Blog: Sun sports editor in Athens

Final thoughts on a memorable two weeks in Greece

This is my last blog from the Athens Olympics, which I'm assuming will be one of the more memorable I've covered for a number of reasons.

Foremost among them, I'm sure, will be the swimming of Michael Phelps. He did everything I thought he would and more. When asked before arriving here how many gold medals I thought he would win, I said four or five. He won six.

Most impressive, though, was his third-place finish in the 200-meterfreestyle. No one thought he would beat Australia's Ian Thorpe or the Netherlands' Pieter van den Hoogenband. But Phelps insisted on challenging himself. There was no shame in winning a bronze medal.

Unfortunately, many people will remember the second week of theOlympics for the judging and drug controversies. (I don't know if you've heard, but the 4.5 earthquake here this week was judged a 3.9 by the Colombian judge.)

It's not the first time those elements have overwhelmed all of thepositive things that happen during an Olympics. The Seoul Olympics in 1988 is remembered more for Ben Johnson's positive drug test than anything else. The Salt Lake City Winter Games in 2002 are still known for the corruption in the figure skating judging.

But it didn't start with those Games. As you've no doubt read duringthese Games, cheating and corruption were staples of the Ancient Games in Greece. Athletes invented all sorts of methods to overcome their opponents, including curses and spells. They also took performance-enhancing potions, some derived from bull or sheep testes.

They also bribed opponents and judges. When caught, they had to paysignificant fines. The money was used to build the massive statue of Zeus at Olympia.

As long as men and women compete, some will search for corners tocut.

One tradition, unfortunately, that hasn't carried over from theAncient Games is the Olympic truce. Wars among the city-states came to a halt for a period before, during and after the Games, primarily to guarantee safe passage to and from Olympia.

Protest groups in Athens have suspended demonstrations during theseGames. But wars and terrorist attacks rage in other parts of the globe. The cases of the two Russian airplanes crashing within minutes of each other look very suspicious. Could it be we're less civilized now than in ancient times?

August 25, 2004 8:25 AM ET
No conspiracy theories seen in Athens misjudgments

I have a friend who decided he wanted to be part of the AtlantaOlympics. Not as a spectator. Not as a volunteer for the organizingcommittee. Especially not as a journalist.

He actually wanted to be in the Games, on the field of play.

He searched for the easiest way to be admitted and found it was bybecoming a judge in badminton. He had never played the game, except atperhaps an occasional backyard barbecue, but that didn't stop him. Or theinternational badminton federation. He took a short course in judging,passed a test and, the next thing you know, he was watching shuttlecocks goback and forth across the net in Olympic competition.

I have to believe the standards for becoming judges in most sportsare higher. They certainly are in sports such as figure skating andgymnastics. Still, judges, as we have seen in Athens, are far frominfallible.

It used to be easy to conclude why judges made mistakes. We saweverything through the prism of the Cold War. If an American or Britishathlete was wronged, it must have been because the judging panel wasweighted with communist judges. I'm sure they on the other side of the wallwere equally suspicious of American and Western European judges.

Even in Salt Lake City, more than a decade after the end of the ColdWar, people were counting the number of figure skating judges from formercommunist countries to see if there was still some sort of conspiracyagainst Canadians. Please.

But we have learned something here in Athens. There have beennumerous judging controversies, but none appear to have been motivated bygeo-global politics. When a South Korean was wrongly scored in men'sgymnastics, the judges who committed the mistake were from Colombia andSpain. A fencing controversy involved a Hungarian judge and Italian andChinese athletes. In swimming, a French and Russian judge were overruledwhen they tried to disqualify a U.S. athlete.

We are relieved to know that these misjudgments are not the result ofcorruption. They are the result of humor error.

Never has incompetence seemed so noble.

August 24, 2004 8:52 AM ET
Debating the Australian way

I was involved in a bar fight last night. In the interest of accuracy,I believe it actually was early this morning.

I wasn't really involved. I was on the periphery, but fully cheeringon my colleagues.

