Friday, December 24, 2004

Happy Christmas!

Seasons greetings from Robin!
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

As Robin has written in the snow, Happy Christmas (well, he says Xmas, but there was no room for the whole word, sadly).

Hope you all have a brilliant Christmas wherever you're reading this. Thanks loads for reading this Blog during the Olympics (such amazing memories) and for still reading it now.

More Robin pics from over the festive period very soon. And then onto 2005 and a wedding in February (and, yes, Robin will definitely be making an appearance there and on the stag weekend!).


Monday, December 20, 2004

Robin is back! On top of a mountain!

Robin on top of a mountain
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Okay, okay, I know. I haven't posted on this Blog since the end of November, which is very poor indeed. I'm sorry. Genuinely.

I've been a very busy man all through December - the lead up to Christmas is the busiest time in my job and I had to work the last three weekends before this one.

But, as you'll see, I finally got a weekend off this weekend. I went up to Penrith in Cumbria (aka The Lake District) to buy my fiance an engagement ring (wanted to buy it in my hometown). We found one, and it's lovely.

So then yesterday (Sunday) we climbed up Helvellyn - a mountain in the Lakes, which was covered in snow on the higher reaches. It was quite a tricky climb (it's never been snowy when we've been up before) but we made it up and were rewarded by the most amazing views. Robin could've flown up in no time, I guess, but he decided to do the whole journey in my backpack.

Hope some of you are still reading and that you're all set up nicely for a great Christmas.

More pics of Robin in the next few days, I promise...

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Robin visits the church I'm getting married in!

Robin and a church
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Yes folks, this is the church in Athens where I'm getting married in February. It's the same church that my fiance's parents married in in 1974. The fact I've been out there is one of the reasons I haven't updated in ages (sorry). The other reason is that I've been super-busy - I've already spent 24 hours in Lyon, France since I got back to London from Athens on Wednesday. Busy busy busy. So busy I forgot to take Robin to Lyon. Sorry folks. Sorry Robin.

But the wedding stuff is coming on nicely (thanks to those that have asked). The church is booked as is the reception (after a last-minute change caused by a stunningly awful refit at the (previously classy) place we'd booked - pink fur everywhere and walls upholstered in shiny silver fabric!). And tomorrow I'm off to get measured up for my suit. Less than 3 months to go now. Exciting stuff. Nice to be back in Athens too - there wasn't too much evidence of the Olympics, just a front page in a newspaper saying how much it had cost and a few shops with reduced merchandise! Felt odd to go past the stadium complex on the metro train - would love to have stopped off for some water polo or some athletics!

Here's a funny thing for you folks that read during the Olympics. On the site - - where I store my pictures to use on this site, it tells you how many times each picture has been clicked on to make it bigger (cos that takes you through to their site). Most pics from the Olympics have been clicked on 100-160 times, the one of me and my fiance 190 times, but the only one that's been clicked on over 200 times - in fact 1,200 times! - is the one of... can you guess?... yes! Robin and the beach volley babes!


Sunday, November 07, 2004

Robin enjoys Bonfire Night!

Whizz! Bang! Robin!
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Hello folks.

This is Robin enjoying the fireworks at the Guy Fawkes celebration at Alexandra Palace in London.

For those readers who don't know what Guy Fawkes Night (aka Bonfire Night) is, it commemorates the day Mr Fawkes from York (where my dad lives) tried to blow up the Houses Of Parliament in 1605 by placing lots of barrels of gunpowder in the cellar (which is why it's also known as The Gundpowder Plot).

Unfortunately for Fawkes, the plot was discovered and he was caught on November 5 1605. Naturally not best pleased with his behaviour, the King decided to hang, draw and quarter him.

Every year since then, Brits have celebrated Fawkes' failure by letting off fireworks and, often, burning an effigy of Fawkes on a bonfire (hence Bonfire Night).

(This is actually quite educational for me too - had to look for a lot of it online, but obviously every schoolkid in the UK knows the story backwards!).

So, we went up to Ally Pally last night with thousands of north Londoners and had a great time - it's quite a major, organised display and the fireworks were very impressive (better than the ones that have been set off every night for the past few weeks on every street in Britain by pesky teenagers which just go 'weeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.....BANG!' rather annoyingly).

Bonfire Night rocks - you can keep your Halloween which seems to be built around its tacky merchandising. One of the great things about Nov 5 is that the only things shops can sell are fireworks and perhaps some bonfire toffee. So, as a celebration, it's pretty much exactly the same as it was 20 or 30 years ago.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

The bird in Budapest

Bird baths
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Hey up

Sorry it's been a while since I last posted. After I took the Kylie pic - which I'm glad you liked - I've been super duper busy at work, with a few days' holiday squeezed in the middle.

The picture above was taken on those few days' holiday, in Budapest with my fiance, my best pal Simon and his girlfriend Ruth. We went from last Saturday until this Wednesday night and had a really cool time. Here are my off-the-top-of-my-head highlights (in no particular order)

1. Szechenyi Gyogyfurod es Strandfuro baths
This is where the picture was taken, an amazing complex of baths and thermal pools, built in about 1920. As well as the hot outdoor pools, there were plenty of saunas, steam rooms and eggy sulphur pools Inside the buildings you can see behind Robin. Great place for a relaxing day out - and only cost about four pounds (seven dollars).

2. The 6-3 Bar
Not a particularly nice bar, but it was named after a football (soccer) game in 1953 when Hungary became the first team to beat England at Wembley. I like that 50 years on a little pokey bar commemorates that.

3. All the other bars
Cheap, good beer is hard to argue with, especially in cosy, stylish places. Some great restaurants there too.

4. Our flat
We stayed in a flat in the centre of Pest, which very much confirmed my theory that self-catering and having your own space beats hotels everytime.

5. Buda
The place is called Budapest because it's made up of two places either side of the Danube - Buda and Pest. We stayed in Pest, but had a lovely time up in Buda, which is like the old town, with a pretty castle etc. Funnily enough the only pest we met the whole time was in Buda - some loopy fella who was desperate to be our (paid) tour guide and didn't like to take no for an answer. He said 'Allow me to say one sentence more...' at least five times. We just wandered off eventually.

6. The cake shops
There are some amazing cake shops in Budapest. Okay, so they do like to put goose fat and cabbage in an alarming number of their pastries, but the sweet cakes are superb. And again, extremely cheap (30p/50c will buy you a properly amazing chocolate cake).

So, there you go, the highlights of an ace few days away - can really recommend a visit if you ever get the chance.

Hope you folks are all well and sorry for not posting for a while.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Robin meets Kylie!

He should be so lucky
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

No, your eyes do not deceive you, today Robin met the woman who closed the Sydney Olympics. The woman who's sold around 40 million records in a really rather successful career. The woman most of the world has had a crush on at some point or another. And the woman who thought Robin was so cute that she let him stand on her head.

Kylie Minogue, for posing with Robin (and for being a thoroughly pleasant woman) we salute you!

Monday, October 18, 2004

Robin attends GB Olympic parade!

A Robin among pigeons
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Yes, several months after the Olympics finished and we all came back to the UK, the British athletes finally got their victory parade today.

Floats carrying all the medal winners from the Olympics and the Paralympics went through London and ended up in Trafalger Square, where we went to see them.

The BBC were broadcasting the whole thing live and they went through batches of different athletes on the big stage, showing highlights and interviewing them.

Although the crowd gave nice cheers to the rowers, the relay squad, Kelly Holmes and all the rest, to be honest the whole thing felt a wee bit flat. Perhaps cos it was Monday lunchtime. Perhaps cos it all went on quite a long time. Or perhaps because it was such a long time ago that they actually won their medals. Still, nice to go along and wave our little flags at some of the folks we last saw on podiums in Athens (and, let's face it, we couldn't not go - having made it all the way to Athens, a few hundred metres from my work is nothing!).

Friday, October 15, 2004

Robin's lunch-break adventure: Pt 1

Robin goes down the tube
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Yes, this is Robin's three part lunch-break adventure, which we've just returned from.

This is a picture of him at Tottenham Court Road tube station, where we went to catch the underground train to get the picture of Big Ben (which, you'll remember, got most votes).

But it's just a boring tube platform I hear you say. No, no dear readers. This, I believe, is the very tube platform where something nasty happens in 'An American Werewolf In London'. Luckily, Robin looks tough, so nobody bothered him.

Robin's lunch-break adventure: Pt 2

Robin. Big Ben. Parliament
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

So having waited seven blummin' minutes for a tube (seven blummin' minutes is a long time to wait for a tube) we made it to Westminster station, which looks right out on Big Ben.

