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 (www.google.com) - 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!

Olympic characters #4

German/Dutch/silly outfits
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Holger (l) and Ralf (r) are from Germany and we spotted them at the beach volley. They're actors who come to Greece every summer - they're currently performing in 'Hair' in Thessaloniki, which is where their natty costumes come from. They'd come direct from the rowing where they were very pleased to see Germany win a gold medal. The reason Holger is wearing a Dutch hat is that he comes from a small town near the Germany-Holland border and they speak Dutch there. So he has a soft spot for them. Go Holger and Ralf!

Ta-da-da (fanfare)! Competition results!

Robin attacked!
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Competition result!

The picture's of Robin getting attacked by a kangaroo at the beach volley today after he strayed into an Aussie section. He might look on the defensive, but don't worry, moments later the feisty marsupial was sent packing by a mighty peck to the jaw.

Anyway. Onto the competition results. Here are the entries:

Shirley from Florida 61.75 Euros, Vix 42 Euros (she doesn't want to win though - she won the last one), Connie (who only just entered in time!) 38.65 Euros, GM 38 Euros, Diegem 33 Euros, John Abatzoglou 32 Euros, Mark 29.6 Euros, Nulli 29.5 Euros, Todd the boffin 29 Euros, Elizabeth 28.75 Euros, Cathy 28.75, Laurel 28 Euros, Noelle 27.5 Euros, Andria 26 Euros, KJ 24.5 Euros, Roberto 24 Euros, Dennis 20 Euros, Bob 17.5, Eleni 16.5 Euros, Simon Wonder Wally 14.5 Euros.

And here are the answers.
Hot dogs - 2.50 Euros (x2) = 5.00 Euros
Water - 0.50 Euros (x2) = 1.00 Euros
Beer - 2.00 Euros (x2) = 4.00 Euros
Creme Caramel - 0.80 Euros (x2) = 1.60 Euros (though, for some reason, some stalls are charging 1.00 Euros each - even though their signs say 0.80 Euros - which would be 2 Euros).

TOTAL - 11.60 Euros (or 12.00 Euros if you get over-charged).

Which means Dennis actually had it closest with his initial guess - the first of the competition - of 12 Euros. But he changed his guess to 20 Euros. Sorry Dennis. So the results are
GOLD: Simon Wonder Wally
BRONZE: Bob from Calgary (who got silver in our last competition).

Congratulations Mr Wonder Wally! Mr Wonder Wally is actually my oldest and bestest pal - but I promise I didn't help him with the answer - and he spent this afternoon alone in the drizzle in England watching our football team, York City, getting hammered 3-0 at home. The poor chap was due a bit of good news.

So not one person went as low as the actual price - which proves that we weren't alone in being surprised how cheap things are, particularly drinks. Even the Greeks are impressed - we've heard a few in the queues saying how they expected thing to be much more expensive.

The only problem with the food is the lack of variety. If you're going to a lot of events, like we are, the food options of hot dog, cheese pie, pork kebab, baguette or pizza start to get a bit tiresome (particularly if, like my fiance, you're a vegetarian). And, remember, you're not allowed to bring your own food in. It's not particularly healthy fare either. In fact, the McDonalds at the Olympic Complex is the only food venue at any of the Olympic venues where you can buy salads and fruit. MaccyD's the healthy choice. Who'd have thunk it.

Olympic complex - it's very pretty

Walkway this way
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.


As promised, here's a pic of one of the amazing architectural treats at the main Olympic complex - this being a lengthy walk way of arches. There's also a massive moving wall that they project films onto. Really is an amazing place - particularly at night.

We're off the beach volley in a minute. Don't forget today is your last chance to enter my guess-the-price-of-Olympic-grub comeptition. How much in Euros for 2 x beer, 2 x water, 2 x hot dogs and 2 x that French sweet treat creme caramel. Winner will be announced tonight.

My mum's written in to point out that Google.com has a different ancient Greek Olympic front page every day at the moment. Check it out - it's a football goalie at the moment.

