washingtonpost.com's Bill Grant is taking a day off to enjoy the 98-degree heat in Athens. Look for Snippets to return late Sunday.
• • Michael Phelps edges U.S. teammate Ian Crocker for gold in the 100-meter butterfly, tying Mark Spitz's 32-year-old record for most individual swimming medals in one Games -- four.

• American swimmer Gary Hall Jr. successfully defends his Olympic title in the 50-meter freestyle, beating Duje Draganja of Croatia by one-hundredth of a second.

• Kenenisa Bekele ends the reign of fellow Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie with an Olympic-record time of 27:05.10 in the 10,000 meters.

• Track cyclist Anna Meares of Australia wins gold in the 500-meter time trial with a world-record time of 33.952 seconds.

• "We came into this meet as a team and we're going to leave it as a team. It's the right thing to do."
-- Phelps, after relinquishing his spot in Saturday's 400-meter medley relay to Crocker.

• "I owe her a really nice dinner when we get back."
-- U.S. 50-meter shooting gold medalist Matt Emmons, who borrowed a rifle from training partner Amber Darland.

• "I hope I can open the way for the Afghan women. And this was the first, I am very happy for that."
-- Afghan sprinter Robina Muqimyar, who ran in the 100-meter preliminaries.

• "I didn't expect to be here, so I don't have anything to lose, and I'm sure Nicolas would say the same thing. There's less pressure on either of us."
-- American tennis player Mardy Fish, who reached the singles gold-medal final against Nicolas Massu of Chile.

• The struggling U.S. basketball team faces undefeated Lithuania.

• Finals also will be held in archery, badminton, cycling, equestrian, fencing, gymnastics, rowing, sailing, shooting, table tennis, tennis and weightlifting.

Boxed Into a Corner

By Bill Grant
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Web Posted: Friday, Aug. 20, 2004; 10:35 p.m. EDT

ATHENS -- The U.S. boxing team is on the ropes.

Held to only three medals -- and no titles -- four years ago in Sydney, U.S. boxers vowed to do better this time around. Time and opportunities are slipping away, though, as lightweight Vicente Escobedo became the fourth U.S. boxer eliminated from the Olympics on Friday, leaving just five still in the tournament.

_____ Who's Left? _____
• Ron Siler, flyweight (51kg)
• Andre Dirrell, middleweight (75kg)
• Andre Ward, light heavyweight (64kg)
• Devin Vargas, heavyweight (91kg)
• Jason Estrada, super heavyweight (91kg)

How did the U.S. boxing program slip, and slip so fast? The United States, which has won more gold medals (47) than any other country in the Olympics, including those by Muhammad Ali (as Cassius Clay in 1960), Sugar Ray Leonard (1976), George Foreman (1968) and Oscar de la Hoya (1992), only qualified nine boxers this year and seems destined for another mediocre tournament.

Conventional wisdom holds that the lack of international experience is hurting the U.S. fighters, who seem lost when fighting boxers from nations like Cuba or Russia, many of whom often are participating in their second or third Olympics.

"Our guys are fighting guys who have more international experience and are like pros," Raul Marquez, a member of the 1992 Olympic team who is working for NBC, told the AP. "The judges also like the Cubans and the eastern European countries. They have their guys picked."

Escobedo, who lost to Azerbaijan's Rovshan Huseynov, 36-18, agreed: "It's difficult to fight European styles because we're not familiar with them. You see these awkward styles and it's hard to adjust in just four rounds."

American boxers have been at a disadvantage since electronic scoring systems were introduced in the wake of the judging scandals that rocked the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. And while the Cubans and Europeans quickly adapted to the scoring machines and their premium on landing punches and executing other tactics rewarded by Olympic scoring, almost all of the all-or-nothing Americans, most of whom have their sights on going pro, continue to rely on pure power. With disastrous results.

Excuse us if this sounds a little elementary, but isn't it the coaching staff's responsibility to get their boxers ready for international competition, including those pesky Europeans and their awkward styles? In any event, the remaining U.S. boxers had better figure things out soon -- real soon -- or face being shut out for another four years.