Sorry it's a bit dark (even with the camera's over-exposure turned up), but that's the weather in London today. Cold, dark and rainy. Brrrr.

Obviously pub quiz fans will point out you can't actually see Big Ben, because Big Ben is the bell, rather than the tower. But, hey, you can see the tower holding it, and the Houses of Parliament and even a traditional red London bus (which are being fazed out as we speak).

Robin's lunch-break adventure: Pt 3

Eye Eye Robin!
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Directly behind where we took the Big Ben picture is the London Eye or the Millennium Wheel, depending on what you want to call it.

Robin was feeling a bit chilly by this time (and the rain was rainin' even harder), so I made him put on his woolly hat. Doesn't he look smart?

Once we'd taken the pictures we walked back along Embankment to the station there, came back on the tube and typed all this up - all within a lunch hour! Don't say I don't put the effort in for you folks!

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Apologies for lack of picture! Excuse!


Yes, I've not put a picture of Robin up for a wee while now, but I do have an excuse. I've been feeling a bit under the weather this week, which culminated on Tuesday night with my body taking it upon itself to make me throw up frequently and violently for around 8 hours. Not nice. Guess it must've been one of those bugs that the London Underground seems so effective at spreading. But I'm feeling a bit better now and am back at work (with lots to catch up on). So, Robin picture will be up very soon. As will a wedding update. And various other bits and bobs. As soon as I've got all this work out of the way...

Bring. On. The. Weekend.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Robin London shoot delayed!

Yes, I'm afraid the Robin photo shoot scheduled for today has had to be postponed until Monday. I have several excuses...

1. I'm dang busy at work.

2. Debate still seems to be hotting up and so we need longer to decide. It's currently:
- Big Ben 4
- Traf Sq 3
- Buck Palace 3
- London Eye 1

And last but not least...

3. I forgot to bring Robin with me today.

Oops. Sorry. But get your votes in if you haven't all ready done so!

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Robin London pic voting hots up!

Quick update for you on the voting for the where-I-should-do-a-picture-of-Robin-in-London voting (to save you the effort of having to click on the comments on the post below).

Five votes in.

2 x Big Ben
2 x Trafalger Square
1 x Buckingham Palace
0 x Picadilly Circus, London Eye, Victoria Station

Oooh, you could cut the excitement with a knife. Even a blunt one. Who will the winner be come Friday lunchtime when I shall venture out to take said picture in my lunch break? One of the above is ten minutes from my office, others rather further - but I'm looking for a fair contest, so I won't tell you which...

Get those votes in on the comments tab on the post below (hmm, so it looks like you'll have to click on it after all...)

Robin goes to Italian footie! But where will he go in London? You decide!

Robin Italian style
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Hey up

Yes, our hectic jet-setting lifestyle continued this weekend (honestly, we're not always like this) when we flew to Italy, a present I gave my fiance for her birthday in July.

We went to Treviso on Saturday, a beautiful little town about 20 miles from Venice, also with waterways through the town, but not jam packed full of tourists (Venice is nice, but once is probably enough).

Then, on Sunday we took the train up to Udine, where we went to see Udinese play Juventus, one of the best football teams in the whole wide world! The fella on the ball in the background is Trezeguet, just one of a number of world-class players they have. We ended up in the Juventus end (Lex got a five euro discount just for being female!) and Robin kept up his winning mascot record - Juve won 1-0.

And now back to London where debate is hotting up as to where Robin should have his first London picture taken. So, now I want you to vote. And here is the shortlist:

1. Big Ben
2. Picadilly Circus
3. Buckingham Palace
4. Trafalger Square
5. London Eye
6. Victoria Station (for Vix)

So, get your votes in the on the comments form below (easiest way is to click on Post Anonymously). And on Friday lunchtime I'll go and get a pic of whichever one's got most votes.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Robin gets an Eiffel!

Ah, le Robin!
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Yes, me and Robin took the train across from London to Paris yesterday afternoon - the trains are amazingly handy, gets you there in well under 3 hours without any of the hassle of long checking in times and all that airport gubbins.

As you'll see, we got up early for a wander around Paris and to get a nice shot of the tower before we came back to London. Wasn't the nicest day in Paris but it's a lovely, relaxing city to be in, even when you're only there for a few hours.

I notice they've got posters everywhere gathering support for their 2012 Olympic bid. London is bidding too, but it isn't nearly as obvious. I've still yet to really decide whether I firmly support London's bid or not. Obviously having the Olympics was great for Athens and it ends up being good for every city, but there just seems to be such an apathy about it among Londoners that I'm not sure we deserve it.

I think New York's a strong bid, particularly as they've never had it, but the fact US TV isn't showing any of the Athens Paralympics might be held against them, as they'll need to convince the IOC they want the Paralympics as much as the Olympics.

Oh, by the way, Vix wrote to point out that I haven't taken any pictures of Robin in London yet. Any of you got anything you'd particularly like to see him pictured by?

Monday, September 27, 2004

Robin and Robyn!

They love each other like sister and brother
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Yes, with Robin back in Britain after his jaunt to San Francisco, he spent the weekend catching up with his sister Robyn (for who my Mum had created a special new haircut!). This picture was taken at Burton Albion v York City football/soccer match.

Although York - my team - have had an awful start to the season in the lowest league they've played in for 80 years, I saw them win 2-0. We've only won three games out of 10 this season, and the two I've been to have both been victories. Last season, I saw 11 games and only one win!

In fact, Robin has only ever been to two York City games and his record is
Goals for: 5
Goals against: 0
Wins: 2

Not surprisingly a few of the long-suffering York fans were hoping he'll be coming again soon!

For now, though, he's got more travelling to do. Another country tomorrow - this time a little bit closer to home and this time with me (rather than my fiance). Watch le space...

Friday, September 24, 2004

At last! The promised picture!

Robin the Frisco kid
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Yes folks, here's the picture that you've all been waiting for (well, at least 3 or 4 of you). It's Robin in San Francisco! Yes, there he is, trying to catch a tram to take him to the shop where you can buy flowers to put in your hair (or feathers).

My fiance was out there with work on a quick trip which involved flying to Sacramento too (a 19 minute flight from San Fran!). She didn't get too much time to look around either city, but with us both having been to San Fran in the last few months (particularly keen long-term readers may remember my trip) we'd quite like to go back for a proper holiday having had a taste of what looks like an amazing city.

Robin liked it too. Since he's got back he keeps cheeping things like 'far out' and 'dude' and 'cosmic'. He's currently sitting in his room with some joss sticks listening to The Grateful Dead. I'm sure it's just a phase...

STOP PRESS: Dawn has written a comment to this post saying that the picture doesn't show a tram, but a trolley car. Apologies - rings a bell now you say it. I believe tram is the word we use for trolley car over here. If anyone who's familiar with the culture on both sides of the Atlantic does know of a difference between a trolley car and a tram, speak now or forever hold your peace...!

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Wot no picture of Robin

I know, I know. I promised a picture of Robin in a far-flung destination (or I guess near-flung if you happen to live thereabouts), but I've yet to post it. That's because I've yet to receive it. Latest news is that my fiance has - repeat has - taken the picture and the delivery of it is expected any time soon. I know these are trying times for all of us. We want to see the picture. We want to know where Robin is. But we must be strong. Good things come to those who wait. As do pictures of cheery-looking birds.

Be strong. Be alert. Be nice to old people. Be there or be square. Be equals bemcee squared.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Lazy Sunday. Golf. Wedding. Other stuff...

Robin. In bed. With radio.
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Hey up folks.

Welcome to my lazy Sunday afternoon. Robin's sitting in bed listening to the last day of the Ryder Cup which has just teed off (it's only on pay TV, so we're listening on the radio). Can't believe how well we (the only time anyone in Europe ever says 'we' for the whole continent) are doing against the US. Be a great victory if we keep this lead. But I'm counting no chickens just yet.

So it seems the posting about the 1906 Marriage With Foreigners Act was just what you were after. And I'm proud to say that if you search for that act on Google, this is the only site that comes up! Hurrah. I can see us getting hordes of new visitors through that one!

Got lots of comments to the post too, but I'm afraid I've had to delete them. Thing is my mum posted up the link to the info site for my wedding which is meant to be just for people that are coming (my fault for not telling her this!). Obviously most of you would be very welcome to read it (that certainly includes you KJ!), but our guests will be posting personal details on there (where they're staying, time they're arriving etc) so, sorry, but we decided to keep it private.

