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Sport love matches can be found all over

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© St. Petersburg Times, published March 10, 2000

If hockey hero Pavel Bure nets Anna Kournikova, does Sergei Fedorov get an assist?

What is it with tennis players and stick-swinging NHL Pavels? Martina Hingis, you hear, is serving at love/love with Pavel Kubina of the Lightning.

At least Kournikova has turned 18. Quell the Lolita remarks, please. She and Bure are both Russians of legal age. He's 28. Hey, maybe old Sergei really was an uncle figure rather than Anna's all-but-30 boyfriend.

Suspicious minds ...

Somebody get word to Steffi Graf. Still available is Vinny "No, Not Pavel" Lecavalier. I mean, if hockey players turn out to be her racket.

Oh, I didn't mean to intrude, Andre. I don't want Graf's courtly pal, world No. 1 Agassi, busting a cat gut and showing up to head-butt me. Not with that head.

Never in history have so many famous athletes been on the verge of marrying so many famous athletes.

May they all have the extended bliss of Emil Zatopek and Dana Ingrova. She didn't play tennis, he didn't do hockey, but their coupling has been matchless.

Zatopek, a distance runner, won four Olympic gold medals, three at the 1952 Games in Helsinki. At the 1952 Games, Ingrova won gold in the javelin. Both are Czechs. They got married after the 1948 Olympics in London. Still are.

With double jocks, we're not talking the marital risk of two movie stars getting hitched. Even if pulsating egos and scheduling philosophies can be considerable hurdles.

Terry Bradshaw, quarterback of four Super Bowl champions with the Pittsburgh Steelers, married Olympic ice skater Jo Jo Starbuck in 1976.

That one lasted five years. Today, the now-bald Bradshaw is a TV analyst. Jo Jo, who has all her hair, still skates as a pro. No, she did not go into the coffee business.

Nancy Lopez, an extraordinary golfer with 48 LPGA wins, married baseball's Ray Knight in 1982. He excelled as MVP of a World Series but later flunked as manager of the Cincinnati Reds.

At home, all's well.

Lopez/Knight live far from America's spotlights. Just everyday folks in his Georgia hometown, Albany. Raising three daughters with splendid normalcy. Nancy still competes on tour. Ray is back to assessing the major leagues for ESPN.

Okay, here's a marriage where the entire congregation probably could have done back flips. Nadia Comaneci of Romania, a perfect 10 in ways Bo Derek never knew, wed Bart Conner, a fellow Olympic gold-medal gymnast from the United States.

So far, no tumbling offspring.

Babe Didrikson was maybe the greatest female athlete ever. A track-and-field sensation in the Olympics who became No. 1 in pro golf. She married George Zaharias, a professional wrestler. Wonderful couple. They lived in Tampa.

Chris Evert tried twice.

Globally famous and universally popular, the tennis whiz from Florida had a traveling romance with fellow Wimbledon/U.S. Open champ Jimmy Connors. But the knot never got tied.

Evert did marry a tennis fellow, the far-less-renowned John Lloyd. A non-flamboyant Brit, he was too wimpy for Chris. They divorced. She married Olympic skier Andy Mill. It clicked, producing children and enduring happiness.

Assessing the list, it becomes apparent that sport/sport marriages have as strong a shot at extended success as unions involving us less-athletic lesser knowns.

Pavel, do you take ...

One of the more memorable double-athlete romances involved Olympic weight tossers Harold Connolly and Olga Fikotova. They competed in 1956 at Melbourne. He won gold in the hammer, she matched it in the discus.

There was spicy intrigue. Connolly is an American. Fikotova was from Czechoslovakia. Those were Iron Curtain times. Their love blossomed at Olympic Village. Red tape would be considerable. They couldn't marry until 1957. Hal and Olga settled in the United States but split in 1974.

Olympics were backdrops for a pair of celebrity marriages involving four athletes from three families. Jackie Joyner, a track phenom who rivals Didrikson as best ever, wed her coach, Bob Kersee. There's far more.

Jackie's brother, Al, was an Olympic triple-jump gold medalist. He wed a far more noted athlete, sprinter Florence Griffith. Flo-Jo, she would be nicknamed. Griffith-Joyner was dazzling at Los Angeles in 1984 and Seoul four years later. Earning three golds and two silver medals. Tragically, she died in 1998.

Don Drysdale, a Hall of Fame baseball pitcher, married college basketball sensation Anne Meyers. They had a fabulous life for seven years until Big D, working as a Dodgers broadcaster, fell dead in 1993.

Jock-jock can win-win.

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