definitely play a role in who else wins."

For all her resolve, Bhushan, who lives in Aurora, Colo., with her Indian-born husband, Shekar, and their two children, regards competing in Seoul as a little like entering the lion's den. "Koreans are, how you say, nationalistic," she says. "There will be North Koreans there to make trouble. There are South Koreans who don't like the U.S."

The daughter of a U.S. embassy employee, Insook began playing competitively when she was 13. By 21, she was No. 2 on the world champion South Korean women's team and a national hero. But she chafed under the authoritarian Korean coaches. "By the time I left for the U.S., I was completely disgusted," she says. When the family settled in Flushing, N.Y., Insook found table tennis a way to meet people and learn English. She met Shekar, then a student and now an architect, during a 1977 tournament in Ohio. "She trounced me," he recalls, laughing. They married the next year, and, at his urging, she resumed playing regularly.

For the Olympics, Bhushan trained five days a week in Colorado Springs, 65 miles from home, and traveled with the team to China for seven weeks this summer to practice with the world's best. "I have family roots and traditions in South Korea," she says. "But I feel much more at home here."

CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD

Okay, let's get ready to program those VCRs for the 10-meter platform diving finals on September 26. That evening, 28-year-old Greg Louganis (right) will give the last Olympic performance of the greatest career in diving history. Arching away from the platform, he will neatly fold up his body and turn into a blurring, somersaulting ball. Less than two seconds later, he will unfold, become perpendicular and hardly disturb the water as he slices through it.

With very little splash, an era will have ended.

He says he feels little pressure as he gets ready to defend his two gold medals in the 10-meter platform and three-meter springboard events. "I won in '84, and this will be the icing on the cake," he says. "I've done it."

Indeed he has. Since he won an Olympic silver medal at 16, he has garnered five world championships, 47 national titles and two Olympic golds. Says his coach, Ron O'Brien: "He's as close as any human being I've ever seen to perfection." Yet the intense competitor has changed because of his friendship with teenage AIDS victim Ryan White (PEOPLE, Aug. 3, 1987, and May 30, 1988). "Ryan helped put a lot of things into perspective," Louganis says. "Winning and losing no longer matter that much."

He has other careers waiting after he climbs out of the pool. He has begun dancing professionally and is considering a possible lead role in a movie about Johnny Weissmuller. "I don't think I'll be motivated to compete much after Seoul," says Louganis. "I've met the goals, won the medals. This chapter of my life is ending. I'm looking forward to the next one."

So are a lot of other divers.

THE SPIKEMAN COMETH

On the U.S. volleyball team's 1984 trip to Cuba, Steve Timmons, until then a perennial second stringer, exploded from the pack and began demolishing opponents with a power and precision that has since made him a legend. Not long afterward, in seeming celebration of his newfound status, he cut his hair in the spiked flattop wedge that is now his signature. "My haircut reflects my personality on the court," says Timmons, 29. "It's sharp, it's angled and it can be a little intimidating."

Understand that understatement is not Timmons' game. The 6'5", 205-lb. ace will lead the immensely talented 12-man U.S. volleyball squad to Seoul, where they are strong favorites to succeed the '84 U.S. team, on which he was named most valuable player, as gold medalists. "Steve's presence is psychologically significant for us," says captain Karch Kiraly. "Our opponents really fear him. Steve is the best spiker in the world." Soviet coach Gennadi Parchin agrees. "Timmons sets the mood of the whole American team," he has said. "He alone can decide the fate of the game."

Timmons grew up—and up—in Southern California, dreaming of playing professional basketball, and took up volleyball at 16 solely to keep in shape for hoops. "It was fun, but I didn't see much future in it," he says. But his ability to jump three feet vertically was more impressive than his shooting, and USC gave him a volleyball, not a basketball, scholarship. Timmons made the U.S.A. Men's Volleyball Team in 1981 but was inconsistent. He began lifting weights, intent on becoming the hardest hitter on the team.

Timmons lives in San Diego and practices four hours a day with the U.S. team, all Californians; on weekends he commutes to L.A. to see his girlfriend, Jeanie Buss, 26, daughter of L.A. Lakers' owner Jerry Buss. He doesn't underestimate the job waiting in Seoul or the threats posed by the Soviet volley-bailers. "It's going to be difficult," he says. "We're the team to beat, but repeating Olympic gold medals is just as rare as back-to-back NBA championships." He says that, of course, knowing that the team his girl's dad owns just did win the NBA championship for the second year in a row.

AN AMERICAN CLASSIC

At 33, Edwin Moses is the grand old man of track and field. That he is even showing up in Seoul is impressive; that this will be his third Olympics is amazing; that he is the favorite in his specialty, the 400-meter hurdles, is mind boggling. "I'm a professional," says Moses matter-of-factly, and despite the fact that the Games are supposedly open only to amateurs, his annual salary from running is around $500,000. "This one event," he says, "is what I do."

No question Edwin Moses does it best. Between 1977 and 1987, the 6'2" 165-pounder won 122 straight races, an unparalleled feat. Among those victories are Olympic gold medals in '76 and '84 and world titles in '83 and '87. Finally, last summer, the unthinkable happened: Moses lost a race, to Danny Harris, the '84 silver medalist who just missed making this year's team. "Suddenly everyone was saying, 'He can't win anymore,' " says Moses. "Based on one race, that was ridiculous. I was angry. But I wasn't disappointed. It was just destiny. The streak was made concrete by the loss. I went right back to my training program."

That program and the precise technique Moses has developed—13 steps between each of the 10 three-foot-high hurdles—propelled him to a world record of 47.02 in 1983. The record stands. "I feel better and younger than I did five years ago," he says. "I don't discuss my training, but I do things that are state-of-the-art in terms of preventive medicine, therapy. They're things other track athletes will be doing 10 years from now." He does his secret training near home, a Newport Beach, Calif., town house he shares with his wife, Myrella, 28. She affectionately calls him "a nerd" and describes their life as "very boring." That may be part of the regimen that makes Moses the man to beat: He keeps things uncomplicated. "The other guys in Seoul are going to be ready to run," he says. "If they run a certain time, I'll just have to run faster. It's as simple as that."

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