But don't worry, the plan isn't for me to post about the wedding on there - that's what this site is for! So you won't be missing anything very exciting. All my pre-wedding thoughts will be on here (though I'm still not sure why you're so excited to read about it).

So, I should deal with the comments that got deleted. Ginger pointed out that it's meant to be Japanese people in the hills that don't know WWII finished, as opposed to Americans (a straw poll at work confirmed this). She also asked for a pic of Robin at the Register Office. Sorry, I was too shy to take him. Next time...

Another pic request came from KJ who wants to see Robin with my Mum (she being Sarah/typical Mum) - no probs. Reckon we might be able to sort that one next weekend when I'm at home (and, of course, Robin's sister Robyn lives there too!)

Cathy asked if I managed to make it along to any of the 9/11 memorial events when I was in NYC. Sadly not. I really wanted to, but having arrived back from Philadelphia on the Saturday morning at 10am, I literally had to sit in my hotel room working until about midnight, when I went to bed. Then got up at 6am to go to the airport to catch the plane home. Would've liked to see the twin beams of light, especially. Ah well.

Meanwhile, Diegem in Belgium asked if we have to give a blood sample before the wedding. No, don't think so. Don't think that's ever been the rule here (though, hasten to add, I've not been married before!).

So what's new on the wedding? Well, apart from setting up the (infamous) website for guests this weekend, we've been sending out some pre-invitation invites, just so that people know the details and can book their flights. It's a really great feeling that so many people are coming out to Greece for us. It's only 150 days (or so) away now. Exciting times.

Last but not least, the Paralympics have obviously started in Athens this weekend. Would love to have been there - saw bits of the Opening Ceremony online and it looked great, packed stadium too. And GB have already won quite a few golds - we came second in the overall medals table in Sydney and we look like being there or there abouts again.

Actually, there's talk of a parade of gold medal winners from both Games in London once the Paralympics. You can bet your rice pudding me and Robin will be down the front for that one!

Right. Best go. Robin's off on another jet-setting trip tomorrow (this time with my fiance) so keep an eye out to see where he lands this time...

ps. hope you like the new random picture bar thingy at the top - ah, happy memories!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

1906 Marriages With Foriegners Act

Hey up

So, I'm still getting 100+ visitors to this site a day, even though the Olympics are long-gone. Problem is, I'm not quite sure what to tell you next. Maybe you're like those folks in America who live in the hills that don't know WW2 is over. Hmm, but then again, you need the internet to look at this site and that's a pretty good way of keeping up with the news. Maybe you're all Robin addicts. Must say, he's walking with quite a strut since he got back from NYC. I think he thinks he's John Travolta at the start of 'Saturday Night Fever' (but without the tight trousers and with wings).

So, in the absence of anything Olympics-related to tell you about (although the Paralympics do start in a couple of days) I thought I'd let you know that, as of this morning, I have complied with the 1906 Marriage With Foreigners Act, by visiting Haringey Register Office in north London. There, I set the wheels in motion that will get me a 'no impediment' form to take out to Athens to show the Orthodox folks that I'm not married already, in order that I can marry my fiance there in February. So, assuming no one in the Haringey Registry Office area who likes to peruse the forthcoming marriage notice board knows something I don't, I'll get the form in 21 days. Think the plan is to take it to Athen late in October sometime.

Is that interesting? Is that the sort of thing you're coming to this site for? Or is just the Robin pics? Hard to say really. But thanks for coming. I may be baffled by your visits, but I appreciate them very much all the same.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Robin hits the Big Apple!

He's an English bird in New York
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Yes folks, this is Robin in Time Square in NYC, where I've come with work for a few days.

Lots of Olympic advertising up around the place still and I saw a chap at a gig last night wearing an Athens 2004 official T-shirt (ah, brought back memories) but that's about as Olympic as the trip's got so far.

I've been over here a few times, but this is Robin's first time in the big apple where. after a couple of rainy days, the sun has finally got its hat on today.

I was meant to be getting Saturday off - which means I would've been able to go and see GB's Tim Henman in his first US Open semi final - but sadly now I've got to work. Hey ho. Guess that's what happens when you're on a work trip rather than a holiday. Well done Henman though - hope he makes the final (it's a long shot - he's playing Federer).

Robin was obviously most excited about coming to Gotham because it meant the chance of meeting his namesake hero. But, alas, as yet, we've yet to run into Batman and his tight-trousered assistant...

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Blog gets 15,000th visitor! Robin off on new adventure!

Hey up

So, yes, sometime around midnight on Monday night, we got our 15,000th visitor - and you're still turning up in good numbers to read the blog. Very heartening, Thanks very much. I may even set up a new competition just so that you have a reason to keep in touch on the comments pages (you're all very quiet on that front)! I'll have a think for a question.

Plus, me and Robin are flying off on a new non-Olympic adventure tomorrow lunchtime. Look out for some fantastic tourist shots of Robin coming in the next few days...

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Robin brings Olympic spirit to Kit's team!

Robin, looking (at) Daggers
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

So, today we went to our first post-Olympic sporting event, which was also the first time I'd seen my team - York City - play in the non-league, after they were relegated from the top leagues last season for the first time in more than seventy years (A Very Bad Thing).

So, our new season in the Conference (four leagues below Man Utd et al) had started very badly - despite being one of the favourites to win it, we'd lost four and won just one of our opening games. That meant we were 18th out of 22 teams. And today at Dagenham & Redbridge (way out east in London) we were favourites to lose. All very humbling and sad.

But, amazingly, we won. Perhaps inspired by Robin The Olympic Robin, we won 3-0! This was, we think, the first time we'd won by three goals in the league for about six years! Amazing.

Being a massive fan of York, I was quite worried it was going to be a very depressing way to return from the Olympics, but it turned out being one of the best days with City in ages. Had a great time. Even England throwing away a 2-0 lead in their first World Cup qualifier later (David James. Why?) couldn't spoil it.

Not surprisingly, several of York's fans were very keen for Robin to come again. But it wasn't down to luck - the great thing was that, for the first time in a long time, we actually played really well. Hurrah.


Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Best of the Olympics!

Robin sips from the Olympic cycling bottle
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Yes, we're back in Blighty (happily we've brought the great Athens weather back with us) and, as promised, here's a list of some of the Best things about Athens 2004. In no particular order. More when we think of them!

Best comeback
Canada coming back from 5-2 down in the final quarter of their women''s water polo group game against USA to win 6-5. After that, we can almost forgive them for Bryan Adams. Almost.

Best 'can't buy it in the shops' souvenir
The Athens 2004 water bottle one of the cyclists threw at our feet in the road race. As the picture shows, it's ace.

Best 'can buy it in the shops' souvenir
Country flag temporary tattoos - as worn by many of the athletes during the Games and a bargain at 1 Euro 50 - no wonder the GBR ones became almost as hard to find as Greek yoghurt with honey at the food concessions.

Best-sounding items on food concessions menus that we never, ever saw for sale.
That would be a toss-up between meat balls, moussaka and various types of salad. If anyone ever managed to try any of these, we never met them.

Best fans
Ooh, that's a hard call. The Greeks, except for their behaviour at the men's 200m final (it seems to have passed into history that they stopped booing when Frankie Fredericks asked them to - they didn't). The Aussies, except it's easy to be that exuberant when you win so much. The Brits, apart from those folk at the hockey. Nope, it's going to have to go to the wholly unexpected choice of the Germans. Fully co-ordinated dance routines at the beach volley, grace in defeat at handball and all round chirpiness in the Olympic complex. Who'd have thunk it?

Best match
In the strictest sense of the word - Fish and Massu in the men's tennis final. Four hours, five sets and you couldn't split them. Massu got the gold but the winner that day (wait for it...) was Olympic tennis!

Best half time entertainment
No, not the dancing girls at the beach volley - the slam dunking acrobats on trampolines at the basketball. We'd pay to see them again (well, as long as it wasn't more than about 8 Euros).

Weirdest phenomenon
Pin badges. Literally thousands of different types. But why? And for what reason? It would've cost you literally about 30,000 Euros to buy all of them. And they're tiny - the only one we bought (an owl one for the man upstairs who's been feeding our plants who collects owls) seems to have disappeared somewhere in our luggage! Pah!

Best cheese pie (or tyropita to the locals)
The one at Helleniko complex before the handball final on the last day. Decreased number of spectators in complex is clearly directly proportional to increase in quality of pie. Mmmm.

Best cheesie radio show
Oh that would be the morning show on Athens International Radio. Over two days we heard the DJ say on four separate occasions that though the flame was going out, it would 'burn forever in the hearts of Athenians'. Yeuch.

