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ATHENS 2004 | Mike Penner / THE DAY IN ATHENS

Hey, You Win Some, You Lose Some Here

August 26, 2004|Mike Penner

ATHENS — An Olympic medal, super-heavyweight weightlifting champion Hossein Reza Zadeh said after winning one Wednesday, "is a precious thing to acquire and obtain."

Athletes train for years for the chance to win one. They suffer and sweat and sometimes drop to their knees to kiss the ground, as Reza Zadeh did, after they've clinched one.

And, occasionally, they leave one in a taxi.

Or in the athletes' village before heading out for the airport.

Dutch rower Diederik Simon, winner of a men's eight silver medal, absent-mindedly left his award in the backseat of an Athens taxi the other day. Not a good move. In this city, tiny ceramic-coated pins are treated like precious metal. Imagine the feeding frenzy the finder might field with an actual precious medal in his possession.

Fortunately for Simon, his cabby was an honest man. Upon spotting the medal, the driver contacted the local Taxi Drivers' Trade Union, which contacted the transportation division of the Athens Olympic organizing committee, which got the medal back to Simon.

Give or take what Maurice Greene, Justin Gatlin and Co. might accomplish on the track this weekend, it could go down as the relay performance of the Athens Games.

Chilean tennis player Nicolas Massu, who set off raucous street parties in his home country after winning gold medals in men's singles and doubles, was in such a hurry to celebrate with his family in Miami that he forgot both medals in his bedroom in the village.

Chile's Olympic swim coach, Rodrigo Banados, found the medals, and what are the odds of that? Chile having an Olympic swim coach, I mean. Apparently, Banados was dispatched to Athens precisely for this sort of duty, keeping tabs on non-swimmers who have a chance to win a medal.

He located the medals in the village apartment he was sharing with Massu and phoned the player before he left Greece.

"I called him straight away to avoid the fright that an unthinkable situation like that would bring," Banados told the Chilean newspaper Las Ultimas Noticias.

Banados gave the medals to Massu's doubles partner, Fernando Gonzalez, to transport to Miami, and isn't that what Olympic teammates are for?

You can bet the Bahamas have Olympic medals on their minds. Wednesday night, after Debbie Ferguson took bronze in the women's 200-meter sprint to double the Bahamas' medal total at the Athens Games, from one to two, Ferguson had a breaking-news bulletin for the assembled media.

"Per capita," Ferguson announced with a straight face, "the Bahamas has actually won the Olympics."

Funny stuff. And, according to the man tracking medals per capita at the Athens Games -- MPC for per-capita junkies -- Ferguson is right on the mark.

"The Bahamas have moved into an insurmountable lead," said Newsday's Chuck Culpepper, who has been updating MPC standings every day in his newspaper. "I don't think Estonia can catch them now."

With two medals and a population of 299,000, the Bahamas have one Olympic medal for every 149,500 people.

Estonia, with three medals and a population of 1.3 million, has one medal for every 447,000 citizens.

"That Hungarian discus thrower skewed the standings," Culpepper said, referring to Robert Fazekas, who was stripped of his gold medal for a doping violation. "Because he allowed Estonia to move up from fourth and win a bronze. Briefly, that moved Estonia into the lead."

Culpepper was saddened to see Estonia lose that lead.

"That would have been the perfect way to define the 21st century Olympic Games," he said. "The medals-per-capita title decided by a guy who couldn't provide enough urine."

At press time, Fazekas was on his way back to Hungary, driving in the same car with Hungarian teammate and new Olympic hammer throw champion Adrian Annus, a predicament that has created another set of complications. Annus left Athens without taking a drug test and could lose his gold medal because he didn't.

You have to like an Olympics where two track and field champions, one of them suspended and the other on the verge, can drive home to Hungary.

Can the Athens doping control police make a border chase, run them down and catch them?

Is this the next great buddy picture, just dying to be made?

"Thelma and Louise Don't Do Urine Tests"?

"Gone in 60 Seconds?"

Is it too late to send the dogs after them?

Then again, in Athens, dogs are specialists, often restricted to triathlon training.

Hunter Kemper, an American medal contender in today's men's triathlon, got in some intense cardiovascular work recently when he was chased by two stray, irritated dogs.

Kemper's coaches had warned him about the strays before he began a workout run. He thought they were overreacting. He went out for a run and saw a couple of dogs but said, "I didn't think they would chase me. But sure enough they did. And I was running downhill and my heart rate skyrocketed and I was screaming at them."

Fortunately, Kemper was able to report, "I got away. There were no attacks. I was good and will be good for [today's race]. I kept on running pretty hard for a while."

In Sydney, the triathletes were worried about sharks. In Athens, it's dogs.

Different Games, different concerns.

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