These Olympic Games are as uninteresting to me as any since, perhaps, Seoul 1988. To try and generate some sort of excitement for myself, here are the competitions, the teams and the people I'll be watching in Athens 2004:
Baseball: The United States failed to qualify, triggering suggestions that baseball will be cut from future Olympics. Under the stewardship of supercoach Tommy Lasorda, the US were the gold medallists at Sydney 2000. However, at the Americas qualifying tournament in Panama last November, they crashed out after losing to Mexico. It was, however, Cuba, gold medallists in 1992 and 1996 and runners-up in 2000 (report | box score), who qualified along with Canada.
Other nations competing in the eight-team competition are hosts Greece, European qualifiers Italy and the Netherlands, Asian qualifiers Japan and Taiwan, and Oceania/Africa qualifier Australia. Competition starts on Sunday at 5.30pm Sydney time with Australia playing Cuba. I'll do a fuller preview before then.
Softball: Women's baseball doesn't get a guernsey in the Olympics, but softball is there instead. USA will be defending their title, and also competing are Greece, Australia, Canada, China, Italy, Japan and Taiwan. Play begins on Saturday the 14th with the gold medal game on Monday the 23rd. The game to keep a close eye on: China v Taiwan, 4.30pm Sydney time on the 19th. (Just think Honduras v El Salvador, soccer, 1969.)
Hockey: Australia has a glorious tradition of coming fourth in Olympic men's hockey. In a twelve-team competition they sit in Pool B alongside Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand, Netherlands and India. Pool A consists of South Korea, Spain, Germany, Pakistan, Great Britain and Egypt. The Dutch are defending champions. Germany is currently ranked number one in the world. All of which is a good reason to go for India!
The Hockeyroos are defending champions for the women (and maybe John Howard won't call them the cricket team like he did in 1999). They are not the number one ranked team in the world however, that honour goes to the Argentines. Also competing in the eight-team competition: Netherlands, South Africa, China, Japan, Germany, Spain.
Women's soccer: The men's soccer tournament is a bad joke, but the women's event possibly has more prestige than the World Cup. Norway, gold medallists in 2000, won't be there this time as 2003 World Cup finalists Germany and Sweden became the two UEFA olympic qualifiers. In a ten-team competition the other nations are Greece, Australia, USA, Brazil, China, Germany, Mexico and Japan. For once I'll be parochial and cheer for the Matildas. They won't get a medal, however.
Women's wrestling: Making their Olympic debut on August 22. Will I be curious enough to watch?
Next: Part two of my preview. The nations I will be following, and my hero from Sydney 2000 returns for Athens 2004.
Official Games of the XXVIII Olympiad website: www.athens2004.com.