All it took was one very fast swim this week at the Pan American Games for Ed Moses to forget about the golf scholarship he never earned and to start thinking about the 2000 Olympics instead.
Moses, a 19-year old from Burke who attends the University of Virginia, won the gold medal in the 100 breaststroke on Monday, and his time of 1:00.99 was the fastest in the world this year and the fifth-fastest in history. It was a stunning performance from someone who was swimming in his first international meet, and one that identified him as an Olympic prospect.
"The Olympics have always been the highest goal," Moses said. "But until you get close to it, you don't think about it. [After his performance this week] I've definitely started to think about the Olympics a little more -- how I'm going to prepare for the next year and get ready."
Giving opportunities to promising athletes such as Moses is one of the aims of the Pan Am Games, which concluded this evening with a performance by the Guess Who at the Closing Ceremonies. While many U.S. athletes who will compete in Sydney did not attend, the 18-day competition was a necessary step toward Sydney for some -- the Pan Am Games were an Olympic qualifier for 13 sports, including baseball.
A team of minor league players won the silver medal in baseball, earning an invitation to Sydney for the United States. This is the first time that the Olympics will include professional baseball players, and members of the Pan Am team found the event more rewarding than they expected.
"If I could do something like this again, it would be awesome," U.S. designated hitter John Zuber said after the United States lost to Cuba in the gold medal game. "This experience is so incredible. The intensity level is enormous."
Whether Zuber -- or any of the baseball players who competed here -- will be on the team that plays in Sydney remains to be seen. Only players who were not on a major league 40-man roster were eligible to compete here, and the same goes for the Olympic team.
The United States won the most medals -- 296 total, including 106 gold -- but at times its success was overshadowed by news of defections by Cuban athletes, seven positive drug tests (no U.S. competitors) and the absence of big-name athletes.
"I saw that the media said that the U.S. brought its `B' team," USOC Executive Director Dick Schultz said. "That's not correct. There was a good combination of experienced athletes and athletes who were experiencing international competition for the first time."
In men's basketball, a team of Continental Basketball Association players represented the United States; a squad of NBA stars secured the United States's spot in Sydney last month at the Olympic qualifying tournament in Puerto Rico.
Still, the Pan Am team -- led by Quad City Thunder forward Travis Williams -- advanced to the gold medal game today, where it lost to Brazil, 95-78.
The U.S. men's soccer team won the bronze medal, despite fielding a team that was a collection of under-23, under-20, and under-17 national team players. The women's soccer team won the gold medal with an under-18 team -- players who are hoping to play in the 2004 or 2008 Olympics.
But not every U.S. team here was without its top athletes. The women's softball team that won the gold medal was, according to second baseman Dot Richardson, "the strongest team ever assembled in U.S. women's fastpitch softball."
Nine players from the team that won the gold medal at the 1996 Olympics, including Richardson and pitcher Lisa Fernandez, were here. The United States won 12 games in Winnipeg, stretching its Pan Am unbeaten streak to 42 games. The Americans outscored their opponents, 82-1.
"This was one of the powerhouse teams that the U.S. could put together," Richardson said. "Our Olympic team selection begins September 5, and this is one of our tryouts."
Most of the top American swimmers skipped this meet in order to train for the upcoming Pan Pacific Championships in Sydney. Still, the U.S. swimmers won 37 medals and set six meet records.
"We heard that we were called the `B' team," Moses said. "But that was just a label -- we're competitive athletes here to perform. We wouldn't accept that label. We were going to put it on the line and perform like `A' athletes."
In some sports, the Pan Am Games served as a qualifying competition for the 2000 Games in Sydney. A look at which U.S. teams qualified in selected events:
Heading for Australia
Baseball won silver medal
Men's water polo won gold medal
Equestrian show jumping team won silver medal
Triathlon gained right to send three men and three women
Cycling earned berths in women's points race, women's individual pursuit, men's match sprint and men's keirin
Shooting earned berths in men's free pistol, men's prone rifle, men's three-position rife, men's air rifle, men's double trap, men's air pistol and women's sport pistol
Men's field hockey needed the gold medal but finished fifth
Men's team handball needed the gold medal but finished fourth
Women's team handball needed the gold medal but finished fourth