Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Olympic flame has been extinguished, to be re-lit in Beijing four years from now.

Covering the Games was without doubt one of the most gruelling assignments I’ve ever done – but now it’s finally over and I'm back in London, here’s my Olympic scorecard.


ATHENS: The city – and Greece as a whole – proved its doubters spectacularly wrong. Competitions passed off smoothly, the transport system worked almost flawlessly and the sense of pride at the Games returning to their spiritual home was palpable.

The Times, in particular, should publish a front page apology for its sensationalist and biased reporting in the run-up to the Games.

Greece is now faced with one astronomical financial hangover as it wakes up on the morning after and tries to work out how it’s going to pay for the lavish party it organised. But what a party it was.

TEAM GB: Great Britain’s 30 medals represented its second best performance since the Paris Games in 1924. Kelly Holmes, Amir Khan and Matthew Pinsent became new British Olympic superstars. Their performances in Athens will be savoured for many years to come. Great Britain’s victory in the 4 x 100m provided one of the greatest shocks of the Games.

SECURITY: Fears that the first Olympics after 9/11 would turn Athens into a fortress proved to be groundless. Security was tight and at times inconsistent but the soldiers, warships, aircraft and intelligence officers deployed to protect the Games successfully managed to keep athletes and spectators safe without dampening the mood of celebration.

CHINA: China’s 32 gold, 17 silver and 14 bronze medals heralded the emergence of a sporting superpower. Preparation for the Beijing Games in four years’ time couldn’t be more different to Athens -- the IOC has already urged China to slow down for fear it’ll be ready too soon. But China’s poor human rights record cannot and must not be ignored by the Olympic Movement.


DRUGS CHEATS: The scandal of Kostas Kenderis and Katerina Thanou cast a dark cloud over the start of the Games. Athens saw the highest number of positive doping tests of any games. While this shows that rigorous testing is helping to catch the cheats it also highlights the darker side of sport. Weightlifting in particular urgently needs to get its house in order.

CORRUPT OFFICIALS: The suspension of Bulgarian IOC representative Ivan Slavkov following the Panorama expose demonstrated that even after the changes introduced post-Salt Lake, some members of the Olympic Family care little for the noble ideals of the movement.

PAULA RADCLIFFE: So much expectation. So little achievement.

GRAND SPONSORS: Heineken, Coca Cola, McDonalds. I hope their bland, tasteless products never pass my lips ever again.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

And so, with music, dance and colour, the Athens Olympics have officially ended.

But my closing comments will have to wait -- because it's End of Show party time!

I'm 99% certain the intruder who attacked the Brazilian runner Vanderlei de Lima in the closing stages of the men's marathon, costing him the gold medal, was Cornelius "Neil" Horan, the apocalypse-obsessed irish former priest who was jailed for two months for trespassing on the track at last year's British Grand Prix.

With the Olympic finish line in sight, thousands of tonnes of equipment is on the move.

Such is the nomadic existence of the international press corps.

We create huge temporary refugee camps of cables, monitors, offices and studios which become home for a few days or weeks. Then overnight we de-rig, pack the kit away, and head home.

I can't say I'll be sad to be on the flight to Heathrow tomorrow.

I'd reached my tolerance threshold for bad food, a strange bed, 18 hour days and any beer so long as it's Heineken about four days ago.

I'll be resting up before heading back out here again in a couple of weeks for the Paralympics.

But first, the closing ceremony.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Blimey! -- another gold in the men's 400-meter relay.

We certainly weren't expecting that.

An awesome and historic night for British sport here in Athens as Kelly Holmes set a new British record in the 1500m to win another gold to add to her 800m medal.

She's the first British woman -- and only third woman in Olympic history -- ever to complete the middle distance double. The last time the feat was performed by a Brit was 84 years ago, by Albert Hill in the 1920 Games in Antwerp.

Before the Olympics, bookies were offering odds of 100/1 on Holmes completing the double. Now, they've stopped taking bets on her to win the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year Award -- she's a complete dead cert.

After the race, Holmes said she was "gobsmacked."

What's most significant about Great Britain's performance in these Olympics is what it could mean for the involvement in sport of youngsters from ethnic minorities.

Ethnic minorities are poorly represented in many sports -- but in these Games it's been a black woman (Kelly Holmes) and a British Asian teenager (Amir Khan) who've been capturing the headlines and the medals.

Colin Powell has called off his planned trip to the Olympics closing ceremony -- but it's nothing to do with last night's anti-American demos.


He's just very, very busy.

Friday, August 27, 2004


The blagging technique worked a treat again but it turned out to be a night of crashing disappointment rather than redemption for Paula Radcliffe.

She cut a lonely figure during her warm up but once the raise was underway Radcliffe settled into the middle of the leading pack. She then moved to the front shortly before the end of the seventh lap.

But her lead was short lived.

She slipped further and further back before pulling up eight and a half laps from home. After the race Paula Radcliffe said she was disappointed but had no regrets.

So, another bad day at the office for Paula Radcliffe but a great day for Liu Xiang of China. He equalled Colin Jackson's 11-year-old world record by clocking 12.91 seconds to claim gold in the 110m hurdles.

