ATHENS -- Talk about your low expectations: "We have one main goal, and that's to emerge as the most dominant Olympic men's team in history."
But the boast by Erik Vendt, who claimed the silver medal in the 400-meter individual medley Saturday behind a teammate by the name of Michael Phelps, seemed to be more than mere bravado after the two won the first U.S. medals of the Athens Games.
For Phelps, it was easy, almost effortless. Another day at the office, another world record.
For Vendt, the 2000 silver medalist, Saturday's race was anything but easy, especially swimming from Lane 1, the outside lane given to those with the slowest qualifying times. He had to charge from seventh place to out-touch Hungary's Laszlo Cseh for the silver.
"It was the hardest race that I have ever swum," Vendt told a press conference hours after the swim. "It bodes well for the rest of the meet."
At the end of the first day of competition, U.S. swimmers, expected to contribute more than 30 medals toward the U.S. Olympic Committee's goal of 100 at these Games, had brought home five. Not a bad beginning, Vendt said, but just a beginning: "We got the ball rolling and I think it's going to be huge."FIashback
Bad News Not a Big Seller
Ticket sales nosedived Friday, leading some to speculate that the slump is a reaction to the controversy over Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou, Greece's two best athletes who won't be allowed to compete until the IOC rules on their missed drug test. Sales had been dismal for weeks but had climbed to an average of 90,000 per day as the Opening Ceremonies approached. But only 33,000 tickets were sold Friday in the aftermath of the news about Kenteris and Thanou. Reaction to the scandal has been strong here and nobody seems to be rushing to the defense of the onetime hometown heros. "He's rubbish," AP quotes Petros Papaioannis, who sells pins and trinkets. "I don't even want to say his name. We will never forget this insult."
Good Seats Still Available
Meanwhile, there is no shortage of empty seats at every event except swimming. When the U.S. women smoked New Zealand in basketball, 99-47, the upper deck of the arena didn't need to be opened. None of the Saturday's softball games drew more than 2,000 fans, even though three of the elite teams in the sport were competing. Maybe we need some promotion here. We're thinking a Jennie Finch bobblehead night might do the trick.
Tops on the USOC's Hits List
The USOC says diver Justin Dumais got more hits on his bio page Saturday than any other U.S. athlete. Why? Maybe it's because -- like you, me and countless others -- he "spends just about every Saturday night impressing crowds with his zesty salsa dancing." Here's Saturday's top five:
1. Justin Dumais, diving
2. Jennie Finch, softball
3. Annia Hatch, gymnastics
4. Courtney Kupets, gymnastics
5. Terin Humphrey, gymnastics
As always, Snippets would like to thank our friends at the Associated Press, Reuters and Knight Ridder News Service for their help.