Mark from Wales has asked if US spectators are really staying away from the Games as predicted (because of security concerns). I've not been to an Olympics before, but certainly the Chile contingent far outweighed the US contingent in the men's tennis semi-final which they were both in yesterday. There are still plenty of folks from the US about, but a lot of them do seem to have stayed at home (where they're reading this blog in increasing numbers!).

Mark also asks it all medals are all the same, or whether they have the event they were won for engraved on them. Anyone out there know? Anyone out there won one?!

Finally, Todd from Flagstaff has written to say that Svetlana K keeps getting trashed by US commentators. Um, sorry Todd, but who is Svetlana K? All i care about this morning is the rowing - in which GB has just won a gold, a silver and a bronze (Matthew Pinsent won his fourth straight gold and promptly burst into tears!). Hooray for rowing! Hurrah for Matthew Pinsent!

Friday, August 20, 2004

There's gold in them there eyes

There's gold in them there eyes
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

We bumped into these three in the Olympic superstore this afternoon. They're all talented young athletes who are here with the British team, not to compete, but to get a taste of what it's like to be at the Games - hopefully to prepare them for the next one (good idea hey?).

They are (from l-r) Liz Barnes (100m hurdles), James Walker (basketball) and Ashley Popham (gymnast), they were all very nice folks and we'll be rooting for them in Beijing in 2008!

Tennis report: Justine wins thriller! Plus feedback...

Here comes the Belgian
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Just back from the tennis. It's funny with tennis and football at the Games, because they're two of the only sports involved where winning the Olympic gold medal isn't the pinnacle of that sport (instead, that would be Grand Slam tournaments and the World Cup/Champions League respectively) - so they do sort of feel slightly less exciting than the other events.

That said, we ended up seeing a cracking semi-final between Belgium's Justine Henin-Hardenne and Anastasia Myskina (the Russian who beat the Greek the other day). Henin-Hardenne won the first set 7-5, only for the Russian to do the same in the second set. In the final set the temperamental Russian (or the 'snotty Russian' as the cheery Belgium-based Brits sitting next to us called her) went 5-1 up and looked to be heading for the final. But Henin-Hardenne, who'd looked beaten, made an amazing recovery to win the 3 hour game 7-5, 5-7, 8-6. She might have preferred to win Wimbledon or the US Open, but her celebration at the end showed how much this victory meant to her. We left before the other women's semi, as it was already past 10pm and we'd been sitting on the hard seats for more than five hours without a break.

I've got back to a barrage of emails from you lot! Bob from Calgary has entered the comp with a guess of 17.5 Euros, while Noelle has gone for 27.5 and asked if cameras are allowed in the venues - yes, no problem at all, zoom lens and even video cameras seem to be fine. Just no flash at some events. Meanwhile Cathy in New Jersey has gone for 28.75 Euros and says that MSN.com is yet another place that seems intent on negative reporting about the Olympics. Bill Gates never did look the sporty type...

Mark from Wales says he's disappointed Robin hasn't been on TV yet - problem is he's only a little fella and he usually has his back to the action for me to take photos of him! But we'll do our best at the rest.

Meanwhile, my dad's written in (hello dad! hello Helen!) with this gem of a comment from the BBC Heptathlon commentator today. "She has a good chance of closing the gap on the athlete that she's 2nd equal with". Genius.

Somebody from Japan wrote in, but their email must've been in Japanese script and my email couldn't read it. But thanks for the thought.

And last but not least there was the email from John. 'I'm curious about your mascot Robin,' he writes. 'What is she?' HE John, is a robin! The clue's in the name, the beak and the red breast! 'Perhaps a mishapen gingerbread wo(man), or maybe an alien (looks a bit like ET)?' guesses John. No, a robin. As in the bird. As in Robin the robin!

By the way. Robin does have a sister. She's called Robyn and lives with my mum. They were both rescued from a shop called Habitat in London on Xmas Eve 2002 where they'd been reduced to 50p (about a dollar) each. I gave them a home for Christmas. Who knew Olympic stardom awaited?

John also asks about this thing about not being allowed into venues with t-shirts showing brands other than the official sportswear sponsor (Adidas). Turns out that was media spin too - the actual rule was that big groups wouldn't be allowed in together obviously trying to promote a brand. They always said one person would be fine (and so it's proved - I wore a T-shirt with a big Fred Perry logo just today).

