The world's wait is over



Swimmer Michael Phelps is part of the main attraction on the first day of competition.
ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Michael Phelps is going for the gold -- eight of 'em, it appears. Jenny Thompson already owns that many, across three Olympics, along with a silver and a bronze.
The alpha and omega of the U.S. swim team are the main attractions today on the first full day of competition in Greece -- Phelps at the beginning of his career, and Thompson at the end. But there's action at venues across Athens in 19 other sports, from badminton to basketball to boxing.
And much of it will air -- although not much of it live -- on NBC and its five cable affiliates, which plan to pump out 41 1/2 hours of coverage altogether on the day after the Athens opening ceremony.
Gymnasts share spotlight
The men's gymnastics team, led by reigning world all-around champion Paul Hamm, Brett McClure and comebacking Blaine Wilson, will share NBC's prime time today with the swimmers. The U.S. squad competes in the Olympic team qualifications, and it's expected to challenge China and Japan for the gold -- a medal the Americans last captured 20 years ago in Los Angeles.
But the main focus will be on the four races at the pool, where Phelps brings his pursuit of Mark Spitz's gold standard of seven medals in a single Olympics.
Phelps is 19, listens to rapper DMX before he swims, and started swimming when he was 7. Thompson, 31, hopes to finish medical school, and won her first Olympic medal when Phelps was 7.
Thompson tries for 11th
Phelps is an overwhelming favorite to collect gold No. 1 in the 400 individual medley, where he owns the world record. For Thompson, her first shot at medal No. 11 will come in the 400-meter freestyle relay today.
Her accomplishments are Phelps' aspirations. Thompson, who owns more medals than any other female American Olympian, enters her fourth Olympics with a chance at equaling several records. A gold, silver or bronze will tie her with Spitz and Matt Biondi for the most career medals for an American; a ninth gold would put her with four other athletes for the most career Olympic victories.
For pool prodigy Phelps, he's stalking Spitz's mark as the world (and NBC) watch closely -- expect his efforts to remain a prime-time fixture for as long as it runs, and the swimming continues for another week. Following today's race, he's likely to swim in another four individual events, plus his relays.
This will be America's first chance to check out the much-hyped Greek swimming venue, where the open-air pool will make sunscreen a hot commodity. Athens organizers backed off on a pledge to install a roof, so Olympic swimming will be staged in an uncovered area for the first time since blistering Barcelona in 1992.
The heat is less of a problem at night, when the finals are scheduled and a welcome breeze can appear. During the day, when temperatures routinely climb into the 90s, swimmers can duck beneath tents while awaiting the preliminaries and semifinals.
"I don't think not having a roof will be any issue at all," said backstroker Lenny Krayzelburg, a triple gold medalist indoors at Sydney.
Other action today
Elsewhere today, medals were expected in cycling, diving, fencing, judo, shooting, and weightlifting as many of NBC's 103 commentators hit the airwaves from Athens for the first time. The cycling, along with the men's synchronized platform diving, will get some prime-time exposure on NBC.
Network coverage begins at noon and runs until 2 a.m., with a two-hour dinnertime break from 6-8 p.m. and a half-hour off at midnight. The afternoon session will include the live gold-medal finals for the women's synchronized springboard, along with men's gymnastics, volleyball and women's beach volleyball.
Early risers and late nighters will both get a chance to check out live events, which remain scarce on the network schedule. The U.S. women's basketball team, looking for a third straight gold medal, takes on New Zealand in its first game this morning on CNBC.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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