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Basketball: Final Frames Of the Olympic Games

2 minute read
Lee Griggs, Kumiko Makihara and Ellie Mcgrath/Seoul

For U.S. basketballers, Seoul proved to be a painful split decision. The American women, sparked by 1984 veterans Anne Donovan and Teresa Edwards, broke away against Yugoslavia to win their second straight gold medal, 77-70. “This one’s more special than ’84,” said Donovan. “All the best teams were here, especially the Russians.” The U.S. rolled over the Soviet women in the semifinals, 102-88, and the gold-medal game was largely an anticlimax. The U.S. men, surprisingly, never made it to the finals. Despite having eight first-round N.B.A. draft picks on the team, they were ambushed in the semis by a seasoned Soviet squad, 82-76. Led by their 7-ft. 3-in. center Arvidas Sabonis and a veteran corps of deadeye 3-point shooters, the Soviets used superior height and a 25-lb.-per-man weight advantage to jam the lanes with a sagging zone defense and thwart U.S. drives on the basket. U.S. coach John Thompson had loaded up on defensive players in picking his team, and since his best outside shooter was benched with an injury, there was no credible U.S. threat from beyond the 3-point line. The Soviets went on to beat Yugoslavia for the gold, while the Americans, “playing for pride,” as Thompson put it, blew out Australia, 78-49, for the bronze in their worst Olympic finish ever. Failure in Seoul has fueled the argument that N.B.A. pros, currently banned under amateur rules, should be allowed to play in the Olympics. The International Amateur Basketball Federation is expected to clear the way next spring for some N.B.A. players to compete at Barcelona in 1992.

There was also a split for the U.S. volleyball teams. The women finished a disappointing seventh, but the men, who have been training as a unit since 1985, crushed the Soviets for gold. “We have special cohesion from working together over a long period of time,” explains powerful spiker Steve Timmons.

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