Right. Bedtime. Beach volley again tomorrow. Which means all you folks who asked for a pic of the half-time dancers might finally get your wish...

Olympic characters #3

Robin and the Roos
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

The enormously friendly Andy (l) and Matt (r) are from Australia, but live in Islington in north London (most Australians seem to live in London at one time or another).

They're having a tremendous time at the Games, so much so that they haven't even bothered to keep up with their country's growing tally of golds (that'd be 8 chaps). Seems they've been too busy applying sunscreen to their inflatable toys...

Robin has the morning off! Blog gets more press!

Robin catches some rays
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Yes, after our super-hectic schedule over the last few days, Robin enjoyed a morning off this morning, catching some rays on the balcony of the flat we're staying in in Athens.

In a minute we're off to the tennis to see a men's semi, and both women's semis. The women's semi between Justine Henin-Hardenne vs Anastasia Myskina (1st and 3rd seed) looks like the pick of them.

athens2004blog got some amazing press yesterday in a piece by the Associated Press's internet writer Anick Jesdanun, which seems to have been published by around 60 newspapers and sites in the US! Thanks Anick! You can read it here at The Seattle Post Olympic websites report. Big welcome to anyone who's come to the site through the piece (which already included Ginger from Tennessee and Rachel from California). (Oh, by the way you can just type www.athens2004blog.com to get here - you don't need the blogspot bit.)

Some more competition entries too. Eleni from Athens has gone for 16.5 Euros. Mark from Wales has pointed out that he said 29 not 19 (and he's changed it to 29.6 after my clue). And Michelle Ossiander has plumped for 22. Keep the entries coming (details below).

Meanwhile the AC/DC debate rumbles on. Eddie has written to point out that Angus and Malcolm Young were born in Scotland, so it was neither an appropriate song NOR an appropriate country to play during an Australian water polo match,

Right, gotta dash, tennis starts soon...

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Brits miss out on Badminton gold. But only just.

Robin. True Brit.
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Yes, we're just back from seeing Nathan Robertson and Gail Emms narrowly missing out on the mixed doubles Badminton gold. We saw the women's final first, which was won by a Chinese woman after she lost the first set to a Dutch woman - big and very vocal supports for both. Then the men's doubles semi-final, Danes won the first set, but then lost the next two to the South Koreans who went through.

And then to the match we'd gone for. There was a big British following and we were just behind the very loud Chinese bunch. Flags aplenty and muchos shouting. The Brits lost the first game 15-1, but rallied superbly to win the second set. The decider was really close, but Gail seemed nervous and her unforced errors (which, apparently, she hadn't been making in earlier rounds) eventually caught up with the pair and the Chinese pipped them to the gold. Still, amazing performance to get silver and they looked rightly pleased and proud as they received their medals (though that may have been because they received them in the presence of Robin).

It was funny seeing so many British flags about - we Brits are far more used to cheering for our individual countries of England. Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales. In fact, I think this is the first time I've seen Britain (as opposed to England) play at anything. You could tell everyone else wasn't used to it either. When people were trying to start chants they weren't sure whether to say 'GB', 'UK', 'Britain' or 'Great Britain'.

But even though our pair lost, I really enjoyed seeing badminton played at such a high level - it was quick, graceful and tactical. Think I picked up a few tips. The folks from work that I play at the Central YMCA in London had better watch out..!

Robin meets an Olympic medalist!

Robin meets a medalist
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Yes, at the badminton today Robin met a medalist! Do you see the medal at the bottom of the picture? It's a bronze coloured one and the woman wearing it is Chinese athlete Mi Zhou, who came third in the women's badminton. (Incidentally, all these pictures of people are taken by my fiance, the only one of us with the bottle to speak to/take pictures of strangers. Thanks dear!)

Comments n comp...

...who entered the competition day's ago, but, um, I didn't notice. Sorry. Very poor. Nulli's guessed at 29.5 Euros and also asks what a boffin is (a boffin is a very clever person indeed) and how the Greek beer is. Mythos rocks. They always want to serve you Amstel or Heineken, but I always insist on the local brew, which is actually very nice (although it was only invented a few years back).