Our best moment
The 4x100m mens' relay. Utterly unexpected win for GBR. Utterly thrilling.

Best flag
That would be Guam. Nice colours and a little drawing of a sailboat on a blue sea with a beach and a palm tree, and the word Guam written in the middle. Why couldn't more flags be that descriptive? Nigeria is way more exciting than just green, white, green.

Most confusing flags
Serbia and Russia - whose red, blue and white horizontal striped flags are exactly the same, only they're held different ways round. Which made it very hard to tell whose fans were which when we saw them play each other at volleyball.

Best game to play when you're killing time and have nothing to do
Flagpole baseball. In which one person with a Union Jack flag tries to hit the plastic bottle top pitched at him/her by the pitcher. It's a heck of a game (just ask the news-stand (or periptero) proprietor by Kifissia station who was our Number One spectator). Expect to see it as an exhibition event by the 2012 Olympics. Strrrrrike!

Actually whatever happened to exhibition events?
Do they still have them?

Olympic volunteers. They were ace.

Four volunteers. One of whom is striking quite a pose.
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Here's a pic of four volunteers. Unless you had a problem, volunteers didn't really have that much of a role except to be really, infectiously cheery all the time. They'd sit there on their high chairs (like tennis umpires use) happily welcoming you, singing, waving goodnight, giggling, trying to speak the language of whatever person was walking past and just generally making everyone feel welcome and sparky. They, more than anyone, were responsible for the lovely atmosphere that prevailed. Big up the volunteer massive!

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Olympic characters #9

Me, she and Robin
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

These final Olympic characters are Kit and his fiance, Lex. They came to Athens for the whole of the Olympics and wrote about their experiences on Athens 2004 Blog. They went to 22 sessions of 16 events in 17 different venues. They brought a Robin with them. And they all had an absolutely great time.

Yup, this is the last entry we're writing in Greece - we're off back to London first thing in the morning and we're spending a (much-needed) day at the beach today - but before we go, we thought you might like to see what we look like, seeing as we're all friends now. This is us outside our last event, the handball.

Thanks again for reading. Over the next few days we'll be posting up those 'best' lists we promised, and then after that, well, we'll see (I'm amazed how many of you have emailed to say you'd like to read a blog about our forthcoming wedding!). But this certainly won't be the last you see of Robin - whether it's Torino 2006 or Beijing 2008 or (more likely) something long before then, he's got a taste for getting in pictures and he ain't about to quit now. So do keep stopping by - the blog will certainly be updated regularly.

Right. That's it for Greece then. But come back during the rest of this week for lots of post-Games stuff.

Efharisto and adio for now!

Monday, August 30, 2004

Handball: our last event and how it went!

Look at those Croats celebrate!
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Hey up. So you're still reading then? This is good, Thanks. Tis a strange atmosphere in Athens today, but definitely not a sad one. Like the morning after the good party when it's over but you all know you had a really good time.

Anyway, as I said yesterday, the men's handball final turned out to be way more exciting than we thought it would be. It was Germany v Croatia (a repeat of last year's world championship final, apparently) and the atmosphere in the packed 11,000 capacity arena was just astonishing - quite possibly the best we've seen. There was an even split of Germans and Croats - thousands of each - and they were singing their hearts out long before the game began. It was almost as if everyone wanted to make the most of their last event by putting every last ounce of energy into supporting their team. Seriously, the place was vibrating.

The sport itself was exciting too. Pretty much like water polo without the water (or the silly hats), it's a mix of basketball, football and hockey - an extremely fast and furious game with plenty of goals. Contrary to all the reports I've read which (incorrectly) say Croatia were 10 goals down at half time, the first half was very close and the Croats went into the break a couple of goals behind (12-10 I think). But they fought hard in the second half and, to scenes of unbridled joy from their passionate fans, they claimed the gold 26-24.

It was a really great way to finish our Olympic adventure - an exciting, close game played in front of a fantastically fervent crowd in a packed, sold out arena - everything you'd hope for from an Olympic final (and a bargain at 30 Euros). As with water polo, I'd definitely go and see handball again. In fact, I'm thinking of getting in training and trying to make my way into the GB team. That way I'll get a free ticket/accommodation to Beijing in 2008 and we can do the Blog all over again (inbetween winning the gold, of course). Hey, you can't blame a man for dreaming...

Olympic characters #8

Great Danes
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Olympic characters #8
These Danish fans were in the pond/lake/big puddle at the Helleniko complex celebrating their gold medal in the women's handball - which they've now won for the past three Games. The huge Helleniko complex was home to the fencing, basketball qualifiers, baseball, softball, monster truck racing, hockey and slalom canoeing*, so the people there for the handball didn't even barely fill it. But there was a really lovely last-day-of-term atmosphere amongst the folks that were there. Smiles and cheeriness all round.

In fact it's been the same on this Blog today. Thanks to all the folks (including Dawn, Noelle, AndriaW, KJ, Dennis and Bob from Calgary) who've written very kind things about it. Glad you've enjoyed it as much as I have.

* Okay. I made one of those events up.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

It's all over! (But there's plenty left to say...)

it's all over...
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

So that's it. The Games closed with a ceremony that was nice if not quite as stunning as the opening (my highlights tonight were Sexy Sakis falling over and when the little Chinese girl jumped out of her skin as the fireworks went off behind her! Is that cruel? Sorry).

As you'll see, Robin shed a wee tear. I didn't quite get that far, but I must say it's been an unforgettable couple of weeks and it is quite sad that it's all over. But we've had such an amazing time. And it's been great being able to share it with you folks all over the world. Thanks for reading.

But, before we all collapse into a sobbing heap - don't worry, there's plenty more to come here on Athens 2004 Blog!

I've got today's handball final to tell you about (so much better than we'd expected) - plus we'll be giving out our 'Best' awards (best cheese pie, best music at venues, best flag etc etc).

Oh, and look out for the (quite lengthy) list of 'Things That Turned Out Not To Be Worth Worrying About For Athens 2004'. And it'd be cool if you could send in your highlight of the Games and I'll post them all up.

All that to start tomorrow (Monday) night after our meeting with the priest who's marrying us in Athens in February. See, this marvellous city has got another big event happening before too long... Wedding 2005! (Will the transport system cope? Yeah, no doubt).

Oh. What. A. Night!

Robin. And four absolute heroes.
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Last night we went to the Olympic Stadium for the final night of athletics. And what a night.

Having witnessed GB's Kelly Holmes' first round and semi-final in the 1500m we got to see her win her second gold of the games in the final (she also won the 800m ealier in the week). Absolutely amazing - she ran such a great race (in such a great time). Finally, aged 34, she's realised her potential. She'll be a superstar in GB now.

But what came after was even more unexpected and thrilling. GB won the 4x100m men's relay. Stunning. I was literally shaking with excitement. The whole place (full of Brits) just went nuts. It looked to the naked eye that we'd definitely won, but the photo finish showed just how close the US had run them. But GB did it. By 0:01. Still gives me goosebumps thinking about it now.

Steve Backley also got a creditable 4th for GB in the javelin and the mens and womens 4x400m had respectable finishes, but many a Brit will remember last night for Holmes and the 4x100m. It was an absolute privilege to be there. And a great finale to the Games for us.

Not that we're done just yet. In half an hour we're off the men's handball final (bargain 30 Euro ticket we thought). The last of our 22 Olympic events (across 16 sports). It's been a heckuva ride...

The competition result!

Robin the timekeeper
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Yes, as Robin is demonstrating, the winning time for the men's 4x400m relay was 2:55:91.

20 of you guessed too fast (over-confident Americans perhaps?), 8 of you guessed too slow. But the nearest was GM from London with 2:56:02 (beating Linda from Alaska by 0.01 seconds). Well done GM! Send me your address and I'll post you a tacky Olympic souvenir (it'll probably get to you quicker if I post it when I'm back in London myself on Wednesday!).

In the comments on the final entrants list below, my mum seemed to think Bob from Calgary had won. Sorry mate - you missed out (again). In our 3 competitions Bob's managed a silver, a bronze and a false win - send me your address and I'll send you an Olympic postcard. It's the least we can do!

Olympic characters #7

Robin and the Ethiopians.
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

This is Ashanti and Ellen - two Ethopian fans, who'd just seen their countrymen come second, fourth and fifth in the 5,000m in the Olympic stadium. They seemed suitably pleased.

Oh, and the pointing man in the background works for the GB team and very kindly gave us an ace team GB pin just after we took the pic. I know I slated pins before, but this one is tippity top!

