Rehhagel crosses new suspension bridge
ATHENS, Greece -- The coach who led Greece to a stunning victory in the European soccer championships was cheered by thousands Sunday as he crossed a massive new suspension bridge with the flame that will burn at the Athens Games.
Otto Rehhagel carried the Olympic flame across part of the Rio-Antirrio Bridge joining the southern Peloponnese region to the Greek mainland.
The 67-year-old German coach, still enjoying hero status in Greece since he led the national team to victory last month in Portugal, said he was "honored and overjoyed" to join the relay that has carried the flame on an around-the-world trip.
Rehhagel was joined in the relay by members of the Greek Olympic soccer team, as well as officials involved in the bridge's construction.
Greece's soccer victory has been credited with lifting the nation's spirits as the Olympics approach. Ticket sales for the Athens Games have increased sharply since the victory, and chief Athens organizer Gianna-Angelopoulos Daskalaki called the soccer team's success "Greece's best possible advertisement before the Olympics."
The Royal Australian Air Force airlifted the Iraqi Olympic team out of Baghdad on Sunday, starting the 48-member team on its way to the Athens Games.
Australian officials said the team was flown out from Baghdad's international airport aboard a C-130 Hercules aircraft. The team was flown to meet connecting flights into Athens. The games open Friday.
"Australia supports the Iraqi people in their quest for a brighter future," Defense Minister Robert Hill and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said in a joint statement. "This assistance will enable a very special group of athletes to achieve their dreams of competing in the greatest sporting event of the modern era."
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice said Sunday that Greek authorities have done everything in their power to assure a safe and secure Summer Games.
"The government of Greece has a very difficult job, of course, in getting ready for the Olympics. But we believe that they've put enormous resources into it," Rice said on CNN's "Late Edition."
"They really, I think, are doing everything that they can to make this safe."
At this first Summer Olympics since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Greece is spending a record $1.5 billion on security. About 70,000 police and soldiers will be involved in protecting the games.
Amid security concerns at the Olympics, Pope John Paul II expressed his ardent wish Sunday that the upcoming Athens Games provide a venue for peace, not violence.
The pontiff, addressing pilgrims gathered at his Castel Gandolfo summer residence in the hills outside Rome, also sent his warm wishes to all those participating in the games and to the people of the Greek capital.
"I hope with all my heart that in this world, which is today troubled and at times very upset by so many forms of hatred and violence, the important sporting event of the games produces an occasion of calm meeting and works to promote understanding and peace among peoples," the pope said. "On the Olympics and on the entire world of sport, I invoke the motherly protection of the most Holy Virgin."
Romanian gymnast Andreea Munteanu has withdrawn from her nation's Olympic squad because of a leg injury, Romanian sports newspapers reported Sunday. Coaches replaced the 15-year-old with Silvia Stroescu, 19, just before the team left for Athens.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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