Nelson would step aside against U.S.

Updated: August 16, 2004, 2:46 AM ET news services

ATHENS, Greece -- A bikini-clad team of cheerleaders at the Olympic beach volleyball tournament are not proving popular with everyone.

Fans arriving at the Olympic Beach Volleyball Center by the Greek coast on Saturday were greeted by the sight of 12 women wearing skimpy, orange bikinis and dancing up a storm in the sand.

Australian player Nicole Sanderson was not impressed. "It's disrespectful to have other girls in bikinis out there dancing," she said while her partner, Sydney gold medalist Natalie Cook, said that if there were men out on the court dancing it could equal things out.

Organizers admit they use dancers in bikinis and sex appeal as much as athletic ability to sell the sport -- a demanding two-on-two form of volleyball made even more difficult by playing on sand.

It has worked.

Ever since it debuted as a medals sport in Atlanta in 1996, beach volleyball has been one of the most popular spectator sports of the Games - in part due to the bikinis worn by women players and the muscle-baring singlets for the men.

At Bondi Beach in Australia in 2000, it attracted the fifth largest television audience of all the sports at the Games. The "dance team," which performs in between sets, matches and at most timeouts, is a common sight on the international beach volleyball tour but rare at traditional Olympic events.

On the first day of the Athens preliminary-round matches, the dancers revved up the boisterous, beer-drinking crowd of several thousand who clapped, cheered and sang along to "Highway to Hell" between points. A disc-jockey blasted rock-and-roll and 1950s beach music in between each point and announcers egged on the crowd in Greek and English.

Noting that beach volleyball fans would never hear requests for "quiet please" at a match, the announcers urged fans to stand and get rowdy in support of the players.

"Come on everybody, clap your hands," yelled the announcer during a men's match between Canada and Switzerland. "Stomp, stomp, clap, clap."

True to the red, white and blue

Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Donn Nelson, who has helped guide Lithuania to three straight bronze medals in men's basketball, has a caveat for his fourth Olympics with the team.

He won't be giving guidance if Lithuania faces the United States.

Nelson was an assistant coach for Lithuania in 1992 when, in its first Olympic appearance, it beat the Unified Team representing most of the former Soviet republics for the bronze.

He was in Sydney four years ago when Lithuania lost 85-83 to the United States in the semifinals. A 3-pointer by Sarunas Jasikevicius at the buzzer was short and Nelson spent a sleepless night considering what might have been, had that shot fallen.

He vowed at the time he never would coach against the United States again, saying he couldn't handle being part of an overseas team that knocked off the Americans. He reiterated that position on Sunday.

"I'll help these guys beat any other country in the world," Nelson said after Lithuania opened preliminary play with a 78-73 win over Angola. "I won't be on the bench for a game against the U.S. They know that."

Empty seats slow to fill

Attendance at the Athens Olympics has been disappointing during the first two days but organizers said on Sunday they hope ticket sales will pick up soon.

After falling short on a promise to sell about 65 percent of the total 5.2 million tickets by the Games opening, organizers said sales would rise as the Olympics become more exciting.

"Yes, attendance was not very high with less popular sports," spokesman Michael Zaharatos told reporters. "We never hid the fact that less popular sports and preliminary rounds would not be a full house."

Track and field, by far the Games' most popular event, has yet to start, while most of Greece's medal hopefuls compete next week.

The 2000 Sydney Games, with almost double the total tickets available, were held mostly in front of capacity crowds. On Saturday, only a sparse crowd saw Turkish weightlifter Nurcan Taylan claim her historic gold at the 5,000-seat Nikea weightlifting stadium, while former world No. 1 Venus Williams won her first round match in front of only a handful of die-hard fans in the new tennis arena.

The International Olympic Committee, concerned the Games' image could be tarnished if competitions are held in front of half-empty stands, raised the issue with organizers on Sunday.

"It (tickets issue) was briefly raised in this morning's meeting," IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said. "The next few days we will see how ticket sales go up."

Total sales so far are about 2.9 million, mainly due to a sharp rise in daily sales -- about 90,000 -- over the past two weeks.

But organizers, who have insisted they have all but met their target revenue of 183 million euro ($224.3 million), still have 2.5 million unsold tickets.

While swimming events and some soccer matches have attracted large crowds, other sports including softball and weightlifting, have recorded disappointing attendance figures.

The beach volleyball stadium with a capacity of about 10,000 was largely empty all day Saturday until the Greece match, when it almost filled up.

Greece: Olympic venues safe despite tabloid report

The Greek government insisted Sunday there were no problems with security at the Olympics, a day after a British tabloid reporter wrote he was able to leave three fake bombs undetected in the main stadium.

Bob Graham, of London's Sunday Mirror, said he worked at the stadium as a forklift operator without undergoing any background checks by organizers. He wrote he was able to leave the fake bombs after getting them through security.

Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis, in charge of the $1.5 billion security plan, criticized the story and said Greek efforts to safeguard the games were thorough. A ministry spokesman said officials searched the stadium and other venues before the Olympics and found nothing.

The security plan includes about 70,000 personnel and a massive array of surveillance equipment, such as undersea sensors, street cameras and a blimp. NATO is also providing sea patrols and AWACS surveillance planes.

Shot of history

An American and a Ukrainian on Sunday won the first Olympic competitions in Panathinaiko Stadium since the marble facility hosted the first modern games in 1896.

Jennifer Nichols of Cheyenne, Wyo., defeated Rina Dewi Puspitasari of Indonesia and Tetyana Berezhna beat Greece's Fotini Vavatsi in the opening matches in the round of 32.

Bhutan's Tshering Chhoden, seeded 54th, upset No. 11 seed Lin Sang of China 159-156.

Information from Reuters and the Associated Press was included in this report.