2004 OLYMPICS

Bill Grant, who yearns to put more zest in his salsa dancing, is in Athens for washingtonpost.com.
U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps wins the men's 400 individual medley with a world record time of 4:08.26.
Tadahiro Nomura of Japan wins a historic third consecutive gold medal in men's 132-pound (60kg) judo, beating Nestor Khergiani of Georgia.
Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou are suspended from the Greek team for missing drug tests. Police begin an investigation into their motorcycle crash, which happened just after testers failed to locate them at the Olympic Village.

U.S. Swimmers Take Off

By Bill Grant
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Web Posted: Saturday, Aug. 14, 2004; 10:40 p.m. EDT

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
Scanning the box scores Friday, we were struck by the name of the winning pitcher in Australia's 4-2 softball victory over Japan -- Tanya Harding. No, not that Tonya Harding, the villainess of the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer. Yeah, okay, the names are slightly different, but seeing that name in an Olympic setting only brings back delicious memories of one of history's most fascinating sports scandals. Australia's Harding came into the game early and held the Japanese hitless over 6 1/3 innings. There were no reports that any of the Japanese players were clubbed on the kneecap in the process.

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.

Erik Vendt, left, and Michael Phelps celebrate the start of what they think could be big things for the U.S. swim team. (Jerry Lampen -- Rueters)

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