Here's what happened. Seven of us journos were sitting around a tablein the rooftop bar at the Main Press Center when an Australia reporter cameover and began insulting us. As a rule, I like Australians. But he provedthere is an exception to every rule. In his defense, though, he was very,very drunk.

He called us names, said we were insular Americans who didn't careabout anything in the world except America and challenged us to name thecapital of Australia.

We got it right on the third try.

Instead of being appeased, he became more agitated. I thought maybe hewas upset about U.S. involvement in Iraq, but what seemed to really getunder his skin was that we call our major league baseball championship theWorld Series. I'm guessing he thinks the Expos should be moved toMelbourne.

One of my colleagues who smokes offered him a cigarette. It used towork with peace pipes. This just seemed to make him angrier, although hetook the cigarette.

We finally left our table and moved to another one.

A short time later he followed us.

None of us wanted to fight. As Americans, we were told before we cameto Greece that, because of the world tension over U.S. foreign policy, weshould draw as little attention to ourselves as possible. The athletes havereally taken that to heart. Most are on their best behavior. After a 1-2-3sweep by U.S. runners in the men's 400 meters last night, their celebrationwas subdued. They said later that they wanted to be respectful of thecrowd, their opponents and their country.

There have been few incidents. There were a few derisive whistles whenthe U.S. team entered the stadium for the opening ceremony and one fancomplained about some anti-American sentiment at a beach volleyball game.Otherwise, I hadn't witnessed anything until the Australian approached us.Maybe it was the Foster's talking.

One of my colleagues, who used to play football in the Big Ten,finally tried to escort the Aussie to the door. One insult led to another,and my colleague shoved the Aussie. Another of my colleagues lifted him offthe ground and carried him, in a bear hug, outside the bar. We closed thedoor and held it shut until security arrived and took away the Aussie.

We returned to our seats and continued to sip our Perrier.

One of my colleagues asked if we shouldn't discuss why the Aussie hadbeen so eager to insult Americans.

We contemplated that for a moment and then began to talk about theWorld Series.

August 23, 2004 9:15 AM ET
The high costs of waging drug war in international sports

The first time I ever had to write about steroids was at the 1983 PanAmerican Games in Caracas, Venezuela. Rumors spread that the organizers hadbrought in the most sophisticated drug testing equipment in the world fromGermany, a couple of athletes tested positive and, the next thing you know,U.S. sprinters and pole vaulters and throwers were headed in droves to theairport to get out of town.

U.S. Olympic Committee officials were embarrassed, largely becausethey seemed to know little more about steroids than I did.

That was the Fort Sumter of international sports, the opening salvo inthe drug war.

More than two decades later, it's still being fought. For the firsttime, I can say with some authority that the drug testers are winning.

Nineteen athletes have been caught in the drug web here, eitherbecause of failed tests or a failure to report for tests, and there islittle doubt there will be more before the Olympics end on Sunday.

But the athletes who want to cheat will not stay down for long. Dr.Don Catlin, the head of the Los Angeles laboratory where the latestdesigner steroid was detected, said he's sure that there are others outthere.

Why do athletes persist on taking the drugs?

The answer is simple. They believe the rewards for winning are greaterthan the risks that they will be caught.

The cost for both sides, however, has been high.

The cheaters have all but destroyed the sport of track and field. Itshould be the purest sport, the only distinction between winning and losingbeing who runs fastest, jumps longer or higher or throws farther. Now, it'simpossible to watch a great performance without wondering. Officials shouldwait three days before awarding medals. That would give time for theresults of the drug tests to come back.

Yes, I'm angry about this. Sad, too.

August 22, 2004 9:01 AM ET
My big, fat Greek wish list

1. I wish I spoke Greek. Or at least read it. I knew I should havejoined a fraternity in college.

2. I wish Pete Sampras had agreed to play for the Greek tennis team.

3. I wish I didn't have to work today. Isn't "Never on Sunday" aGreek concept?

4. I wish sportswriters in Athens for the Olympics would quit makingbig, fat Greek jokes.

5. I wish my hotel room had a shower curtain.

6. I wish critics of the U.S. men's basketball players would quitsaying they're not playing hard. They're playing hard. They're just not asgood at this point as some of the teams they're playing. They might stillwin a gold medal, though.