Just back from the Olympic Stadium where -- as I'm sure you know by now -- Paula Radcliffe failed to finish the 10,000m.

Must file. More later.
I'm about to head over to the Olympic Stadium to watch Paula Radcliffe in the 10,000m.

Despite having an access all areas press pass I should also have a special ticket to get me into the stadium this evening, as it's classed as a "high demand" event.

However, I managed to talk my way in yesterday without too much difficulty yesterday as the gate staff didn't seem to have much of an idea of who was allowed in and who wasn't.

The tried-and-tested method of walking purposefully and acting as if I have a right to be there worked a treat.

Hopefully it'll work again tonight.

Paula's performance will either be a redeeming moment of sporting history or a crashing disappointment.
Italian Olympians are wearing black armbands today in memory of the murdered journalist, Enzo Baldoni.

Baldoni's death takes the number of media workers killed in Iraq to 51.
Reporters Without Borders has awarded China a gold medal in human rights violations and has launched a website calling for a boycott of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

As well as Paula in the 10,000m, tonight also sees Amir Khan's lightweight semi-final against Kazakhstan's Serik Yeleuov.

At Khan's last fight against Baik Jong-Sub there was almost as much excitement outside the ring as in it.

The Bolton Assassin had brought a large and boisterous group of supporters from the UK which the Greek security guards tried -- in vain -- to quieten down at regular intervals.

Even more Khan supporters have made the journey from Lancashire for this evening's bout.

It could get rather rowdy.

The boxing promoters, meanwhile, are already eyeing up Khan as their next cash cow.

Frank Warren is seeing the pound signs in front of his eyes and is itching for Khan to turn pro. "If he turns pro I think he could win the world title at a young age, no doubt about that," he's quoted as saying.

At 17, Khan still has another Olympics in him as an amateur -- but the pressure on him to turn pro will be immense.
"Paula has decided to run the 10,000 metres," a British athletics team spokeswoman said.

"We just need to leave her now to prepare herself for the race."

Paula Radcliffe WILL run in tonight's 10,000m.

More soon.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

In an attempt to scotch the widespread myth that I only watch sports involving teenage girls, I blagged my way into the main Olympic Stadium this evening for an evening of athletics.

My seat on the press benches was the perfect place to watch the men's 110m hurdles semi finals, the semi-finals of the women's 1500m and to give Kelly Holmes a cheer as she passed by after her race.

I had to leave to get back to the office before the end of the proceedings and so missed the booing which marred the 200m final.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Could someone please explain what the Madison is all about.

Great Britain just won a medal in it -- but I have no idea how.
Word has reached BNI Olympic HQ that some athletes in the Olympic Village are going at it like rabbits.

When there are thousands of perfectly toned and tanned men and women from around the world cooped up in the Village with plenty of time on their hands it's hardly surprising.

So I did a little under the cover research -- and it seems the rumours are true.

Durex has donated 130,000 free condoms to athletes, along with 30,000 sachets of lubricant.

There are 10,500 athletes and 3,000 team officials staying in the Olympic Village, which means there are 10 free condoms per person.

Some athletes must be going for the gold medal in horizontal jogging.

Needless to say, there are no free condoms available in the Media Villages -- and if you read the Washington Post article I linked to earlier you'll understand why.

The Olympic rumour mill is abuzz with contradictory claims over whether Paula Radcliffe will run in Friday's 10,000m.

The Mirror insists she will but the Guardian disagrees. It says she hasn't recovered fully from her traumatic marathon experience.

But Radcliffe has been out training this morning -- and despite what the Guardian says, our spies claim her parents are still in Greece and aren't planning to return home just yet, increasing the possibility that she'll compete.

After seeing her tearful, broken interviews on Monday, I thought there was no way Radcliffe could recover emotionally in time to take part in Friday's race. Now I'm not sure -- although my gut feeling is that she still hasn't decided herself.

Whatever the outcome, she certainly hasn't won the admiration of the Telegraph's Robert Philip.

In a blistering column, he blows away the "Poor Paula" headlines that have filled the British papers:

"The Tears of a Hero proclaimed one headline alongside a picture of Paula Radcliffe. Well, if it's heroes you want, then I'll give you heroes: Japan's Mizuki Noguchi, who won the Olympic marathon, was a hero. So, too, was Briton Liz Yelling, who produced a late sprint to overtake Maria Abel, of Spain, in a photo-finish for 25th place.

"Call me a cynic, but the way I see it is that unless the medics in Athens can come up with a physical reason why she quit just over three miles from the finish, Radcliffe stopped running and started bubbling for the simple reason that she had just seen gold, silver and bronze medals disappear into the distance."
The Washington Post's Peter Carlson does battle in the mixed zone, where "the unruly battle the unwashed for a chance to hear the inarticulate utter the inaudible."

Contrary to the impression given in the article, I swear I put on a clean t-shirt every morning.

Every Olympics needs a Heroic Failure.

In Sydney 2000 it was Eric "the Eel" Moussambani. In Calgary 1988 it was Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards.

