The "Welcome Home" is wearing thin.

If you had "two weeks" in the office pool for how long Athens's Olympic motto would hold up, you're a winner.

Friday's anti-American rally protesting Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit seemed to break down some barriers, but not in that good, touchy-feely seminar kind of way. No, the barriers that fell were the ones preventing our genial hosts and our fine foreign foes from telling us what they really think of us, like that time too much wine was served Thanksgiving day and the main course at dinner became Our Many Issues.

Our biggest issue yesterday seems to be Steven Lopez's decision to invade Iraq.

And he seemed like such a nice young man.

Lopez won a taekwondo gold medal, but apparently he's supporting his Olympic training by serving as Rummy's right-hand man on the side. The taekwondo crowd showed slightly less sophistication than the rabble at a WWE Smackdown, all because Lopez had the temerity to beat an Iraqi in the quarterfinals, apparently in an effort to get the man's crude oil.

The same pleasantries extended to Ano Liossia Olympic Hall, the wrestling venue, where the American medalists -- three of them! -- were treated shabbily.

If the U.S. athletes had behaved poorly here, some of the vitriol could perhaps be excused. But there's been nothing but good sportsmanship across the board.

There's been a curious feel to these Games from the beginning. None of the predicted disasters have come to pass, happily. But there hasn't been a lot of joy, either. The stands have been what could charitably be called sparsely filled for most events. When Greeks do pack the house, it's to cheer their own -- understandable -- or to deride others, such as the men's 200-meter field, which is not so understandable.

Among the ubiquitous graffiti of Athens's old streets is the popular "[Expletive] USA" with a swastika standing in for the "S." Thank goodness there's no "S" in "Welcome Home."

BUST OF THE DAY: America's Cup star Paul Cayard failed to win a medal, finishing fifth in the Star class after winding up dead last yesterday in the final race. Cayard spent $100,000 trying to win an Olympic medal at age 45.

SURPRISE OF THE DAY: The U.S. men's 4x100-meter relay team lost the gold by .01 of a second to Britain. Although perhaps that's not so surprising. The United States has won the relay 15 of the 20 times it has been run, not including the boycotted 1980 Moscow Games. But the Americans have failed to win the relay in three of the past five Olympics.


"I don't want to cause any fear with anybody, but I will decide next year. Nobody can say what they will do in four years."

-- German paddler Birgit Fischer, 42, when asked if she will compete again in Beijing in 2008. Fischer, who earlier became the first Olympian to win medals 24 years apart, took one gold and one silver yesterday against far younger competitors.

SIGN OF THE ACROPOLIS: Chinese diver Hu Jia won the 10-meter platform gold medal last night, one of six golds in diving for the hosts of the next Olympics, in Beijing. Afterward, his teammate Tian Liang uttered these chilling words: "Of course, in Beijing we'll try to do our best to get all eight."

-- Tracee Hamilton