INDIANAPOLIS, AUG. 7 -- Thirty-eight nations and the World of Disney are in place for the start of the Pan Am Games Saturday.

Competition does not begin until Sunday, for first there is the multimillion-dollar opening ceremonies at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with hot air balloons, hang gliders and sky divers in a typical Disney production. This comes after several other sideshows earlier in the week.

Chile has protested a delay in a visa for a member of the shooting team, who the United States says is a member of the secret police. Games organizer Mario Vasquez Rana has said the local organizing committee "lacks warmth." And local organizers underestimated the number of beds it would need to accommodate the athletes.

Finally, attention is shifting to the athletes themselves and the games they'll play.

The players range from former Naval Academy center David Robinson, who leads a breathtakingly talented basketball team that should dominate its field, to Carl Lewis, who hopes to set a world record in the long jump, to Greg Louganis, the world's most elegant diver.

"Our goal is for everyone to go home with a medal around their neck," said diving coach Ron O'Brien. "But that doesn't mean it's going to be a cakewalk."

Naturally, there are international talents in every sport that could complicate those medal plans. That includes the presence of Cuba, which has not sent such a major sports delegation to this country since diplomatic relations were broken. But the United States will be helped by the healthy nationalism of this midwestern metropolis, the first U.S. city to host the Pan Am Games since Chicago did in 1959.

And a cakewalk is exactly what everyone is expecting of a basketball team featuring Robinson, Danny Manning of Kansas, Keith Smart of Indiana, Rex Chapman of Kentucky and Fennis Dembo of Wyoming, among others.

As U.S. Coach Denny Crum pointed out, the U.S. team that won the world championships last year lost to Argentina, and then defeated Puerto Rico by just one point. Puerto Rico could be a particular threat, with Gene Bartow as coach and Oregon State's Jose Ortiz at center.

"These guys {the U.S. players} are good enough athletes and they've had enough experience to respond to pressure," Crum said. "Yeah, we're favorites, but that doesn't give you victories. These guys don't want to be the U.S. team that was beaten."

In baseball, the United States is expected to be just that, beaten by an outstanding Cuban team. At stake is more than just reputation: the Americans, led by one-handed pitcher Jim Abbott of Michigan, must place first or second to qualify for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. Abbott, incidentally, will carry the flag in the opening ceremony.

The United States is thought to have a respectable chance after a 3-2 loss to the Cubans in a five-game exhibition series -- the American victories representing the first time in 20 years a U.S. team had beaten Cuba in a game in Cuba. However, the U.S. has major league caliber competition to worry about in pitcher Roberto Garcia and third baseman Omar Linares. The U.S. also lost a five-game series to the Canada, the other chief cotender.

"We need a visit from the Big Guy," said coach Ron Fraser. "We need to play our absolute best."

Boxing has always been a source of bitterly fought competition between the United States and Cuba. This year it maybe even more so than usual. The two countries have 10 world champions between them, seven for Cuba and three for the United States. For the Cuba, which has been ranked No. 1 in the world consistently since 1974 (except for '76 and '84), the chief threats are Jesus Sollet (125 pounds), Candelario Duvergel (147), Pablo Romero (178) and Angel Espinosa (165). American world champions who will contend for medals are Kelcie Banks (125), Kenneth Gould (147) and Darrin Allen (165). A local boxer also is given a medal chance: Andrew Maynard, a 178-pound U.S. Army product who grew up in Palmer Park, Md.

In track and field, Lewis' bid for a long jump world record is a much-anticipated one. He has come close to the record of 29 feet 2 1/2 inches, set by Bob Beamon in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. In fact, it was in this city in 1982 when Lewis jumped 28-10 3/4 in the Olympic Festival. He will forgo the 100- and 200-meter dashes to concentrate on the long jump.

Willie Banks in the triple jump and Greg Foster in the high hurdles are also ones to watch for the U.S. But for Brazil, there is Joaquim Cruz, who won the gold medal at the 1984 Olympics in the 800-meter run. He could outrun Johnny Gray of the United States.

The U.S. women's track and field team should be nearly unbeatable with Valerie Brisco in the 400 and Judi Brown-King in the 400 hurdles. Jackie Joyner-Kersee is seeking the U.S. record for the long jump.

Swimming and diving shape up as more of a U.S. intrasquad meet, with the United States expected to take nearly all medals. With Louganis, Michele Mitchell, Kelly McCormick and the other top divers are here, swimming is less intriguing, with the United States' top swimmers in Brisbane, Australia, for another meet.

The result is that the U.S. team here may be racing the clock. Ones to keep an eye on are Mike O'Brien in the 200-meter backstroke, Debbie Babashoff in the 800 freestyle and Michelle Griglione of Alexandria, Va., in the 200 butterfly.