- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 19, 2004

ATHENS — U.S. teams have heard plenty of boos so far in the Olympics, mostly the kind reserved for any powerhouse playing an underdog.

What hasn’t surfaced, they say, is any of the nasty, politically tinged anti-Americanism that was feared in the run-up to the Games.

The bigger the American star power, it seems, the louder the razzing. Targets so far have included the men’s basketball team, women’s soccer team and Andy Roddick, the world’s No.2 tennis player.

Off the field, however, the Americans have raved about the warm reception they’ve received from the Greeks and from athletes of other nations. There have been no anti-American protests and, according to U.S. officials, no worrisome confrontations.

“We’ve seen just the opposite — people in Athens going out of their way to make our team feel comfortable,” said U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Darryl Seibel. “In those situations where the crowd has gotten behind our opponents. … it hasn’t been in any way aggressive or hostile.”

Concerns abounded before the Games. Anti-American demonstrators staged protests in Athens, city workers erased graffiti denouncing U.S. foreign policy and U.S. team leaders counseled athletes to keep a low profile — such as not wearing clothing plastered with USA logos when venturing off Olympic premises.

Judo competitor Celita Schutz of New York City said it was the first time in three Olympics she received such instructions.

“When I’ve gone downtown, people recognize athletes anyway and they’re curious where you’re from,” she said. “All my experiences have been positive.”

A handful of athletes, such as NBA star Ray Allen, cited fears of anti-American violence as a reason for skipping the Olympics. High jumper Matt Hemingway, son of a Marine who served overseas, questioned such attitudes.

“Anybody who said they didn’t want to come because of security, they just didn’t want to come,” said Hemingway, of Buena Vista, Colo. “Considering what our soldiers are doing, risking their lives, the least we could do is represent our country at the Olympics.”

He and Schutz said they have mingled easily with other nations’ athletes in the Olympic Village and encountered no political diatribes.

In their quest for a low profile, USOC officials briefed athletes on acting respectfully. The message, according to team press aide Doug Haney: “Don’t be the obnoxious American everyone thinks we are.”

Hemingway indicated the athletes were receptive, mindful of the criticism that ensued in Sydney four years ago when bare-chested members of the men’s 400-meter relay team wrapped themselves in a U.S. flag and brazenly clowned on the victory stand.

“We can’t shove it in people’s faces,” Hemingway said.

On the playing field, Americans have in several cases experienced crowds rooting vociferously for their rivals.

At the Greece-U.S. basketball game, fans waved Greek flags, sang fight songs and taunted the Americans with chants of “Puerto Rico!” — the team that upset the NBA players in their opening game.

“That was the loudest arena I’ve ever been in,” said LeBron James after the Americans’ six-point victory.

The same night, thousands of spectators rooted for Germany’s Tommy Haas to upset Roddick, often making noise as the American prepared to serve. “Maybe the clap right before I served every time was a little much,” Roddick said after his narrow victory.

Yesterday, when Roddick was upset by No.16 Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, some spectators chanted “Chile! Chile!” late in the match. When a group of Roddick’s fans responded with “U-S-A! U-S-A!”, they drew boos and whistles.

Members of the women’s soccer team said the crowd at their game with Brazil was one of the most hostile they had ever encountered — yet praised their overall reception in Greece.

“We had heard a lot about some anti-American thoughts, but the Greeks have been unbelievably supportive,” coach April Heinrichs said. “On the field, I think they’re cheering for other teams. But one of the common denominators of all cultures is they cheer for the underdog.”

Midfielder Julie Foudy agreed.

“When you’re out in the streets, in the shops, they love to share their history and culture and they’re so friendly,” she said. “On the field, we’ve been getting some boos, but that’s to be expected because we’re one of the favorites.”

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