Andy Toro sees the challenge clearly. To him it is black and white, as well as gold, silver and bronze.

Soviet athletes, in the absence of competitors from the United States and approximately 50 other boycotting countries, won a record 197 medals in last summer's Moscow Olympics: 80 gold, 70 silver, 47 bronze.

The conventional wisdom is that no country can appraoch those totals in an Olympics in which all the major sports powers take part.;

Andy Toro would like to see about that.;

He would like American athletes to make it their business over the next four years to dispute that notion.

He would like the media to start beating the drums for a sporting challenge in 1984.

Andy Toro, 40, competed in canoeing for his native Hungary in the 1960 and 1964 Olympics. He defected after the Tokyo Games, was an adviser to the U.S. team in 1968 while awaiting American citizenship, and competed for his adopted country in the 1972 and 1976 Games.

An active member of the U.S. Olympic Committee Athletes Advisory Council, representing the canoe and kayak federation, he was a vocal opponent of the boycott of the Moscow Olympics. Toro was chief architect of an alternative plan that called for the U.S. team to go to Moscow and protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan there, on Russian soil.

This athlete's proposal was rejected last April by the USOC House of Delegates when, bowing to heavy pressure from the White House, it voted for the first time not to send an American team to the Olympics.

"Some of us are still angry about the boycott -- most of all about the way it was forced down our throats -- but we have accepted it," Toro says. "It was a bad experience, but there's no sense dwelling on it. We have to look forward and go forward. We have to rebuild our programs, replace the athletes who retired, and fill the vacuum the boycott left.

"The 80 gold medals that the Soviet Union won is the record now. That is the standard. We created that monster by our nonparticipation, and now we want to accept the challenge of topping it. This should stimulate the athletes, the USOC, and the public, which supports amateur sports in this country with donations."

William E. Simon, the former U.S. Treasury secretary and new president of the USOC, was a staunch supporter of the boycott. He thinks it was a necessary and effective foreign policy measure that got a message across to the Soviet Union that further agression would not be tolerated. He feels the boycott had few significant repercussions for the Olympic movement.

Not surprisingly, Toro disagrees.

"In retrospect, I think we would have gained a lot more by going to Moscow and protesting than we did by staying home. The Russians covered up the reasons for our nonparticipation, and then set an incredible precedent of winning gold medals and showing the world that their system can produce this kind of a result. I think we played right into their propaganda efforts," he says.

"I have a feeling the American public thinks we gained an awful lot by the boycott, that we really showed muscle and political power by this and it was very effective. But those of us in the athletic arena, not the political arena, know it backfired on us. The boycotting countries lost important positions and appointments in the international sports federations that met in Moscow, and that will hurt in the future. In the sports where judging and refereeing are important, Eastern Bloc officials will remember the boycott. You can't take it out of their minds.

"And in some sports, the athletes lost contact with their competition," he says. "There is a vacuum there, and it's going to be very hard to fill, in my opinion, because no other competition is like the Olympics. Nothing else has the same pressure, the same atmosphere. It is going to be difficult to make up for that 'lost generation.'"

That is why Toro wants to play up the challenge: to motivate a new generation of American athletes.

"In the past, Americans have paid attention to the Olypmic sports only for two weeks every four years. The Games were like the blossoming of some wonderful wild desert flower -- for four years, nothing, and then there would be this unbelievable two-week focus of attention, and everybody says, 'Isn't this beautiful?' That would motivate a whole new generation, but in 1980 we didn't have that," says Toro.

"The challenge is not just two weeks in 1984. It is now. We need more awareness of how athletes get to the Olympic Games, the training it takes to get there. We need to pay more attention to world championships and other international competition. We have to be hungry for this, because this will lead to better performance in 1984.

"To rebuild, we have to have more international competition to try to plug up the vacuum.The USOC and the national governing bodies (of the various Olympic sports) are trying to do this. Obviously, without international experience, we are not going to have the result we would like in 1984."

Although the athletes who lost the chance to compete in 1980 can never get it back, proper training, international preparation and motivation can minimize the impact of the "lost generation."

"I think you'll see the same improvement in performance in 1984 that you would have seen in the United States had participated in Moscow, and moved up the standards of 1976," says Chris Knepp. He is a former catcher for the University of North Carolina baseball team and is now a labor lawyer in Houston and chairman of the Athletes Advisory Council.

"Some of the individuals will be different, the names will have changed, and that has to be painful to the athletes who missed out, but I don't think you'll see 1980 performance levels in 1984. We'll improve on what would have ben in 1980. Our people had put in the training. They were ready to compete."

Many experts think that the United States would have fielded its most formidable Olympic team ever in Moscow. Under the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, enacted by Congress and signed by former President Carter, the USOC has been designated the coordinating body for all amateur sports on the programs of the Olympic and Pan American games. The USOC and the national governing bodies of the sports under its umbrella have provided increasingly ambitious training programs and facilities for American athletes.

These efforts gained impetus with the shift of USOC headquarters from New York to a former U.S. Air Force base in Colorado Springs in 1978, and the subsequent opening of the Olympic Training Center and the National Governing Body Building (which now houses 13 organizations, with more to come) on the same site in the scenic Pikes Peak region.

The Training Center, where some athletes live and work year-round and others come for concentrated periods of training, has among its facilities an Olympic track and sophisticated physiology and biomechanics labs, the focal point of a growing sports medicine research program. Construciton is scheduled to begin this spring on a $4.5 million multi-purpose gymnasium.

