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Roll over 1900's. Here are some of sports' coming attractions


RICARDO JUAREZ/MICHAEL BENNETT/BRIAN VILORIA

Your typical gym princes, angling for style points while throwing practice punches and snarling for spectators, love the glamour. Olympic hopefuls Ricardo Juarez, Michael Bennett and Brian Viloria can't be bothered. "We're not cartoons," says Juarez. "We leave the cheap stuff to the pros." No kidding. Outside the ring, they're playful kids, constantly goofing on one another. But during matches, they withdraw into instinctual spaces in their brains, where well-trained neurons fire off jabs and counterpunches within milliseconds. Blank faces. No artifice. No menace. At the world championships in Houston in August, this all-business trio, along with light heavyweight Michael Simms, gave the U.S. its first multiple titles since 1986. Juarez, a 19-year-old featherweight whose middle name is Rocky (really), trains with pros in Houston, mimicking their style of getting inside with spine-flattening body blows and swift right uppercuts. Viloria, an 18-year-old light flyweight from Waipahu, Hawaii, first put on gloves when he was 6 to try to stop his hulking younger brother from bullying him. Now "Hawaiian Punch" pummels with the heft of someone 50 pounds heavier. But he still sees boxing as a "game of tag," albeit one in which the dodging and weaving get him so hyped, he's still trembling well after his bouts. Bennett, a greenhorn heavy weight, started boxing four years ago while in prison in Illinois for armed robbery. The 28-year-old ex-con says he has found purpose through religion and in the ring, where he solicits advice on footwork and defense from his younger, more experienced teammates. This crew, along with light welterweight Ricardo Williams Jr., could be the best team the U.S. has sent to the Olympics in more than a decade. But this time, they won't have a horde of patriotic Texans cheer ing them to world victory. "I'm not worried," says Viloria. "When we're zoned, we can barely hear the crowd anyway." Hopefully, though, they'll be able to hear the anthem when they're up on the medals podium in Sydney. -Anne Marie Cruz


CHAMP BAILEY

His Mama gave him the nickname. An even higher power gave him the crazy-ass talent. "Mama just started calling me Champ one day," says Roland Bailey, who has gone by his moniker since he was 2. "I don't think she had a reason." There must have been a reason, though, for giving the 6'1", 184-pound Redskins rookie 4.3 speed, mad hops and great hands. Maybe the One Great Scorer longs to see a true two-way player again, someone to do what Deion Sanders did in 1996 and what Charles Woodson still yearns to do-play both corner and receiver full time. Bailey's final season at Georgia showed us he can. Besides earning All-America honors at cornerback, he was the Bulldogs' second-leading receiver (47 catches, 744 yards, 5 TDs). But the soft-spoken 21-year-old isn't forcing the CB/WR issue-yet: "It's probably not the right time." The right time could be any day now. In Week 6 against Arizona, one of his three picks came on a pass that made him look like the intended target. Bailey shifted into fifth gear on a Jake Plummer overthrow, chased it down at full tilt and plucked it high over his left shoulder. "A lot of corners don't have hands," he explains. "But that's one thing I do have." That, and the perfect nickname. -Alan Grant


IAN THORPE

Don't bug Ian Thorpe about his Guinness-worthy feet. "Sure, they're an advantage," admits the 17-year-old Sydney native with size-17 dogs. "But they're not monstrously out of proportion to the rest of me." Maybe not, but at 6'5", the freestyler kicks up such a wash that opponents calculate heat times to avoid drawing lanes next to him. The youngest-ever swimmer on the Australian men's team at 14, Thorpedo-his apt nickname-could Mark Spitz the competition at the 2000 Games. At August's Pan Pacifics in Sydney, he needed only three days to drop three world records: the 200-meter twice (his 1:46.00 broke the record he had set the previous day) and the 400-meter (3:41.83). But he may need even better times just to make his country's Olympic team: The Australians boast the top two 200-meter freestylers in the world and the top three in the 400. Convinced that his world records weren't going to psyche anyone out, Thorpe took a temporary leave of absence from high school-a difficult decision, as he's in the top 5 in his class-to focus on training. He even took advantage of a recent ankle injury to concentrate on strengthening his stroke. Who knows what he'll do with a pull as powerful as his kick? "I'm incredibly inspired right now," says Thorpe. "It's my nature to want to exceed obstacles." And six golds would give the rabid home crowd a better number to obsess over. -Anne Marie Cruz


