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Basketball Player May Be Answer To an Olympic Mystery

To march at the head of the United States delegation at this year's Atlanta Olympics will rank as one of the ultimate goose-bump honors. Not only will this athlete lead the largest of 197 national teams into the Opening Ceremony, he or she will lead the host Americans before a huge global TV audience.

So who will carry the American flag into 83,000-seat Olympic Stadium on July 19?

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That decision won't be made until the night before the Games, when the leaders of the various US sports teams elect a flag-bearer.

An early favorite, though, is women's basketball player Teresa Edwards, born and raised in Atlanta with teammate Katrina McClain. Geography is on Edwards's side, but so, too, are her athletic accomplishments (this will be her fourth Olympics, a record for an American basketball player) and her attitude (she is a model team player). Furthermore, her birthday happens to coincide with the start of the Games.

During an appearance in Atlanta last week, Edwards, whose image graces a city mass-transit pass this month, acknowledged that, "Everyone in the basketball world says, 'You should carry the flag.' It would be a lot of weight on my shoulders that I wouldn't mind carrying, but I'm not caught up in it."

An Olympic medal this time would give Edwards three, including golds in 1984 and '88, and a bronze in '92. After an All-American career at the University of Georgia, she has starred professionally in Italy, Japan, Spain, and France. She spent this season training with the US women's National Team, which has yet to lose an exhibition game since its inception in October. After the Games, she plans to join one of the new American women's leagues.

The Centennial Games' bigger mystery may be who will light the cauldron in the Opening Ceremony. In 1992 Barcelona, a disabled archer fired a flaming arrow that lit the Olympic flame. It will be hard to top that for drama.

Touching other bases

*Pop quiz: Since Formula One/Grand Prix auto racing began crowning world driving champions in 1950, only two Americans have won the title. Can you name either? (Answer at end.)

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*Looking for a really different public golf course? How about one with 19 holes? That's what Golf Digest found along the St. Lawrence River in Wellesley Island, N.Y. Jack Webb, who owns the Oak Ridge Golf Club with its numerous water hazards (but no sand traps), says his own playing ability inspired a throwaway hole.

*The most popular sport for teens to watch worldwide is basketball, says a report in the National Sporting Goods Association newsletter. Fifty-seven percent of 6,500 teens surveyed in 26 countries called basketball their favorite sport.

*Trivia nugget: Wilt Chamberlain once led the National Basketball Association in assists. Those who know him as a scoring giant, which he was, may be surprised to learn that in 1967-68 Wilt was the league's top passer, setting up his Philadelphia teammates for 700-plus baskets.

*Quiz answer: Phil Hill (1961) and Mario Andretti (1978) are the only American world driving champions.

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