INDIANAPOLIS -- No longer children, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Carl Lewis still find jumping into sandboxes a thrill. So do the rest of us, who would follow them if we could. Simple pleasures yield grand experiences.

For all the drum rolls and flag waving, international Games really do begin as games. Kids running, fast and far, and suddenly realizing there is a heap of glory waiting at the tape. Just for the fun of it.

"The first award I ever got," Joyner-Kersee said after tying the world record in the long jump Thursday night at the Pan American Games, "was in the Junior Olympics. I was 9. I finished last in the 400 and got a ribbon."

Chirped her husband/coach Bob: "She's probably still got it."

The core events of the Olympics and their warmup shows are the most basic human movements. Although we eventually graduate into baseball, or something else fairly complicated, we work at the Olympic stuff first.

We walk (though thankfully not in Olympic style); then we run, which leads to jumping over things and into them. Later comes strutting across the backs of couches (the balance beam in women's gymnastics) and swinging from limbs of trees (the high and uneven bars).

"I started swimming the same way every kid does," said Silvia Poll. Meaning she hopped in the water and started flailing away. With three individual golds and eight medals in all, the Costa Rican is the dominant female swimmer of these Pan Am Games.

Against a brother or the kid down the block, we wrestle. No step-over-toeholds or dropkicks, naturally, same as the Olympics. Sometimes, fists tighten and the opening round of Olympic-type boxing begins.

"The first fight I ever had was in the third grade," said the U.S. entry here at 112 pounds, Arthur Johnson. He hesitated for nearly a minute, then said: "I'm very embarrassed. It was against a girl. And she won the fight."

If we can execute a few of these skills and have learned to talk without saying a whole lot, chances are decent for becoming an international sports official. Or perhaps you haven't heard the unofficial cheer for the International Olympic Committee: "Two . . . four . . . six . . . eight; boy how we can obfuscate."

The woman who soared highest at these 10th Pan Ams got started in the high jump because she wasn't allowed to play football.

"That always got me mad," said Colleen Sommer after clearing a bar about as far off the ground (6 feet 5 1/2 inches) as Wes Unseld's hair. "Not being allowed to play in Pop Warner or Pee Wee football.

"I started {in track and field} in junior high, because it was the only sport offered for girls. But I got into the high jump only by accident.

"I had a girlfriend who did it and suggested I try. I was kind of embarrassed, because it involved going over where the boys were. Anyway, I outjumped her and said to myself: 'This is what you're doing, whether you want to or not.' "

Sommer, 27, was a farm kid in Idaho, outdoors nearly all the time, with four brothers who also were athletic and helped kindle her zest for competition.

So long ago in such an obscure place, there were no halfway-scary thoughts about another lanky teen in, say, Ohio, training just a little bit harder to jump a wee bit higher.

Now there is.

That's what stirs every world-class athlete in track and field; that's what keeps fans in a constant state of anticipation: somebody you never heard of, in a mostly-ignored plot on the planet, preparing to leap into orbit.

Lewis had it done to him earlier this year. For most of the '80s, he was assumed to be the only long jumper capable of breaking the toughest record of them all: Bob Beamon's 29-2 1/2 set at altitude at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968.

For perspective, that was exactly two feet longer than the Pan Am record Ralph Boston had set a year earlier. It took 19 years for anyone to clear 29 feet again -- and the man with pistons disguised as legs who did it was not Carl Lewis. The second 29-footer was a Soviet, Robert Emmiyan.

Sunday, Lewis is going to try to jump farther into the sandbox than anyone in history. Beyond Emmiyan's footprints, he hopes. And Beamon's.

Nobody can predict anything so momentous, of course. That would be somewhat like a scientist grabbing a soda bottle out of the trash can and walking out the door saying: "Think I'll go catch a bolt of lightning."

Still, some signs for Lewis Sunday afternoon are hopeful. Lewis loves the track here. It's where he jumped 28-10 1/4 and ran 200 meters in 19.75 seconds in the 1983 national championships.

"It's a very hard track," said another exceptional jumper, Willie Banks. "It's not a training track; it's a competition track. You wouldn't want to be on it day after day, because it gives you tremendous feedback.

"The noon start would really help, if there's sunshine and a little breeze. This is the place for it to happen."

Also, there are several athletes capable of making Lewis concentrate even harder. Larry Myricks and Cuban Jaime Jefferson might force Lewis into something extraordinary just to win the event.

"If they can get 28," Banks said, "if they can put Carl in a shaky position on the fifth and sixth jumps, I'll put my money on a {world} record. And I'm not a gamblin' man."