For two weeks last summer, U.S. athletes ran and jumped and swam and fought their way into a whole nation's consciousness. Each day of the purely American XXIII modern Olympiad proved to be a California gold rush for one American after another: Carl Lewis winning four gold medals, a la Jesse Owens; Edwin Moses, winning the hurdles as expected. Who could forget 4-foot-9 Mary Lou Retton stealing everyone's heart with a mighty leap and a winning smile?

No one, if America's advertising specialists, sports agents and business managers have their say. In the six months since Los Angeles, U.S. Olympic athletes have plunged into a different kind of competition but still one with high stakes. This time, the object is greenbacks, not gold. The selling of the stars commenced with the closing of the Games.

The Games' most marketable heroes have been publicized and packaged, none more successfully than Retton. When it comes to commercial opportunities, she has scored another perfect 10. A handful of other Olympians have met with marketing success to varying degrees, among them swimmers Steve Lundquist and Rowdy Gaines; Mitch Gaylord and other men's gymnasts, and marathoner Joan Benoit, who does pineapple commercials.

But not everyone has had the world come calling. Triple gold-medal winner Valerie Brisco-Hooks typifies a whole host of Olympic athletes waiting for commercial breakthroughs. Lewis waits.

Other Olympic stars have encountered difficult times. Moses was named winner of Sports Illustrated's "Sportsman of the Year" award for 1984. Last month, he was charged with soliciting a female police officer for prostitution; he has pleaded innocent. Super-heavyweight boxing champion Tyrell Biggs recently was released from a hospital after three weeks of treatment for "alcohol and drug abuse." He reportedly had been suffering from depression.

The majority of U.S. Olympic athletes has merely dropped from sight.

When it comes to cashing in on Olympic fame, nobody's done it better this time around than Mary Lou Retton.

She's landed right onto the front of Wheaties boxes, a commercial achievement to match her individual all-around gold in gymnastics. According to her manager -- a manager or agent can be more important than a coach once an athlete has won an Olympic medal -- that makes her the "first female ever" and only "the third spokesperson in the history of Wheaties."

Besides soaring into the select company of Bob Richards and Bruce Jenner, Retton, 16, also has signed up with McDonald's and Vidal Sassoon, says John Traetta, Retton's New York-based manager. And that's not all.

Later this year, Retton will have her own clothing line aimed at girls 6 to 16. "An original, active-wear clothing line," says Traetta. "The key word is active-wear."

She's been to Japan and endorsed a clothing line there.

Coming: a Mary Lou Retton exercise casette "geared for children," Traetta relates. What's planned, he says, are "Saturday morning (television), three-minute 'drop-in' segments of Mary Lou Retton showing kids how to exercise."

If Traetta speaks excitedly, it's no wonder -- with Retton, he's become the Bela Karolyi of managers and agents. Karolyi coached Retton to the gold. Now Traetta has taken the darling of the Games, and its most marketable hero, and swung enough deals reportedly to have made her a millionaire already.

Advertising Age says the marketing of Retton "is shaping up to be the most successful venture in sports history."

Meanwhile, Retton continues to train under Karolyi in Houston. This week, she completed a three-city gymnastics tour (Oakland, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City) called "The Vidal Sassoon Looking Good Tour," and Feb. 22-23 will appear at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in the "McDonald's Gymnastics Team Challenge," to be televised by NBC.

Then comes the American Cup, March 2-3 in Indianapolis. She'll be going for a third straight title.

"She's really a great kid," Traetta says. "When you travel with somebody a lot, it's nice to travel with somebody with a good disposition, who keeps everything in perspective. I've known her for three years. She hasn't changed."

But Traetta says it is "impossible" to speak with Retton.

She is "in training," has been in "a high-intensity period" and her schedule has been "reduced." She is "not granting interviews."

"I'm going to be in the 1988 Hot Tub Olympics," Steve Lundquist, winner of two gold medals at Los Angeles, said with a laugh. "I'm training very hard for that."

