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Thursday, August 17, 2000
First the gear, then the shot at gold for U.S. Olympians

By BERNIE WILSON -- Associated Press

 SAN DIEGO -- Yueling Chen has the most tangible evidence yet that she's going to the Olympics -- a shopping cart full of U.S. team clothing.

 "I just like the fact they have USA on them," the racewalker said Wednesday as U.S. Olympians started the processing procedure for going to Sydney.

 A week ago, Chen wasn't sure she was going to get to represent the United States at the Olympics even though she finished second at the trials. Chen won a gold medal in racewalking for China in the 1992 Olympics, moved to the United States the next year and became a citizen in April.

 Chinese officials had refused to grant her permission to race in Australia for her new country, but they abruptly reversed their decision last Thursday, following a request from the U.S. Olympic Committee.

 "Last week, I didn't know that I was competing, but now it makes it real that I've got the uniform," said Chen, who lives in northern San Diego County. "I don't have to worry about it now. I just have to train hard."

 Some 600 athletes and 500 support personnel will pass through the processing center in the next four weeks.

 After being briefed on what to expect in Sydney, the athletes receive their team apparel, which is stuffed into a big suitcase. They get freebies from corporate sponsors and can even get a massage before heading for the airport.

 Some teams will head for Australia right away while others will stick around for a few days to train at the ARCO Olympic Training Center in suburban Chula Vista. The track team, for instance, will travel to Australia in three waves, with the first group leaving on Saturday and the last one leaving on Sept. 10.

 Monique Henderson couldn't believe what was piling up in her shopping cart.

 There were shoes, hats, shorts, rainsuits, sweatsuits and dress clothes.

 "I can't wait to get it home with me and just try it on and walk around the house in it," said Henderson, a San Diegan who will miss the first month of her senior year of high school because of the Olympics.

 Henderson finished last in the 400-meter finals at the U.S. track and field trials, but will go to Australia as part of the 1,600-meter relay pool. She'll compete in a runoff in Brisbane early next month, and if she's one of the top six, she's in. If not, she still gets to be with the team and wear her free clothes.

 Henderson, 17, was the second athlete through the line when Olympic team processing began Wednesday at the old Naval Training Center. And she'd never been on a shopping spree like this before.

 "I don't have to pay for this and it's really nice name-brand stuff and USA stuff," she said.

 "It's a dream right now. I know it's probably going to be much bigger and better than what I even think it's going to be, so I'm really looking forward to that. I can't wait."

 Henderson liked everything in her cart, except the red blazer and the navy blue skirt.

 "Not that grandma outfit. With grandma shoes to go with it. Not the kind for a 17-year-old. I'll wear it proudly. Everything else is great."

 Uh, that 'grandma outfit' is the one for the opening ceremony.

 Curt Clausen of Trenton, N.J., a racewalker who will be competing in his second Olympics, slipped off his sandals and tried on a pair of Hush Puppies.

 "The official dress shoes of the Olympics," he cracked.

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