So where's Greece's contribution to this Hall of Infamy?

The closest we've come so far is Australia's Lay Down Sally -- but exhaustion isn't the same as ineptitude (so Paula Radcliffe doesn't count either.)

The Games close on Sunday. Time is running out to discover Athens's Athletic Also-ran.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004


We got hit by an earthquake here this afternoon.

I was sitting in my radio studio at about half past three this afternoon when I felt the floor and walls rumble -- as if a tube train was passing underneath.

I was a little concerned as our offices are on the first floor and I didn't much fancy the prospect of disappearing through the floor. But by the time I'd had time to think about it, the rumbling had stopped.

Only later did we learn that a small tremor measuring 4.5 on the Richter Scale had been detected, with an epicentre in the sea off the island of Evia.

The experts say it happens all the time and there's no grounds for concern. Bet it gave the NBC boys a fright, though.

People power has triumphed here in Athens.

Last night, spectators at the gymnastics horizontal bar final halted proceedings for 10 minutes because they were booing so much at the 9.725 given to Russia's Alexei Nemov -- which they considered too low.

The judges buckled under the weight of the crowd's fury and upped their mark to 9.762 -- but that was still too low to win Nemov a medal.

Nemov eventually had to return to the gymn floor to urge the audience to quieten down.

The Russian media are hopping mad.

State-run television has called the score "a grandiose scandal and a sensation."

Russian sports journalists say Nemov's performance was "200% better" than his rivals.

"To give the names of the medalists would be insulting and unnecessary, but one must
name the champion: Alexei Nemov," said an anchor on NTV.

Nemov seems quite pleased with the crowd's reaction. He said he was "very grateful." The boos, he said, made his performance feel like victory.

The Russian Olympic Committee is now likely to appeal.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Tears and cheers -- just another day at the Olympics.

Paula Radcliffe has just given us an emotional interview in which she said she had no idea what went wrong in yesterday's marathon.

She refused to blame the hot weather for her demise and said she hadn't yet made a decision on whether to run in Friday's 10,000m race.

Here's an extract.
Like a central heating system with a broken thermostat, the explanations we're being given for Paula Radcliffe's failure to finish the marathon yesterday is that her body simply couldn't cope with the heat.

The doctors say that an athlete can cope with a rise in core temperature up to a certain point -- which is different for every person. But once that critical temperature is reached the body simply seizes up, making further exertion impossible.

Some of the calls and e-mails we've been receiving this morning have suggested that Paula Radcliffe couldn't cope psychologically once she was pushed out of the medal positions -- and so gave up.

But British Olympic Association physician Dr Greg Whyte says that although psychological factors came into play, the primary reasons for Paula's difficulties were physical.

Audioblog: Dr Greg Whyte (mp3)

We'll hear from the woman herself at a press conference she's giving in just over two hours time.
It seems some of the soldiers responsible for our safety and security are going stir crazy -- and turning their guns on themselves.

Very reassuring.

ATHENS, Aug 23 (Reuters) - A Greek soldier guarding an Olympic facility in Athens was shot dead on Monday after apparently playing game of Russian roulette with a policeman, security sources said.

Greek police were questioning a policeman in connection with the pre-dawn shooting at the gates of an Olympic village hosting escorts to Olympic teams in the Metochi Parnithas region of Athens.

It appeared that a prank had gone wrong while the pair were playing with a service revolver containing a single bullet, the sources added.

The 25-year-old soldier was shot in the forehead.

Super Saturday was followed by Black Sunday here in Athens as a devastated Paula Radcliffe crashed out of the Olympic Marathon.

We'd set up a broadcast position overlooking the race end at the Panathanaiko Stadium. We were listening to the race commentary through headphones, moments away from going live on air, when Britain's brightest Olympic hope ground to a distressing halt on the 36km marker.

There was a collective gasp of disbelief from the hundreds of British supporters who were waiting below, draped in Union Flags. They'd spent the afternoon cheering and dancing -- but after seeing Radcliffe drop out of the race on the stadium big screen the party mood evaporated instantly.

Minutes later, race winner Mizuki Noguchi thundered up the home straight and into the stadium, followed by Catherine Ndereba and Deena Kastor.

It wasn't the ending we'd hoped for.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

I take back what I said yesterday about Canada's chances of winning a gold.
CBC Sports: Canada's Shewfelt wins gymnastics gold

All her eyes are on Paula Radcliffe this afternoon as she goes for Olympic gold in the marathon.

She's due to start the gruelling 26.2 mile race in about 3 hours' time.

I pity her. It's incredibly hot and stifling here in Athens today. I couldn't walk to the end of the street and back, let alone run from Marathon to Athens. Runners who've completed the course say it's the toughest they've ever done.

Yesterday's Guardian had a fascinating article about Radcliffe -- her obsessive discipline, her punishing training regime and her diet of wheatgrass juice and ostrich steaks.

At about 2015 this evening we'll be down at the Panathanaiko Stadium as she runs, head bobbing, towards the finish line.

