Competing With an Eye Toward Down Under

Nearly everyone who stands on the medals podium at the Pan American Games in Winnipeg will be thinking about another place and another event: Sydney, and the 2000 Olympics.

The countdown to Sydney begins for many U.S. athletes during the next three weeks at the Pan Am Games. The Americans are expected to dominate the medals race and will be especially focused on 10 sports whose results have a bearing on qualifying for the Summer Games.

In addition to baseball, the others with direct Olympic implications are softball, in which the U.S. team is an overwhelming favorite; men's water polo; men's and women's team handball; men's and women's field hockey; equestrian; rhythmic gymnastics; triathlon; and badminton.

Oh, yes, women's soccer makes its debut at the Pan Am Games. Brandi, Briana and Mia won't be on hand, but the future stars of the sport that has grabbed headlines this summer will be.

The highest level of competition in all sports figures to come in boxing -- in which Cuba, as usual, will be heavily favored -- and track and field. Despite lucrative track meets in Europe, some top-level runners and jumpers will be in Winnipeg for the games, which begin Friday.

Cuban jumpers Javier Sotomayor and Ivan Pedroso are entered. So is 1996 Olympic 20-kilometer walk champion Jefferson Perez of Ecuador. Latin American teams also have sent strong contingents in the distance runs, particularly the marathon.

"Cuba can beat any baseball team in the world," says Alfonso Urquiola, who managed Cuba to a victory over the Orioles in an exhibition game this year in Baltimore.

With Cuba so strong in the U.S. national pastime, it puts extra pressure on the Americans to at least get a silver medal. The top two teams in Winnipeg qualify for Sydney. Imagine an Olympics with no U.S. baseball team. But it could happen. The American team is made up of minor leaguers, and not all of them are top prospects after several players turned down invitations.


Hill Will Finish 1999 Season

Damon Hill has announced he will carry on in Formula One until the end of the 1999 season.

The announcement ends nearly a month of uncertainty. Hill confirmed he was retiring at the end of the season, then hinted that he would go immediately after a disastrous French Grand Prix, his fifth failure to finish in seven races. The Englishman also had been eclipsed by teammate Heinz-Harald Frentzen, who won the French race.

Hill was persuaded to change his mind after meeting with team owner Eddie Jordan. The 38-year-old former world champion said Wednesday: "I am looking forward to helping the Jordan team achieve their highest-ever Constructors' Championship position."

A Successful Start

European champion Manchester United began its preseason tour of Australia and the Far East on Thursday with a 2-0 victory over the Australian national team in Melbourne.

Jesper Blomqvist and Nicky Butt both scored superb individual goals before 70,000 at Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The teams meet again today at Sydney's Olympic Stadium before United travels to play in China.

Blomqvist, a Swedish international, opened the scoring a minute before halftime when he volleyed a shot past goalkeeper Michael Petkovic, who was making his international debut. Australia's regular goalkeeper, Mark Bosnich, kept goal for United for the first time since moving from Aston Villa. Butt sealed the win in the 76th minute with a curling strike from just outside the box.

It was United's first game since securing the European Cup. "It was nice to get back into the swing of things," said Butt, named man of the match. "We really needed that game under our belts."


Bebeto Arrives

Brazilian player Bebeto has signed with Mexican soccer team Toros Neza. Bebeto was among the players who helped Brazil win the 1994 World Cup championship in the United States.


Renouf Departs

On Thursday, Australian international rugby star Steve Renouf signed a two-year contract with British club Wigan after failing to reach terms with the Brisbane Broncos.

Renouf, 28, is a free agent and commands no fee for his transfer.

His contract with Brisbane expires at the end of this season and he is expected to arrive in the United Kingdom in December. Wigan Chairman Peter Norbury described the deal as a "truly world-class player joining the best club in the world."

Renouf was initially unwilling to move to the UK, because he had been unable to make arrangements for the pets that his wife keeps on their ranch near Brisbane.

The player's agent, Barry Collins, said, "They have a house on 50 acres and his wife, Melissa, has a camel, a sheep, a deer and a goat and they are all hand-fed." But arrangements now have been made for the animals and his wife feels able to make the move.


Edwards Hops to Victory

Four years after setting a world triple-jump record, Britain's Jonathan Edwards returned to Spain to score another impressive triumph in the Salamanca Grand Prix track meet.

With a jump of 58 feet 1 inch, Edwards beat Cuba's Yoelbi Quesada by a whopping 17 inches Thursday.

Four years ago in this meet, Edwards set a world record of 59 feet and pushed it to 60 later the same year in Goteborg, Sweden. Although he didn't threaten his mark Thursday night, he dominated the field, leaving Quesada in arrears at 56-8.

With the unexplained absence of Olympic silver medalist James Beckford of Jamaica, Spain's Yago Lamela won the long jump at 27-2. Portugal's Carlos Calado was second at 26-2.

Lamela said competing without Beckford made him feel "alone and without rivals," and prevented the "competitiveness needed for great jumps."

Australia's Tatiana Grigorieva won the women's pole vault at 14-9, then failed on two attempts to set a world record at 15-1.

Americans Sail to Keep Admiral's Cup

The United States has sent a strong team to defend its title in the Admiral's Cup, the unofficial world championship of offshore yacht racing in Cowes, Isle of Wight. Two years ago, the Americans won the trophy for the first time since 1969. They were among the favorites going into the 10-day regatta, which began Wednesday.

Eight other teams will compete for the Admiral's Cup, which comprises eight races in a test of seamanship unparalleled in the world yachting calendar. Also entered are crews from Britain, Australia, Italy, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the British Commonwealth and a combined European team.

The unique format of the competition has brought together some of the world's best yachtsmen. U.S. skipper Jim Brady, tactician on "Idler," left, is one of six America's Cup sailors on board the 50-footer, which is already rated the fastest in the water among the 27-yacht fleet. The two other American boats in the fleet are the 40-foot "Blue Yankee" and the 36-foot "Ciao Baby."

CAPTION: A workman puts finishing touches on a banner for Pan Am Games, which will determine participants in 2000 Summer Olympics for several sports.