The people who leave their phones swtiched on in Olympic venue are the ones with the loudest ring tones. Fact.

In response to my point about the oddness of AC/DC getting played during an Australian water polo match, Jeff has asked written to say, 'Aren't AC/DC Australian?'. Yes. The odd bit (to my mind at least) was that Highway To Hell was considered an appropriate tune for an early-morning Olympic match!

She thinks 2 hotdogs, 2 beers, 2 waters and 2 creme caramels would cost $61.75. If I ever set up a beer and hot dogs stall it'll be outside Shirley's house.

Was only a couple of days back we were celebrating hitting 5,000. Big thanks to you folks for reading.

To 24.5 Euros. And she thinks birdseed for Robin would cost 3.5 Euros if they sold it. Actually, they do sell nuts, but they're a bit cheaper (no, not cheep-er) than that and Robin has trouble opening the packets.

After Monday, 3,085,936 tickets had been sold. Which means they've exceeded their revenue target of 183 million Euros (and no free tickets have been given out to fill venues). Well done folks.

Because we've bought some extras! We're now off to a baseball semi-final (bargain at 20 Euros), a men's water polo game (after enjoying the women's this week), some wrestling (because it'll be nice to see what wrestling's like without the pantomime and predictable winner) and the handball final (because it looks fun and tickets were only 30 Euros). It's incredibly easy to order online and you can pick up your tickets at any ticket office at any venue or dotted around Athens. No booking fee either. So we're up to 15 different sports now!

All the printed signs at the pens and cards section of the Olympic superstore say 'stationary' and not 'stationery'. Didn't anyone teach them the easy-to-remember 'e' is for envelope rule when they were little?!

Boffin enters Athens 2004 Blog comp!

And so to the latest competition update. Remember, you're guessing how much it costs at an Olympic venue for 2 x beer, 2 x water, 2 x hot dog and 2 x creme caramel. Mark from Wales, our serial competition enterer, has guessed 19 Euros. Laurel from Tennessee says 28. And then there's the entry from Todd Barnell, Research Specialist at the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals in Arizona (yes, that's Tribal Environmental Professionals!). Todd - a new reader - has some very kind things to say about Athens 2004 Blog (as, incidentally does a very friendly chap called Rowan). And Todd has used his Research Specialist skills to compose an extremely considered and entertaining competition entry. Here are his thoughts in full...

"You always seemed to get ripped off on beer unless you are drinking at your neighborhood pub. You're also talking about less than a pint a piece (if I converted correctly). I'd say these are $5 each. A pint of water each? Let's say $6 for both. Hot dogs. Hmm. If you were buying them at a US baseball stadium you'd need a credit card. I'm assuming the Greeks are not as money-grubbing as US baseball owners so let's say you are dropping $8 for both. The creme caramel is hard. If my partner made it I'd charge someone a mint, but I will guess $4 each. That comes to $32 US, or, 26 Euros. Drats! Someone already guessed that one! Okay, maybe the creme caramel are really, really good. Let's round up to 29 Euros. That is a safe bet."

That almost deserves a prize just for the amount of thought put into it! And so, we have
- Vix 42 Euros (she doesn't want to win though -she won the last one)
- GM 38 Euros.
- KJ 36 Euros.
- Diegem 33 Euros.
- John Abatzoglou 32 Euros.
- Todd the boffin 29 Euros
- Laurel 28.
- Andria 26 Euros.
- Roberto 24 Euros.
- Dennis 20 Euros.
- Mark 19 Euros
- Simon Wonder Wally 14.5 Euros.

(Clue: No one's right yet. And The answer isn't a round Euro)

Competition closes on Saturday morning. At which point the closest wins a tacky Olympic souvenir like the one I bought Vix at the Games superstore yesterday, which will be winging it way to her very soon...

As for me. I'm off to the badminton to, hopefully, see the Brits win their first Gold of the games and their first ever gold at badminton. C'mon the Brits!

Greek tennis fans. They're passionate sorts.