Saturday, August 21, 2004


One of the most interesting aspects of being here in Athens, where so many broadcasters from so many countries are all following the same events, is the way each nation writes its own Olympic story.

Today is a perfect example.

For those of us working for the British media, the Story of the Day is blindingly obvious -- Pinsent Becomes British Olympic Legend.

Matthew Pinsent's emotional outpouring on the medal podium provided the first iconic momemt of the Games for us. It'll be on the front page of every British newspaper tomorrow and will be replayed endlessly on television for years to come.

For the Canadians over at CBC, though, it's a different story. Their headline -- Canadian men's four rowers win silver; 4th gold for Britain's Pinsent

Each headline is, of course, equally valid. We'd celebrate a British silver mdeal above an American, Australian or (chance would be a fine thing) Canadian gold.

Journalists from every country out here are writing their own Olympic history -- and creating their own Olympic legends.
So, Britain's Leslie Law has been awarded the gold medal in the three-day eventing that was originally won by Bettina Hoy.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that Hoy should have suffered time penalties in Wednesday's show jumping final, costing her the individual gold and Germany the team title.

Germany surely have grounds for a counter-appeal.

Has no one clocked on to the fact that although Law has a girl's name he is most definitely a he -- and has just managed to snatch the gold medal off a chick.

Maybe Law would like to try his chances in the womens' 100 metres final this evening as well.

A certain freshly-minted Olympic legend has just been in to see us at the BBC Olympics office. You can just see his plastic cup of champagne next to the monitor in the picture above.

Very often in our work we feign an air of professional indifference -- but on this occasion the appearance of Pinsent, Cracknell, Coode and Williams caused a standing ovation and a sustained round of applause.

Photo: Matthew Pinsent
Photo: James Cracknell
Photo: Pinsent and Cracknell
Photo: Steve Williams and Ed Coode
The Online Journalism review considers the issue of Olympic internet rights.

I hadn't mentioned it on the blog on the grounds of taste, but the sartorial issues behind this story hadn't escaped our notice in the Olympic newsroom.

It's the nipple scandal that's overshadowed the drugs scandal that's overshadowed the Olympic Games.

We'd dubbed today "Super Saturday" because the British press corps had high hopes of a strong performance today by Team GB.

Sure enough, Great Britain enjoyed a great morning messing about in boats, winning 3 medals before breakfast in what's sure to be remembered as an historic day for British sport.

Cath Bishop and Katherine Grainger won silver in the coxless pair and Sarah Winckless and Elise Laverick took double sculls bronze.

But the best story of all, of course, is Matthew Pinsent claiming his fourth Olympic gold, pipping Canada in the coxless four by the narrowest of margins.

Team mate James Cracknell summed up the entire Olympic experience -- endurance, expectation, elation -- in one sentence. "There are four years of emotion gone into that six minutes," he said.

Its been an unforgettable morning -- and it's going to be a busy afternoon.

Friday, August 20, 2004

The Globe and Mail doesn't believe the Olympic hyperlinking policy is legally sound.

Howard Knopf, a Canadian trademark lawyer who is now director for the Center of Intellectual Property Law at Chicago's John Marshall Law School, said organizers have no legal authority to prevent people from simply linking to the website.

"If they leave their website open, it's like a public park, people are free to walk in it, and a link is just the most efficient way to get there," he said.

Meanwhile, AP has more on the Olympic blogging ban.

The media's finally picking up on the petty and heavy-handed restrictions in place here in Athens that I've been banging on about since I arrived.
After two weeks of IBC canteen food, the hacks are gravitating in ever larger numbers to the supermarket across the street -- where such contraband as Pepsi, beer other than Heineken, fruit and fresh bread is available.

This, of course, is bad news for those trying to enforce the IOC's "clean venue" guidelines, which are designed to keep out products made by firms who aren't official Olympic sponsors (the press centre is classed as an "Olympic venue" even if the physiques of many of us working in it aren't exactly Adonis-like.)

Rather than enforcing an outright ban, a more subtle approach is being used to try to dissuade us from bringing our own lunches.

As our bags of groceries pass through the X-ray scanners, the security guards warn us of the untold damage the radiation is doing to our food.

They may be right -- but I'd rather take my chances than eat another canteen Greek salad.
Have you ever seen such a ridiculous policy as this?

It states that you're only allowed to link to the official Olympic website using the term ATHENS 2004.

Let's break the rules once. And again. And once more for luck.

Come and sue me, ATHOC.
I'm currently checking with the Olympic organisers whether my press pass allows me access to the finals of the sexathlon.
Here's the promised videoblog of the head of Team Kiribati, Ignatio Tanentoa.

It's very heavily compressed to keep the file size manageable but it gives you a flavour.

It's just under a minute long and is less than 300Kb in size.

Kiribati Videoblog (.wmv)
Arizona shooter Lynn French gives her perspective on covering the Olympics when there's just you, a dog and a sports presenter.

NPR's Howard Berkes does likewise.

Kiribati has its first Olympian!

Kaitinano Mwemweata finished 7th out of 8 in her 100m heat this morning.

