Organizers: Record amount sold Thursday

Updated: August 6, 2004, 3:24 PM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Ticket sales for the Olympics are up, but organizers still have a long way to go to reach their goal.

Organizers said they sold a record of 53,997 tickets Thursday.

"We're working hard to keep this momentum with the Greek public," said Michael Zacharatos, an Olympics spokesman.

A week before the games, more than 2.3 million tickets had been sold out of a total of 5.3 million. Organizers want to sell at least 3.4 million.

"What is important is that ... everyday we are breaking new records," Zacharatos said. "The response from the Greek public over the past week has been overwhelmingly great and we hope by the times the games begin we'll go even closer to our record."

Flame to burn on eve of Games
ATHENS, Greece -- After traveling around the world, the Olympic flame will burn on the Acropolis on the eve of the opening ceremony.

The torch will light a cauldron on the "sacred rock," as Greek's call the hill. Members of the International Olympic Committee and other dignitaries will attend the Aug. 12 ceremony.

The festivities will then move down to the 1,800-year-old Herod Atticus open-air theater at the foot of the Acropolis.

Greek officials may also use the occasion for some international lobbying for the return of the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum.

The frieze, which once adorned the 2,500-year-old Parthenon, was taken in the 19th century by Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. Britain has refused to return it.

Greece hoped to have a new Acropolis Museum ready for the Olympics to increase pressure for the return of the frieze. But delays plagued the project, which is now scheduled to be completed in 2006.

International incident
Belarus minister of sport Yuri Sivakov was banned from the Athens Olympics because of alleged human rights abuses, but he intends to try to attend anyway.

The Greek government said it would slap a visa ban on Sivakov to keep him out of the country even if he does have a credential for the Aug. 13-29 games.

"He will not come. It is over," Greek Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Ioanna Efthimiadou said.

Sivakov doesn't agree.

He denounced the Greek move as "clumsy political games" and said he plans to attend the Olympics despite it, his spokesman, Anatoly Artemyev, said.

While an Olympic credential serves as a visa, it was unclear whether it could get Sivakov into the country -- or how the Greeks would try to stop him.

Sivakov and Belarus' president, Alexander Lukashenko, have been implicated in the disappearances of prominent opposition figures.

Belarusian Foreign Ministry said that the Greek government's decision "contradicted the Olympic spirit" and he demanded the ban be lifted.

"Using the Olympics for increasing political pressure on Belarus is counterproductive and wouldn't help restore a political dialogue with the European Union," the ministry said.

The decision to ban Sivakov came after the 25-nation European Union, of which Greece is a member, issued a statement saying that Sivakov's presence at the games would "be completely inappropriate."

Web watch
Athens organizers launched an updated Olympics Web site, which they say could be the largest ever for a single event.

More than 300,000 visitors logged on Wednesday and over 10 million people are expected to view it every day during the Aug. 13-29 games.

The site includes information about venue access, venue history, photographs of sports events and live results for all sports.

The Web site, "is poised to become the largest single event Web site in history," said Michael Zacharatos, an Olympics spokesman.

Express service
Athletes and Olympic officials probably will be spared a common Greek experience: long lines.

Athens International Airport officials have arranged to "fast-track" members of Olympic delegations when they arrive for the Games -- and when they leave.

Although teams and International Olympic Committee members are already streaming in, airport authorities expect Aug. 12 to be the busiest day with tens of thousands of passengers arriving. Additional passenger clearance areas and accreditation desks have been set up to handle the extra load.

Flying out of Athens will also be easier. Athletes and other team members can check in for flights at the Olympic Village.

It looks as if they won't hang around. Airport management expects a mass exodus Aug. 30, the day after the closing ceremony.

Gianna's new look
Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, chief organizer of the Athens Games, is usually hard to miss. Her tailored suits, double-strand pearls and colorful handbags are part of her attention-grabbing look.

Lately, however, she's blending in. She's been appearing in the blue-and-orange uniform of the Olympic volunteers: shorts, a polo shirt and the fashion no-no -- sneakers.

She can at least claim the ensemble has a good pedigree. They were created by London-based designer Sophia Kokosalaki.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press