7. I wish I could meet just one person in Athens named Jimmy theGreek.

8. I wish that Iraq would beat Argentina on Tuesday in the men'ssoccer semifinals. But I wouldn't bet that way.

9. I wish Michael Phelps were still swimming. It's been almost 48hours since I've seen him in the pool.

10. I wish I don't have to write Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki's nameagain.

11. I wish Baltimore-Washington were going to play host to the SummerOlympics in 2012.

12. I wish I would think before I write. As much fun as the Greeksare having, as great a festival as this has become, they're going to bepaying for it for a long, long, long time.

August 21, 2004 8:33 AM ET
Can Phelps elevate swimming's stature?

Michael Phelps says he wants to change swimming, turn it into amajor sport in the United States.

After what I've seen this week, I wouldn't bet against him in anyendeavor.

His five gold medals, with a chance for a sixth tonight, ranks withthe all-time great Olympic performances, especially when you add his twobronzes. Only one other athlete, Russian gymnast Alexander Ditiatin, woneight medals in a single Olympics, and his -- three golds, four silvers andone bronze -- came in the boycotted Games of 1980. Kristin Otto of EastGermany won six swimming golds in 1988, but it was later revealed that shewas on steroids.

I'd place Phelps' performance on a pedestal along with Mark Spitz'record seven gold medals in 1972 and speedskater Eric Heiden's five goldmedals in 1980.

But change swimming?

I'm not sure that's possible.

Only a few people in history have catapulted their sports into theU.S. public's consciousness. Norway's Sonia Heine did it with figureskating. Red Grange was such a compelling college player that he probablydid more than anyone else to create interest in professional football.Those were incredible achievements because they came before television.

Gymnastics' golden triumvirate, Olga Korbut in 1972, Nadia Comaneci in'76 and Mary Lou Retton in '84, turned on thousands of young girls to thatsport and made it one of the more popular TV events during the Olympics.

Lance Armstrong, coming on the heels of Greg LeMond, has turnedcycling into a sport that American now pay some attention to, though itwill be interesting to see whether that continues when an American isn'twinning. I doubt it.

Swimming is a great sport, particularly for the participants, but it'snot particularly great for spectators, unless they're watching acompelling performance like Phelps' here.

I wish Phelps luck. He's taking on an even bigger challenge than hehad in the Olympics.

August 20, 2004 8:00 AM ET
Few problems to report as Games approach halfway point

This blog has been canceled today.

There is no reason to complain, and, as we all know, complaining isthe journalist's favorite sport.

I think I will spend the day at the pool.

I will probably find the members of the International Olympic Committee's coordination commission there.

For background, I will tell you that the coordination commission,delegated to work with local organizing committees to insure that the Gamesare progressing, set an Olympic record for hours worked in the seven yearsleading to last Friday night's opening ceremony.

They made numerous trips to Athens, haranguing, even threatening,organizers that they had to increase the pace of their preparations lestthey some day be recognized for having staged the least successful Gamesever. What an embarrassment that would have been in the cradle of theOlympics.

Yet, here we are nearing the halfway point of the Games, and thecoordination commission has so few problems to deal with that it canceledits meeting this morning.

It met yesterday -- for eight minutes.

There have been no security problems, no major transportation problemsand the communications network that faltered early in the Games has beenfixed. It was never fixed eight years ago in Atlanta, where the informationsystem called Info96 became known to we complaining reporters as Info97.

The IOC is concerned about the low attendance, but, consideringeverything that could have gone wrong, the coordination commission is notpushing the organizers on that.

It's too early to relax. The bombing in Atlanta occurred on thisday, the Friday going into the second week of competition.

But, for now, it's OK to take a day off. I need the time to think of areason to complain.

August 19, 2004 9:30 AM ET
10 Olympic performances that rank among the best

Paul Hamm's comeback, from 12th after four rotations to first afterthe sixth and final to win the men's gymnastics all-around championshiplast night, was one of the most amazing moments I've witnessed in almost 30years of covering the Summer Olympics.