Her time of 13.07 was a new personal best -- but better still was the fact that she wasn't last.

By far the best perk of covering the Olympics is that, with the right accreditation, you can go and see just about anything.

Where back home you'd flick through the TV guide to pick out your evening's viewing, here you can peruse the schedule and decide which events to see.

Weightlifting at the Nikaia Olympic Hall perhaps? Or what about fencing at the Helliniko Olympic Complex? The choice is seemingly endless. The main problem is finding time to get away from the office for long enough.

This evening a lull in the workload meant I was able to dash over to see the womens' gymnastics all-round final (first womens' synchronised diving, now gymastics -- I'll get myself a reputation if I'm not careful).

America's Carly Patterson upstaged the Russian diva Svetlana Khorkina to become the first American in 20 years to win gold in the event.

Khorkina's reaction to her silver medal was suitably diva-esque.

"If the judges were Greek I would have no difficulty winning the gold medal," she whined.

"They are the ones who are going to have to live with their conscience."

Thursday, August 19, 2004


I made my first trip up to the Olympic Village this afternoon to meet the newest members of the Olympic Family.

Kiribati, a cluster of 33 coral atolls straddling the equator that was formerly known as the Gilbert Islands, is entering the Olympics for the first time. It has sent 3 athletes to Athens -- two runners and a weightlifter.

Kaitinano Mwemweata will become Kiribati's first Olympian when she runs in the 100 metres tomorrow morning.

Theirs is a classic Olympic tale.

The country's whole population could fit inside the Olympic stadium.

The team trains on a coral sand and concrete track -- the nation's only sporting facility. They have to share running spikes because there aren't enough pairs to go round. And because there are only a handful of television sets on the island, most people will rely on the radio and word-of-mouth to hear how their Olympians are doing thousands of miles away.

I came away with a great memento -- a photo taken alongside the very first Olympic Team Kiribati.

We'll be shaping our interviews into a radio package that'll run tomorrow....I'm also hoping to post up a Kiribati videoblog in the morning.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

A full-blown media scrum before breakfast isn't the most relaxing way to start the day.

By 10 o'clock this morning I'd been crushed, trodden on and abused by fellow members of the international press corps down at the Hilton Hotel in Central Athens, where Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou announced they were withdrawing from the Olympics.

The Olympic organisers are understandably relieved that a scandal which has distracted attention away from the Games for almost a week is finally drawing to a close.

We journalists are also relieved that we can now move on to covering other, and maybe even more positive, stories.

Three forfeited accreditation passes are all that remain of the Olympic dreams of Kenteris, Thanou and their coach Christos Tzekos -- and the only Kenteris that'll be travelling at speed any time soon is the ferry named after him that shuttles to and from his home island of Lesbos.

My main production job of the day was putting together a radio package by my colleague Andy Swiss for the PM programme. You can listen to it here as an MP3 download.
Reopening yesterday's posting about pin trading -- it seems some of the athletes are getting in on the act as well.

This from the PA news wire:

Venus Williams has revealed how pin-collecting has become a craze among the US tennis squad.

The pin badges are handed out to competitors and members of the wider Olympic family, including officials and media.

Team-mate Mardy Fish is an avid collector, as are doubles brothers Bob and Mike Bryan, but Venus has scooped them all.

"I don't tell them what I get. And when I do get pins - not all of them, but some of them - they're like sharks," she said.

"They come and they take the pins that I get because I'm smart enough to get more than one of each country so I can trade them off.

"But then if I get four, I have to give all of them one. So it's like I've got to stay away from them when I'm trading. It's so much fun for me."

Tuesday, August 17, 2004


It's the calm before the storm today.

Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou are due before an IOC disciplinary hearing tomorrow morning and a media scrum of Olympic proportions is guaranteed.

Kenteris protested his innocence as he left hospital this afternoon, after five days of treatment following a mysterious motorbike accident.

"I've suffered a great injustice," he said.

"With all sincerity, I have never made use of illegal substances."

What's most depressing about the whole Kenteris affair is the way it has dented Greek national pride.

Greeks are hugely proud of the fact that the Olympics have returned to the country of their birth. They're proud that they've confounded the many sceptics who didn't believe they would be able to organise such a massive event.

The Games should have been their greatest achievement.

The Kenteris scandal, though, is casting a long shadow.

Many Greeks feel they've been betrayed by one of their own.

Some people I've spoken to want to believe Kenteris. They say he's innocent until proven guilty and should be given a chance to explain himself.

Others, though feel insulted and let down. They'll never forgive Kenteris.

One of the most popular pastimes among Olympic spectators is trading pins.

Groups of pin collectors gather daily at the entrance to the International Broadcast Centre, laying out their collections and swapping them with fellow enthusiasts.

I can think of better things to do than spend hours in the baking Greek sun but it seems like a harmless enough hobby.

The downside is that you're likely to get asked at least half a dozen times a day whether you've got any pins.

NBC and Greek TV have had special ones made -- the rest of us have to apologise and say no.

The number of requests has got so out of control that many of the broadcasters have put up signs outside their offices to deter fanatical pin collectors.

