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Sat, August 14, 2004
So far, so good in Athens
By BILL LANKHOF, TORONTO SUN

Everybody loves a parade. The Iraqi team got bombarded -- and for once it was with applause, not bombs.

Touching interlude: Christine Nordhagen, Canadian women's wrestler, breaking into tears on entering the stadium.

GOOD FOR CBC

Ol' Stone Face: If Jacques Rogge smiles, will his face crack? Just wondering. The guy has all the warmth of a Greek statue.

Quick-thinking award: CBC getting Nordhagen on a cellphone.

"I'm just a girl from a small town in Alberta," she told Brian Williams. "This is so emotional. I should've brought some tissues but I never thought I'd break into tears." Sweet.

Wardrobe malfunction: Cook Islands. Looked like their flag-waver got caught in the shower and had to rush to the stadium wearing his best towel.

Hush-My-Mouth Award: Peter Mansbridge asking Daniel Igali if he could refocus in time for his event after the excitement of the opening ceremony.

Gosh, no, Peter. The Games will be called off because all the athletes need to go home and have a nappy.

Silliest question since: "But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the show?"

The Up-Yours-Osama Trophy: Afghanistan led into the stadium by -- horrors -- a woman! Infidels 1, Bad Guys 0.

But it's early.

MY BIG FAT GREEK PARTY

The opening ceremony was expected to be enthralling -- a techno-pageant of emotion, colour and sound celebrating the ages. It did not disappoint.

But don't blame some Greeks if yesterday they didn't know quite whether to smile or weep.

Many did both.

This was Greece's moment of glory -- the next best thing to winning at soccer.

As the lights dimmed at the Olympic Stadium, the ceremony took 77,000 celebrants on a melancholy journey depicting the art, sport and mythology of the ancient world.

A paper boat floated serenely over two million litres of water on the stadium floor. The night sky illuminated with flaming comets, fireworks, remarkable flying sculptures and centaurs. Gods and deities floated by. Not to mention, Peter Mansbridge.

This was the shining moment toward which Greece worked for almost a decade.

So when sprinters Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou missed drug tests, it was as if they had thrust a dagger through the heart of Zeus himself.

After beating back threats of terrorism, construction delays and lapsed security, that it should be their own heroes who sabotage Greek pride and patriotism is the ultimate of ironies.

Kenteris became a national icon after his out-of-nowhere victory in the 200 metres in Sydney.

Thanou is a national treasure, winning silver in the 100 metres at those same Games. Kenteris was to light the Olympic flame, so who could suspect, when they nicknamed him Greased Lightning, it would turn out to be a reference to his talent for outrunning the drug police?

Kenteris and Thanou are part of a training group that has made a habit of failing to let the world know its whereabouts -- sidestepping a requirement that athletes make themselves available for out-of-competition testing.

At worst, they appear guilty of betraying their countrymen who laboured so intensely to give these Games a chance of success. Sort of the Hellenic version of Ben Johnson.

At best, Kenteris and Thanou are guilty of incredible stupidity and selfishness. Their story threatens to blight what should have been a joyous fortnight.

And, back on the stadium floor, a young woman, pregnant, walks through the darkness into the lake, where a thousand tiny lights blink in the shape of the Milky Way -- a symbol of life and the future.

C'EST LA VIE

And across the bottom of the TV screen, the CBC news ticker reads: "U.S. troops bomb targets in Fallujah ... Palestinian shoots Israeli."

And the little children of the world sing the Olympic hymn.

Such is life.

Every joy tinged with sadness; every sorrow redeemed in the quest for goodness.

Even the Olympics can't change that.




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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