I need a few more days to put the performance into perspective -- afterall, I felt the same way after the U.S. men's 800-meter freestyle relayvictory over Australia on Wednesday night -- but it did make me start thinkingabout the most memorable Olympic events I've covered.

The top 10, in order:

1. Perhaps because it was my first Olympics, in 1976, I have a fondplace in my journalistic scrapbook for Nadia Comaneci. I've always felt herincredible string of seven perfect 10s was one of the most phenomenalachievements in any sport. She did it at age 14, no less.

2. After years of writing about steroids and other banned substancesin sports, the biggest headline of them all came down when Ben Johnson wasbusted after winning the 100-meter sprint in Seoul in 1988. My editor at thetime, Bill Dwyre, got a tip at 2 a.m., which unfortunately was too late fordeadline. He mercifully didn't call until 4 a.m. to start our staff workingon the story.

3. There are those extraordinary moments in sports when an athletehas to achieve near perfection in order to win. Mary Lou Retton went onestep further in the women's all-around competition in 1984, achievingperfection. She scored a perfect 10 on her final apparatus, the vault, towin gold.

4. Carl Lewis won four gold medals in Los Angeles, matching Jesse Owens' feat from 1936, but I was never more impressed with him than in 1996when he won one gold, in the long jump. He wasn't favored, but he prevailedto become the only athlete other than discus thrower Al Oerter to win thesame event in four consecutive Olympics.

5. More gymnastics. I must like this sport more than I thought. KerriStrug didn't have to take her final vault in 1996 in Atlanta in order tohelp the U.S. women's team win the gold medal, but she didn't know that. Shevaulted with a severe ankle injury suffered on her first vault and scored9.712 to guarantee the gold medal.

6. Perhaps the biggest upset I ever covered in any sport was RulonGardner's victory over Russian Alexander Karelin in a Greco-Roman wrestlinggold medal match in Sydney in 2000. Karelin had not lost a match since 1987and had gone six years before 1999 without even giving up a point.

7. This was a sad moment for Mary Slaney, but still a good story.Slaney, favored to win the gold medal in the 3,000-meter race, instead got herlegs tangled with Zola Budd and collapsed to the infield. Trivia question:Who won? Maricica Puica of Romania.

8. After 32 years of suspension from the Olympic movement because ofits government's apartheid policies, South Africa was readmitted inBarcelona in 1992. Elana Meyer won the country's first medal of thoseGames, a silver in the 10,000-meter race, then ran a victory lap hand-in-handwith the winner, Derartu Tulu of Ethiopia.

9. I have not seen a better Olympic boxer since 1976 than Sugar Ray Leonard.

10. I take that back. The best boxer I ever saw in the Olympics wasMuhammad Ali, although he wasn't in the ring. He was the final torchbearer in1996, an inspired choice and inspiring moment.

August 18, 2004 8:15 AM ET
Cheers to Michael Phelps and his story

The first rule of sports journalism I learned was, "No cheeringin the press box." We're not supposed to be for or against the athletes whobecome the subject of our reporting.

I'll let you in on a secret, though. We do cheer for a good story.

Most of the 21,000-plus journalists had never seen Michael Phelpsother than on television, much less met him, before this week. They hadnothing invested in him personally. But they knew that Phelps had a chanceto make Olympic history by matching Mark Spitz's seven swimming gold medalsfrom 1972 and wanted to be there to cover it.

The press areas at the Olympic Aquatic Centre for the first three daysof swimming competition were overflowing. Anticipation was high, especiallyafter Phelps won a gold medal in world-record time in his first event, the400-meter individual medley. But then he won mere bronzes in his next twoevents, the 400 freestyle relay and the 200 freestyle, and no longer had achance to win seven golds. You could feel the media deflate. I didn't hearanyone call Phelps a failure, but it was clear that for most of them, thestory was finished.

Many of them went elsewhere last night, in search of another goodstory, a better story. Perhaps the U.S. women fencers. Perhaps the Iraqisoccer team. Perhaps the U.S. men's basketball team or women's softballteam. There were very few media to report the fourth night of swimmingcompetition.