No question, Lundquist is an ex-swimmer. But he and teammate Gaines have been plenty busy testing other waters.

Like a dozen or so Olympic athletes, Lundquist and Gaines have done extremely well having their fame marketed. They haven't hit the jackpot like Retton, but which Olympian has?

"It's been almost like a political campaign, what they've been through," says their agent, Parkes Brittain of Advantage International, a sports marketing, management and financial services company located in Washington.

Lundquist can be seen on TV in Vidal Sassoon shampoo commercials, "a significant affiliation for him," according to Brittain. He's done publicity for a swimming and ski resort in Colorado, been a featured attraction on a Caribbean "fitness cruise" and appeared on the cover of an Atlanta department store catalog.

He's signed with a New York modeling agency, appeared in the Calvin Klein fragrance ads and signed a contract with a swim products distributor.

Lundquist endorses swim caps and Gaines endorses goggles for Leader Sports.

Lundquist also will endorse a system of portable weights, which can be filled with water. "To keep in shape on the road," Brittain says.

Lundquist has been traveling: the Virgin Islands, Los Angeles, Dallas, Colorado . . . They're all a long way from Lundquist's home town of Jonesboro, Ga., population 2,000.

He's hoping for a Hollywood career and is settling in Los Angeles to enroll in acting school.

"Our policy, and Steve's policy," Brittain says, "is to do as much as he can with the medals. (But) his primary objective is not to diminish the dignity of the medals . . . So for that reason he does pay attention to his charities work."

Lundquist has worked for the Autistic Children's Society, the March of Dimes and United Way.

He's given "inspirational-type" speeches for several firms' sales meetings, says Brittain.

"Steve's message is extraordinary in the history of athletics," Brittain says. "He worked so hard. Then there was the (1980) boycott. He retired, gave up. Then he came back. And the message he's been able to deliver with a punch when he pulls out the gold medal."

Brittain says his hope for Lundquist and Gaines is "to translate their Olympic success into another arena . . . The translation process will only be successful for a limited number of Olympic athletes . . . I think with Rowdy and Steve we have been able to maximize their opportunities in the commercial market."

Busy as he is, Lundquist won't forget the "high" he experienced at the Olympics, especially "how the country came together in such a big hurry. Never have I seen the country pull together like that. A chest-broadening experience."

Olympic athletes have been made to feel appreciated, he says. After a taping of TV's "Family Feud," Lundquist said he and other Olympians received a standing ovation from the audience, which people with the show told them had never happened in its nine years.

"The high is still meeting people, and then you pull out the medal," says Lundquist.

One might think that the 6-2 Lundquist, tanned and blond, looks completely comfortable in that Vidal Sassoon commercial, the one in which he's resting on a raft in a pool and remarks, "Now my hair can be as gorgeous as the rest of me."

Well, says Lundquist, that pool "was about 5 degrees. They said relax. I was freezing to death."

Valerie Brisco-Hooks might have been the women's track star of the Los Angeles Olympics, winning three gold medals, but so far she's representative of the great majority of Olympic athletes -- even many winners. They haven't been able to capitalize financially on their accomplishments.

But Brisco-Hooks, 24, believes she might yet.

"I'm not disappointed," she says. "People didn't know who I was before the Games. I was virtually unknown. People have to see who I am and have to see if what I did in the Games was legit. If I have a good season this year, then maybe I'll get some things -- commercials and other endorsements."

She said she does not believe fewer endorsements have come to her because she is black. Some opportunities are being "finalized," she says, and more would come as she becomes better known. Joe Steranka of ProServ, a marketing firm located in Washington that has her as a client, agrees that by staying active, Brisco-Hooks can capitalize better on her Olympic achievements.

"I don't think the black-white thing is an issue," says Steranka. "It depends really on the athlete. In Valerie's case, she has the personality and charisma. I think she'll do well in terms of personal endorsements she'll get. A case in point is Michael Jordan. He is probably one of the hottest properties we've ever had."

