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Figure skater Hughes has proposal for Phelps

Updated: Monday August 23, 2004 8:17PM
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  Opening With A Bang

Michael Phelps proudly displays one of his six gold medals.
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
Early-morning traffic is snarling like an angry serpent, and I'm stuck just outside the center of Athens with a taxi driver approaching Social Security age. He's listening to an American hip-hop artist. I'm reading the Athens News.

The world is small. There's an American obesity staple to my right (Pizza Hut), a Greek god staring hard to my left (weightlifter Pyrros Dimas on a 50-foot billboard) and some stranger in the seat in front of me whom we picked up along the way.

In Greece, as you must know by now, cab drivers keep picking up people. It doesn't matter if they already have a fare or if they look like Charles Manson. But I'm not saying a word, just in case my taxi driver is the Greek Robert DeNiro.

Our radio station, my cabbie tells me in broken English, is National Radio ERT, which is 101.8 on your Greek dial if you're in Athens. They just played a three-song set that has left me speechless and thrilled. It started with the The Talking Heads ("Once in a Lifetime") and ended with Lynard Synyard's "Sweet Home Alabama." In between was "Yeah" by Usher, Lil Jon and Ludacris.

Ludicrous is what the blog's schedule has been lately. Eighteen-hour days from the MPC. Tomorrow is Day 11, but it feels like Day 312. But if the bosses are reading -- uh, not likely, we're thinking -- we wouldn't have it any other way.

Last night, past midnight, I interviewed figure skater Sarah Hughes for SI's weekly Q&A. She's working at these Games as reporter for the local CBS station in New York, though most reporters I know don't get invited to red-carpet parties sponsored by Speedo. Then again, most reporters also don't get into Yale, where Hughes just completed her first year.

The 19-year-old, with personality to spare, had an interesting proposal for U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps: "Michael has six gold medals; he can have one for every night of the week," she said. "But think about this: Say me and Michael Phelps are hanging out. Well, Speedo offered him a million dollars for winning seven golds. He hangs out with me, and together, how many do we have? We have seven. There you go. If that happens, I should get a seventh of the million, right?" ...

Good luck to Sarah on that, but if I had a million dollars (cue the song here), I'd give it to the U.S. softball team, who won the gold medal in an Olympic performance that rivals the 1992 Dream Team of Michael, Magic, et al. Back in the middle of May, on a sunny day in New York's Central Park, I watched renowned shutterbug Michael O'Neill photograph the team at Hecksher Fields, where I hear the softball team for Sports Illustrated plays its games (osmosis, gentlemen).

With the flare and mien of a conductor of the Boston Pops, the photographer directed the team from a podium above the field. They smiled, growled, held bats aloft, sat Indian style, whatever this guy wanted. Then, after the dog and pony show was over, they did something that struck me: They all ran killer sprints, and they ran them hard, even the pitchers and the glamour girl, Jennie Finch. These guys cared, and it was nice to see them rewarded.

 
  Faster, Higher, Stronger?
Perception is a moving river. NBC put out a press release Monday (or at least that's when I read it) with comments from track and field commentators Tom Hammond and Lewis Johnson regarding the 100-meter semis, when U.S. sprinters Justin Gatlin and Shawn Crawford were jawing at each other as they crossed the line. Here's the transcript:

Hammond: "Would someone please remind them that these are the Olympic Games? A little dignity, please." Johnson: "I imagine that some of the U.S. coaches will have a word with them about this. You know, the way they perform physically is awesome.  They got out there and showed everybody who's in charge, but it's the other stuff here that just needs to be left at a practice track somewhere."

Now here's a photo caption from today's Athens News, which shows the two barking at each other: "100-meter winner Justin Gatlin of the U.S. seems to encourage team-mate [sic] Shawn Crawford as they near the finish line ahead of Jamaica's Micheal Frater and France's Ronald Pognon."

Lack of dignity or encouraging teammate? You make the call.

 
  Don't Miss
Athletics: Men's 1500m final, OAKA Olympic Stadium
It's a chance to see two of the great runners in the world duel in a terrific race: Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco and Bernard Lagat of Kenya.

Athletics: Women's 100m hurdles final, OAKA Olympic Stadium
Joanna Hayes of the U.S. and Canada's Perdita Felicien figure to be neck-and-neck at the finish line.

Athletics: Women's 400m final, OAKA Olympic Stadium
Mexico's world champion Ana Guevara (featured in SI's preview) is the favorite, but the U.S. has an emerging star in Sanya Richards.

 
  Americans To Watch
Daniel Lincoln has his work cut out for him in the 3,000-meter steeplechase final, and diver Troy Dumais leaps off the board in 3-meter springboard diving.
 
 

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