Patriot battery sits above course

Updated: August 16, 2004, 3:11 AM ET
By Sherry Skalko | ESPN.com

ATHENS, Greece -- Some Olympic athletes have accepted the increased security here in Athens. The U.S. slalom canoe/kayak team has embraced it.

"Did you see our Patriot missiles?" doubles canoeist Matt Taylor said rather nonchalantly, as if offering a peek at photos of his children.

"I think they're NATO," Joe Jacobi, Taylor's bowman, countered.

The venue is located along the coast, 21.5 kilometers south of the Olympic Stadium. The surface-to-air weapon is perched on a hill adjacent to the course, its launcher pointed ominously skyward. Brett Hayel, who was named the slalom team's captain on Saturday, mistook it for a dump truck at first.

"You can get a great picture of a kayaker coming out of the start with the missiles in the background," he explained. Only at these Games does a Patriot missile run in the same circles as the Parthenon.

"Yeah," Taylor said, "we're feeling pretty safe with that."

Athens has set a new standard in the sport with its man-made whitewater facility, which pumps water from the Aegean Sea into the venue, making it the only saltwater course in the world. It's also set a new standard in security, spending $1.5 billion on protecting the Games.

Security has increased with each visit, the Patriots joining the shoreline decor when the team worked out in June.

"We've been coming here since February, when they were just starting to get their security protocol down," Taylor explained. "At first it started out with Athens police. Now it's like the state department."

Each trip, different Athens police officers were assigned to escort the athletes. The first group was their favorite, they said.

"We dubbed the leader Morpheus because he wore a leather trench coat. He was a Greek Lawrence Fishburne," Taylor said, referring to the actor's character in the movie "The Matrix." "So we had Morpheus, Trinity and Neo."

During the first shift of their second trip they were assigned "The Sopranos." The second shift was "Lethal Weapon."

"The Mel [Gibson] guy," Taylor explained, "would only sit sideways in the car, so he could survey. We loved it. If you were looking out the back of your car at theirs, it looked like the two guys were having an argument."

By June, the paddlers no longer had Greek details.

"Hey, Joe," Jacobi recalled the Slovakian team doctor asking, "where is your security today?

"We told him, 'Turn around.' "

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