Olympics Notebook 2000

The official Opening Ceremony isn't until today, but competition has already begun. In a key early matchup, Tiffeny Milbrett led a dominating performance by the US women's soccer team Thursday night as it opened defense of its Olympic gold medal with a 2-0 victory over Norway.

Australians, thanks to their partner in public relations, NBC, are wildly excited about all the laudatory things the television network plans to say about their country. They should be. The network's chairman, Dick Ebersol, proclaims the 2000 Olympics "the best prepared Games" in history. Things, he says, "were done well and done early." And he predicted that Australia "will be the second biggest star" at the Olympics, after the athletes.

The opening of NBC coverage, which will air prior to the Opening Ceremony today, was shown to journalists this week, and it is a full-fledged valentine to the nation - delivered in the soulful voice of James Earl Jones. Ebersol says the network will air pieces on Australia and life in it. Somewhat defensive about the liplock between NBC and Australia, Ebersol says that for years, polls show Australia is a top choice as a vacation destination for Americans. A tourism official here says about 400,000 Americans visit annually.

US boxers are nothing if not confident - way, way confident. Brian Viloria (106 pounds) says, "I'm smart." Jose Navarro (112) says, "I have fast hands." And on and on.

Others praise their stamina, their speed, and their power. Not one pointed to a single weakness. And, of course, they could be accurate. But for the team to match the high expectations, all 12 fighters definitely will need to live up to their self-appraisals.

Conversely, the US men's gymnastics team seems stricken with self-doubt. In a press conference Wednesday, the best longtime star John Roethlisberger could offer was, "We're going to compete with more heart than anybody in the world." Coach Peter Kormann talked about how young, how hurt, and how sick his team is. A medal seems unlikely. But star Blaine Wilson dismissed the low expectations and said, "We didn't come here to be second best."

NBC has sold a record $900 million in commercial time for the Sydney Olympics and expects to make a small profit on its coverage, says Keith Turner, president for NBC sales and marketing. Neither the Olympic bribery scandal last year nor the fact that the Games will be shown entirely on tape in the United States discouraged advertisers. The $900 million includes commercial time sold on the NBC broadcast network as well as NBC's cable networks CNBC and MSNBC. That's 32 percent higher than the previous record of $680 million bought during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

The best headline seen so far? "Canadian coach concerned over lack of swimsuits." Very, uh, revealing.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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