What they didn't realize because they had been too focused on theSpitz record was that the story was still at the Aquatic Centre.

In by far the most thrilling night of the swimming competition so far,Phelps won two golds. He won the first, as expected, in the 200 butterfly.But it was the incredible 800 relay, in which the U.S. held off Ian Thorpeand his Australian teammates to win, that will go down as one of the greatraces in Olympic history. Phelps led off, secured a lead and then cheeredhis teammates on.

His coach, Bob Bowman, said later it was the best day of Phelps'swimming career.

"We're not sure what makes him tick,'' U.S. Coach Eddie Reese said ofPhelps. "I was in the workout room the other day with a doctor from Fiji,who told me, 'Michael Phelps must have just been born to swim.' He doesthings nobody can do. He just keeps going.''

Phelps is going for three more golds. If he wins them, that will givehim six for the week. Amazing. Even if he doesn't win golds, he's likely to finish with eight medals. Only one other athlete, a Russian gymnast from1980, has ever won eight medals in a single Olympics. Still amazing.

It's a great story.

I'm cheering for it.

August 17, 2004 8:20 AM ET
Put these Olympic sports on the sideline

With the Summer Olympics having grown to 10,500 athletes, 5,000trainers and coaches and administrators and more than 21,000 journalists,the International Olympic Committee is concerned about what it callsgigantism. There are frequent discussions among its members about whichsports it could eliminate from the program.

I'd like to help.

I'll do this alphabetically so as not to unnecessarily offend any ofthe sports.

To heck with that.

I'll start with modern pentathlon.

Exactly what is modern about pentathlon? The sport's elements -- running,swimming, fencing, shooting and horseback riding -- are supposed to resemblethe five disciplines a courier in Napoleon's army had to master. A courierin today's army would have to be an expert with satellite phones. Where'sthe sport in that?

Second to go would be fencing. I know the United States is just nowafter all these years becoming one of the sport's powers, with a guaranteeof one medal today, but who participates in fencing anymore outside ofZorro movies?

Third to go would be archery, the only sport more antiquated thanfencing.

Rhythmic gymnastics also has to go. It's a sport in which ribbons area key component. Think about it. Ribbons. In Los Angeles in 1984, there wasa scandal because the air conditioning inside Pauley Pavilion played havocwith the ribbons. Either get rid of the sport or move it to the Winter Olympics, when there is no air conditioning.

Diving is fine, but synchronized diving? Why?

Trampoline? A nice backyard activity.

Because the IOC has determined that the Olympics are for the bestathletes in the world, then tell sports such as baseball, soccer and boxingthat haven't gotten with the program that they have to go until they do. Iwant to see a boxing tournament with Bernard Hopkins against Puerto Rico'sFelix Trinidad and Hasim Rahman against one of the Ukrainian Klitschkobrothers.

Let's also drop shooting. Not really. I don't have anything againstshooting for sport. I just like to hear the NRA yelp.

August 16, 2004 9:17 AM ET
The world catches up to U.S. hoops

To all those basketball experts who said a U.S. team of NBAplayers would never lose in the Olympics in their lifetimes, or even intheir children's lifetimes, I hate to say I told you so.

So I won't.

But, having seen the level of international basketball improve so muchin the '80s and early '90s, I believed from the time that the first DreamTeam appeared in the Olympics in 1992 that the U.S. team would lose a game,maybe even a medal game, within 20 years. Even I underestimated the rest ofthe world. The United States lost its opening game in the 2004 SummerOlympics last night by 19 points to Puerto Rico.

This was the idea international basketball officials had in mind afterthe 1988 Summer Olympics when they moved to admit NBA players to theOlympics.

There were several reasons. One is that the Brazilians had beaten theUnited States in the 1987 Pan American Games and the Soviet Union hadbeaten the United States in the 1988 Summer Olympics. They were confidentthat many teams in the world had reached, even exceeded, the level of theU.S. college kids and they were ready for better competition from theUnited States. They also believed their fans at home would rather see theirteams play against the best players in the world instead of players whowere less familiar.