Venus serves up a treat for Robin
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Morning. So last night we went to the tennis at the main Olympic complex, which also houses the aquatic events, the big athletics stadium, the gymnastics and the velodrome. It's also the home of the massive Olympic superstore selling all kinds of Olympic stuff. Tip: If you happen to be in Athens, the girl's T-shirts are way more stylish and imaginative than the women's ones - they're also much cheaper and the sizes are big. An age 12 is easily big enough for my (rather older than that) fiance.

The actual complex is enormously impressive (well, if you ignore the massive McDonalds), full of all kinds of amazing archway walks and fountains and the like. Feels really special being in there - like you're at the centre of the Games. Which, I suppose, you are. I'll take some pictures when we're there next so you know what I'm gushing about!

So, to the tennis. After watching Venus Williams lose to Mary Pierce on Court 1 - that's Venus behind Robin; budding tennis players, note how high she throws the service ball (you can click on the pic to make it bigger) - we headed to the Centre Court where the local Greek hero Danilidou was playing a Russian who (according to the Greek woman sitting next to us) knocked Serena W out of the French Open.

Problem was, only people with centre court tickets (like us) could get into centre court, and every Greek in the tennis complex wanted in. You can get right up to the entrance gates without a ticket - you can actually see the whole court from there - and, once the game started, there were loads of Greeks without centre court tickets loudly demanding to be let in to fill the seats they could see were empty. Such was the shouting match continually going on at the gate just behind us that they had to stop the game a couple of times, because the players couldn't concentrate.

Clearly Greeks aren't as up on the decorum of tennis as we Brits (who are great at the decorum but rubbish at playing the actual sport). As well as many of them sitting chatting on their mobile phones throughout the game, the massive Greek following were starting chants and songs between every point, often forcing the player they were supporting to have to wait for them to finish before she served!

The Russian fared even worse from it. As it became clear she was going to win, (she won 7-5, 6-4 in the end) the Greeks started to whistle her as she threw the ball to serve. Then, every time she put a first serve into the net there was massive cheering like Greece had just scored a winning goal - and you should have heard them whenever she double faulted! Definitely an unusual, though enjoyable, tennis experience.

Olympic characters #2

A Hungarian. Or maybe an Hungarian.
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

We spotted this Hungarian water polo fan at Irini metro station (the one that serves the big Olympic complex). Our Hungarian friend doesn't speak much English. And we don't speak much Hungarian. But is he enjoying the Olympics? 'Yes. Yes, yes, yes!' Good. Good, good, good!

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Just back from tennis. Very tired.

Robin. At the stadium.
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Hey up

Just got back from the tennis - we ended up skipping the football and staying there to watch the local Greek woman play her match on centre court.

I'll tell you all about it tomorrow, but having got up at 7am the last two days for morning events (and, yes mum, not having had sensible early nights) I'm shattered, so I'm off to bed now.

For now, here's a pic of Robin outside the Olympic Stadium, which is part of the Athens Olympic Sports Complex, which is where the tennis is too. As you'll see, the flame is burning bright. I'll tell you all about the complex tomorrow too.

Now to bed. Big day tomorrow - not only have I got lots to tell you about in the morning, but the British mixed doubles badminton duo are playing in the final tomorrow afternoon, and we've got tickets!! Hurrah and hooray and can't wait! No doubt like them, I'll be dreaming of gold tonight...

Water polo: Olympic heroes in dressing gowns!

Robin and the Canadians
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.


We're just back from watching the morning session of water polo - and (at the risk of sounding like I'm enjoying everything) it was superb.

The sport is like a cross between football, American football, hockey and basketball played in a pool in four quarters of (I think) seven minutes. There are many fouls and it's easily the most violent team sport I've ever seen!

We saw two women's group games. The first was Australia (gold medalists in Sydney) versus Kazakhstan. It was a bit one-sided, the Ozzies won 9-4 (Kaz wasted too many chances).

And then the main event, the big North American derby between USA and Canada. A lot more fans had arrived by now, with plenty of yanks to support the US and plenty of Canadians and folks from other nationalities to cheer against them (the Greeks particularly like to cheer against the US).

It was an incredibly tight contest, 0-0 almost until half time when the US took the lead (they'd both hit the post plenty of times before that). Canada had lots of chances but just couldn't score them.

