Bill Grant is in Athens for washingtonpost.com but is not likely to be turning any cartwheels until Aug. 29 at the earliest.
Greek windsurfing champion Nikolaos Kaklamanakis had the honor of lighting the Olympic cauldron. He is a three-time world champion who won a gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Athletes from Afghanistan and Iraq received huge cheers during the opening ceremony's parade of nations.

Something to Cheer About

By Bill Grant
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Web Posted: Friday, Aug. 13, 2004; 9:51 p.m. EDT

Something about cheerleaders at Olympic events just seems a bit out of place, like frat boys at a tea party or grandmas at an OutKast concert.

But starting Saturday, female cheerleaders will be stirring up crowds during breaks at basketball and beach volleyball games, just like we're used to seeing at Wizards games. Hopefully, with better results.

The staid athletic establishment, of course, is reluctant to call them cheerleaders, preferring the term "center-court dancers."

"They are not cheerleaders," insists Florian Wanninger, the chief spokesman for the International Basketball Federation in an interview with Bloomberg News Service. "It will be less hip-hop than in the U.S.," adding that all the dancers are classically trained.

Okay, Florian, we get the picture. We're not going to get the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. Or even the Redskinettes. But we're not going to let you spoil our fun. They look like cheerleaders, dress like cheerleaders and cheer like cheerleaders. They're cheerleaders.

Amazingly, the IOC agreed to all this. In fact, Tim Simmons, a spokesman for the International Volleyball Federation, tells Bloomberg that it was a pretty easy sell. It might be the fact that competitors in beach volleyball wear brief uniforms, wraparound sunglasses and lots of sunscreen.

"The Olympics can be pretty staid, but with beach volleyball, all that goes out the window," Simmons says. "It's part of the Olympics, just a modern updated Olympic spirit."

Message Received
After arriving fashionably late for its own press conference Friday, the U.S. men's basketball team immediately got down to business, confidently predicting a fourth consecutive gold medal since NBA players made their Olympic debut in 1992.

"I don't think it's going to be a piece of cake, but I think we're going to win," co-captain Allen Iverson told reporters. "As long as we play as a team, we'll be all right."

That's been the problem, of course. The United States looked positively dreadful in a 95-78 loss to Italy on Aug. 3 and less than impressive in most of its other Olympic tuneups.

"That loss to Italy was good for us," Iverson said. "It reminded us that if we don't play well, we can lose."

Routed, even. The good news? There was no chest-thumping, no antics or no fireworks Friday. The message seems to have been received. But will it get through?

Hats Off
Venus Williams, budding fashion designer, has served up a new hat for McDonald's employees to wear while dishing out burgers and fries during the Games. The hats are an oversized, red-twill newsboy cap and feature abstract designs representing various Olympic sports. "My first designs were more like a baseball cap, more like what you see in the McDonald's stores," she told the Associated Press. "But then they came back to me and said no, we want you to do something more creative." Maybe now she can go to work on the menu.

Island Hopping
You'd think the Cayman Islands, with its gleaming white beaches and crystal blue water, would be the perfect place to develop world-class swimmers. Nope. It turns out the tiny Caribbean country has plenty of banks -- more than 600 -- but only one 25-meter pool. Most of its residents don't even swim. But after importing an American coach to get the country's program up and paddling, the Caymans have three swimmers in Athens.

As always, Snippets would like to thank our friends at the Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomberg for their help.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

Dancers -- don't call them cheerleaders -- from the Canary Islands practice at the beach volleyball venue near Athens. (Desmond Boylan -- Rueters)

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