So Brisco-Hooks -- she's married to former pro football player Alvin Hooks -- continues to run, though she's already got the Olympic gold in the 400 and the 200 and for running the third leg on the 4x400 relay team. But she's not solely motivated by the possibilities of making money. "I haven't been into track and field that long," she says. She believes she's still peaking and hopes to make the 1988 U.S. Olympic team.

Meanwhile, Brisco-Hooks, who grew up in the Watts section of Los Angeles and still lives there, spends most of her time with her 3-year-old son Alvin Jr. She took a year off from track after his birth to "watch him grow." In the afternoons, she works out. Last Saturday night in Dallas, she set the indoor best in the 440. Outdoors in the spring, she'll be chasing the 200-meter record.

Personal satisfaction, if not wealth, has come her way since the Olympics, mostly from talking with youngsters and especially when she returned to visit her elementary and high schools.

She tells them to "study hard, have a dream and believe in themselves, and they can succeed, too."

"It's satisfying knowing that one person could find something to do, like run," she says. "Even one person, giving a person hope.

"I was once like that, not really having anything to do. Or later, being a mother, and being able to come back."

Then came the Olympics, and the touching scenes after victory: embracing her husband, being congratulated by her excited coach until they both tumbled to the ground, her tears on the victory stand.

"That was the ultimate in my life," she says.

Although he won four gold medals to match Jesse Owens' feat in 1936, Carl Lewis ran into unexpected criticism and some bad luck during the Games.

Lewis was widely criticized for passing four jumps after a winning leap of 28 feet 1/4 inch in the long jump. Many people had hoped to see Lewis break Bob Beamon's mark of 29-2 1/2 -- including Peter Ueberroth, president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee.

"I would have liked to have seen him jump one more time and get the record," Ueberroth said, though Lewis said conditions were not right for such an attempt and that his primary goal was to win four gold medals.

Lewis seemed star-crossed. At his biggest moment, when he won his fourth gold in the 4x100 relay, ABC did not televise the event live.

More bad luck: He returned home to Houston from the Games, only to find that his house had been entered and his collection of Waterford crystal smashed.

But Lewis -- who could not be reached for comment -- is persevering, according to his personal manager, Joe Douglas, coach of the Santa Monica Track Club.

Douglas says Lewis has endorsed a sports drink sold in Japan and other countries, although not the United States; promotes Nike apparel; has an agreement with a company that's developing an animated character "after Carl Lewis' image," and does sports projects for a Houston television station.

Douglas says Lewis turned down two offers to do public relations, with an oil company and a conglomerate, because they didn't fit in with his training schedule.

But Lewis, as well as the other Olympians still active in their sports, commands large sums of money to compete. A world-class performer such as Lewis can earn $5,000 to $10,000 for participating in certain meets.

"His main goal is to improve his mark in the long jump and one of the sprints," Douglas says of Lewis.

He added that the Carl Lewis Foundation to help disadvantaged youth began operation last month.

What upsets Douglas is his belief that Lewis has received "a bad press."

"We feel some of the press, I don't know if defamed is the right word but, slanted their views and used incorrect facts in giving Carl bad publicity . . .

"Maybe he's too intelligent for some of the press."

Douglas also disagreed with Sports Illustrated's choice of Moses as its Sportsman of the Year.

"If they really want to honor the world's greatest athlete, there's no doubt that it's Carl Lewis," says Douglas.

"It's a free country. They can do what they want."

Besides the "slap in the face by Sports Illustrated," he adds, there is "the other by The Athletic Congress, our national governing body," referring to Benoit being voted the Jesse Owens Memorial Award. "She's very deserving, but if you're talking about the world's greatest athlete, that dilutes the award."

Douglas says Lewis doesn't have to take just any endorsement to get visibility or money.

"He does not have to take it financially," Douglas said. "He will not endorse something until we find something he wants. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. We think Carl Lewis will have a long life . . . three or four years in active competition."