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ATHENS 2004 | Mike Penner / THE DAY IN ATHENS

Hey, Watch Out for Those Thunderbolts

August 19, 2004|Mike Penner

ATHENS — It was tough work, being an ancient Greek.

If you ran in the BC Olympics and committed a false start, you were flogged.

If you were a married woman caught trying to participate in the BC Olympics, or even watch them, you were thrown to your death from the top of Mt. Typaeum.

Today we have our own version of that, for anyone caught watching the Olympics on American television. It's called NBC.

But suffice it to say, penalties were stern at old Olympia. Two thousand years have passed, and some things haven't changed all that much, judging from the entries on Wednesday's Olympic transgressions wire.

RESIGNED: Renowned Greek sprinters Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou, who announced they were quitting the Athens Games before stepping foot on the track in defense of medals won four years ago in Sydney.

Kenteris, 2000 gold medalist in the men's 200 meters, and Thanou, silver medalist in the women's 100, decided to withdraw from the 2004 Olympics in an effort to defuse the controversy surrounding the mandatory drug test they missed last week.

"We have been waiting 108 years for the return of the Olympic Games to their birthplace," Kenteris told reporters outside the Athens Hilton. "With a sense of responsibility and national interest, I withdraw from the Olympics."

Kenteris and Thanou were perhaps the most popular male and female athletes in Greece before this sorry saga. Public reaction here, to put it mildly, has been hysterical.

Just suppose, for comparison's sake, Barry Bonds and Marion Jones were linked to some doping scandal. Imagine the outcry in America if something like that ever happened.

FIRED: Christos Tzekos, Kenteris' personal coach, because if Kenteris was going out, he wasn't going alone.

EXPELLED: South Korean judo coach Suh Jung-Bok, by his national federation, for allegedly hitting one of his athletes after she lost a bout. Moving on a journalist's report that Suh struck Ye Gue-Rin after she lost in the quarterfinals of the 105 1/2 -pound division, the South Korean judo federation expelled the coach from the Games.

SENTENCED: To quote the lead paragraph of the Associated Press' dispatch, "A tutu-clad Canadian who jumped into the Olympic diving pool after a competition was convicted Wednesday of interrupting the Games and sentenced to five months in jail."

A good piece of writing, there. It's hard to resist any story that starts with the words "A tutu-clad Canadian who jumped into the Olympic diving pool."

You just can't help reading further, and once you do, you find that Ron Bensimhon, 31, of Montreal was arrested after jumping off the three-meter springboard during Monday's synchronized diving competition while wearing a blue tutu and white tights with polka dots.

Bensimhon told the judge he didn't think his offense was "so serious" and claimed he was simply trying to honor Spyros Louis, the Greek marathon champion at the 1896 Olympics.

Listening to this, the judge also noted that Bensimhon had scrawled what appeared to be an ad for an Internet casino across his chest. Five months in jail it was.

APOLOGIZED: U.S. shotputter Adam Nelson, after complaining long and loudly that he hadn't fouled on his last attempt at Olympia and then viewing a taped replay that indicated that he had indeed fouled.

"They said I fouled," said Nelson, who placed second behind Ukraine's Yuriy Bilonog. "I didn't think I did. And they were right."

This never would have happened at ancient Olympia, video replay machines being rather crude in 776 BC. Some things, however, stay the same, and Nelson rightly figured it was unwise to risk the wrath of the gods at Olympia.

So he said he was sorry and accepted the silver.

DISMISSED: The biggest names in American professional tennis, from the Olympic tournament.

Andy Roddick lost to Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, 6-4, 6-4, in the third round.

Venus Williams, the Sydney women's singles champion, lost to Mary Pierce of France, also by a 6-4, 6-4 score, also in the third round.

Chanda Rubin also lost. So did Lisa Raymond. So did the Bryan brothers, Bob and Mike, who had come to Athens seeded first in men's doubles.

What were these players doing in their off-hours, watching motivational tapes of the U.S.-Puerto Rico men's basketball game?

Surprisingly, there are some American players still left in the tennis tournament. Mardy Fish and Taylor Dent reached the men's singles quarterfinals and the women's team of Martina Navratilova, 47, and Raymond advanced in doubles.*

(*Advanced because their opponents, Amelie Mauresmo and Pierce, withdrew when Mauresmo complained of a rash caused by a skin allergy that developed during her singles victory over Rubin. You watch enough tennis here in Athens, eventually you will see everything.)

REPRIEVED: U.S. gymnast Paul Hamm, who stuck his vault landing on the judge's table, seldom advised in instructional manuals, yet was able to rally to win the gold medal in the men's all-around competition -- by the closest margin ever in an Olympics.

Hamm said he was shocked to win the gold, and he wasn't the only one.

"To be in first place after that kind of mistake, I thought there was no chance," he told reporters.

But Hamm found the Olympic gods in a forgiving mood Wednesday. Evidently, Nelson's apology on Olympia went a long way.

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