Saturday, August 28, 2004

We watched football! We found Greek yoghurt with honey!

We have yoghurt!
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Yes folks. at our 20th Olympic event (across 15 sports - handball tomorrow makes it 16) we finally found a concession selling the mythical Greek yoghurt with honey - at the football final in the main stadium. How was it? Well, creamy, cooling and with a very generous portion of honey. Thanks for asking.

Of course, the football was always going to find it difficult to compete with the unbridled joy of finding the yoghurt and so it proved. The game - between Argentina and Paraguay wasn't exactly great. The half-full stadium (41,000 crowd) were treated to a 1-0 victory for Argentina which was spoiled by an over-zealous ref who was blowing his whistle far too often. Argentina deserved the win (they haven't conceded a goal in the tournament) but the contest was effectively ruined when Paraguay were reduced to 9 men with 10 minutes left. Still, was good to see the final, and the Argentines were incredibly happy to win their first gold in 52 years.

Their first gold, my first yoghurt. Can it get any better at the relays tonight?!

Competition closes! Other bits and bobs!

So, here are the last two entries for the 4x400m relay comp. Paul says 2:55:12 but doesn't say where's he's from (he does, though, use the word 'awesome' - to kindly describe this blog - so he may well be from America.) Meanwhile Linda from Alaska (who's also very nice about the blog) says 2:55:79.

And so we have...

2:52:90 Shay in Tasmania
2:53:40 Joanna in California
2:54:14 Ginger from Seoul
2:54.17 Rachel in California
2:54:18 Dawn
2:54:21 Diegem.
2:54:25 Cathy from New Jersey
2:54:68 Ginger from Tennessee
2:54:87 KJ in the USA
2:54:95 Bob from Calgary
2:54:97 Noelle
2:55:00 Pippa
2:55:01 Todd the boffin
2:55:12 Awesome Paul
2:55:19 Big Yank in the US of A
2:55:25 Dennis in UK
2:55:69 Giles in Manchester
2:55:70 Rob in Manchester
2:55:76 Rachel Archer in London
2:55:79 Linda from Alaska
2:56:02 GM in London
2:56:08 Beccy in London
2:56:16 Vix (and her niece Bri)
2:56:18 Mark in Wales
2:56:22 Pete from Blackburn
2:56:58 Eleni the wannabe hairdresser in Athens
2:56:80 my Mum
2:57:00 Wonder Wally

That's the lot! Why not print them out and keep them by your sofa so that you can find out who won straight away!

There's been some really interesting feedback about the Kenteris booing thing in the stadium the other night - can't really do them justice here, click on the Comments for 'Athletics: Greeks make a point. At length' to read them. Tis well worth it.

Oh, and Lara Amir has written again to say that the paper report she read about Athens 2004 Blog was in Malaysia.

As for the sports you think should go or stay. Diegem says get golf lose baseball, Bill Sims in Louisiana says no to baseball/softball and no to cricket, but yes to beach volley. Cathy from New Jersey thinks Robin should go to a spa to relax and would like to see lacrosse in and table tennis out. Noelle says lose team sports and get inline road skating. And Todd the boffin in Flagstaff says get rid of anything synchronised. Any more for any more?

Finally, KJ has written to say she has a crush on Robin. He's single KJ. You might just be in with a chance...

Robin. And Hoofer.

Robin. And Hoofer.
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Yes, Robin and his friend Hoofer (a pal of my fiance's little sister) had a great time at the show jumping final last night.

A Brit (Nick Skelton) went into the last round needing a clear round for definite gold, one fault for a chance at gold and two faults for a chance at silver and bronze. Sadly he made three faults. Hey ho.

It was another great venue - and pretty packed again (rubbish ice-cold pizza though). I'd not been to show-jumping before - it's quite exciting the way it all leads up the highest placed riders going last. An Irish lad won the gold - much to the delight of the many Irish fans there. He's only 25 years old and I believe it's Ireland's first gold in ages.

The country-themed song they were playing as we left? 'Beautiful Day' by U2. Ah yes, Irish eyes were certainly smiling...

Friday, August 27, 2004

Pins: they're mad for 'em! Plus other stuff!

Robin avec pins
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Pins: they're mad for 'em!

Hey up. We've got the morning off today - which meant the first lie in in ages and a nice chilled day lazing about before we head off to the final of the individual show jumping this evening.

I've been meaning to write about pin badges since the Games started. People absolutely love them. Everywhere you go, you see little huddles of people around someone with a board full of them and the official shops all sell a mind-boggling array of badges (ooh, a Day 14 Of The Olympics pin!). They're not cheap either - think the official ones start at 8 Euros and go up to 12 Euros. And, as you know, you can get two waters, two beers and two hot dogs for that!

The ones Robin is modelling came free with that Visa programme thing we were on for a few days. They came in a special collecting case with lots of room to add your own - think I'll stick to watching the sports thanks. (Please note: no Robin was hurt in the making of the photo for this entry - we actually used them as acupuncture tools to give him a nice stress-busting once over after posing for all these pictures).

And so to your feedback. Guess-the-winning-time-of-the-4x400m-mens-relay competition entries first. I got Ginger from Tennessee's entry slightly wrong - it's 2:54:68. Pippa, who works on the official 'Eastenders' website has plumped for 2:55:00. Our old mate Todd the Boffin has gone for 2:55:01. Regular reader Noelle says 2:54:97, Joanna in California says 2:53:40 and Shay in Tasmania, Australia says 2:52:90. Keep the entries coming! The race is tomorrow night...

Also in Australia is Bronwyn in Wollongong, near Sydney, who's written to ask my theory on the empty seats. Well, pretty much everything over the past week or so has been officially sold out I believe, so I think it's partly sponsors and VIPs not using their tickets (often the cameras seem to face their way, rather than at the main public stands which tend to be full). Also, if it's a team sport there tend to be at least two matches in each session and often the fans of the first teams will leave as the fans of the second teams arrive (there are, perhaps, more travelling fans here than in hard-t-reach Sydney?). Having said that, most things we've seen this week have been pretty packed. As for the women's football final, which looked terribly empty, I guess that's just because people in Europe don't really like women's football very much. Be interesting to see how the men's one does, in the main Olympic stadium on Saturday morning.

Talking of football - or soccer for US types (though the term was coined at Eton school and you don't get much more English than that) - Maruja has written to ask why it's not getting more attention in the Olympics. I guess because a) football gets its fair share of attention the rest of the time b) the team's are under 23 teams rather than the full international sides and c) perhaps because the country Maruja's in aren't doing very well at it. Iraq is apparently gripped by their men's team who play for a bronze medal tonight and I'm sure Paraguay and Argentina will get great viewing figures for the final. Guess it's the same with all the sports - Israel are apparently now obsessed with windsurfing, Chile with tennis and UAE with shooting, having all got their first ever golds in those respective sports.

Someone wrote to point out that the Greek fella who sang 'Shake It' at Eurovision 2004 will presumably be part of the promised Greek pop extravaganza closing ceremony. He's called Sakis (or 'sexy Sakis' to the Greeks) and he will indeed perform. As probably will Yanni, a symphonic type who was once engaged to Crystal Carrington from Dynasty! (Thanks to my fiance's family for this Greek pop knowledge - we're listening to a Yanni CD now, it's quite good).

But Lara Amir doesn't say where she lives. Is this the Associated Press piece from last week? Or new stuff? Do let us know.

Mark from Wales has written to ask what events readers think should be dropped from the Games. He thinks baseball, fencing, handball, softball, taekwondo and beach volley. Personally, I think he's right about baseball and softball but wrong about the others (handball has massive support all over Europe and beach volley has become such a success because it's such a good sport). I'd drop football, because it's such a secondary competition to the World Cup. But, I'd like them add golf and cricket. Apparently the rule is that a sport has to be widely played in 100 countries for men or 70 countries for women. Golf certainly qualifies - but I'd make it a 4-person team sport, not individual. And how about lacrosse? I'd like to see that played at a high level. Anyone else got any?

See, that's what happens when you get the day off and you're not rushing posts in between events!

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Robin meets 5th longest jumper in the whole wide world!

Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Look who we bumped into just outside the Olympic stadium tonight - yes, it's British long-jumper Chris Tomlinson who'd just finished 5th in the long jump final (he was literally just wandering about outside).

Although he seemed slightly disappointed not to have finished higher he had to concede our point that getting a season's best jump and being fifth longest jumper in the world wasn't bad going. And as the picture shows, the cheery fellow definitely wasn't down in the dumps.