We Buy It for the Serious Journalism -- Really
Olympic organizers have failed to persuade a court in Athens to ban this month's Greek edition of Playboy, which features statuesque nudes in sporting poses sandwiched between articles on how to achieve "2004 Seconds Of Ecstasy" and "Improve Your Personal Best In Bed." It also includes some of the Games' trademarked symbols and a suggestive reworking of the Olympic motto -- "Faster, Higher, Stronger." That's what upset organizers, a notoriously touchy bunch when it comes to protecting their trademarks. "There is no case of us ridiculing the Games or the Olympic symbols," the magazine's editor, Giorgos Kyparissis, told Reuters. "In actual fact, we dedicate many serious articles to the event in the magazine. We are just having a bit of fun."

Down to the Wire
The former head of the International Olympic Committee said Friday that Athens was this close  to losing the Games. Before stepping down in 2001, Juan Antonio Samaranch says he gave Athens three months to get its act together. Athens' preparations were plagued by years of delays that kept the world, and the IOC, guessing until the last minute if the city would be ready.

How Did We Miss This?
We understand that trampoline was a full-medal sport for the 2000 Games in Sydney but upon seeing bits of this year's competition, we had just one question: Why?

Rappin' for the Hoops Team
DJ Fresh-A of Alexandria is today's contestant in our Andy Roddick Rap Challenge and has written about the U.S. men's basketball team:

Here a little rap about the American ballers
They shoot, pass and dunk for the American dollars
The way they lay bricks is gonna make you holler
Its not 'cuz the rims are any smaller


Hey, there's the phone, do we have a caller?
She says, "Where's Shaq?" I guess we'll have to stall her
They can't make Puerto Rico look any taller.
Gold medals do not matter for that point installer



Ho! That’s the sounds of the bricks they’re clanking
Don't look know, there's another spanking
LeBron, what's the deal? Do you have a plan, King?
Guess we'll have to change that world ranking

Strong, very strong. Got a rap or verse about a favorite Olympian? Send it to us and we'll publish it providing it doesn't get us sued, jailed or threatened with bodily harm.

Class Act
The U.S. cycling team had a dinner Wednesday for about 40 riders, relatives and others to celebrate the three medals won by American road cyclists. When it was his turn to speak, Tyler Hamilton said he wanted to share his gold with everyone in the room. Literally. Hamilton removed the medal from his neck and handed it to the person seated next to him. "Don't just hold it," Hamilton said. "You've got to put it on -- all of you."

From the E-mail Bag
• Susan Barton of Long Beach, Md., writes: "As a TV spectator, I love being part of the awards ceremony, watching wonderful, dedicated Americans as they accept their medals and watch the flag soar above the others and listen to the national anthem. But at this Olympics, our national anthem is a weak rendition for such a beautiful moment." Maureen Peterson of Annapolis weighs in on the same subject: "... I am not a music major, but I am pretty sure that is not the normal interpretation of the score. An absolutely horrible arrangement!"
• Amy Lunsford of McLean writes in with help on gymnastics scoring: " ... My understanding is that there are set deductions for any gymnastics infraction, no matter how big or small. Whether Paul [Hamm] had set one toe or his entire body outside of the vault box, it's the same deduction. The same for sticking a landing: Whether it's a little hop or a great big step, it's the same deduction (a tenth, I believe). That's why he could fall into the judges' laps, but still pull a 9.137."

E-mail Us
We'd like to hear what you are thinking about the Olympics, and we'll even publish the few that don't make us blush, gag or speed-dial our lawyers. Keep 'em clean and keep 'em short and remember to put "Olympics" in the subject line.

As always, we want to thank our colleagues at Reuters and the Associated Press for contributing to today's report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

Vicente Escobedo, right, came out far too tentatively against Rovshan Huseynov, who hurt the Californian with brief flurries of punches and constant movement. (Murad Sezer -- AP)

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