JOE FORTE

He looks innocent enough. Like a kid forced to play dodge ball by schoolyard bullies. Kinda plain, even, with his mini-'fro trimmed tighter than Ned Flanders' front yard. You couldn't pick him out of a crowd, but nonetheless, he's drawing one. He's just Joe, the next big thing in college basketball. Joe Forte got off to the best start in school history. Considering that his school is North Carolina, that's a lot of history. He took home the MVP trophy from the Maui Classic after shooting 56% from the floor, 70% behind the arc and 92% at the line. But from his reaction, you might have thought he had just played his little brother Jason in the driveway. The thing is, when Forte pulls up for the purest jumper in college basketball, it doesn't matter who's in front of him. Off the dribble, on the run, from 22 feet-the form is always the same, the product of a thousand hours in suburban Maryland gyms outside of D.C. The rest of his game is simply smooth, fluid and carefully thought out. "It's the way I've always played," says the 18-year-old freshman guard. "It's normal to me." Besides the radar jumper, his most dangerous weapon is patience. He understands when to make the move and when to pull back. He knows angles, too, which you might expect from someone whose favorite hobby is chess. The only thing he doesn't seem to know is that freshmen aren't supposed to know these things. Joe Forte has every reason to scream, "Look at me!" But he doesn't have to. You already are. -Chris Palmer


ROBERTO LUONGO

"Who's he like?" That's always the first question. Well, Roberto Luongo isn't an acrobatic scrambler like Dominik Hasek. Nor is he an emotional battler like Patrick Roy. If anything, his soft-spoken demeanor and lanky body in net remind you of Ken Dryden, the Cornell grad who backstopped five Stanley Cup winners in Montreal during the 1970s. One thing the rookie Islander goalkeeper does have in common with those other guys is his love of pres sure. When you see him play, even a little bit, the question changes to, "Did you see that?" His mom, Lina, says Roberto has always played his best games when the stakes were high: "That's why I wasn't worried about him when he called from Boston [on Nov. 28] to tell us he was getting his first NHL start. I knew he'd be just fine." Lina's boy was more than fine. He was spectacular. Luongo, who shoulders the lofty expectations that come with being the highest drafted goaltender in NHL history-fourth overall in 1997-stopped 43 shots, leading his undermanned Islanders to a 2-1 win over the Bruins. Quite a debut, even for a kid from northern Montreal with a "can't-miss" banner draped over his broad shoulders. "It was really exciting," says Luongo, whose 6'3" frame can intimidate shooters. "But I'm also really glad to get it out of the way." Soon, maybe real soon, Luongo will take over as the struggling franchise's top goalie. Clearly, he's the Islanders' best hope for a return to glory. That means more pressure for the 20-year-old prodigy. But they seem to have found the right man for the job. -E.J. Hradek


CEDRIC COBBS

Let's get something straight: It's C-o-b-b-s. With an s. Rhymes with Hobbs, the guy in The Natural. You know, Robert Redford? Only Cedric Cobbs is no movie star with a magic bat. He's a 6'0", 217-pound lightning bolt who promises to be the most dynamic running back to hit the SEC since Bo Jackson. Cobbs' exploits are already the stuff of Arkansas legend. Like the time he won a state weightlifting title (220-pound weight class) ... without training for it. Or how on his first ferocious swipe at a golf ball his clubhead shattered on impact. Or how in junior high he returned 13 of 17 kickoffs for TDs. "I've coached Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders, and Ced can be better than either of them," says Razorbacks coach Houston Nutt. "He's got the power, the vision, the explosiveness and the swerves. And he's just a baby." Nutt planned to work Cobbs in slowly this year. Sorry, Coach, the Little Rock native with a nose for the goal line doesn't do slowly. His first runback as a Hog? A 95-yard TD. His first catch? A 36-yard score. The best part? Cobbs thrives in the spotlight. Tennessee found that out Nov. 13, when the 18-year-old freshman shredded the defending national champions (107 yards, 15 carries) as Arkansas upset the Vols, 28-24. And football's not even his primary passion: "Someday I'm gonna be an actor." Make that someday soon, because next fall, he takes on his first big role-college football's leading man. -Bruce Feldman


MICHALCHUK/HOLLY BECK/BOB BURNQUIST

Board sports blew up in the '90s for a simple reason: The world turned upside down. The Spice Girls were respectable, the President was not and The Real World was on MTV. The earth's surface seemed torn apart and jagged. Some panicked and packed for a virtual planet that's perfectly paved. But snowboarders, skateboarders and surfers jumped on their decks and glided across whatever wrecks, ramps and obstacles the world threw out. Michael Michalchuk (far left), a 22-year-old Canadian, took his snowboard to the half-pipe and proved life isn't about getting air, but using it. He pioneered the physically improbable-a backflip backside 540. Translation: He took off on his heel edge, flipped in the other direction and torqued 540 for good measure. (Sounds scary, but nothing like the truck crash he survived in November.) He doesn't like the name, but snowboarders call the trick "The Michalchuk"-and he's still the only one to do it. Bob Burnquist, on the other hand, rode a skate board so he could see his name scrawled on the sport. As the master of the eggplant revert, now called "The Burnquist," he will always have that-and more. A lanky (six feet, 154), 23-year-old Brazilian with a passion for bossa nova and hip-hop, he even bested Birdcage a time or two. Surfers don't get moves named after them, so don't expect "The Beck" anytime soon. Instead, look for Holly Beck wannabes scattered among the mostly male, big-wave lineups. Nineteen years old and totally Californian, Beck is bring ing more women to the waves with her aggressive, hard-charging style. She has the chops to compete with the world's best, but is holding off going pro because she wants something most surfer pros don't have: a college degree. With chairmen of the board Terje Haakonsen, Tony Hawk and Lisa Anderson making their competitive exits, Michalchuk, Burnquist and Beck will soar higher-and farther ahead of the pack. That's because, along with their cat-like agility, all three have an unrelenting readiness to take on the world, rough patches and all. -Jody Berger