'This photo's not for FHM is it?" he laughed as he posed with the red-breasted friend-of-the-Olympians. No my friend, it's for Athens 2004 Blog - home of the Robin!

Athletics: Greeks make a point. At length.

Robin watches Chris jump
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

So we're just back from the athletics, which were fun but not particularly eventful (I quite like sports with a plot that unfolds over the course of a match - you don't really get that with a 400m sprint, somehow). Kelly Holmes had made the 1500m final and GB long jumper Chris Tomlinson had come a very respectful 5th overall (that's him in the picture). And then came the 200m.

As you probably know Kenteris - the Greek 200m winner in Sydney - is missing from these games after missing a drug test, having a curious motorbike accident and then pulling out of the games. As the runners lined-up for the 200m, the Greeks started chanting his name. Fair enough. But they kept chanting it. And booing the US runners (not quite sure why it's their fault Kenteris kept missing drug tests).

Because the runners need silence to hear the gun, the race was delayed for a good five minutes despite repeated requests for quiet. They just kept whistling, booing and chanting Kenteris's name.

Eventually a well-spoken English bloke near me stood up and started shouting at our section, who were well into the booing and chanting. 'You should be ashamed!' he hollered. 'This is not clever. This is a pity. You should be ashamed!'

Around this point they shut up enough for the race to be run - but many booed and whistled throughout the race and, particularly, at the end when the 3 US runners took all the medals.

'The Greeks love a fairytale,' said the Greek man next to me. 'They can't believe Kenteris took drugs, so they have to make up theories why he's not here and blame other people.' He looked quite embarassed at the booing (and didn't join in at all).

I've just checked the BBC site and the headline is 'Crowd mars sprint showdown'. After all the good work Greece has done for itself during these Games, it'd be a real shame if things like this managed to undo it all. Fair enough chant his name for a bit, but to disrupt the race like that was just rude and petulent. And, like the man said, not clever.

Canoes and kayaks - in a speedy stylee!

Paddle boys, paddle!
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

So we just got back from the canoeing and kayaking over at the place where they did the rowing - this being where the canoes (as in single bladed paddle) and the kayaks (double bladed paddle) race super-quick on flat water, rather than between slalom gates on a gushing river.

Gotta say again, the transport was very impressive. It's way out towards Marathon, but there were plenty of air-conditioned coaches taking spectators the 45 minutes journey from a metro station and back again (we didn't have to wait more than a minute at either end).

The actual racing was good, we saw lots of 500m semi-finals - one of which was won by a Brit (in a one man kayak). He won by miles, so it could be a good medal shot. And the US commentator was so enthusiastic that he managed to make even the most one-sided race seem really exciting.

Having said that, even though it all started at 8.30am, it was absolutely boiling hot, so I was actually quite glad the session was only a couple of hours long.

Other news:

A Greek taxi driver is getting loads of great press out here because he found a Dutch rower's silver medal in his cab and handed it in. Even the government have weighed in with praise.

Didn't realise, but that Serbia v Russia game was a rematch of the Sydney final. Big shock that the Serbians were knocked out, apparently. And judging from the scores of the other games later that day, they're not always as close.

Apparently it's going to be 'the biggest concert of Greek pop stars and performers ever held' - so that'd be Nana Miskouri and, um, who?

Apparently, according the radio, an Italian athlete had to check into hospital the other day because he was so worn out having struck up, let's say, a friendship with two/three (depending on reports) Russian women in the village. Naughty man.

It's on all the menus (and we've even seen a couple of empty pots) but we haven't found a single food concession that still has Total Yoghurt with Honey in stock. Surely the top selling treat of the Games! And we've got just five more events to try and track some down...!

Competition latest!

The current Athens 2004 Blog competition is to guess the winning time of the men's 4x400m relay on Saturday night (the Olympic record is currently 2 mins 55.74 seconds and the world record is 2 mins 54.20 secs). Guesses so far are as follows:

2:54:14 Ginger from Seoul
2:54.17 Rachel in California
2:54:18 Dawn
2:54:21 Diegem.
2:54:25 Cathy from New Jersey
2:54:69 Ginger from Tennessee (who used her birthday to make her guess)
2:54:87 KJ in the USA
2:54:95 Bob from Calgary
2:55:19 Big Yank in the US of A
2:55:25 Dennis in UK
2:55:69 Giles in Manchester
2:55:70 Rob in Manchester
2:55:76 Rachel Archer in London
2:56:02 GM in London
2:56:08 Beccy in London
2:56:16 Vix (and her niece Bri)
2:56:18 Mark in Wales
2:56:22 Pete from Blackburn
2:56:58 Eleni the wannabe hairdresser in Athens
2:56:80 my Mum
2:57:00 Wonder Wally

And that's it so far. Keep them coming - in the comments box or by email. Oh, and if I missed anyone's guess let me know (it's quite hard to keep tabs on them all!).

Olympic characters #6

Robin & Senorita Sylvia
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

This is Sylvia, she's from Andalucia and we met her at the kayaking, where she was passionately suporting the Spasnish paddlers with a big group of Spaniards.

She didn't speak any English (and our Spanish is weak), but - as you can tell - she seemed very happy indeed.


Up with the birds (Robin's used to it)

It's 6:27am and we're up, up, up! Off to see the canoeing/kayaking in a minute (a metro, train and bus ride away - way outside Athens) - which starts at 8.30am. We're nothing if not dedicated!

Good Google Olympics pic today on their front page ( - a Taekwondo fella has kicked the L in half.

Oh, and thanks to Dennis, our Greek in Coventry, for his very interesting reply about Macedonia and why they call it the former republic. Well worth clicking the comments under 'Wrestling: it's baffling' to read.

Just four more days of Olympics to go (including today) - I'm already starting to feel a little sad that it'll all be over soon. Still, got some amazing events to see between then and now...

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Volleyball: it's very close!

Volley that ball!
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

This afternoon we went to the first two men's volleyball quarter finals. It was best of five sets, first to 25 (or two clear points). Russia beat Serbia 29-27, 23-25, 27-25, 28-26 and Argentina lost to Italy 25-22, 22-25, 24-26, 26-28. Close or what?! Is volleyball always that close?

Apparently, volleyball took a long hard look at itself after its beach-based little sister started getting so much attention, so rules were tweaked to make it more exciting (not exactly sure how apart from that you could win points whether you served or not). The great thing about it compared to beach volley is that the rallies are much longer because it's so much harder to hit a winner. But they could do with some of the fun between points that they have at the beach. It does seem a little uptight in comparison.

Talking of rule changes, my baseball suggestions didn't go down too well with you lot. Apparently we were just unlucky to see a bad game and it would have been more fun if we were drunk.

The latest guesses have come in for the guess-the-winning-time-of-the-4x400m-mens-relay competition. Wonder Wally says 2:57:00, Pete from Blackburn says 2.56.22 and Rachel Archer in London says 2:55:76. According to the bottom of her email, Rachel is a Coffee Trainee. Does that means she's training to become coffee? Keep those guesses coming... STOP PRESS: I forgot to put in Ginger from Tennessee's guess -2:54:68!

Wrestling: it's baffling but fun!

Wrestling in rings that are ring shaped
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

So, this morning - once we'd got the tickets from the bank - we went to the wrestling.

Frankly, it was baffling, even after a couple of hours watching I wasn't exactly sure who got points or why. But, still, it was really enjoyable. The great thing about the Games is that wherever you go, there's someone sat around you who really, really *cares* (and knows) about that particular sport. The Poles were out in force today, supporting their wrestlers, so were the Azerbajahn (spelling?) fans, and (as ever) the Greeks - and the three Hungarians sitting behind us were almost unfeasibly excited to see their men grappling away. Not sure I'd make a regular thing of wrestling, but it was really fun to try it.

While we were there I read a thing in the paper about a survey of just over 1,000 people at the Games. Here are the results:

- 97.3% are satisfied with security. So am I. They are thorough with metal detectors and bag x-rays at every venue.

- 95% are satisfied with service of personnel and volunteers (the other 5% may have come across the ones who try to stop you waving your flag or give you wrong information!).

- 93.8% are happy with the facilities and events (but, 6.2% are asking, where are cricket and dragon boat racing?!)

- And 81.8% are happy with public transport. This is a little harsh - I think the other 18.2% are probably more annoyed that things are quite far apart than they are about the transport getting them there. The buses, trains, trams and metro we've used (for free as ticket holders) have all been quick and easy. I've been very impressed.

I was also thinking at the wrestling, why is the Former Republic Of Macdeonia called the Former Republic Of Macedonia? Wouldn't it be easier to tell us what they're called now?

