With all that in mind, the U.S. team headed to the opening ceremonies with no idea what to expect. "We didn't know whether there would be boos or applause," said canoe and kayak team member Brett Heyl.
A bit of both. The fans responded with polite clapping and a smattering of catcalls, which, when you take into account the a la carte nature of attitudes toward America, is no surprise. The same person deriding a Starbucks on the Champs �lys�es will likely as not profess admiration for American innovation or education. And if the Greeks present Europe's most knee-jerk case of anti-Yankee sentiment, they're also quick to say how much they love American music and the people themselves.
Besides, the Americans didn't give them much to work with. The athletes who acted "American" in Friday night's parade walked under different flags, but no one hissed when the Haitian athletes came out windmilling their arms and cupping hands to their ears, and everyone found it charming when one Italian broke free and kissed the lens of a TV camera. Meanwhile, the U.S. team, looking stiff and nervous, did as it was told, reducing its usual exuberance to tight smiles and furious waves. U.S. officials declared themselves pleased, and it was all good to see, but a bit sad too, because the freewheeling style of American athletes has always been as envied a quality as U.S. wealth and power. There was a lightness in Mary Lou Retton that you didn't see in Nadia Comaneci, a looseness in Sugar Ray Leonard that you didn't see in Teofilo Stevenson.
Now? "It's a different world," Evans says. "There are things we didn't have to deal with years ago." Olympians have long been vessels for national hatred and hope, but it was strange to see so much of it play out here before the first medal was won. In seconds Greek elation went numb with shame. The U.S., meanwhile, avoided embarrassment and mass hostility. These days, that's a win.