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New York Mayor Kicks Off Publicity Push

August 19, 2004

ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ Loudspeakers played ``New York New York″ as Mayor Michael Bloomberg kicked off a publicity push for the city’s bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics. With his entourage in tow, hizzoner started a three-day visit to Athens and toured some of the venues, including the aquatic center and velodrome.

``It’s spectacular. When two years ago you saw a hole in the ground, today there’s something that is going to last,″ he said.

Preparations for the Athens Games were delayed for three years when officials failed to start construction on time because of bureaucracy and political infighting.

``We can learn a lot about building things. The Athens community in the last two years did a job that nobody, nobody thought they could do,″ Bloomberg said.

Security personnel hustled to keep up with the mayor, whispering in Greek that they should have been informed he was inside the facilities.

All the cities vying for the 2012 Games _ New York, Paris, London, Madrid and Moscow _ are represented at the Olympics.

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PALESTINE SWIMMER: A frigid, makeshift pool wasn’t exactly the best place to train for the Olympics. Still, Rad Aweisat was disappointed by his showing.

The Palestinian swimmer struggled to finish the 100-meter butterfly in 1 minute, 1.60 seconds _ nearly 11 seconds off the world record and the worst time among 59 competitors in the event.

``I feel very bad,″ said the 17-year-old high school student. ``I don’t know what happened. Maybe I’m unlucky. All the time unlucky.″

Before the games, Aweisat failed to meet the Olympic qualifying standard of 58 seconds. His best time was 58.95, but he got a trip to Athens as part of a program that lets athletes from developing countries compete.

Aweisat hopes to return to the Olympics in 2008, but needs to improve his training conditions. That’s unlikely since he lives with the omnipresent threat of violence.

``Sometimes when I go training, I don’t know if I’ll get back home or not,″ Aweisat said. ``Someone may shoot you.″

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WHOSE OWLS?: On a soccer field near the Main Press Center is a colorful ocean of blue, yellow, black, green and red owls.

Yes, owls _ 10,000 of them.

The display is one of those conceptual artworks that always crop up at the Olympics. This one, by German artist Ottmar Horl, features a flock of 12-inch sculpted plastic owls set up like bowling pins in the pattern and colors of the Olympic rings.

``That’s what the Olympics are all about. To have fun,″ said Gerrit Mueller-Ruester, tending the German Chamber of Commerce stand at the entrance.

The concept comes from an old Greek saying: ``Who brought the owls to Athens?″ Introduced about 414 B.C. by the poet Aristophanes, the words evolved into a proverbial saying to represent anything that is overly abundant.

Owls were once common in Athens and appeared on city coins. Live owls are hard to find, but they can still be found on 1 euro coins.

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GOLDEN GIRL: Stacy Dragila has gold, even before the track and field competition starts.

The winner of the first women’s pole vault competition in Sydney four years ago, Dragila has borrowed a page from Michael Johnson’s book on shoe design.

Gold patches are featured on the front and back of her running shoes, while the Velcro flap at the front has an imprint of her signature ``stick figure pole vaulter″ design. The shoes have bits of red, white and blue to represent the United States.

It’s reminiscent of Johnson’s all-gold sprint shoes from earlier Olympics.

``To have that gold on my shoes, I feel privileged,″ Dragila said. ``So now I have to go and get it done.″

Dragila won pole vaulting’s first two outdoor world championships but faces stiff competition in Athens from Svetlana Feofanova and Yelena Isinbayeva. The two Russians set the world record three times in five weeks, the last at 16-0 3/4 feet on July 30 in London.

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SIZZLING SOLES: Brazilian beach volleyball star Adriana Behar complained that her bare feet were burning in sizzling sand during a match with Cuba.

She asked Greek referee Fani Katsavouni if the sand could be watered with hoses, but she refused.

``It was hot, very hot,″ said Behar, a 2000 silver medalist with Shelda Bede.

The second-seeded Brazilians defeated Cubans Larrea Paraza and Fernandez Grasset 21-14, 21-19.

Venue competition manager Nikolaos Sofianos said players are allowed to ask for the sand to be watered, but the referee can say no.

A post-match box score said the temperature at the time of the match was 80 degrees. Tournament organizers are not monitoring the temperature of the sand.

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