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Removing the suspense

Long before the first medal is won, long before Greg Norman runs with the Olympic Torch, the Internet will give you the opportunity to learn more about the Olympics than ever before.

Knowing so much ahead of time is usually a good thing, but that might not be the case once the Games begin, when the Internet will have everything first. What you read here and what you see on TV will have actually ended hours earlier. To take in the Olympics online, you will sacrifice the excitement that comes with not knowing what to expect when you tune in.

Logging on will enhance the Olympics, for sure, but ultimately, it will spoil them, too. Imagine if the '80 Winter Games were played half a world away, with today's technology. Here's how the instant message conversation might go . . .

GOUSA4EVER: Hey, do you believe in miracles?

NO1HOCKEYFAN: LOL! There's no way the U.S. will beat the Soviets, but I'm still going to watch tonight.

GOUSA4EVER: No, really. We won. 4-3. Already happened. Just saw the story. Sounded like a great game.

NO1HOCKEYFAN: Oh. That's good. Who do we play next?

In searching for Web sites that cover the Olympics best, remember that NBC has a huge advantage because it shelled out hundreds of millions of dollars for TV rights. There's a virtual embargo on video highlights from Sydney (NBC will dole out a few tidbits to a tiny fraction of broadband subscribers) but that's about the only thing missing. We'll show you more sites throughout the Olympics, but for starters, we look at those under NBC's umbrella.

+ nbcolympics.com: Quokka Sports, which is producing the site, prides itself on "sports immersion" _ really getting into events like this. Look for comprehensive schedules (both when it happens, and when NBC shows it) and "Athlete's Voice" diary updates from 40-plus athletes ranging from sprinter Michael Johnson to swimmer Dara Torres to volleyball's Sinjin Smith.

Much of NBC's TV coverage will be features and interviews, and the site will have transcripts and video highlights of both. The site has pages for every sport _ that means trampoline features and a table tennis glossary that shows the difference between the penholder and shakehands grips. If you complain that TV coverage is overloaded with track and gymnastics, that won't be as much of a problem online.

+ msnbcsports.com: The site's Olympic Interactive Library is a great resource, with graphics, pictures and information on most major sports. You can compare rosters from each of the three Dream Teams, and see a globe dotted with basketballs showing how international the sport has become. Fourteen first-round picks in this year's NBA draft were from outside the country, though in Sydney, it should still be the United States, then the rest of the world.

+ nbc.com/latenight.html: You have to figure Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien will get in on the Olympic synergy. You can download O'Brien's monologues each day and check out Leno's "Headlines' if you're overwhelmed by Olympic trivia.

YOU, TOO, CAN WIN: If years of fantasy baseball and football leagues have left you unable to watch a sporting event without some personal vested interest, fear not. Smallworld.com has two free fantasy sports games that allow you to predict how the Olympics will turn out.

"Medal Chase 2000" is split into two contests, Country Count and Podium Pick 'Em. In the first, you're challenged to predict the exact medal count _ gold, silver and bronze _ for 20 selected countries. Thankfully, there's a link to the 1996 final medal count, which serves as a good starting point. And don't take Belarus lightly _ the country totaled 15 medals in Atlanta. The Podium Pick 'Em game allows you to pick the next day's medal winners, which seems easy for gymnastics and the 100 meters, but what about team handball?

One winner in each contest will win a five-day trip to Athens, Greece, birthplace of the Olympics.

RINGLETS: Adidas is a major Olympic sponsor, and adidas.com/sydney has an amusing "Sydney Screenmate" you can download. It bikes, swims, sprints and tumbles across your desktop. . . . ESPN.com wisely has two clocks on its main Sydney page to indicate the 15-hour time difference between Sydney and the U.S. Eastern time zone. . . . Australia.com, the official site of the Australian Tourism Committee, has an impressive site available in seven languages. . . . For $50, olympicbricks.com can get your name etched on a "century-old sandstone brick" in the Olympic Gateway Plaza in Salt Lake City, home of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

_ If you have a question or comment about the Internet or an Olympic site to suggest, send an e-mail to Times staff writer Greg Auman at aumanac1aol.com.

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