The biggest swimming race of the Olympics had just ended. It was nearly 11 p.m. Monday in Athens. And the interview room at the main Olympic pool was jammed with tired, overwrought reporters.
Most were awaiting superstar swimmers Ian Thorpe, of Australia; Pieter van den Hoogenband, of the Netherlands; and Maryland's Michael Phelps, who had finished one, two, three, respectively, in the exciting final of the 200-meter freestyle.
But Olympic officials had instead brought out China's Luo Xuejuan, who had just won a gold medal in the women's 100-meter breaststroke. Things were going fine, when suddenly van den Hoogenband appeared from backstage.
Dutch reporters, who faced deadlines, mobbed him at one end of the long interview table. Other reporters approached, but found him speaking in Dutch. Protests were shouted: It was rude to the Chinese. And non-Dutch speakers wanted a shot at "Hoogie," who also speaks good English.
A cry went up: Stop the Dutch! Caught in the middle was Ionnis Synodinos, 54, the amiable Aquatics Media Manager, who moderates news conferences with the flair of a game show host.
Synodinos appealed to the Dutch reporters, who ignored him. The dual news conferences, one in Dutch the other in Chinese, continued. But when van den Hoogenband got up to leave, other reporters shouted, "Whoa!"
Synodinos had had enough. "Gentlemen," he said. "We have to respect, first of all, our Chinese gold medalist." There was scattered applause. "Now the podium belongs to the gold medalist from China. We proceed with the gold medalist from China. Please."
"No speeches!" someone yelled from the press corps. Van den Hoogenband was frozen by the door. Couldn't he wait? "I have to swim tomorrow," he pleaded, and then left.
The Chinese news conference concluded, and Synodinos apologized to the Chinese "because of this misunderstanding."
After they left, he was then set upon by several reporters who blamed him for losing control of the situation. He'd done the best he could.
"I was in a very delicate position," he said. "If I had stopped [the Dutch interview] there would have been a brawl."
-- Michael E. Ruane
It's not uncommon at international road races for fans to paint the name of their favorite cyclist on the pavement near the finish as a show of support. But when Anthony Cooke of Wales did the same in Athens, he was arrested for a security violation, according to Reuters news service. The name he painted was that of his daughter, former world champion cyclist Nicole Cooke. He was released soon afterward.
-- Liz Clarke
Out of Control
Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, the chief organizer of the Athens Games, was so delighted over the success of Friday's Opening Ceremonies that she threw a party the following night at her hillside villa in a northern Athens suburb. But the festivities went awry, the Athens News reported on Monday, when a celebratory fireworks display set fire to a nearby forest. The flames burned for nearly an hour before being doused by 60 firefighters who were called to the scene.
-- Liz Clarke