Blistering temperatures highlight start

Updated: August 14, 2004, 4:18 PM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- The host city sizzled, in more ways than one, as the Olympics kicked into high gear Saturday with gold-medal debuts by the world's two most powerful swimmers, the suspension of Greece's two star sprinters, and scorching temperatures that plagued athletes and fans alike.

With heat at some venues topping 100 degrees, cycling officials eased their rules so support crews in cars could hand their riders extra water during a grueling road race that looped around the Acropolis and other landmarks for nearly six hours. At the beach volleyball court, athletes in brightly colored bikinis retreated during breaks to the fan-cooled shade of a canopy.

The games' first gold medal went to Li Du of China, who won the 10-meter air rifle competition on her final shot.

Eight hours later, the highest-profile Olympian, U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps, won the first of a hoped-for eight gold medals -- an unprecedented feat, if he can manage it. He broke his 400 individual medley world record. Ian Thorpe, his Australian archrival, soon followed with a gold of his own in the 400 freestyle, setting the stage for a head-to-head meeting Monday in the 200 free.

Heat aside, it was a successful Day One for Athens organizers -- often doubted and criticized during seven years of preparations.

Competition did indeed begin in 20 sports and the venues, some completed with little time to spare, were free of major glitches. The complicated transportation web worked more or less as planned; no major problems were reported by the 70,000-strong security force protecting the games.

There was, however, some gloomy news for the home country fans: Medal-contending sprinters Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou, along with their coach, were dropped from the team, pending review by the International Olympic Committee, for missing drug tests.

Kenteris, the reigning 200-meter champion, was Greece's top hope for a gold medal in track; Thanou, the 100-meter silver medalist in Sydney four years ago, is his training partner. They remained hospitalized Saturday with minor injuries reportedly sustained in a motorcycle crash shortly after drug testers failed to find them in the Olympic Village.

It was a rough day, too, for 15-year-old Katie Hoff, a swimming star who trains at the same North Baltimore club as Phelps. She failed to make the final of the 400 IM and vomited after her heat -- team officials blamed her condition mostly on nerves.

The U.S. women's basketball team had no troubles, trouncing New Zealand 99-47. The Brazilians topped that performance with a 128-62 rout of Japan -- an Olympic record for most points by a women's team.

Aquil Abdullah, the first black rower on a U.S. Olympic team, advanced along with partner Henry Nuzum rowed to the semifinals of the men's double sculls event.

In cycling, many riders abandoned the road race because of the heat; four others, including world champion Igor Astarloa of Spain, were knocked out by a crash on the opening lap. Some riders sought relief by sliding ice bags down their jerseys, while most of the flag-waving fans clustered in shady areas rather than the scenic but uncovered vantage points beneath the Acropolis.

At the roofless swimming pool, the competitors seemed generally unaffected by the heat during their late-morning preliminaries, but many fans used umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun.

By evening, conditions were ideal even for the fans, and Phelps gave them the show they were looking for, pulling inexorably to a huge lead over the field as he launched his quest to break Mark Spitz's 1972 record of seven gold medals in a single Olympics.

Bush praises Iraqis, Afghans
REDMOND, Wash. -- The war on terrorism is transforming the complexion of the Olympic games in Athens with the rise of teams from Iraq and Afghanistan, President Bush says.

Afghanistan was suspended from the International Olympic Committee in 1999 due to the Taliban ban on participation of women athletes.

Saddam Hussein put his son Odai in charge of Iraq's Olympic committee, a step that allegedly led to torture of athletes who did not do well. Iraq is the only Olympic committee in the world with its own prison, a former U.S. diplomat has said of Saddam's regime.

"For the first time in history, people everywhere will see women competitors wearing the uniform of Afghanistan," the president said Saturday in his weekly radio address.

"For the first time in decades, the world will see Iraqi Olympians free from the brutal punishment of the dictator's son," Bush added.

Twenty-nine athletes from Iraq are competing in Athens, including those on the Iraqi soccer team, which thrilled the world by winning its first game, the president noted.

The country whose team Iraq defeated is Portugal, which has sent 120 police officers to Iraq.

"By coming together in friendly competition, all Olympians are sending the message that freedom and hope are more powerful than terror and despair," said the president.

Bush said one woman on the Iraqi track team declared that she wants to represent her country because someone who represents only herself has accomplished nothing.

In his campaign speeches around the country in recent weeks, Bush has said how gratifying it was to see Afghan girls participating in this summer's international children's games in Cleveland. He made the same point about Afghan women's participation in the Olympics.

"At the opening ceremony, Team USA marched alongside men and women from Afghanistan and Iraq, nations that four years ago knew only tyranny and repression," said Bush.

German pulls out of event
German star Franziska van Almsick pulled out of the 100-meter butterfly semifinals Saturday after finishing 11th in the preliminary heats to concentrate on the 4x100 freestyle relay later in the day.

"I will drop out of the semis because we need all our strength for the relay, that's more important,'' she said. "It was just a small test for me.''

Van Almsick is seeking her first Olympic gold medal and will end her career after the Athens Games. Her top event is the 200-meter freestyle, in which she holds the world record.

Light my fire

The Greek athlete who lit the Olympic cauldron to open the Athens Games is a three-time world champion windsurfer who won a gold medal in Atlanta in 1996 and carried his nation's flag in Sydney four years ago.

Nikolaos Kaklamanakis, who turns 36 next week, won the gold in the windsurfing Mistral class at Atlanta and placed sixth in Sydney. The world champion in 1999, 2000 and 2001, he competes in Athens starting Sunday.

At the Olympic test event leading up to the Athens Games, Kaklamanakis accidentally ran into a group of women's competitors and knocked one over near the finish. She injured her shoulder, but Kaklamanakis stopped and stayed with her until an emergency craft arrived.

Who the host nation will choose to light the cauldron is a closely guarded secret at every Olympics. There had been speculation it would go to Sydney 200-meter gold medal-winning sprinter Kostas Kenteris, who is accused of dodging a drug test and was later hospitalized after a motorcycle crash late Thursday.

Bush opens Olympic softball tourney

Former President Bush borrowed a glove and dusted off his fastball for the Olympics.

Bush threw out the ceremonial first pitch Saturday before Australia played Japan in the opening game of the eight-team softball tournament.

After getting a warm ovation from the crowd at Helliniko Sports Complex, Bush went to the mound and playfully signaled which pitch he was going to throw to Japanese catcher Noriko Yamaji.

The 80-year-old left-hander then wound up and lobbed a pitch.

He attended the game with former first lady, Barbara, and their granddaughters, Barbara and Jenna. After watching a few innings of the game, Bush addressed the U.S. team which was warming up for its opener against Italy.

Dedication to Diego

Argentina's soccer players are thinking of one person as they set out for gold this week: their hero, soccer superstar Diego Maradona.

Maradona is recovering from drug addiction and other health problems in a Buenos Aires clinic.

"We all love Diego, and the only thing that we are praying for is that God should give him joy and health, and that he should be very happy,'' said Cristian Gonzalez, one of the senior players.

"We wish the best for him,'' added defender Gabriel Heinze. "Hopefully, he is watching us from Argentina and we can dedicate our victories to him.''


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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