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Posted: Tuesday August 17, 2004 11:50AM; Updated: Wednesday August 18, 2004 9:47AM
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Pete McEntegart: The 10 Spot -- Tuesday, Aug. 17
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Jon Wertheim: Empty seats lead to lousy TV
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1. Olympic venues were only filled to 56 percent of capacity through Monday's events. While many competitors and media members seemed surprised at the wide swaths of empty seats, the sparse crowds seem perfectly appropriate for an Olympic Stadium. For Expos games, at least.

2. As ESPN's Joe Theismann and Suzy Kolber entered the stadium before last Thursday's Falcons-Ravens preseason game, a security guard motioned to Theismann and said, "This way, Mr. Namath." In fairness to the guard, though, Theismann was giving Kolber a peck on the cheek at the time.

3. The 10 Spot has officially jumped on the Michael Phelps bandwagon, especially since there's a little more room these days. Phelps made us fans during an interview on Monday night's telecast after picking himself out of the pool after yet another swim, this time the semifinal for the 200 butterfly. NBC's Melissa Stark cornered him and basically tried to get him to tell the nation how disappointed he must be after two bronze medals so far compared to one measly gold. Phelps wasn't biting. He said he wanted to swim in the 200 free against Ian Thorpe and Pieter van den Hoogenband just for a rare chance to race against the very best, and was happy with the way he performed. He allowed that the bronze in the 4x100 relay was a disappointment, but more for the team than for him in particular. Then he said his goal coming to Athens was to win one gold medal and then just have fun. It seemed he actually meant it, and good for him. It's not like Phelps came into the Games talking trash about winning seven or eight gold medals; others did the talking for him. Why don't we just let the kid swim? (Or, if you're NBC, let him swim, then wait seven hours to show it.) Because if Phelps ends up with, say, three golds, two silvers and two bronzes and is remembered as a mild disappointment, something is very wrong.

4. Here's a primer if you're planning to watch the women's gymnastics team finals on Tuesday night: Every score counts. At least that's what the commentators said about a million times during the men's event on Monday night. In the past, it seems, a team could toss out the lowest score on each apparatus, so the fact that EVERY SCORE COUNTS is indeed a significant change. Still, after the first five mentions, even the sports-illiterate viewers that NBC is apparently targeting likely got the message. It was like somebody told Al Trautwig the rule just before he went on air and he still couldn't get over it.

5. Guard Gary Payton told the Riverside (Calif.) Press-Enterprise that he is so upset with the Lakers for shipping him to the Celtics that he would rather quit than play any more. Unfortunately, Payton's decision comes a season too late to help the Lakers.

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6. The 10 Spot watches gymnastics between Olympiads as often as it does According to Jim, but it's impossible not to be impressed by how incredible these athletes are. For one, the men showed that break dancing isn't dead after all, as a procession of short, pumped-up white and Asian guys burned up the mat during the floor exercise in a way that would have made Turbo from Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo proud. (As an aside, wasn't that Turbo playing the drums in the video for Bobby Brown's My Prerogative?) Still, the 10 Spot is most amazed by the women on balance beam. How can any human, even a young and tiny one, develop enough confidence to launch into a flip with only a four-inch wide wood beam as a landing strip? Plus, it's one thing for an experienced world-class gymnast to turn that trick in the Olympics; how do you get the gumption to try it for the very first time back in some rickety gym? That's got to be another reason that all top gymnasts start so young. Anybody 15 or older would be too concerned with breaking his neck -- and understandably so -- to pick up such a sport.

7. Several 10 Spot readers wondered why irascible umpire Angel Hernandez shouldn't be subject to possible ejection or suspension if indeed he instigated a verbal confrontation with Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, as was discussed in this space last Friday. Sean O'Connor of Denver put it best: "I just wanted to comment about the Angel Hernandez/Derek Jeter thing ... oh, wait, I've just been kicked out of this email by Hernandez. Sorry."

8. Hot party: Athens Olympic committee president Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki threw a bash at her hillside villa on Saturday to celebrate how smoothly the lavish Opening Ceremonies had gone. The party was capped by a fireworks display. The fireworks caused a blaze in a nearby wooded area, which burned out of control for nearly an hour.

9. The downside to watching so much sports is that sometimes one loses track of truly important world events. For example, the 10 Spot somehow missed news of Nicky Hilton's quickie Vegas weekend wedding until Tuesday morning. Wasn't Nicky supposed to be the well-adjusted, "normal" Hilton sister? I guess it's all relative.

10. Isn't there something fundamentally odd about the sport of women's softball that the U.S. and Japan combined for just two hits in an eight-inning game, yet it struck nobody as especially unusual? As someone who has covered a fair amount of Division I softball, the 10 Spot has this unprompted suggestion to improve the game -- everybody needs to relax and take a few steps back. The pitchers are too darn close, which is one reason they are so dominant. The bases are too close, which is the reason teams employ speedsters to slap the ball to the left side of the infield and take off running. To combat the slappers, the third baseman needs to play approximately three feet away from the plate, and if she even bobbles the ball slightly, she has no chance at the runner. The whole sport plays like baseball if it were hopped up on greenies.

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