Other American athletes will be sitting out Athens for other reasons. A fair portion of the U.S. track and field team has been sidelined by an ever-widening drug scandal that has redefined the term "Olympic trials," bumping athletes off the track and into the courtroom.
So far in 2004, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has sanctioned a dozen American track and field athletes -- and 23 Olympic athletes overall. Among them are Calvin Harrison, a 1,600-meter relay gold medalist in 2000; Kelli White, 100- and 200-meter women's world champion in 2003; Regina Jacobs, a three-time Olympian, and Kevin Toth, 2003 U.S. shotput champion.
The high-profile BALCO drug investigation has targeted such big names as 100-meter world-record holder Tim Montgomery and two-time Olympic relays medalist Chryste Gaines, while casting suspicion on five-time Sydney medalist Marion Jones.
Last month's U.S. Olympic track and field trials in Sacramento became a bizarre exercise in accusation and denial, with athletes and their coaches and agents clashing with reporters over drug-related stories, and other competitors sounding almost relieved that they'd failed to qualify for the Games, thus sparing themselves the angst of the long haul to Athens.
Drugs. Delays. Gridlock. Fear of terrorism. This is not the kind of promotional buildup Athens expected for its Games in 1997. In the public relations war, Greece could certainly use the help of one of its mythical heroes, but Achilles is on the disabled list with a bad heel and half of Jason's argonauts are facing suspension for possible doping violations.
"I'm concerned," said David Wallechinsky, Olympic historian who will be working as a commentator for NBC during the Athens Games. "I think that, from the romance point of view, when people get there and you start seeing features on TV about the Acropolis and the ancient sites, it's going to remind people why the Games went to Athens. [The opening ceremony], I think, will be very dramatic. You will get that beautiful feeling of Greece and its history. So that will come back....
"The rest of it, I'd say there's a lot of problems. I'm nervous. I encouraged my wife and son to come with me, I bought the tickets, got them a place to stay. When my wife expressed some concern when she learned American troops were going to be there, I talked to her, 'It'll be OK.' "
But Wallechinsky conceded that he had also worked hard to convince himself.
"Look, they blew up a police station in Athens a few weeks ago," he said. "I loved the way the mayor of Athens dealt with that. 'Ah, it's not important. These are just local terrorists. They're just, like, nonviolent anarchists. They call in advance. They never hurt anybody. This is not something you should take seriously.'
"And I'm thinking, 'Thank goodness they're nonviolent anarchists.' They blew up a police station! This is not like the 7-Eleven with a little security camera in the corner. This is a police station! So, fine, these people aren't going to do anything, but isn't that kind of a lesson?
"So, yeah, obviously, I'm concerned."
So too is Olympic filmmaker Bud Greenspan.
"I'm not worried necessarily that [terrorism] is going to be there, but somewhere in the world," he said. "The Olympic Games, the queen's coronation, the presidential inauguration -- same thing. Terrorists look for places to get their message around the world for nothing."
Greenspan's Olympic films traditionally focus on the upbeat and the inspirational, but even he acknowledges some jading after the BALCO scandal.
"I'd rather spend 100% of my time on the 95% that's good," he said. "A lot of our [media] colleagues are more interested in the 5% that's bad. I think it's there, but I don't think it's [as widespread] as it's been played....
"I think everybody is suspect. I don't think it's fair. It's unfortunate that it's gone this way. I thought Marion Jones was God's gift to womanhood. But she got hit."
Alluding to Jones' subpar sprinting performances at last month's trials, Greenspan said, "I'm not sure if she didn't want to be tested or just wasn't up to shape. We'll never know.
"I've been reading about steroids, and it bothers the hell out of me now. A great two weeks of bluff -- these are the Olympic Games, and for them getting into this hole ... I think for the next decade, they're going to be suspect. I think of myself. I shouldn't be this way, but the first thing I thought when so-and-so won the 100 at the trials, 'They've got to examine her.' I didn't used to think that way."
Davenport wonders whether the drug cloud hasn't already knocked the bloom off the Olympics.
"It's tough," she said. "It's tough to think and look back at the other Olympics and think, 'Gosh, were they on drugs? Did they cheat?'
"You think of the Olympics, that they would have -- I'm so naive -- that they would have the best drug testing, that no one could get past them and that'd be crazy. Then you hear all these stories, well, no, that the drug companies are so many steps ahead....