The Dutch, the French and the Swiss are among those who've had to spell things out.

It's the Olympic equivalent of the sign on your front door that reads "No Junk Mail. No Free Newspapers."

Monday, August 16, 2004

For the first time since the Games started I was able to sneak out of the office for an hour this evening and actually see some sport.

The Olympic flame was burning brightly above the main stadium as I headed over to the indoor pool.

Because of the much-publicised slow ticket sales I had no problems finding a seat for the womens' 20 metre synchronised diving, in which Lao Lishi and Li Ting won China its third Gold medal in as many Olympic diving events.

Lao and Li took their places on the podium and collected their Olympic golds as the the Chinese flag rose above the pool.

By the way, did you know that the Olympic TV producers have a separate microphone they use just to catch the sound of the splashes as the divers hit the water. You can see it here on the end of the long boom hovering above the pool.

"Where have all the spectators gone?" is the question we're asking in our coverage today.

Venus Williams played her opening match yesterday in front of just 500 fans. The archery competition began at a virtually deserted Panathinaiko Stadium and there have been empty stands at other events.

At a press conference this morning, a spokesman for the Olympic organisers, Michael Zacharatos, said ticket sales were on track.

He said selling tickets at a discount, or giving them away, would be unfair to those who'd paid full price for admission.

The organisers have sold 56% of the tickets on offer and are hoping crowds will pick up when the main athletics programme begins on Friday.

They insist they're not concerned over ticket sales -- but have launched a new television campaign to try to encourage more spectators.
I've just been handed a copy of "Les 500 mots des sports paralympiques d'ete" -- or "The 500 words of summer paralympic sports."

It's a primer of basic paralympic phrases in English, French and Greek and is full of useful terms.

"Amputation tibiale" means below-knee amputation.

"Prosthese de competition" means competition prosthesis.

And the French for stump is "moignon."

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Wherever you go around Athens you'll see gaggles of some of the 45,000 uniformed volunteers who are helping out at the Olympics.

They're described in the publicity materials as the "motivating force and soul of the Games."

At the risk of sounding like a heartless hack, I beg to differ.

While well-intentioned and endlessly friendly, many of the volunteers boast more enthusiasm than ability.

Ask them when the next bus to the media village is and you often to receive a blank look or a shrug of the shoulders.

Ask them where the press conference rooms are and they often don't know.

Ask for a cup of coffee or a beer and you're often still standing there 20 minutes later.

Try to take a photograph, film a venue or set up a satphone, though, and you're likely to have one of them on your back, making your life a misery.

I try not to lose it. They're giving up their time for nothing just because they want to be part of the Games and they've probably had inadequate briefings beforehand. But on occasions I find my patience severely tested.
The Sunday Mirror claims to have exposed serious security lapses here at the Olympics.

It's a fairly lame and obvious piece of journalism. We talked it over at our editorial meeting last night and decided to play the story down because we had a number of fundamental questions about the investigation by the Mirror -- the paper that only recently claimed to have photographs of British soldiers abusing Iraqis.

Having said that, there's no doubt that a committed terrorist could easily find loopholes here in Athens, despite the massive security operation that has turned the country into what one newspaper has called "Fortress Greece."

I've been waved through security checkpoints at Olympic venues and given cursory body searches -- even though my artificial leg had set the metal detectors off. My prosthesis could just as easily have been a weapon.

And with thousands of contractors working in catering, cleaning and maintenance, I'm sure it would be relatively simple to obtain a job with access to the Olympic venues after only limited background checks.

But this is the world we're living in. Someone determined enough will always find a way to carry out an atrocity -- be it in a crowded city centre, an aircraft or here at the Olympics. Spending hundreds of millions of pounds on security can help reduce the threat -- but it will never eliminate it.

We can either live with the threat or lock ourselves away.
This is one of the strangest limbless stories I've seen for some time.

If true, Air France deserves to be taken to the cleaners by the lawyers.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

The Greeks may be able to organise an Olympic Games -- but they sure can't organise a press conference.

The media pack was out in force this evening outside the offices of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, waiting for what turned out to be a meaningless announcement by HOC president, Lambis Nikolaou.

When Nikolaou finally emerged, there was utter chaos. I was kneeling on the floor beneath his feet and nearly got trampled to death in the scrum.

Nikolaou said the HOC had decided to bat the problem of what to do about Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou's failure to take a drugs test back to the International Olympic Committee.

By a 5 to 1 majority, the HOC suspended the pair pending Monday's scheduled IOC disciplinary hearing - a completely empty gesture since they're not due to be released from hospital until tomorrow at the earliest.

Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, a lawyer representing the sprinters and coach then emerged from the HOC headquarters.

You'd have thought he was being paid by the word because he wouldn't shut up, ranting for about 15 minutes in Greek and refusing to answer any questions in English.

"Our champions are clean," he insisted.

"There has been no violation of the doping regulations. They have nothing to hide, they have done nothing wrong. All these allegations will collapse."
The Kenteris story confirmed.

Photos from a very chaotic press conference to follow.
The Kenteris story is gaining momentum.

