ATHENS, Greece -- A bikini-clad team of cheerleaders at the Olympic beach volleyball tournament are not proving popular with everyone.
Fans arriving at the Olympic Beach Volleyball Center by the Greek coast on Saturday were greeted by the sight of 12 women wearing skimpy, orange bikinis and dancing up a storm in the sand.
Australian player Nicole Sanderson was not impressed. "It's disrespectful to have other girls in bikinis out there dancing," she said while her partner, Sydney gold medalist Natalie Cook, said that if there were men out on the court dancing it could equal things out.
Organizers admit they use dancers in bikinis and sex appeal as much as athletic ability to sell the sport -- a demanding two-on-two form of volleyball made even more difficult by playing on sand.
It has worked.
Ever since it debuted as a medals sport in Atlanta in 1996, beach volleyball has been one of the most popular spectator sports of the Games - in part due to the bikinis worn by women players and the muscle-baring singlets for the men.
At Bondi Beach in Australia in 2000, it attracted the fifth largest television audience of all the sports at the Games.
The "dance team," which performs in between sets, matches and at most timeouts, is a common sight on the international beach volleyball tour but rare at traditional Olympic events.
On the first day of the Athens preliminary-round matches, the dancers revved up the boisterous, beer-drinking crowd of several thousand who clapped, cheered and sang along to "Highway to Hell" between points.
A disc-jockey blasted rock-and-roll and 1950s beach music in between each point and announcers egged on the crowd in Greek and English.
Noting that beach volleyball fans would never hear requests for "quiet please" at a match, the announcers urged fans to stand and get rowdy in support of the players.
"Come on everybody, clap your hands," yelled the announcer during a men's match between Canada and Switzerland. "Stomp, stomp, clap, clap."
True to the red, white and blue
Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Donn Nelson, who has helped guide Lithuania to three straight bronze medals in men's basketball, has a caveat for his fourth Olympics with the team.
He won't be giving guidance if Lithuania faces the United
Nelson was an assistant coach for Lithuania in 1992 when, in its first Olympic appearance, it beat the Unified Team representing
most of the former Soviet republics for the bronze.
He was in Sydney four years ago when Lithuania lost 85-83 to the United States in the semifinals. A 3-pointer by Sarunas
Jasikevicius at the buzzer was short and Nelson spent a sleepless
night considering what might have been, had that shot fallen.
He vowed at the time he never would coach against the United States again, saying he couldn't handle being part of an overseas team that knocked off the Americans. He reiterated that position on Sunday.
"I'll help these guys beat any other country in the world,"
Nelson said after Lithuania opened preliminary play with a 78-73
win over Angola. "I won't be on the bench for a game against the
U.S. They know that."
Empty seats slow to fill
Attendance at the Athens Olympics
has been disappointing during the first two days but organizers
said on Sunday they hope ticket sales will pick up soon.
After falling short on a promise to sell about 65 percent of
the total 5.2 million tickets by the Games opening, organizers
said sales would rise as the Olympics become more exciting.
"Yes, attendance was not very high with less popular
sports," spokesman Michael Zaharatos told reporters. "We never
hid the fact that less popular sports and preliminary rounds
would not be a full house."
Track and field, by far the Games' most popular event, has yet to
start, while most of Greece's medal hopefuls compete next week.
The 2000 Sydney Games, with almost double the total tickets
available, were held mostly in front of capacity crowds.
On Saturday, only a sparse crowd saw Turkish weightlifter
Nurcan Taylan claim her historic gold at the 5,000-seat Nikea
weightlifting stadium, while former world No. 1 Venus
Williams won her first round match in front of only a handful of
die-hard fans in the new tennis arena.
The International Olympic Committee, concerned the Games'
image could be tarnished if competitions are held in front of
half-empty stands, raised the issue with organizers on Sunday.
"It (tickets issue) was briefly raised in this morning's
meeting," IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said. "The next few
days we will see how ticket sales go up."
Total sales so far are about 2.9 million, mainly due to a
sharp rise in daily sales -- about 90,000 -- over the past two
But organizers, who have insisted they have all but met
their target revenue of 183 million euro ($224.3 million), still
have 2.5 million unsold tickets.
While swimming events and some soccer matches have attracted
large crowds, other sports including softball and weightlifting,
have recorded disappointing attendance figures.
The beach volleyball stadium with a capacity of about 10,000
was largely empty all day Saturday until the Greece match, when
it almost filled up.
Greece: Olympic venues safe despite tabloid report
The Greek government insisted Sunday there were no problems with security at the Olympics, a day after a
British tabloid reporter wrote he was able to leave three fake
bombs undetected in the main stadium.
Bob Graham, of London's Sunday Mirror, said he worked at the
stadium as a forklift operator without undergoing any background
checks by organizers. He wrote he was able to leave the fake bombs
after getting them through security.
Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis, in charge of the $1.5
billion security plan, criticized the story and said Greek efforts
to safeguard the games were thorough. A ministry spokesman said
officials searched the stadium and other venues before the Olympics
and found nothing.
The security plan includes about 70,000 personnel and a massive
array of surveillance equipment, such as undersea sensors, street
cameras and a blimp. NATO is also providing sea patrols and AWACS
Shot of history
An American and a Ukrainian on Sunday won the first Olympic competitions in Panathinaiko Stadium since the
marble facility hosted the first modern games in 1896.
Jennifer Nichols of Cheyenne, Wyo., defeated Rina Dewi
Puspitasari of Indonesia and Tetyana Berezhna beat Greece's Fotini
Vavatsi in the opening matches in the round of 32.
Bhutan's Tshering Chhoden, seeded 54th, upset No. 11 seed Lin
Sang of China 159-156.
Information from Reuters and the Associated Press was included in this report.