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U.S. Olympic Women's Soccer Team Hold First Practice in Athens

Thursday, Aug. 5, 2004
U.S. Women's National Team
Notes from Athens, Greece

CRETE AWAITS: In advance of leaving for the island of Crete tomorrow morning, the U.S. Olympic Women's Soccer Team held its final pre-Olympic training in Athens this morning, practicing at Apollon Stadium for an hour and 45 minutes on a hot, but not stifling day.  The U.S. team was delayed a few minutes as the team bus turned onto a small one-lane road leading to the stadium only to pull to a stop behind an old, beat up truck.  Despite the police escort, several large Greek gentlemen got out, leisurely loaded some boxes into the back of the truck, and then went on their way.  The U.S. team will train tomorrow evening in Heraklion, its first practice on the island of Crete where the Americans will open their Olympic competition on Aug. 11 vs. Greece (6 p.m. local / 11 a.m. ET live on MSNBC).

The U.S. did not experience any of the notorious Athens traffic, however, as the Greeks have designated one lane on all the major freeways and thoroughfares for Olympic Traffic only (although oddly it is the far right lane and not the far left as seen on many California carpool lanes), meaning the team bus traveled unimpeded to and from the Olympic Village.  In fact, the Greeks are so serious about making sure that traffic flows smoothly during the Olympics that they have imposed several penalties for those caught driving in the Olympic lane.  First-time offenders will play a fine of 125 Euros (about $150).  Second offense?  A year in jail.

HURRICANE ATHENS: The U.S. team walked straight from the team bus after training to the cavernous Athletes' Village Dining Hall for lunch, and were stunned while sitting at a long table finishing their meal when at about 2 p.m., a driving rainstorm hit, pounding the mammoth tent-like structure with a defeating roar of heavy raindrops and high winds.  Water cascaded off the sides of the building like a waterfall and the Olympic flags and banners took a beating, while the unfinished landscaping in some areas produced a river of mud. The fabricated building, big enough to hold five football fields, actually shook in the wind, causing some concerned looks from the U.S. players who looked ready to jump under the tables (although very few athletes from other teams look that bothered).  But as quickly as it came, it was over, dissipating after about 25 minutes.  Several U.S. players, wanting to get back to the dorm and relax, made a run for it through the pounding rain to catch a bus that they thought would take them back to their section of the village.  Twenty minutes later, after having a good tour of the Village and one bus transfer, they made it back to the section housing the U.S. team.

One of the unique attributes of the Athletes Village and Dining Hall is that competitors and officials from more than 200 countries can mingle, eat and chat.  U.S. players Brandi Chastain and Mia Hamm just happened to sit next to the Chef de Mission's (basically the leaders of the delegations) from the Republic of Congo and Cameroon for lunch today, chatting them up and exchanging some views on women's soccer.  Chastain even learned of a greeting she had never seen before as one of the men greeted a friend, not with the double-kiss on the cheek European style, but with three alternating light bumps on the outside of the head, which Chastain proceeded to demonstrate with a member of the U.S. staff.  The U.S. team has also bumped into several of the competing women's soccer teams in the dining hall, sharing polite nods of recognition, and in cases greetings for former WUSA teammates, with Mexico, Sweden, Greece and Brazil.

AND PIGS FLEW: Never people to shy away from eating of any kind, the U.S. team continues to enjoy all of the variety and quantity of goods at the Athletes' Village Dining Hall.  Still, several U.S. players were stunned at lunch today when they actually ran out of Feta cheese, an occurrence not thought possible in Greece.

THURSDAY AT THE MPC: Four of the USA's young stars -- Abby Wambach, Shannon Boxx, Cat Reddick and Heather O'Reilly - took part in the first USOC Press Conference of the 2004 Olympic Games at the massive Main Press Center today, chatting with reporters for about an hour before getting a car tour of the main Olympic venues, including the awe-inspiring Olympic Stadium. Following are a selection of quotes from the press conference:

Forward Abby Wambach on the pressure of giving the veteran players a winning send-off:

"For us it's not pressure. We use a different term: an added sense of responsibility. We're using what they've taught us. You can't express in words what they've taught us."

Wambach on the expected hot weather during competition:
"The heat won't be an issue for us. We've been training hard for the last seven months, we're physically fit and we're ready for anything that Greece (referring to the country's climate, not the team) can throw at us."

Midfielder Shannon Boxx, whose sister won a gold medal in softball in 1996, on perhaps facing a hostile crowd against host Greece in the match:
"We know they're the home country and they'll have a lot of fans, but sometimes it's good to have a hostile crowd. It gets you ready to play."

Boxx on playing with the veteran players in a big competition:
"We've seen how the veterans handle pressure. They've taught us a great deal about how to focus on what's happening on the field."

Defender Catherine Reddick on the on the weather conditions they expect to experience in Greece:
"Throughout our residency program (in Los Angeles), we trained in the heat. Then we had matches at different venues in the United States where the humidity felt like it was 100 percent. We trained for (the anticipated hot conditions) and I think we're ready for it."

Forward Heather O'Reilly on security issues in Athens:
"We feel secure and safe with what the Olympic Committee has provided for us. We're focused on our games and we're ready to go."

O?Reilly on her memories of the 1999 Women's World Cup:
"I attended the opening game in New Jersey. I was 14 at the time, and I was like all my 14-year-old teammates, with my face painted and everything. I think I might have been more excited about seeing N-Sync during the pre-game ceremonies than I was about what was happening on the field.  But that day definitely was a turning point for me in that I saw the game and knew that this was something that I'd like to do."