No issue hangs over the Games more ominously than drugs. The track and field scandal will continue to unfold, with debates over who's clean and who isn't.
A staff of 125 will work around the clock during the Games at Athens's new $5.4 million drug-testing lab. All medalists reportedly will have to submit urine samples, as will other athletes chosen at random. The samples will undergo the most thorough scrutiny in sports history. Since Sydney, tests have been developed for two prominent "designer" steroids—THG (the drug at the center of the BALCO case) and Norbolethone—and the urine test for EPO, a drug that boosts production of red blood cells and is used by endurance athletes, has been refined. The IOC could also spring a surprise and announce the first testing for human growth hormone.
One reason Athenians usually leave town in August is the month's oppressive heat (average high: 88� F). Some competitions have been shifted to relatively cool hours of the day, but there are sure to be meltdowns. Plans to build a roof over the swimming pool were scrapped by the Games' organizers in March because the structure could not be completed in time, irking both NBC (whose cameras will have to adjust to swimmers moving in and out of the sunlight) and some competitors (who'll poach in the morning races). "Backstrokers are most vulnerable," says former Olympic champion John Naber, noting that they must look skyward while swimming.
Rowers were swamped by waves whipped up by strong winds during a test event in May at the rowing and flatwater canoeing center. The venue sits on the Aegean coast, near windmills used to generate electricity. Canoeists worry that they will not be able to perform effectively if waters are too rough. Cyclists, meanwhile, have complained that the not-fully-enclosed velodrome lets in blasts of wind at certain spots on the track. One consolation: The conditions should be good for sailing.
Even though fans won't be allowed to drive to events, and thousands of traffic-control officers will be around, and subways and trains will be free to people with event tickets and Olympic credentials, the famously congested roads in and around the Greek capital will give the world press corps something else to gripe about.
Increased spending for security and for overtime construction work has pushed the tab for the 2004 Games to an estimated $7.2 billion. Greece will be saddled with a deficit of at least $1.7 billion.