His last name will be associated with scandal for a long time, but then Jim Gordon Liddy is used to that by now. It isn't likely to, but maybe an Olympic gold medal would remove a bit of the tarnish.

The 25-year-old son of Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy is here to compete in the U.S. Olympic Festival modern pentathlon, which will begin Monday.

A graduate of Fordham and an ensign in the Navy, he is a rookie in the sport, though his athletic skills in other areas and a fervent desire to be an officer in the Navy's SEAL (sea, air and land commandos) corps led him to it. This competition will be his first.

"If you ranked him with our national champions on down, he'd be in the top 20," said John Fitzgerald, executive director of the U.S. Modern Pentathlon Association. "But that doesn't do him justice because he's so new to the sport. Give him two years and he could be in the top three."

But being a modern pentathlete alone was not why the U.S. Olympic Committee media staff arranged a news conference today. "I'll be happy to answer any questions about the sport or about the Navy," said Liddy, who paused then smiled and added, "or about 'the background.' "

Jim Liddy was 11 at the time of the break-in and was 17 when his father's prison sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter in 1978.

"Very much so," Liddy said when asked if he was proud of his father. "He was working for the government, he was given an order and he followed the order through the whole ordeal.

"The low point was during the Watergate years. I was growing up and though there was nothing I couldn't handle, I sure would have liked to have him there. The high point was probably when he got out. He wasn't looked upon as so much of a villain anymore. He was respected for the way he did it. Whether you disagreed with what he did, there was respect for the character."

Jim Liddy said he didn't hear the full story from his father until after prison. Before that, he didn't ask.

"It was something I knew I wasn't supposed to know," he said. "Curious? Yes, but I knew that someday I would know. But I knew my dad was not an evil man, not Darth Vader."

He was asked, if he had been in his father's place in the early '70s, would he have made the same decisions?

"Some decisions, yes, if there is a good reason for it," he said. "It's hard because in hindsight we know there was no reason to bug the Democratic headquarters. If they came to me and said we have to find out this information, we have leaks, and it was my job, then, yes." But what about bugging the Democrats' headquarters?

"If the information was needed for political gain only, I'd have problems with it," he said. "You'd have to ask me the question at the time and I'd need to know the circumstances. But for national security, I wouldn't have a problem."

His father lectures 60 times a year at universities and to business groups, and lately has played roles on NBC's "Miami Vice" and "Airwolf."

"When he first started on the circuit, a lot of people said, 'Why are you paying a burglar?' " Jim Liddy said. "But he paid his dues and he has a family to support and he has something to say."

Jim Liddy said he is like his father in terms of self-discipline.

"He always encouraged that with us," he said of his father, who used to lift weights with his son. "When it comes down to a problem, you tend to deal with the problem, and you're more confident when it comes up again. That was something we've grown up with."

Modern pentathlon involves five disciplines -- equestrian, fencing, swimming, shooting and running. Swimming is young Liddy's best event. He competed in the 1983 National Sports Festival in water polo. After spending 10th grade at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Md., he earned a swimming scholarship to Mercersburg (Pa.) Academy. While there, it was discovered that he has dyslexia.

He had wanted to be a Navy pilot (his fiance is one), but the condition prevented that and may yet keep him from becoming a SEAL. He turned to sports to help him should the Navy decide in his favor.