The US had a burst of goals, and lead 4-0 until the very end of the third quarter when Canada pulled one back. The stats then showed that Canada had had 18 shots and just scored that one.

Then the amazing final quarter. Canada scored early to make it 4-2, but the US soon made it 5-2. At which point Canada staged the most amazing comeback. 5-3 (crowd gets excited), 5-4 (crowd goes wild), 5-5 (crowd goes super-wild) and, finally, 6-5 to Canada (crowd and players pinch themslves to see if they're dreaming). Absolutely amazing finale. After not scoring in their first 17 shots, Canada managed to score 6 in their final 7.

It was hard on the US, but for their sheer determination the Canadians were well worthy of the passionate celebrations that greeted their win.

Bob from Calgary (who came second in our first blog competition), if you're reading, I hope you and your country are celebrating this victory - for that comeback, your women's water polo team deserve some serious plaudits!

News! Competition update!

To the guess-how-much-Olympic-food-costs comp first (see below for entry details). Vix has made a guess of 42, because she won the first competition and doesn't want to win the second one. While Diegem has written to point out he's not a she (sorry) and ask why Robin doesn't get food in our competition. Duh. Because he's a bird. He eats seeds, worms and berries. And they don't sell those at Olympic concessions. Keep the entries coming...

Hello and welcome to Karlo who tells us to look out for Mexican runner Ana Guevara. (Think of your own Speedy Gonzalez jokes readers, why should I do all the work?)

We're off to the beach volley again in a few days. I'll see what I can do. Until then, take cold showers.

'Hey Kit, what is a self-respecting Brit doing watching basketball?' he asks. Obviously Dennis doesn't know that when basketball was first a demonstration sport at the Olympics in the early 1900s, Britain won the gold. The team was all made up of players from the Central London YMCA gym (of which I am a member!). So our Olympic basketball heritage is very deep Dennis!

If you're going to an event, as well as 'We Will Rock You' expect to hear 'Let's Get It Started' by Black Eyed Peas and 'Shake It' the Greek Eurovision entry from this year (no sign of the ace Ukraine song that pipped them to the title though). And they seem to try to play music from the countries involved in whatever you're watching. So 'Ca Plaine Pour Moi' was on during French beach volley and this morning during the Australian water polo match they played Men At Work (twice) and, oddly, 'Highway To Hell' by AC/DC. Sadly, they didn't seem to have any Kazakhstan tunes.

Olympic characters #1 (first in a series)

Robin meets Uncle Sam
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

This is Uncle Sam, who was at the water polo to see Canada v USA. Uncle Sam is from New York. He's having a great time at the Olympics even though he lost his luggage for a few days at the airport in London on the way here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Football and competition

Robin gets his (free) kicks
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

Right. Quick post cos Greece v USA basketball is on TV and it's 45-44 in the 3rd quarter...

Just got back from the football (or, if you're that way inclined, soccer), Argentina beat Australia 1-0 in a fairly uneventful men's game (with some nice flashes of skill) after Germany had outclassed Mexico in the women's game, winning 2-0.

Nice stadium, 26,400 crowd and a good atmosphere, but there was no half time entertainment (certainly no bikini dancers!) and there were HUGE queues for refreshments (I actually went looking for the missus after 25 minutes, worrying that she'd been abducted or something!). Still, at least we kept up our record of having heard 'We Will Rock You' by Queen at every single Olympic event we've been to so far.

53-44 to the US in the basketball. Wow, in the time it takes to type a paragraph...

So to the latest competition entries:

- Diegem - who says she's quit watching CNN because they're so negative; 33 Euros.
- John Abatzoglou, a Greek in California who's dad is in Athens watching the Games; 32 Euros.
- Simon Wonder Wally from Southport; 14.5 Euros. (He also asks if we'll see any British medals being won - our best hope is the mixed doubles badminton final, I believe the Brits are in the semis...)
- Andria from Texas (who's very kind about this blog); 26 Euros.
- And, having been told what a creme caramel is, KJ has gone for 36 Euros.
Plus, earlier, Dennis - 20 Euros. Roberto - 24 Euros. GM - 38 Euros.

At the moment no one is within 2 Euros of the correct answer...

