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COLUMNISTS

Thu, August 19, 2004

It's time to party!


ATHENS -- On a day when the shot put returned to the Stadium of Ancient Olympia, 11 bikini-clad dancing girls bounced into the spotlight at the Olympic beach volleyball centre.

While hearty applause from a smattering of Olympic die-hards urged on the hairy behemoths at the site of the first Games, the crowd of beer-swilling party-goers at the beach venue were whipped into a frenzy by the bronzed beauties.

Welcome to the Games of the 28th Olympiad, a celebration of athletic competition nestled here in the birthplace of the ancient and modern Games.

At one venue you can pay tribute to one of the earliest sports known to mankind. At the other, you can pay for a round of Heinekens while dancing in the aisles to Chubby Checker, Run DMC and the Village People.

Funny thing is, the locals don't seem to be too excited about either option, electing instead to go on vacation or act as volunteers while most of the venues are generally one-third full.

However, those looking to enjoy an event that has the entertainment packaging around it that sports fans demand are best to head to the beach where even the journalists watch the games shirtless.

It is here, on the shore of the Saronikos Gulf, the sun-drenched crowd can revel in an atmosphere with all the gimmicks and sex appeal the Olympics generally ignores.

The stadium announcer acts more like a party co-ordinator, spinning club tunes between every point and urging on cheers, as sexy, well-defined duos from around the world jump around the sand in beachwear.

As brilliant as they are athletically, it's not the beach volleyball players who have everybody talking about this particular tourney. It's the nubile dancers being used during timeouts to spice up an already saucy sport.

"In Brazil, Italy and those places they're used to it because we see it on the World Cup," said Canadian Guylaine Dumont, who teamed with Annie Martin to clinch second in their pool (2-1) and advance to the round of 16 with a 2-0 win over Norway yesterday.

"It bothers me a little bit but I don't want to make a big deal about it because it takes away from what we're doing."

This in a sport where TV coverage always features tight shots of the women's rear ends, under the guise of showing signals they're flashing to their serving partner.

"(The dancers) don't bother me but my opinion is not important -- what's important is that the crowd enjoys the spectacle," Martin said.

Imagine -- an athlete who realizes the importance of entertaining the fans.

The saddest thing is, unlike Sydney, where beach volleyball tickets were scarce, the 9,600-seat stadium here is only 30% to 60% full at any given time.

"I was disappointed at first but now I kind of see it -- it's part of the whole package (in Athens)," said Australian veteran Julien Prosser, who may have ended the tourney for Canada's Atlanta bronze medallists Mark Heese and John Child yesterday by pairing up with Mark Williams to beat the Canadians in three sets.

The Canadians will find out this morning if their 1-2 record qualifies them for the round of 16.

"After going to a lot of the other sports, no other sport in the Olympics gets even close to the atmosphere we have.

"If the dancing girls are part of it -- and I know the crowd enjoys it -- well, I don't care. Most of the women don't like it -- nor do some of the men -- but our sport is here to stay and if anybody else comes to our sport, they'll have more fun here than any other venue."


Does Canada's low-medal haul in Athens bother you?
Yes, it depresses me
No, it's just sports
I'm disappointed, but not worried
We'll get 'em in Turin
Don't care

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