When the international basketball federation (FIBA) put the vote to atest, only two countries voted against it: The United States and the SovietUnion.

The Soviets were all too happy to beat up on the U.S. collegians. Asfor the United States, the officials of its basketball federation were waryof losing control of Olympic basketball to the NBA.

As it turned out, the first Dream Team, which truly was a Dream Team,had no competition. Opponents were more interested in having their picturestaken with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird than in playingagainst them. But it didn't take long for that to change. By 2000 inSydney, the United States was vulnerable, almost losing to Lithuania andFrance.

Now, if all the best players in the NBA, such as Shaquille O'Neal,Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Jason Kidd, Kevin Garnett, had agreed to play inAthens, it's doubtful that the United States would have lost. It's similarto 1972, when the U.S. collegians finally lost in a controversialgold-medal game but didn't have Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Elvin Hayes.

Still, it's clear that the United States can no longer merely send anyteam to the Olympics, even one with Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson, andexpect to win a gold medal. If the rest of the world has not quite caughtup, it is catching up fast.

I told you so.

August 15, 2004 8:30 AM ET
Sharing a golden moment from across the globe

Three days before I was to leave for Nagano, Japan, for theWinter Olympics in 1998, my wife and I called a lawyer about adopting achild.

She said she would put us on the list and probably get back to uswithin six months or so, if we were lucky.

She got back to us in two days. There was an emergency situation, sheneeded parents for a 4-month-old boy immediately, were we ready to beparents?

We spent the day signing documents and the night preparing a nursery.

I left the next day for Japan. It was too late for the newspaper whereI was working at the time to replace me. Credentials aren't easy to get atthe last minute.

When I arrived at the Tokyo airport, I called home.

My wife was in bed, with our son.

These thoughts came rushing back to me when I called home from herelast night. It's hard to believe, but our son, David, is almost 7. The dayI left, he had just gotten braces. I haven't seen them yet. He told me theyare blue. I didn't know they had colors.

My wife, Maryann, told me over the phone that she and David weregetting ready to watch Michael Phelps in the 400-meter individual medley, arace I had covered several hours before. NBC's coverage is not evenplausibly live.

I remained on the line as they watched. Maryann gave me thestroke-by-stroke analysis, as if I hadn't seen the race. I enjoyed it evenmore the second time, not seeing it, as the first. I told her some thingsto look for at the end, when Phelps acted less thrilled with his own worldrecord than he did at teammate Erik Vendt's second-place finish.

After the race, David, who swims for the Otterbein Otters, said, "Dad,Michael Phelps is great.''

That was hardly a revelation to anyone but him. He doesn't read thesports pages yet. But it reminded me of when I used to watch sports with mydad.

My family's in Baltimore and I'm here for two more weeks, but for ashort time we were in the same place.

August 14, 2004 7:54 AM ET
A new swimming star isn't born

This morning, preparing to cover the first full day ofathletic competition at the Summer Olympics, I couldn't help but think backto 1988.

I was the international sports reporter for the Los Angeles Times,covering the Games in Seoul. Matt Biondi was the best swimmer of his time,and, like Michael Phelps 16 years later, was pursuing Mark Spitz' record ofseven swimming gold medals in a single Olympics.

Biondi's quest ended early. He would still finish with a remarkablefive gold medals, a silver and a bronze, but, after the Spitz chase wasdone, he became an afterthought in media coverage while a new swimming staremerged.

That was Janet Evans, who, at 17, burst into internationalconsciousness with two gold medals.

I wondered this morning if history might repeat itself. Was itpossible that Phelps, of Rodgers Forge, would win four or five gold medalsand still be considered a disappointment while his teammate with the NorthBaltimore Aquatic Club, Katie Hoff, of Abingdon, upstaged him with wins inher two events?

That possibility soon became history. While Phelps easily won hisearly-morning heat in the 400-meter individual gold medal and retreated torest for tonight's final, Hoff finished fifth in her heat of the women's400 IM and failed to qualify for the final.

