Sport an intruder into chaos of Athens chaos

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The Independent Online

Athens found itself briefly distracted by a spot of sport yesterday as a 21-year-old rookie Olympian archer broke two world records two days before the official start of the Games.

The news of Park Sung Hyun's feats caused a ripple of excitement across the city, among her South Korean compatriots at least. But with Park refusing to speak about her achievements, and her coach only breaking cover to say Park was "not completely satisfied", talk reverted to that most traditional of Olympic subjects: chaos.

Despite upbeat statements from the Games organisers, there are persistent concerns here about lack of local interest. Ticket sales, which last night stood at around 2.7m, have only just nudged above 50 per cent of the available 5.3m.

Many Athenians seem to resent not only the financial cost of staging the Games but also the inconvenience. Anger and frustration about the closure of so many roads for Olympic-related reasons is common, as are worries about a telecommunications network that is under strain. Phone and internet services have been sporadic at several Olympic venues, including the media villages.

National embarrassment increased yesterday when the Greek government accepted the resignations of two senior directors of the state-run television station, ET-1, following a transmission failure during Greece's football match against South Korea on the first day of ET-1's Olympics coverage on Wednesday. Viewers missed a chunk of the first half during a game that ended 2-2. The Prime Minister, Costas Karamanlis, was reportedly fuming as his screen went blank.

"I want to express my sadness over the incident," a government spokesman said of the black-out.

Back at the archery, Park was expressing nothing at all after her record-breaking day in the ranking round of the archery competition. She scored 682 points to win the individual round. Her team-mates, Lee Sung-jin and Yun Mi-jin, finished second and third, and the trio's combined score smashed the previous best, set by the Koreans at the last Olympics. The South Koreans have dominated Olympic archery since their debut at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. They have won every women's event, both individual and team, for a nine-gold streak unmatched in any other sport.

Given their supremacy, it was not surprising when their coach, Seo Geo Won, reacted to his charges' day by saying: "They were not completely satisfied with their performance. They began well but all three of them tailed off."

Explaining why none of the Koreans would talk to the media, he added: "We won't let them speak today. They are focusing on the [next] round. We did not expect them to break the record. Park was not that excited as this is just a ranking round. The top priority is getting it right for the next round when it is straight elimination."

Elsewhere in Athens, another group of Koreans were more than happy to greet the media. Table tennis players from North and South Korea linked arms, smiled for the cameras and chanted "One, two, three - Korea fighting!" in English before an unprecedented joint practice session aimed at using sport to bridge ideological differences between the estranged nations.

The capitalist South and the communist North are due to march together at today's Games opening ceremony.

Marching alone there, in British tennis terms at least, will be Tim Henman, the only Briton in the Olympic tennis tournament. Yesterday's draw for the men's singles gave the fourth seed a potentially tricky first match against the Czech Republic's Jiri Novak. The ripples of excitement across Athens at that match-up have yet to begin. Should Henman advance to the semi-finals, he is likely to meet the world No 2, Andy Roddick.

Taking her place in the Olympic Village this week was Martina Navratilova, contesting her first Games at the age of 47 - she will play in the doubles with her US compatriot, Lisa Raymond. "I think the bar has been raised for athletes," she said. "It isn't 30 any more, I think it's 40. I think I'm just one of the athletes that are doing good things at an advanced age, but I think we will see that more and more."

Elsewhere, Cathy Freeman turned animal rights activist yesterday. Australia's 400m champion in Sydney was launching a campaign against the practice of exporting live animals. Wearing running gear and cradling a sleepy brown lamb on a roof terrace with the Parthenon in the background, Freeman said that if cruelty to animals was an Olympic sport, many countries would be going for gold. Her co-star responded by chewing her hair.

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