"It brought out in the open how far we've gotten away from the real purpose. Sports isn't just a physical contest that can be used for money or glory or political ends.

"It's about developing a physical, mental and emotional fitness that can bring people together as friends . . . not tear them apart.

"The girl I really wanted to beat to the semi-finals was an Israeli athlete. I had been out with her the night before, and we were kind of friendly rivals.

"Her coach was one of the Israelis killed by the terrorists, and she had been sent home with the other Israeli atheletes. I looked at that empty lane and got so sad, so angry, so disgusted. It was very traumatic for me. I could not get up for that race."

It is this message of a larger, sportsmanship mentality O'Neal most wants to convey to youthful athletes as spokeswoman for the Forum on Youth Fitness and Sports. The day-long seminar--organized by the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and designed for physical-education teachers, recreation specialists, youth club leaders and coaches--is Oct. 6 at Howard University.

"This emphasis on win, win, win all the time is just poison," says Lacey. "Sure, it's great to win, and that's what you're striving towards. But especially with kids, there's a lot more going on in sports activities.

"Sports can help kids build character, with attitudes that will carry over into adult life . . . like learning to work with a team, make friends, give something your best shot, set reachable goals, keep trying and enjoy the effort even if you lose."

Fitness, she says, "is also preventive medicine. Especially for a child, it's a lifelong investment in health. A child who is fit looks better and feels better about himself or herself.

"They can hold their head up high, relate to others better and really be ready to learn in school. Having a good self-image can help keep them away from the nasty stuff that goes on with kids today, like drugs and pregnancy.

"We're just coming around to realizing the importance of fitness in this society for all members--male, female, young, old. I say Bravo. It's about time."

But despite this renewed "fitness consciousness," notes C. Carson Conrad, executive director of the President's Council, "Inactivity and obesity are becoming more of a problem among young people in America.

"Studies show that one out of three 12-year-old boys cannot do a simple pull-up, and some even show risk factors associated with coronary heart disease at this early age.

"To reverse this trend, we need leadership. Whether it's in the home, at school or on the playground, children require example, guidance and incentive to participate regularly in physical activity and maintain this positive behavioral pattern throughout life."

Many parents assume, says O'Neal, that "just because their child goes outside to play, they are fit. But supervision, and the right kind of activity is vital."

Parents, she says, should make sure their children are involved in activities incorporating "the three basics of fitness": cardio-vascular endurance, flexibility and strength. (O'Neal, who now sells insurance, teaches these basics to adults at the downtown YMCA.)

Sustained activity that increases the pulse rate, such as running, bicycling, swimming and jumping rope, "allow for development of the cardio-vascular system.

"Stretches are important for flexibility. A kid should be taught that you never jump right into a sport without stretching first. Especially as they're growing, often in spurts, it helps keep their joints and bones on track."

Exercises such as push-ups and pull-ups, she says, "are good for building strength. Even playing on the monkey bars is good. Kids can work out, in moderation, with light 2- and 3-pound weights."

Boys and girls, she claims, can handle the same workout routines. "At certain ages that little girl may be two times stronger than the boy--especially in her legs."

Starting young is "very important. My nephew is six months, and I've got my sister bending his little arms and massaging his little legs. You want fitness to be a daily habit for them, from the time they're babies."

One caution: "Make sure this exercise doesn't hurt." While "adult athletes know there's a certain kind of pain that can be good," she says, "young kids aren't going to get into that. They should be having fun."