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Schedules and Results Medal Tracker Writers Sports 2004 Olympics

Posted: Thursday August 12, 2004 1:53PM; Updated: Tuesday August 17, 2004 4:02PM

  Wide Awake in Athens

This is Zappeion Hall media center -- my new home away from home. Now if I can only figure out where they keep the ouzo...
SYNTAGMA SQUARE -- My new friend Nikos, who drove me from Athens International Airport to my hotel and speaks with the force of a frappe, says I should call this place Constitution Square, though my constitution right now is far from steady. Dehydrated. Anxious. No HBO or Showtime to soothe me. Nearly one in the morning at Syntagma Square. First night in Greece, and I can't sleep. So I head to the northern steps of the square, and I sit. Look around. Remember this. Below me are a parade of nations: Germans and Greeks. Brits and Yanks. Dutch lovers sitting Indian style on benches. A Jamaican doing handstands for Euro coins. Look around. Remember this. This is the center of Athens. Hustlers eyeing tourists. Stray dogs barking at everyone. Yellow taxis and mopeds angrily whizzing by. Greek teenage girls wearing pants low enough to make J. Lo blush. To my right, soaring above the skyline, is the shining Hotel Grande Bretagne, which looks like something out of an Omar Sharif movie. To my left, an outdoor cafe where old men slowly sip cappuccino. Across the street, the red beret and kilt-wearing EVzones guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, marching in unison in front of the Parliament on Amalias Street. The city of Athens, forever drab and littered with blight, has been scrubbed and polish. It shines. Only the fountain in the middle of the square is lifeless, but Poseidon, God of sea and water, will provide come morning.
  Big Time
Before peace, because this is Greece, there was chaos. On the flight over from Amsterdam I spotted a couple of U.S. weightlifters, Cheryl Haworth and Shane Hamman. Big people. Kilos of fun. Haworth, who won bronze as a 17-year-old in Sydney and has been featured in YM, Marie Claire and SI, talked about her studies at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and about Agata Wrobel, a not-so-bitter rival from Poland. "I really want to hate her, but she's pretty nice," she said. "She walks by me, says hi and gives me a head nod." Hamman, who has a 62-inch chest, a 47-inch waist and is likely the nation's biggest motivational speaker, spoke of powerlifting school principles to get his audience's attention when speaking at schools. The group, including four weightlifters and a pair of coaches, had been traveling for nearly 24 hours. Then, upon arriving in the cradle of Western Civilization, there was no one from the USOC to meet them. The group went to the accreditation line only to learn they had no identity cards. Officially, they could not get into the Olympics. A member of the group showed me a memo, signed by Nancy Gonsalves, director of USOC International Games, dated June 21, 2004. It was addressed to the U.S. Olympic team and its delegations and read in part: "Upon arrival into Athens Airport, a USOC representative will meet your flight airside."

He must have been on Greek time. The team waited for about 45 minutes before an overworked and weary USOC rep finally arrived. This did not please women's weightlifting coach Michael Cohen, who called the process "the worst he had ever seen."

"She's exhausted," Cohen said of Haworth. "You want them to get to the Village. Shower. Change. As quick as possible. It's a screw-up. It was a magnificent well-oiled machine in Sydney."

The weightlifters eventually checked into the Village. Calm was restored. We wish them well. If that is the extent of their -- and our -- troubles in Athens, this will be the greatest Games yet. My friend Nikos says by the time the Games end the world will owe Greece an apology. "We are ready," he promises. Kali Tihi, my friend. Good luck to us all.

  Greek Tragedy
State broadcaster ET-1 was unable to show 25 minutes of Greece's opening soccer match against Korea thanks to a short circuit in its master control unit and the failure of backup systems. The Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported that government spokesman, Theodoros Roussopoulos, promised "maximum severity" to those responsible. No ouzo for a week, probably.
  Don't Miss
The Opening Ceremonies. The Greeks promise something we've never seen before, including a Belgian disc jockey, who will be the first-ever DJ at the Games. Uh, we'll take just finishing on time.

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