SUMMER OLYMPICS Phelps, Thompson tops in the pool
Swimming is among 20 sports that begin Saturday.
ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Pick a number, any number, between one and eight. That's as good a guess as any at how many gold medals swimming sensation Michael Phelps will win.
Phelps says he'll be happy with one. His sponsors are thinking seven, hoping he'll match Mark Spitz's record for the most at one Olympics.
And if he wins eight? Well, then he can go home with as many as Jenny Thompson had before she came to Athens.
While Phelps is all the rage of these Summer Games, don't forget Thompson, the 31-year-old grand dame of the U.S. Olympic team.
Over the last three Summer Games, she's won eight gold medals and 10 overall, both tops for an American woman in any sport. Another gold would tie the most by any Olympian -- and she could get it Saturday night in the 400-meter freestyle relay, shortly after Phelps splashes into his first event, the 400 individual medley.
"She is overshadowed, but I don't think Jenny is looking for a lot of attention. She just loves what she's doing," said fellow U.S. swimmer Lenny Krayzelburg. "We as a team understand what a great ambassador for the sport she's been."
Swimming is among 20 sports that begin Saturday and among seven awarding medals. It's the kind of schedule NBC had in mind when it came up with its multi-network coverage plan.
NBC and five cable affiliates will broadcast 41 1/2 hours of Olympics on Saturday alone, and that doesn't even count the four-hour replay of the prime-time show or the 24-hour loop of the opening ceremonies on its high-definition station.
The flagship will be all-Athens from noon to 2 a.m., with a two-hour news break around dinnertime and another half-hour off at midnight.
In addition to swimming, other highlights include Paul Hamm and the men's gymnastics squad, who begin chasing their first team medal in 20 years; and seeing the men's cycling road race take off from the Acropolis, roll through the streets of Athens and close back at the sacred landmark.
Alas, the only live event on NBC will be the women's synchronized springboard finals. To see more events as they happen, you'll need CNBC.
It's fitting that the first prime-time telecast will come from the pool, considering how well the venue sums up the gnashing of teeth that preceded these games.
Construction was going so slowly that organizers decided not to build a roof. Widely booed at first, it proved to be a good call because the facility was finished on time and swimmers seem to like it.
Fans attending broiling morning sessions may not agree, but by the evening most of the bleachers will be in the shade. The atmosphere should be lively, too, as tickets to swimming are among the few that are hard to get.
Then there are the overlapping generations: Phelps starting what could be a memorable career, Thompson finishing what already is.
Thompson spent so much time on the winner's podium in Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney that she's within a few laps of the records for career golds (nine, by four people); career medals for an American (11, Spitz and Matt Biondi) and career swimming medals (11, Spitz, Biondi and Carl Osburn).
Along the way, Thompson has gone from youngster to elder statesman. She's also graduated from Stanford and started medical school at Columbia University.
She focused on school, and rested her body, for two years after Sydney. Her comeback took on added inspiration in February when her mother died of cancer.
"I just want to end my career on a really positive note," she said last month.