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Fri, August 13, 2004
Word games, Greek style
By BILL LANKHOF -- Toronto Sun

Toga! toga! Hand me my best Athenian bedsheet.

We're partyin'.

Half the battle, for a foreign contingent that includes about 16,000 athletes from nearly 200 countries, is just getting to this sweatfest, also known as the opening ceremony. The Greek alphabet, you see, takes some time to navigate. Think word jumble, without the clues.

Athens is the gateway of civilization, home to some of the world's great thinkers. Which, I guess, explains why every building looks like a college frat house.

They have an O that looks something like a Happy Face.

Kind of appropriate, considering the Games everyone has loved to satirize and prick fun at are blanketed with love, peace and joy tonight.

The facilities sparkle in the sun and shimmer in the moonlight. The $1.5 billion US spent on security -- more than six times the amount spent in Sydney -- is omnipresent. German shepherds sniff bags, the sky is abuzz with AWAC planes courtesy of NATO, from an olive grove peer some of the 70,000-strong Greek police force, supported by U.S. navy riflemen in scuba gear.

The party guest list includes deposed kings, a handful of prime ministers, former presidents, citizens, assorted armies and terrorists -- most of whom share the same dilemma.

They can't find the bathroom to save their alphabet.

"It will take me a few more days here to get it straight that the sign marked MIIAP means 'bar' and ANOIXTO means 'open,' says the Chicago Tribune's Michael Downey, one of nearly 20,000 accredited journalists.

"All I can tell you about Greece's word for 'exit' is that it seems to include a pyramid, a Pac-Man and something that looks like the signal used by Gotham City to contact Batman."

Which might be a good thing to remember in case some Osama tries to crash the party.

Ouzo anyone?

IT WAS NIPPLE AND TUCK

Britain's Olympic swimmers were looking good. Too good, for modesty's sake.

The British female triathlon team discovered recently its swimsuits turn see-through when they get wet.

Nothing like turning the Olympics into the world's biggest wet T-shirt contest.

British officials hurriedly adapted the costumes with special patches.

"The fronts are made of skin-tight white Lycra and you can see everything if you get water on them. I've sewed extra Lycra panels into the chests," seamstress Christine Spencer said.

All good things, I guess, must come to a mend.

LETTER FROM ATHENS

Now this warm and cuddly story from a colleague in Greektown:

"First impressions, the side streets are filled with cars covered in soot -- the way they look when they've been sitting in an underground garage for four months.

"On the plus side, I've encountered the Olympic fellowship bull everyone always talks about. At the airport a woman struggles to get her bag on that weigh thingy. I help. The bag falls on her toes.

"At the departure gate, she apologizes. Again. Turns out she is a Japanese softball umpire. Is there any other nationality in the world that apologizes as much as the Japanese?

"Getting on the plane is the Aussie hoops team; some lady is kissing everyone goodbye. She tells me Ken Shields, whom I knew during the 1970s, is a coach with Australia. I walk up to him on the plane. We talk hoops, about Bob O'Billovich ... and at the baggage carousel he introduces me to a coach from the Yomiuri Giants from Japan. I introduce him to the lady ump.

"Just thought it was neat. Canadians, Aussies, Japanese, all talking to each other for no reason other than the Games."

HEAD ABOVE WATER

Eric Moussambani, the swimmer from Equatorial Guinea who almost drowned in the 100-metre freestyle in Sydney, may still show up in Athens as a promotional presence for Speedo and "to do some media work."

"That way," Elliott Harris of the Chicago Sun-Times writes, "the worst that happens is he drowns in a sea of journalists."

SMART 'N' SASSY

The San Francisco Chronicle's Scott Ostler is eager to get the Games under way, writing: "The notorious Athens traffic isn't as horrible as advertised. One theory is that because many new roads and freeways were finished about two days ago, the Athenians don't use them because they have no idea where the roads go."




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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