The USOC's $17.2 million budget for the 1981-84 quadrennium designates funds for increased use of the Training Center and expansion of the sports medicine program. The priority is on applying biomechanical and physiological research to individual athletes, so that they can use it to improve their technique and performance.

The recently approved budget also calls for $15 million in development grants for the national governing bodies to fund their programs, compared with $8.3 million in the last quadrennium.

Another $6 million has been designated to train and prepare American athletes for the 1984 Games, compared to $3.2 million in the 1977-80 period. There will be special emphasis on upgrading team sports in which the U.S. has not traditionally done well. Since the United States is host to the 1984 Games, American teams are automatically entered in all 21 summer sports, exempt from preliminary qualifying.

The USOC has initiated, and is expanding, a program urging corporations to hire athletes for positions in which they can pursue a career and still maintain a regular training program, and get time off for competition without loss of pay. It has increased its "broken time" payments, reimbursing athletes for income lost during periods of intensive pre-Games training and the Olympics themselves.

All this activity should have reached a four-year peak last year, but instead the boycott introduced new obstacles, thwarted the momentum that had been built and disillusioned athletes who saw their ultimate goal disappear.

Many athletes felt the way sprinter Evelyn Ashford did after she incurred a hamstring injury last May. "My leg really hurt, but I thought, 'Big deal, I'm not going to the Olympics anyway.' In fact, I think that because I knew there'd be no Games for me, I had no incentive to prevent the injury. iThe boycott literally tore me apart," she told Kenny Moore of Sports Illustrated recently.

"Almost everything I'd done in the last few years had been for the goal of getting to the Olympics and winning some gold medals. That's why I dropped out of UCLA. That's why I didn't do interviews. I just wanted to concentrate on being the best in the world. So when I found out I couldn't go, I just gave up."

Other athletes who had sacrificed careers and social lives, delaying other pursuits in an elusive quest for athletic excellence, felt just as disappointed. Some will have another chance, if they are willing to invest four more years of their lives. Others lost their last, or only, chance to realize an Olympian dream.

"There are so many things you have to contend with as an athlete training for the Olympics: financial problems, social problems, self-doubts," says Peter Schnugg, 29, who was a member of the U.S. water polo team. "A lot of people don't accept amateur sports as a legitimate endeavor for someone who's 25 or 30 years old. The attitude is kind of, 'When are you going to grow up?'

"There are a lot of hurdles to overcome, a lot of reasons to question why you're doing this, and the boycott just added one more element of doubt. Now as you prepare, you have to wonder if there will be an Olympics at the end of all the training."

Schnugg had been striving for more than a dozen years. He was an alternate on the 1972 Olympic team, but didn't get to play. In 1976 he was on the U.S. team that was eliminated in the qualifications. In 1980, he was a mainstay of a team ranked No. 2 in the world, favored to win a medal before the boycott intervened. He has retired to a long-postponed career with the Trammell Crow Company, California investor-builders.

Ashford is competing again. Giving up wasn't as satisfying as training, despite the disappointment of the boycott.

Sixty percent of the U.S. women's volleyball team has, after considerable soul-searching, returned for another try. They sacrificed more than most athletes for 1980, having spent 2 1/2 years living and training together in Colorado Springs. Unranked at the outset, they were favored to win a medal in the Moscow Games. But dreams die hard. Most of them are coming back, still driven to become the best.

"Across the board, we were looking at a vast improvement in our performance if we had accepted the invitation to Moscow," says Col. F. Don Miller, executive director of the USOC, who has built an efficient staff and organization in Colorado Springs. "That's the position I keep addressing: that we must build from that solid foundation we had attained, and develop the best team in our history for 1984.

"I know this might sound political, but I'm sure the Soviet Union and the other Socialist countries would get great satisfaction and propaganda value from coming to Los Angeles in 1984 and knocking us on our tails. We've got to do everything possible to counteract that, for a number of reasons.

"The Olympic Games only involve a relatively small number of world-class athletes, but every one of them who is successful motivates thousands of youth," Miller said. "The Los Angeles Games are going to be very important to the grass-roots programs in amateur sports in this country, programs that can be very beneficial to individuals and to society. If you've got that broad base, and the programs for advancement, the elite will come naturally to the top."

And so, Andy Toro talks about the challenge. He reminds American athletes that the Soviet record is out there to be assailed in 1984. That is political, too.

Many Olympic officials think that nationalism should be de-emphasized at the Games. The Olympic Congress in Baden-Baden, West Germany, in September will hear proposals to do away with national flags and anthems; to have athletes march in ceremonies grouped according to sport rather than country, and to hold the Olympics every four years at a permanent site in Greece, which would be designated as an international zone like the United Nations. All in the name of keeping politics out of sport, and all virtually certain to be rejected.

"I personally kind of dislike the 'medal counts,' but every newspaper in the world prints them," says Andy Toro. "Those are the results, the basis of comparison. The public wants that, and relates to it. They want to see how we did in comparison with Montreal, and speculate on how we would have done in Moscow."

The Olympics, after all, are competitive. The "Olympic spirit" embodies high ideals of brotherhood and sisterhood, peace and goodwill and friendship among nations, but it starts with an impulse within individual athletes. A desire to excel, to be the best. To struggle and to triumph.