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Track and field and athletics and jumping

Robin and some hurdlers
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Yassas! We're just back from athletics, which was great fun. It was our first time in the amazing Olympic stadium or, indeed, at any athletics, and I really enjoyed the kind of tapas approach to sport it offers - a little bit of this, a little bit of that and a bit more of this. Our decathlon lad, Dean Macey, ended up in 4th place, which was a really good performance for someone who's only done two decathlons since 2001 because of injury (the other being the one that qualified him for Athens). We also saw men's long jump qualifying, a very happy woman from the Bahamas win the 400m (the masses of Mexican fans all over the stadium seemed pleased enough that their lass got silver), three Kenyans share the podium for the steeple chase and a great women's pole vault competition. Oh, and the picture of Robin's from the men's 400m hurdles.

A horrible thing happened in the women's 100m hurdles final though - one of the runners (a Jamaican I think) slammed into one of her first hurdles and stumbled into the lane of a Russian runner (who is, apparently, the record holder) who tripped over her. To have got to the Olympic final, after all those years of training, and then go out because someone came into your lane and tripped you over - even if it was by mistake - is such a cruel thing. Really, really felt for the poor Russian.

Rather annoying thing happened to us too. Earlier today, I bought my fiance's sister a pair of tickets online for her and a friend to go to the water polo in the morning (while we're off to the wrestling on the other side of town). Because I'd bought it through my account, I have to pick up the tickets (and show ID) at any box office. There wasn't one within the actual Athletics compound, so at about 10pm I went down during a gap in races to ask the volunteers/stewards on the gate what time the ticket offices in the complex outside were open till. They said, oh don't worry, they're open until 12.15pm, you have ages, it'll all be over here by 11.45pm. I said, are you sure they stay open that late? They said, yes, definitely.

So, just before midnight I left the stadium to go to the ticket office. The first one I got to - just outside the athletics compound - had shut at 11pm. The next one I got to had also shut. As had a third one over by the metro station. They'd completely misinformed me - which means now we have to get up extremely early tomorrow morning to be at an Alpha bank when it opens (which, they promise me, will be 8am - let's hope they're right this time) to pick them up there. Even more annoyingly, because we left the stadium just before midnight, we missed the end of the compelling women's pole vault competition, which only finished when a Russian broke the world record at about 12.15am. The volunteers staffing the Games have been absolutely brilliant and I certainly don't want to criticise them as a whole, but I do wish the three who I'd asked for help at the athletics gate had been rather more accurate. Smiles and friendliness are only so much use if you're giving spectators the wrong information.

Ah well, at least we can still get the tickets in the morning. Best get to bed. Quick competition update - guesses in from Dennis, the Greek in London, at 2:55:25 and Vix (and her niece Bri) at 2:56:16. Plus Beccy at 2.56.08 (assuming my Mum wants 2:56:80) and Mark from Wales at 2:56.18. More feedback, including the heated is-baseball-duller-than-cricket? debate, when we get back from wrestling and volleyball tomorrow evening...!

Baseball: My thoughts on how to make it more exciting

Robin with an Olympic baseball!
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Hey up. We're just back from the baseball semi final (where, as you'll see, we got a pic of Robin with a baseball that was hit into the stands and caught by someone behind us).

Now, the game saw Australia (the outsiders) knocking out Japan (the big favourites) 1-0. I enjoyed it, but one run in three hours? And just ten hits in the whole thing? I'd be interested if our US readers could comment on my two suggestions to make the game more exciting from a fan's point of view (I had plenty of time to think about them this morning!).

1) Move the pitcher back a few feet. Clearly the odds are stacked way in their favour, as pitching techniques have got better and pitches have got faster (plus the wind was behind them today). 10 hits (as in when they made it to 1st base without getting out) in three hours is not very exciting. Everyone wants to see hits, why not give the batter more of a chance?

2) Don't let the far outfielders have gloves. One of the most exciting things in cricket is when the ball gets smacked way out to the outfield, because you're not sure whether the fielder will be able to catch it. In baseball, when the ball does finally get hit, then because of the catching glove, it's an absolute formality that it'll be caught. I understand the people on bases need gloves to stop their hands getting hurt (US sports and their excessive protection eh!), but couldn't the outfielders try using their hands?

Most sports change rules ever so slightly to make the game better for spectators, could baseball not do the same?

See Athens 2004 Blog, we don't just give you pictures of a Robin, but thought-provoking international sports debate too!

Competition entries! Other stuff!

The competition entries (to guess the winning time of the men's 4x400m relay - which incidentally I'll be at) are coming in thick and fast:

- Bob from Calgary - who's celebrating Canada's gymnastics gold - says 2:54:95.
- Diegem - who thinks sprinters look like bulls - thinks 2:54:21.
- Cathy from New Jersey - who's calculated her answer with wind patterns and the El Nino effect - 2 minutes 54.25 seconds.
- My Mum has said 2:56:8 - I'm taking this to mean 2:56:80 rather than 2:56:08. Clarification please mother!
- Rob in rain-soaked Manchester, UK - 2 mins 55 secs point 70.
- Big Yank in the US of A says 2:55:19.
- 2.56.02 for this one, says, GM in London.

Keep 'em coming. By the way, no one from my work has entered any of my competitions. I know you're reading. C'mon fellas, get the entries in!

Meanwhile, Huol & Ni Lam have written to ask if I think dragon boat racing should be in the Olympics. Yes! What a cracking idea! If America's allowed to have women's softball (they just won gold like they do every time, having scored 53 runs and conceded just one in the whole tournament - the reason being they're the only country who plays it anything like seriously!) then the Far East should be allowed dragon boat racing!

And finally, Great Britain have made it onto the top 10 medal table over on the left for the first time. Except for some reason it says 'United Kingdom (Great Britain)' - would 'Great Britain' not have been sufficient?

Right. Off to the athletics in a minute. Go, go Dean Macey in the last few events of the decathalon (sadly he slipped to 7th this morning...).

Oh, and Athens 2004 Blog had its 10,000th visitor this morning. Thanks very much y'all!

Robin meets another Olympian!

Robin meets another Olympian!
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

This is Karina Bryant, who we bumped into at the baseball. The friendly woman took part in the judo for Great Britain. Sadly, although she won one match, she lost two and was knocked out (you could tell she was disappointed - think she'd expected to do better).

She's now going to lots of different sports to get away from the judo - and was cheering for Australia in the baseball because that's where her mum lives. She said she's really enjoying the atmosphere at the different events.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Hockey: GBR get a proper spanking! Comp entries!

All flagged up and raring to go
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Evenin' all. We're just back from the hockey at the Helleniko complex - where sports such as baseball, softball and basketball also happen (and where, curiously, the food is considerably better than at other Olympic venues. Mmm, great spinach pie and lovely pizza.)

Anyway, we went to see Britain play Pakistan in the final group game of hockey. Neither team could quailfy for the knock out stages, but Pakistan decided they'd hammer us anyway.

The extremely well-spoken folk who made up the GBR supporters were awfully disappointed that Pakistan hammered us 8-2. I wasn't too bothered a) because hockey isnt really my sport b) because we'd already been knocked out and c) because the GB fans had been particularly rude to a Pakistan fan whose seat one of them was sitting in ('What's your problem?' screamed one when the confused looking man went to get a steward after the GB fans wouldn't let him have his seat, insisting he went to sit in one of the empty seats nearby. Um, I'd guess that his problem was that he'd been directed to the seat shown on his ticket only to find someone sitting in it and shouting at him in a language he didn't understand!).

Still, it was fun to watch the game played as well as the Pakistan team were playing it and their fans were in enjoyably jubilant mood (to give them their due the GB fans did shake hands with lots of the Pakistan supporters at the end).

Right, to the competition. Remember, it's guess the winning time of the 4x400m men's relay. Giles in Manchester, UK got in first with 2:55:69. KJ in the USA says 2:54:87. Dawn's gone for 2min 54.18 sec, which would be a new world record (she thinks her US countryfolk will do it). Ginger from Seoul agrees and says 2min 54.14. And Rachel in California is yet another confident yank - 2min 54.17. Keep those guesses coming.

Right. It's only 10.33pm here and that early night I've been needing (fell asleep on the metro today) is screaming my name. We've got a baseball semi tomorrow lunchtime, then our first athletics tomorrow night. With Kelly Holmes having just won GB's first track gold of 2004 in the 800m and decathalete Dean Macey now up into fourth before the last session of the decathalon tomorrow night, it's shaping up nicely...

GB badminton coach. And Robin.

