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Olympic torch begins unprecedented journey

| Friday, March 26, 2004

ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece -- The flame that will burn at the Athens Olympics began its round-the-world journey Thursday under unprecedented security that included metal detectors and commandos hiding in laurel groves.

The ceremony was resplendent with tradition but shadowed by the fears terrorism has cast over the games.

"Because of extremist phenomena and uncontrolled fanaticism, we are living under unrivaled conditions of insecurity that paralyze and exhaust us," said Lambis Nikolaou, president of the Greek Olympic Committee.

Nikolaou spoke moments before the flame was lit by the sun's rays using a concave mirror at the ancient sanctuary where the Olympics were born 2,780 years ago.

More than 6,000 spectators -- all screened by police -- rose as the first torch bearer, Greek javelin champion Costas Gatzioudis, took the flame from an actresses in the role of a priestess from antiquity. Gatzioudis held the sleek olive wood-and-magnesium torch in one hand and an olive branch in the other as he jogged from the ancient stadium, whose hills were covered by red poppies and lavender wildflowers.

The possibility of rain raised the prospect of using a flame ignited in an earlier rehearsal ceremony, but the weather cleared and the sun peered from behind fast-moving clouds.

The lighting ceremony is nearly identical for every Olympics. But the Athens flame -- lit on Greek independence day -- carries added significance.

BOXING

  • Charges were dropped against two men accused of threatening Mike Tyson last year after he refused to give them his autograph. Samuel Velez and Nestor Alvarez-Ramos had been charged with menacing and harassment in the June 21 brawl with the ex-heavyweight champion outside a Brooklyn hotel.

    COLLEGE FOOTBALL

  • A Colorado football player was accused of raping a woman when he was a recruit, bringing to eight the number of such allegations involving the scandal-rocked team, the Rocky Mountain News reported. University officials said Wednesday they learned of the nearly 4-year-old accusation about two weeks ago and are investigating.

    COLLEGES

  • Indiana (Pa.) University, which posted a 10-1 record but did not qualify for the NCAA Division II playoffs last season, announced it will play a 10-game schedule in 2004. The Indians were scheduled to play an 11th game against New Haven on Sept. 18.

  • St. Vincent College announced it has signed Megan Sekinger of Bethel Park High School to a letter of intent to play for its women's team beginning next season.

  • Lock Haven University coach Mark Elliston has been selected NCAA Division II East Region coach of the year for the indoor season. Elliston led the Bald Eagles to its third consecutive Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference team championship.

    PRO BASKETBALL

  • The Chicago Bulls activated forward Marcus Fizer yesterday and placed forward Paul Shirley on the injured list with a bruised kidney.

  • Guard Maurice Carter signed a 10-day contract with the New Orleans Hornets after a brief stint with the Los Angeles Lakers this season.

    HORSE RACING

  • The former director of a racing syndicate was banned from ownership for two years by the Jockey Club for betting against his own horses. The penalty against Miles Rodgers was the first since it became illegal for owners, trainers and stable staff to bet on their horses to lose.

    SOCCER

  • Kansas City Wizards midfielder Chris Klein will replace ailing Landon Donovan on the U.S. Men's national team for an exhibition match Wednesday against Poland. The 28-year-old Klein had his best year for the national team in 2003, scoring three goals in seven appearances.

    TENNIS

  • Serena Williams signed with the William Morris Agency, leaving her agents at IMG after four years.

  • Andre Agassi has stopped taking nutritional supplements until the ATP Tour decides how to reduce the risk of inadvertently using banned substances. Agassi is a member of a task force formed last month to study the problem in men's tennis.

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