Even with a wreath, few would mistake washingtonpost.com's Bill Grant for a Olympic champion.
Four-time 1,500-meter world champion Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco holds off rival Bernard Lagat of Kenya down the stretch to win in 3:34.18.

Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia sets a world record in the pole vault for the fourth time this year.

Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic wins gold in the decathlon, earning the title of world's greatest athlete with an Olympic-record score.

Americans Misty May and Kerri Walsh beat Brazilians Shelda Bede and Adriana Behar to win gold in beach volleyball.

American Joanna Hayes wins the 100-meter hurdles in an Olympic record 12.37 seconds, with teammate Melissa Morrison taking bronze.

Brendan Kingman's sixth-inning single sends Australia to a stunning 1-0 victory over favored Japan and into the gold medal game.

"The energy for the world record came from the amazing crowd. When the full stadium was clapping for me, my spirit rose."
-- Isinbayeva

"It is finally complete. Four years ago in Sydney, I cried with sadness. Today I cry tears of joy. I'm living a moment of glory."
-- El Guerrouj

"It was the will of God. We had lots of chances, but it did not happen for us."
-- Iraqi soccer coach Adnan Hamad after a 3-1 semifinal loss to Paraguay.

"Going in, I felt I was going to run 12.37. I just did what I told myself what I was going to do. I worked hard to be at this point, and any given day I may lose or win a race. I'm not saying I can't be beaten, but tonight I'm the best hurdler in the world."
-- Hayes

"It's the Olympics. I think you should be really excited when it's all over or you should be crushed -- we're crushed. We've invested a lot in this and we thought we had a great opportunity."
-- U.S. women's water polo coach Guy Baker, after a 6-5 semifinal loss to Italy.

Super-heavyweight Shane Hamman seeks America's first men's weightlifting medal in 20 years. The man to beat is Iran's Hossein Rezazedah, who has every world record in the division.

America's greatest track cyclist, Marty Nothstein, competes in the keirin finals seeking a medal at his third consecutive Olympics. Only five cyclists have done so, none from the United States.

Beach volleyball concludes with the men's medals matches.

Hats Off to Free Enterprise

By Bill Grant
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Web Posted: Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2004; 9:47 p.m. EDT

ATHENS -- For €5, you can look like an Olympic champion. Sort of.

"Who wants to be the king of the Olympics," bellows Aldo Siragusa to passersby as they tumble out of the trains at Irini station, a main entrance to the Athens Olympic Sports Complex. "Who wants to be a king?"

Siragusa and his partner, Domenico Ferrara, are cashing in on what has become the signature icon of these Olympics -- the olive wreath that is placed on the heads of the winners on the medal stand. Who cares if you can't run the 400-meter hurdles if you can look like you just did?

The entrance to the station, where thousands of visitors enter the Olympic park each day, is a thriving tribute to capitalism. Vendors sell everything from the ubiquitous pins, flags and decals to cigarettes and plastic ticket holders. And just about everywhere you look there are brokers selling tickets to Olympic events, just yards from an official ticket stand. Police and the security folks don't seem to mind too much; they have their hands full keeping people moving in the right direction.

You've got to hand it to Siragusa and Ferrara, two enterprising Italians in town for their fourth Olympics. Strip a few branches off an olive tree, twist them into a circle, and -- voila -- you have something unique to offer tourists still riding an Olympic high. Low overhead, high return.

Even in the din of the train station, Siragusa, 30-ish, stands out. It might be his multicolored "Cat in the Hat" hat. It might be his bare chest and goofy sunglasses. It might be his infectious enthusiasm and booming voice. It might be that in this marketplace of kitsch, he has found his niche.

Business seems brisk Tuesday. He is reluctant to talk about how many wreaths they have sold, but will allow that the Americans, Australians and Germans are his best customers. As we talk a couple from St. Louis buys a pair for their grandchildren.

"It's all good," he says. "It's just good being here. And if we make a little money, that's okay too."