You couldn't help but feel sorry for Hoff, who, at 15, is the youngestathlete in the entire U.S. delegation and is the only member of the swimteam who doesn't have at least one of her parents here. Her face at the endof the race was contorted in pain and agony and, nauseated, she collapsedon the pool deck. Her coach, Paul Yetter, said she was overcome by anOlympic-sized case of nerves.

So much pressure for someone so young. But she will have anotherchance next week in the 200 individual medley and -- who knows -- maybe inanother Olympics or two.

As for Phelps, he is also young, at 19, and if does only as well asBiondi, he might disappear from much of the media radar. But there won't beany criticism from this blogger.

Aug. 13, 2004 7:55 AM ET
Greek tragedies already part of Games' script

In 28 years of covering the Olympics, I have been involved insome bizarre stories, most notably Tonya and Nancy in 1994. I thought Iwould never again see anything like that.

I was wrong.

In Greece, the still-evolving incident with two of the country's mostprominent athletes, sprinters Kostas Kenteris and Ekaterini Thanou, isevery bit as big. In case you missed it, Kenteris and Thanou missed amandatory drug test in the athletes' village Thursday and could besuspended by the International Olympic Committee.

That's hardly the end of the story. After missing the test, theathletes reportedly jumped on a motorcycle and were involved in anaccident, sending both to the hospital.

Kenteris is the most popular athlete in Greece. When he won the goldmedal in the 200 meters four years ago in Sydney, a shocking upset, hebecame the first Greek runner to win a gold medal since 1896. It wasassumed he would be the final torch bearer in Friday night's openingceremony, a rare honor for a current athlete.

Thanou was the silver medalist in the women's 100 in 2000.

Both had been the subject of drug rumors for years, primarily becausethey chose to compete at so few events where testing was conducted. Therumors reached a crescendo earlier this year, when unnamed Greek athleteswere discussed in an e-mail that surfaced in the BALCO steroid scandal. Buttheir fans in Greece are very sensitive to the suspicions and havevigorously defended them.

You can imagine the pain and anger sports fans in Greece are feelingtoday. If you can't, then imagine how Oriole fans would have felt if Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray had been disqualified from the 1983 WorldSeries.

Greeks already were saddened by another incident last week, when amember of their women's judo team was either pushed or jumped off abalcony. Her boyfriend, who had been questioned by police in the case,later jumped off the balcony. Both are in a hospital, near death. It was atrue Greek tragedy.

These two episodes have cast a pall over the Games.

I hope it's not a sign of things to come. I wonder what the oracle ofDelphi would say.

Aug. 12, 2004 10:05 AM ET
Looking back, and ahead, at 13th Olympic experience

In "The Naked Olympics," a recent book about the ancient Gamesin Greece, the author quotes from a letter written by a frequent visitor toOlympia. He says that he has attended 12 Games, which he presumes will earnhim a place next to the gods.

This will be my 13th Olympic Games.

I don't believe that will earn me a ticket to heaven, but I have beento some special places on earth.

There have been the grand cities such as Montreal, Barcelona, Sydneyand, yes, even Moscow.

There have been the smaller, charming cities such as Albertville andLillehammer.

The best Olympics for me was Los Angeles in 1984 because, at the time, it was home. Sydney was the best organized. Barcelona was the most joyous.Every night was a festival.

The worst organized was Atlanta. Until 1996, Juan Antonio Samaranch,who became International Olympic Committee president in 1980, had closedevery Olympics over which he presided by proclaiming that they were "thebest Games ever.'' In Atlanta, he said the Games were merely "exceptional."It sounded complimentary, but there was a double meaning to hisdeclaration. He meant that they were an exception.

I'm not sure what Jacques Rogge, the current IOC president, will sayabout Athens at the closing ceremony in 16 days. This has been the leastorganized organizing committee in my experience. To the organizers' credit,I never thought it was possible when I was here in March that they would be asclose to ready as they are today.

How ready is that?

The joke here is that one Greek asked another when the venues had tobe ready for the Games.

"August 13,'' the second Greek said.

"Morning or evening?'' the first Greek asked.

"Evening," the second Greek said.

"Ah,'' the first Greek said. "Then everything will be fine.''

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