A source close to the Greek team says Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou will be withdrawn from the Olympic Games.


There's a very nice selection of photos from last night's Opening Ceremony here.
Going live on Radio Four in the shadow of the Acropolis with Sports News correspondent, Andy Swiss.

On the news agenda today: Watching for a development on the Costas Kenteris story.

The Greek Olympic Committee is holding an emergency meeting, starting at 1500 (1200GMT) at their offices across the road from the IBC.

There are rumours circulating here at the press centre that Kenteris and Katerina Thanou are going to be thrown out of the Greek Olympic team today, two days before they're due to explain themselves to an Olympic panel.

But we'll see.
For those who've asked about BBC web coverage of the Olympics, the rules are:

BBC News and Sport Online can use wire copy and photos on the Olympics freely since they subscribe to the services provided by these news agencies.

The problem comes with the TV material. Because News and Sport Online can be accessed anywhere in the world, there are extremely strict restrictions over what can be put Online.

The rules are laid out by the IOC are incredibly complicated but they're basically designed to ensure that broadcasters can only transmit footage filmed inside Olympic venues within their own country.

You'll notice, therefore, if you watch BBC World that there's very little actual footage from the sporting events themselves. As an international channel, BBC World is restricted to what's called "News Access" -- just a couple of minutes a day.

The rest of the coverage has to be filmed around the city -- outside the Olympic venues.

Friday, August 13, 2004


One article that's been online for a couple of days but I've neglected to link is Jim Muir's farewell FOOC from Iran.

He looks back on five years as Tehran Correspondent and speaks movingly of Kaveh.
When you walk past the NBC offices downstairs from ours in the International Broadcast Centre you can smell the fear.

Those guys really need to relax a little.

The most amazing fireworks display I've ever seen has marked the end of the Opening Ceremony -- and the start of the Athens Games.

After spending all evening locked in the radio studio putting together a piece for Radio 4's World Tonight programme, we managed to file just in time to dash down the corridor and watch the pyrotechnics at first hand rather than on TV.

Most of the other broadcasters had the same idea. Dozens of people thundered down the corridor towards the glass front overlooking the Olympic Stadium.

However, one of the Arab TV channels was just about to go live -- and the sight of a herd of over-excited journalists heading in his direction sent him into a panic.

"We're going live, for God's sake," he screamed.

But by the time he actually began his interview the fireworks had ended and the stadium had fallen silent.

Very bad timing.

this is an audio post - click to play
Working until 4 in the morning may be bad -- but things could be worse.

I could be working for these guys.
A late, late night last night.

After watching the Olympic flame arrive at the Acropolis at 2100 last night we thought our day's work was just about done.

Then the Costas Kenteris story broke and a whole new day's work began.

My head finally touched the pillow at 0410.

After 3 hours sleep I was up again working on the story again.

All our carefully organised and crafted Opening Ceremony pieces are going to have to undergo substantial re-workings and many hours of work are now going to end up on the cutting room floor.

Such is the nature of the news business.

The coach from the media village this morning was filled with chatter in a dozen different languages but one word didn't need translation -- Kenteris.
I'm getting reports that Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou -- the two Greek athletes at the centre of the doping case -- have been lightly injured in a traffic accident. Source is Greek team spokesman George Gakis.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Here's the official IOC statement:

The President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Jacques Rogge, has tonight set up a Disciplinary Commission pursuant to the Olympic Charter and Article 7 of the IOC Anti-Doping Rules applicable in relation to the ATHENS 2004 Olympic Games, in order to investigate the nature and circumstances of an alleged anti-doping rule violation committed by two Greek athletes (unavailability for testing and failing, without compelling justification, to submit to sample collection for testing after notification).

The Disciplinary Commission will be responsible for hearing the athletes involved and present a report to the IOC Executive Board, the body which has the authority to take a decision on such cases. The IOC will issue another statement as soon as the procedure is over.

IOC president Jacques Rogge has set up a disciplinary commission to investigate an alleged anti-doping rule violation by Costas Kenteris.

He's accused of failing to provide a sample.

The Disciplinary Commission will meet tomorrow -- the very day the Athens Games open.

It's a massive story for Greece and the Olympics -- the equivalent of Paula Radcliffe facing doping allegations on the eve of the London Olympics.
A story is developing tonight involving Greece's top sprinter Costas Kenteris which, if true, will be absolutely massive.

More soon....

Getty Images are already producing some stunning images from here in Athens.

Their website's well worth a look.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

I'm sure Jennie Finch is very good at softball as well.
I'm sitting in my studio watching a tape of last night's dress rehearsal for the Olympic opening ceremony, filmed inside the stadium, using the same camera angles they'll be using on the night.

The footage has "Not For Transmission" burned across the screen in large grey letters.

It's oh-so-tempting to ignore the IOC's restrictions, plug the video deck into my PC, encode a clip or two and post it up here.

It would cause a lot of attention.

It would also be completely illegal and would severely test the patience of my extremely patient employers who have let me blog away merrily for more than a year.