Robin and the GB badders man
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

This is Andy Wood, the Great Britain badminton coach, who we bumped into at the hockey.

Andy is very pleased with the silver medal the GB mixed doubles couple won, but was obviously slightly disappointed that they came so close to gold without winning it.

Apparently the whole GB badminton team did better than expected - and the mixed doubles silver meant that the team improved on the bronze they won in Sydney.

Robin told Andy all about meeting the Chinese women's badminton bronze medalist last week, passing on crucial tips about how tight her grip was and suchlike. Remember, if we win badminton gold in Beijing, that little red-breasted bird will have played a minor (but decisive) part...

The all-new Athens 2004 Blog competition!

Robin takes the bronze
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Yes, it's what the world's been waiting for - the latest Athens 2004 Blog competition. So, here's the deal. The men's 4x400m relay is (as far as I know) the very last event of the athletics at the Olympic Games, on the evening of Sat Aug 28.

The competition is to guess the winning time to the nearest hundredth of a second. Nearest guess wins (as ever) a tacky Olympic souvenir sent from Athens! If two people get the nearest guess, the one who enters first wins.

To give you something to go on, the Olympic record is currently 2 mins 55.74 seconds and the world record is 2 mins 54.20 secs (both USA).

So, what are you waiting for?! Get your guess in (on the comments tab below or by email) - and don't forget to say your name and where you're from. Good luck!

Men's water-polo: not quite as violent. Plus feedback.

Robin at the water polo
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Hey up. This morning we went to the men's water polo. The women's we saw last week was in the indoor pool they use for diving, but with the swimming now over, this time it was at the big outdoor pool. The main stand - that we were in - was very busy too.

Saw two games, a six all draw between Germany and Australia and then the battle for the wooden spoon in Group B between Kazakhstan and Croatia. It was their last group game, and neither had got a point so far. Croatia won 5-4 after a brave comeback from Kazakhstan, who had a chance to make it 5-5 with seconds to go but, for some reason, chose not to shoot.

It was noticeable that the men's shots were harder and their goalies were better, but they definitely weren't as violent as the women we saw last week - a lot less fouls conceded. (Or maybe they just hid their violence under the water better.)

In other news... I got an email from Ginger in Seoul (hi Ginger!) who read about the Athens 2004 Blog in that Press Association article which went in the Stars And Stripes, the worldwide newspaper of the US armed forces. So hello to any soldiers reading (let us know if you are). And remember, give peace a chance!

And Vix has written to ask if people of all ages are allowed into all Olympic contests. Yes Vix, except the men's 50 gallon beer drinking, which is only open to over 18s.

Finally, that nasty kangaroo (see below) may well be employing body guards by now - I've received a surge of defensive support for Robin...

Olympic characters #5

Polska's finest
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

These two fellas are from Poland and we spotted them dashing towards the metro station at the Olympic complex. They stopped for a picture with Robin and told us they were rushing to get to see Poland in the volleyball so they couldn't stop for a chat. Problem was once we'd taken a pic, lots of other people wanted to pose for one with them too. Eventually we saw them break away and sprint towards the station...

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Massu: golden tennis hero

Robin and a golden Chilean hero
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Hey up. We're just back from watching the tennis. The women's doubles final was very uneventful, with the Chinese pair sweeping aside the awful Spanish in no time. The watching Queen of Spain hid her disappointment very well (presumably you get taught that sort of thing at royalty school).

And then to the men's final, which was just brilliant. Chilean Nicolas Massu (or 'Nico' to his fans - of which I'm now firmly one) helped win his country's first ever gold medal on Saturday in the men's doubles. And now, 24 hours later, he was aiming for their second in the singles against American Mardy Fish.

Massu started off as he'd obviously finished the doubles, firing into a 5-0 lead in 33 minutes. But then tiredness seemed to set in and Fish took control. Massu managed to win the first set 6-3, but then lost the next two 6-3 and 6-2. Massu is the kind of player who can't do anything but attack - he fights fire with fire and plays every shot like it's a winner, but he looked tired and Fish had found his groove. Even so, Massu's passion, fight and determination were infecting the crowd.

And then, around the time a line judge reversed a decision (in Fish's favour) Massu somehow started to turn things back his way. It was still boiling hot in the centre court, but he found some extra energy from somewhere and managed to win the fourth set 6-3 and then broke early in the fifth and final set.

By now, it was incredibly tense - I had butterflies - and the vast majority of the crowd was willing Massu on to what had seemed an unfeasible victory after 3 sets (when he'd even seen a doctor for his bad leg).

Amazingly, he got there. As the timer for the match clicked onto 4 hours, Fish hit a powerful Massu second serve out and the Chilean dropped to his knees in a mixture of exhaustion and euphoria as the whole stadium erupted. Massu had (very deservedly) won his and Chile's second gold medal. His doubles partner got the bronze medal in the singles too. Chile must be going crazy!

Great, great game - and credit to Fish for his part in it; he pushed Massu right up until the last point and the lengthy embrace he gave the Chilean at the end showed enormous grace on his part.

Right, I'd best stop gushing. We only made it back from our (ace) night out in Athens at 5am this morning and I had to get up at 8am to go to the Orthodox Church (enjoyable experience - far less formal than I thought, for example communion involved the congregation going to the front and just helping themselves to a piece of bread from a basket). Now, after three hours sleep and the excitement of the tennis, I'm shattered. You guys' feedback will have to wait until after the water polo first thing tomorrow.

Oh, and I'll also be announcing the third Athens 2004 Blog competition. I reckon you're gonna like it...!

Saturday, August 21, 2004

The picture so many of you have been waiting for...

Robin gets into the groove
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Yes, it's the half-time dancing gals from the Beach Volley, which we've just got back from (notice how I've done my wee bit for equality by getting the athlete fellas in the picture too). Hope you're happy now.

It was absolutely boiling hot at the beach volley arena - we were at the afternoon session from 2.30pm-6.30pm - and even with the giant fans that blow cold mist (available at a fragrance counter near you now) around the arena, we were sweating buckets. It was really, really, silly hot. I have no idea how the players managed to play in that heat, but we saw some really good games. It's a great spectator sport, if you ever get the chance, do check it out. And, again, there was a great atmosphere in the packed-out arena.

One crazy thing happened at the beach volley. I was waving my Union Jack flag and one of the volunteers/stewards approached to ask if it was an English flag. I said, no, it's a British flag. She said, did Britain participate in the beach volley? I said, I don't know. She said, well if they didn't you can't wave that flag. I said, that's silly, they're participating in the Games so, as far as I understood, it was okay. She said, but did they compete in the beach volleyball? I said, they may have done. She said if they didn't I couldn't wave the flag. So her theory was that it was okay for all the Greeks waving their flags because they'd been in the early rounds of the beach volley, but not for me to wave a Union Jack because we may not have been. I said again, that's silly. She said she'd go and check with her supervisor. She never returned. I continued waving the flag. Oddness.

Anyway, in response to my earlier question, Noelle has written in to explain who Svetlana K is. "Svetlana K. as in Khorkina, the Russian silver medalist in the women's gymnastics individual all-around event. I wouldn't say the U.S. media is trashing her. She seems to be doing a good job of bringing it on herself, making the news conference all about her and declaring herself the Olympic champion even though she wasn't! Also saying gold medalist Carly Patterson was good because she had a Russan coach. Apparently Svetlana is well known as a prima donna in gymnastics circles." Thanks Noelle. Can't say I've been paying much attention to the gymnastics, largely because Britain are never any good at it.

Also, I've been meaning to say, you may have heard about the fella who jumped off the diving board in a clown's outfit during the men's synchronised diving last week (he was promoting a website), But did you hear he got five months in jail? Presumably he's not smiling any more.

Right. In a minute we're off for a night out around Athens (my fiance actually wrote the nightlife section for an Athens guidebook, so she's taking me around her favourite places. Apparently one club has lots of different rooms with each one themed like a room in a house - there's even a kitchen room!). And with Britain having won an amazing five (yes five!) gold medals today, we've got plenty to celebrate.

Then tomorrow morning we're off to the Orthodox church where we're planning to get married in February and then after that, lunch with my fiance's Granny and then on to the men's tennis final. So for the first exclusive reports of church/granny/tennis, click back here tomorrow evening!

Oh, and I'll also start a new competition if I can think of one.

Lovely piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette!

Check out the amazing write up that Athens 2004 Blog got today from LA Johnson in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette! Internet sites carry torch for more Games coverage

We've already had our first email from a Pittsburgh peeps - hello to Connie! And thanks to LA!