Busy day tomorrow - water polo, tennis AND football. An Olympic hat-trick!

57-53! Oh it looks like a nailbiter and it's calling my name...
(STOP PRESS: US pipped the plucky Greeks 77-71 in the end. Cracking contest though.)

Life's a beach volley

Robin the beach volley bird
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

We've just got back to our hotel from the morning session of the beach volleyball. The picture is a little misleading in that all of the fans were on the three sides of the stadium that isn't pictured. It wasn't packed by any means but there was a decent-sized crowd (a few thousand). We saw four matches (two men's, two women's) and all the countries - Spain, Switzerland, Czech, Japan, France, Germany, South Africa and Cuba - had vociferous little bunches of fans (particularly the Germans who had some impressive choreography going on.).

I'm quite a fan of beach volley, having seen it played at the highest level in Australia, Greece and, oddly, on a rain-swept seafront in Oslo. And no, it's not just good because it's played by beautiful people in skimpy outfits - it's actually a really fast-moving, exciting sport. No, really.

Unlike tennis, the majority of points are won by the team that doesn't serve - the receiving side often cues it up and smashes it before the serving side gets another touch. The women's game is actually slightly better to watch because they don't smash quite as hard so the rallies go on longer.

Again, the crowd were well looked after, with snippets of party music between every point (isn't that off-putting for the athletes?), dancers during breaks and an MC/commentator constantly getting the crowd going. Plus, as it got hotter, they were spraying the crowd with hoses to cool down and there were massive fans-cum-sprinklers at the back of the stands spreading cool mist (which sounds like the name of an after shave - quick someone, copyright it).

Afterwards, we went over to the nearby Sponsor's Park where Alpha bank had set up a thing where you could try out Olympic sports, with the help of some very patient, friendly coaches. We had a go at archery, shooting, high jump, cycling, weighlifting(!), trampoline and, finally, I took on my fiance at fencing. After she took an early lead, I managed to claw back and win 5-3. Yay! The stalls from the other sponsors weren't anything like as enjoyable, so big up Alpha for making theirs so much fun.

Tonight we're off to see some football - Argentina versus, um, can't remember. Australia maybe? Should be fun...

Competition update! Feedback! News!

So, we've had our first three entries to the guess-how-much-Olympics-snacks-cost competition (see below).
Dennis in the UK has gone for 20 Euros.
Roberto in Manchester has plumped for 24 Euros.
GM in London has said 38 Euros.
Keep those guesses coming. And, for our American visitors, a creme caramel is a French sweet that's basically a sort of set egg custard with a caramel sauce. Mmm, tasty,

Following my entry about a cynical US TV reporter outside the archery, Panos from Greece has said he's found CNN to be very negative (it wasn't them that spoke to me), while Joanne from LA says that USA Today had an editorial yesterday criticising the negative reporting about the Games in the US media. So at least that particular worm seems to be turning.

Goody's, Pitta Pan and Everest rule. Proof that fast food doesn't have to be unhealthy food - salads and grilled food can be quick too!

Apparently at last count sales were at 2.92million and will exceed 3 million very soon. In 1992 Barcelona sold 3.021 million, so Athens looks set to over-take that. From the fact none of the Greek media are saying how many Sydney sold, I'd guess it may have been more.

We went to a cinema (that's a movie theater for the US readers) on a roof that overlooks the Acropolis. The film, 'Spartan', was entertaining if hardly life-changing (whole lotta loose ends going on) - but what a place to watch a film. Open-air cinemas are one of THE best things about Greece. You can even drink beer at your seat (and table!).

Here comes the (Olympic) bride...

What every bride wants
Originally uploaded by athens2004blog.

This is the best Olympic merchandise we've spotted so far (in a bridal shop near Platia Amerikis). Who wouldn't want to get married in this fetching Olympic dress?! Quality.

Athens 2004 Blog celebrates 5,000 visitors!

In fact, it's well past 5,100 now. It was only a couple of weeks ago that we were celebrating hitting 1,000. Thanks to all of you that have been looking and coming back again. And cheers for all the compliments about the site that you've been emailing, too. Me, my fiance and Robin are all very chuffed that it's going so well.