Shake, Rattle and Roll
Just what we need -- something else to worry about. A "very small" earthquake rattled through some of the Olympic venues Tuesday, but there were no reports of injuries or damage. The tremor, which had a preliminary magnitude of 4.5 and occurred at 3:38 p.m. local time, was centered about 42 miles northeast of Athens, 12 miles beneath the Aegean Sea. Most here didn't even notice it, but AP reports that the press table shook at the baseball venue at the Helliniko Complex near the coastline. "Like somebody was pounding the keyboard too hard," one reporter said.

Last One Out Turn Out the Lights
Sunday's Closing Ceremonies are fast approaching, and that means that thousands of athletes, journalists and ordinary folks -- weighed down by tons of souvenir T-shirts and officially-licensed plastic trinkets -- will be beating a path to Athens International Airport on Monday. Officials say 878 flights are scheduled Monday, one every 1.64 minutes if our math -- always shaky -- is right.

The Medicinal Power of Suds
The Australian softball team doesn't take a setback too seriously. Minutes after losing to the United States and collecting their silver medals Monday, Australian players and coaches overran the media lounge at Helliniko Sports Complex, buying dozens of beers, chatting with the ink-stained wretches of the press and almost clearing out the refrigerator.

Not Ready for Prime Time
This from AP television writer David Bauder: "NBC spent more time with the booing, whistling gymnastics crowd than it devoted in prime-time Monday to the remarkable achievement of the U.S. softball team, which marched to a gold medal allowing only a single run. It's good their games were shown live during the day, but this team deserved more exposure in the hours most Americans watch. NBC's steadfast belief in the sports that are ready for prime-time doesn't leave enough flexibility for these other stories."

From the E-mail Bag

___ A Second Gold? ___
Should a second gold medal in the men's all-around be awarded to Korea's Yang Tae Young?


   View results

The gymnastics judging controversy just won't go away. John De Schepper, of Tampa, was one of several e-mailers who pointed out another wrinkle to this story: " ... It seems that starting the South Korean's performance at a 9.8 degree of difficulty instead of a 10.0 was not the only mistake that the judges made. This performance was replayed on TV to show that the South Korean had included four 'holds' (or pauses) in his routine. Only three are allowed. The deduction for this error is two-tenths and the judges missed this. So, if the scoring were corrected for both the incorrect starting grade and then corrected again for the incorrect number of holds we end up exactly where we should be -- a Hamm gold -- and without any blemishes or slights."

This from Mike Siegel in Arlington: "I say we tell Paul Hamm to give the gold medal to the South Korean right after the South Koreans make good on the 'judging' of the boxing in 1988."

And one more on Hamm from Nettie Angotti of Chevy Chase, Md: " ... I am sick of people simplifying this. This isn't like the figure skating, and those people got to keep their gold medal. It isn't a corrupt judged that cheated, it was a mistake. But the biggest mistake was by the Korean coach who did not protest the score when he had the chance. That is part of his job, he blew it. So people need to knock it off, it was a bad call. It happens. Let Paul Hamm be proud. He won the gold."

Janette N. of Herndon is not happy with NBC's coverage: "What ever happened to all the other sports? And after the Paul Hamm sham / scam, a lot of us are a bit sick of gymnastics and would just as well watch something where winners really win. Coverage that highlights the variety, color and diversity of the world's sports would be a far better venue -- not just the handful of what NBC thinks Americans want to see."

Along the same lines, Patricia D. a reader from Boston, asks: "Why don't they ever show other sports like the fencing and archery that one could escape into when one (such as me) tires of the endless swimming and track and field events, as well as having to listen to Tim Daggett screaming constantly? He was annoying beyond belief, and I thought John Tesh was bad!"

Finally today, Preston Bach, of Clifton, Va., agrees with our call to flat-out ban any sport that involves judging: "How about a separate Olympic Gymnastics/Diving Pageant for all those judge-based events? It would be hosted, of course, by Donnie and Marie Osmond. The competitors would be vying for titles such as 'Mr. Pommel Horse' or 'Miss 3-Meter Springboard.' The winner gets a nice sash, a bouquet of roses and a fake diamond tiara. Can't you just hear Donnie warbling out 'Here she comes, Miss Floor Ex-er-cise?' Makes me giddy." We like the way you think, Preston.

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

You can look like an Olympic champion with help from Aldo Siragusa, left, and partner Domenico Ferrara. (Bill Grant -- washingtonpost.com)

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