SERGIO GARCIA

For 90 minutes on a Sunday afternoon in August, El Nio made Tiger seem old. Granted, Sergio Garcia had already been designated golf's next big thing. Making his Masters debut in April, the 19-year-old Spaniard played practice rounds with Jack and Arnold and finished low amateur. In July, he won his first European Tour event. But after crash-diving at Carnoustie with an 89-83, he showed up at the PGA Championship saying, "No more British Open questions." Twenty-four hours later, after a 66 to take the first-round lead, nobody was asking. On Sunday, four shots back of Woods, Garcia birdied the par-3 13th, then looked back up the hill to make sure Tiger was paying attention. Woods double-bogeyed 13. His lead was now one. Three holes later, Garcia closed his eyes, whipped a 6-iron out of the roots of a tree and ran up the fairway, leaping to watch the shot finish on the green-as 21 million people jumped off their couches. Woods held off Garcia's charge, but in his victory speech, an exhausted Tiger saluted his challenger: "He hits a bad shot and feels it into a positive. He exudes confidence. I was like that." Was? El Nio has a sweet smile that makes mothers want to hug him, but-age aside-this is no kid. He keeps his wrists cocked late like Hogan, and he holes a lot of shots like Seve. And he's the only player who, even for a few holes, can steal a gallery from Tiger Woods. -T.R. Reinman


RICK ANKIEL/PAT BURRELL

It happens every spring. Some young hulk takes a reigning Cy Young's March heater into the palm trees, and bingo, he's the next Mark McGwire. A fresh-faced lefty rifles a few bul lets past winter-rusty big leaguers, and sud denly he's the next Sandy Koufax. Why should the first spring of the new century be any dif ferent? Phillies phenom Pat Burrell-first baseman-outfielder by position, natural-born slugger by destiny-figures to spend most of next summer launching rockets in Scranton, Pa., home of the Phils' Triple-A Red Barons. So start planning your Pennsylvania vacation now-railroad museum, world's largest junk yard, polka-because Burrell is the next McGwire. Or maybe the next George Brett, his boyhood idol. Burrell is bigger (6'4", 225) than his hero, but he has a similarly short swing. Says Phillies scouting director Mike Arbuckle: "Brett had innate abilities-timing, hand-eye coordination, good vision-that you can't teach. So does Pat Burrell." And if the Phillies are in the hunt in August, you might not even have to travel to Scranton to see Burrell swat. Meanwhile, Cardinals phenom Rick Ankiel is ready right now. Those 39 strikeouts in 33 innings after a late-August call-up say he was ready last summer. The 6'1", 210-pound 20-year-old can fire in the mid-90s with movement, break off a darting curveball and throw a change-up to make the heater and curve that much more effective. Ankiel doesn't exactly swagger, but you can tell by the way he carries himself that he knows he's good. "He's got insides to go with what's hanging from his left shoulder," says Cards manager Tony La Russa. "At worst, he'll be a good to very good major league pitcher. At best, he'll be outstanding to great." That's just La Russa qualifying every thing, talking lawyerspeak, when what he really means to say is, Hey, this kid is the next Koufax. -Tim Kurkjian


MARION JONES

They e-mail her. Lord knows how they find her on the Web, but they e-mail her that she's gorgeous, that she should try the WNBA, that she's the fastest thing they've ever seen, that they can't wait until Sydney. But then they cut to the chase: "We love you, Marion, but please give up the long jump." You should see her face when she reads that. First it goes sullen for a minute, then wild-eyed. "If they had only kept quiet," says Marion Jones, "I might have given it up. But saying 'quit' just means I'm gonna keep on keeping on." You don't challenge this woman. She was 8 in Palmdale, Calif., when she wrote, "I will be Olympic Champion." In Australia next September, she plans on living up to that pledge. And she doesn't expect just one track and field gold medal. Jesse Owens took four golds in 1936, Carl Lewis won four in 1984 and Flo Jo pocketed three in 1988. But Jones wants five. Needs five. The former North Carolina point guard-she can dunk-says she won't play in the WNBA until she's the greatest track and field athlete of all time. And that means winning the long jump, an event still relatively new and awkward to her. Gold will come easier in the 100 and 200, and in the 4x100 and 4x200 relays. The long jump, though, is so mental. Sometimes she takes off wrong. Sometimes she's down the runway too fast. But she won't quit. Marion Jones will never just e-mail it in. -Tom Friend