So I'm afraid you're going to have to wait until Friday to see it for youself.
NBC's Olympic website has a video clip from Bob Costas, showing what I assume is the network's Athens TV set.

Ours is far, far superior. NBC are going to be mad as hell.
My colleagues in London have put out a new statement on Frank Gardner.

It reads:

"Frank's condition has improved markedly over the last two weeks.

"A troublesome chest infection has been cleared up, he is eating well and is feeling much stronger. He's begun daily physiotherapy to try to restore full movement to his legs.

"However, he faces at least two more operations in the coming weeks to continue the process of repairing the damage caused by the bullets, and will remain in hospital for some months yet.

"He's still receiving many cards, books, tapes, DVDs and get-well messages, and is extremely grateful to everyone who's sent them."
My colleagues were back up at the Equestrian Centre this morning to interview Pippa Funnell.

They report that "Pippa" is Greek for "cocksucker."

Sad news this morning from the British equestrian team.

Sarah Cutteridge, who I interviewed on Monday, is out of the Olympics.

Her horse, The Wexford Lady, suffered an injury in training.

Sarah will be replaced by Mary King.

Will Connell, British Equestrian Team Leader, said: "The whole team are disappointed for Sarah Cutteridge and the owners of The Wexford Lady."

Was it something I said?
Want a ticket for the Olympic Opening Ceremony on Friday?

It's gonna cost you -- three thousand bucks to be exact.
The Guardian chews over the Kerry/Swift Boat smear -- but you read exactly the same story right here a fortnight ago.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

CNN bosses are shitting their pants over the Olympics -- and insisting their correspondents covering the Games have been through a hostile environments course.

Not that it's a big deal for us on the BBC News team here in Athens -- most of us have done the course -- known as HEFAT (Hostile Environment and First Aid Training) -- and some of us have used the skills learnt in situations far more realistic than we'd hoped for.

Two issues arise from the Indy article:

1) Factual error numero uno: The "presenters, camera crews and producers" from CNN won't be "covering such harmless-sounding events as the triple jump, the gymnastics and the dressage" because CNN doesn't have the rights to show the Olympics -- and therefore its teams aren't allowed anywhere near the Olympic venues. CNN will be strictly barred from the venues -- and will only be allowed to show the briefest snippets from the Games itself. Its coverage of the Olympics will look decidedly shabby compared with NBC's.

2) As I've written before, the risk assessment we've received suggests the chance of a terrorist attack on the Games is extremely low. CNN is spending tens of thousands of pounds sending its teams on HEFAT courses to protect them against a danger which barely exists. It's great they're trying to protect their staff -- it's just a shame they've picked the wrong target.

The final dress rehearsal for Friday night's Olympic opening ceremony was held this evening.

I went along -- here's an an audioblog from the venue.

When our Olympics TV coverage begins on Friday, this is the set it'll be anchored from.

From the outside, it doesn't look like much. In fact it's tucked away on the roof, surrounded by air conditioning ducts and vents.

It seems our set is something of a coup. After spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the rights to show the Games in the US, NBC built their set indoors -- inside their office complex in the IBC.

Some bright BBC spark, however, had the idea of siting our set on the roof -- where there's a clear view over the main Olympic Stadium.

The result is pretty impressive -- as you'll see from Friday.
Much schoolboy mirth here when we learnt that a press conference tomorrow is being held in the Vergina Room.

Say it out loud.

Well, we thought it was funny.
A quick MP3 audioblog on this morning's ceremony welcoming the British Olympic team into the Olympic Village.
Is there an Olympic blogging ban?

Not here there isn't!

Olympic swimmer and blogger Scott Goldblatt also knows nada.

Monday, August 09, 2004

USA Today's report on NBC's Olympic coverage is hilariously poe-faced.

"We just have lost so much innocence, and innocence used to be what made the Olympics," says the Today show's resident philosopher, Matt Lauer.

First thing tomorrow I'm going to go down to NBC's offices on the floor below ours and laugh at them.

So this morning I made the half hour journey out of Athens to the Equestrian Centre, where the horse riders are getting ready for the start of their competitions on Sunday.

I caught up with Sarah Cutteridge, who'll be riding her mare The Wexford Lady in her Olympic debut.

Cutteridge is a former Junior and Young Rider National Champion. She was fifth in Burghley in 2003 and eighth at Badminton this year.

She told me how the horses -- and riders -- are coping with the sweltering Greek conditions.

Here's my first Olympic videoblog.

It's 2'39" long and is a 2.3Mb .wmv download. Let me know if there are any problems downloading it.

Sarah Cutteridge Videoblog

The videoblog's been delayed a little because I had to dash across town this afternoon for a press conference with the FIFA president, Sepp Blatter.

It's coming, though.

Irish distance runner caught doing craic.

Back from the Equestrian Centre, where I watched British hopeful Sarah Cutteridge in training (pictured above).

Loads to do today but a videoblog should follow later.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

I'm heading over to the Markopoulo Equestrian Centre in the morning to interview British three day eventer Sarah Cutteridge.

If time and tape formats permit the trip could become my first Athens videoblog.

Check back tomorrow.