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Strug might take gold medal on tour

Olympic champion Kerri Strug may be coming soon to a town near you. As a pro.

Strug said for the first time Thursday that she is considering giving up her scholarship to UCLA and instead cashing in on her newfound fame.

Plenty of lucrative offers are pouring in, but the big question is whether she'll join five U.S. teammates she helped lead to gold on a nationwide post-Olympics tour.

"For so long, I've always thought everything was set," said Strug, who accepted the scholarship more than a year ago, but deferred admission until this fall. "Now I'm getting a lot of persuasion from everyone. We've gotten some really exciting offers, which is like an unbelievable dream come true. So it's pretty tempting."

THEY'RE BACK: Two athletes who failed recent drug tests will compete in the Games even though world track officials wanted them kicked out.

The council of the International Amateur Athletic Federation submitted the cases of Australian sprinter Dean Capobianco and Italian high jumper Antonella Bevilacqua to arbitration.

The hearings will be held by the IAAF arbitration panel two or three months after the Games, meaning the athletes are eligible to compete in Atlanta.

If the athletes are found guilty by the arbitration panel, their Olympic results will be wiped off the books retroactively, the IAAF said. If Capobianco or Bevilacqua win medals in Atlanta, they could be stripped of them months later.

BANKROLLING: Last summer, Dikembe Mutombo, who recently signed a five-year, $55-million contract with the Atlanta Hawks, agreed to bankroll the Zaire women's basketball team. When he saw the women at practice in worn sweats and sneakers, he discovered what that entailed.

"I just couldn't believe it," Mutombo said. "I was like, "What's going on here?' I thought all I have to buy is the game uniform and the game tennis shoes. But some of the girls came with shoes they been playing on for two years.

"I said, "No. In the NBA I change about 120 pair a year.'

"And I went downtown and got the shoes the following day. Now they have shoes and uniforms, everything new. I told them to burn everything they brought with them."

FROM RUSSIA, WITH HELP: When the vaunted sports dynasty of the Soviet Union competed for the last time as a unified team at the Barcelona Games four years ago, many Russians feared their country's tradition as a great gold-medal machine was threatened with extinction. But money from American shoe company Reebok has helped keep it alive.

The company signed a four-year contract worth close to $10-million a year with the Russian Olympic committee, 23 of the country's sports federations and nearly all of the 450 Russian athletes at the Games. Reebok provides all shoes, clothing and other equipment to the Russian team, as well as financial support.

AILING IN ATLANTA: Swedish high jumper Patrik Sjoberg, winner of two silver medals and one bronze in the past three Olympics, pulled out of the Games because of injury. Swedish offcials said Sjoberg strained a thigh muscle in training for the high jump, which begins today.

Another casualty was South African marathon runner Xolile Yawa, who withdrew after suffering a stress fracture of his femur while training in New Mexico, a team spokesman said.

TEED OFF: A T-shirt slogan spotted at Centennial Park: "Don't overcharge me, I'm a local."

VAN ALMSICK BLASTS MEDIA: German swimming star Franziska van Almsick accused the American media of waging a nasty campaign against Ireland's triple gold medalist Michelle Smith.

Smith's successes have prompted questioning about the rapid improvement in her times. She has denied using performance-enhancing drugs.

"I think it is nasty," said van Almsick. "I think everybody who is involved in sport knows how she feels and that probably she isn't enjoying the medals as much as she would have done otherwise.

"I'm against any type of prejudice and in Berlin we say that if there is no proof, you should shut up. We don't know anything about her training or her background. It is necessary to show proof."

OVERHEATED: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 372 spectators and staff have been treated for heat-related illnesses between July 6 and Tuesday _ 54 of them during the Opening Ceremonies in a packed Olympic Stadium. Nine of those had fainted from the heat.

_ TIMES WIRES

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