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NEVER MIND THE ROWLOCKS

IN CASE you hadn't noticed the television trailers, the special magazines, the newspaper features, and the myriad commericals, the Olympic Games start in two weeks. What every producer, publisher, editor, and advertiser is praying for is a great British personality to go potty over. That's why the Winter Games in Albertville were so boring on TV: there was no British excellence in the form of Torvill and Dean or British eccentricity in the shape of an Eagle who thought he could fly, but couldn't. In Spain, help may be at hand among our brave rowers, who, judging by their CVs, are a pretty colourful bunch. Here is a selection of official character appraisals supplied by the British Olympic rowing chiefs . . .

'An ardent member of Britain's cafe society, Miriam's special preference lies with the greasy spoon seat' (Miriam Batten, world bronze medallist).

'His long-term aims include to scull really prettily and squashing his own spiders' (Roger Brown, quadruple sculls).

'Drives a black convertible bicycle' (Jim Walker, world championship team).

'Tim likes black clothes, ear-rings and strange music, is learning to play guitar and impersonates David Soul in his spare time' (Tim Foster, a double world junior gold medallist).

'Fiona's real wish is to be four inches taller and five years younger. She seeks solace for this in bowls of banana and custard (Fiona Freckleton, aged 32, 5ft 8in, world bronze medallist).

'He likes to try to recognise songs on the radio' (Ben Hunt-Davis, junior world championship team member).

'He likes travelling to strange places and train-spotting' (John Garrett, veteran of LA and Seoul).

'In his spare time he tries to make amends for a mis-spent youth' (Garry Herbert, world bronze medallist).

'Is learning Australian in his spare time,' (Richard Phelps, world bronze medallist).

'Likes wearing his lime green jeans' (Jonathan Searle, ex-Oxford president).

'He claims to like The Doors and diplomacy' (Rupert Obholzer, Boat Race-winning Oxford Blue).

'He likes juggling and dancing on his own' (Nick Burfitt, fourth in the eights at Seoul).

'Enjoys drinking strong coffee, writing postcards, and watching the world go by' (Gavin Stewart, Oxford Blue).

SAVE THE NAMES

The FA Cup draw - preliminary round (to be played 29 Aug) and first qualifying round (12 Sept) - is out already, and in among the likes of Norton & Stockton Ancients and Peacehaven & Telscombe, Crook Town and Met Police are some exotic new names.

Rushden & Diamonds are an amalgamation of two Northants clubs, Rushden Town ('The Russians') and the magnificently named Irthlingborough Diamonds, whose monicker should have been protected like a listed building.

Barri is the new (Welsh) title for Barry Town, who have changed for legal reasons in their bid to avoid being coerced into the new League of Wales. Pity some sleepy-eyed official waking up and thinking his side are playing Bari. At least David Platt has left.

RUNNING BRAVE

While the International Olympic Committee has been debating who from the mess that used to be Yugoslavia should run under which flag in Barcelona, athletes living through the civil war are attempting to maintain their training so as to make the whole Spanish trip worthwhile. One of the Bosnian squad, Mirsada Buric, a 23- year-old middle-distance runner, tries to fit in road-work between alerts in Sarajevo, home of the 1984 Winter Games. She has been shot at, arrested by Serbian militia men, and when it was too dangerous to venture outside, she ran up and down the stairs in her block. And her running shoes have been appropriated by Serbian gunmen.

AFOREMENTIONED

The practice driving range at Muirfield, for the Open golf championhip which tees off on Thursday, presents an irresistible challenge. Measuring 280 yards, it ends in a 20- foot high fence, an invitation, if there ever was one, for the likes of John Daly to feel at home on the range and try to clear the palisade.

LION TAMERS

Forget South Africa and the 1995 World Cup, it is the 1994 one that the rest of the world should be concered with. The Republic is renowned for rugby union and cricket, and is even bidding to host the next cricket World Cup, but the majority sport is football and the country has some of Africa's finest stadiums and players. Returning to international football this week after a 28-year lay-off, South Africa quickly got back into the swing of the modern game: their first goal against the touring Cameroonians on Tuesday in Durban was a late penalty.

Roger Milla's Indomitable Lions, the sensations of Italia '90, levelled the series in Cape Town on Thursday, setting up nicely the final match in Soweto today. Given extended exposure to the international game, the South Africa could dominate African football. What price the Republic, expected to replace Burkina Faso in a World Cup qualifying group, to reach America? Some of the locals harbour even wilder dreams. One banner in the Cape Town crowd read: 'South Africa, the next world champions.'

HIGH PRESSURE

As you would expect, the pressure is building up in Barcelona. But not the heat, as the rain in Spain is staying mainly on the coast. While Madrilenos bask in a baking sun, their Catalan cousins have just suffered the wettest June in 30 years and the coldest in 50. There are no forecasts as to whether it will be brollies or bikinis come the Games on 25 July, but all that hot-weather training could prove a wash-out if the inclement climate prevails. This is all encouraging news for Manchester, the umbrella capital of England. No European city bidding for the Games, it seems, can guarantee against the heavens opening.

ELIXIR OF YOUTH

Plenty of rich gnomes and redundant combs in the Larry Holmes limerick competition, but the undisputed champion was David Piper, of Leicester, who wins a bottle of Aberlour Malt Whisky for the following . . .

Thicker midriffs and much thinner domes

Have deterred neither Foreman nor Holmes

From more title sorties

Well into their forties

In defiance of the chromosomes

What rhymes with Roy Palmer, the umpire who had a run-in with Pakistan's cricketers on Monday during the third Test at Old Trafford? Entries to Sports Diary Limerick, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.

PS

Screensport, the extra- terrestrial sports channel, is helping raise funds for the boxer Michael Watson. The campaign is called 'Messages for Michael'; boxing fans can ring a special premium phone number and leave a message for Watson. The longer the call, the more money is raised. The messages will be taped for Watson to listen to. The UK number is 0839 77 77 11 (up to 48p per min).

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