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countdown to Olympics

India can win hockey medal, say
ex-Olympians

New Delhi, August 11
The Indian hockey team led by defender Dilip Tirkey has enough talent to clinch a medal at Athens Olympics provided the individual brilliance is translated into a well-knit unit, Olympian Zafar Iqbal said. Despite the controversies in the run-up to the games, Zafar feels the eight-time gold medallists have enough firepower to regain Olympic glory that has eluded them in the last five games.

Members of the Indian hockey team jog during a training session in Athens

Members of the Indian hockey team jog during a training session in Athens on Wednesday.
— Reuters photo

Veterans defy march of time to seek glory
Athens, August 11
A sharp-shooting Australian grandmother, an Indian weightlifter and stars such as Martina Navratilova and Merlene Ottey are among an array of women lining up at the Athens Olympics to prove age is no barrier to success.


Sundergarh proud of its Hockey sons.
(28k, 56k)

Athens Diary
Athens yet to buzz with excitement
Even as the Olympic flame is set to enter Athens, with the altar of the Olympic Stadium being its destination on Friday night, the birth place of the Olympiad continues to miss the excitement and enthusiasm normally associated with such major events.





Japanese archer Yuji Hamano takes aim during a training session at the archery complex in Athens
Japanese archer Yuji Hamano takes aim during a training session at the archery complex in Athens on Wednesday. — Reuters




EARLIER STORIES
 
The 12-ft high sculpture built by Sudarshan Patnaik on a beach in Puri
The 12-ft high sculpture built by Sudarshan Patnaik on a beach in Puri, Orissa, to celebrate the Olympic spirit and wish the Indian contingent all the best. The internationally acclaimed sculptor recently won the prize at Berlin for his sculpture Hanuman. The Athens Olympics begin on Friday.
In video (28k, 56k)

Badminton player Nikhil Kanetkar and weightlifter Karnam Malleswari arrive at the Athens airport on Tuesday
Badminton player Nikhil Kanetkar and weightlifter Karnam Malleswari arrive at the Athens airport on Tuesday. — PTI

China eye golden start
Athens, August 11
China aim to roar out of the starting blocks at the Athens Olympics with its shooters and divers targeting five golds on the first medal day. "On August 14, we have five possibilities for gold: two shooting events, one women's weightlifting event, and two diving events," Xiao Tian, Chinese Olympic Committee COC vice-president, told a news conference.

Women wrestlers grapple with prejudice
Athens, August 11
When women wrestlers step onto the mat at the Olympics for the first time, they will be grappling with prejudice as well as each other. “There’s a long way to go, even within our own sport, to gain respect,” said Patricia Miranda of the USA, one of the athletes who will make history at the inaugural Olympic women’s wrestling competition at the Athens games.

Tricolour hoisted at
games village
Athens, August 11
The Indian flag was ceremonially hoisted at the games village at a simple ceremony last night, marking a special moment for the Indian contingent taking part in the Olympic Games. All the Indian athletes watched the moment as the Tricolour was unfurled with a local band playing the national anthem.

Michael PhelpsEven one gold will make Phelps happy
Athens, August 11
US swimmer Michael Phelps insisted today that he would be happy with a single gold medal despite his campaign to win a games record eight titles. “My goal is to win one gold medal and then go on from there.

Serena Williams, Capriati pull out
Athens, August 11
Serena Williams pulled out of the Athens games today. The former world No. 1 has been bothered by an injury to her left knee, which had forced her to withdraw from WTA tournaments in San Diego and Montreal this month.

Members of the Canadian synchronised swimming team perform during a training session at the Olympics Aquatic Centre in Athens on Wednesday

Members of the Canadian synchronised swimming team perform during a training session at the Olympics Aquatic Centre in Athens on Wednesday.
— Reuters



Sangakkara’s ton puts Lanka
on top
Colombo, August 11
Kumar Sangakkara scored his sixth Test hundred as Sri Lanka posted 303 for three on the first day of the second Test against South Africa on Wednesday. Sangakkara, playing as a specialist batsman in the series, was 157 not out after sharing in important partnerships with Sanath Jayasuriya (43) and Mahela Jayawardene.



Sri Lankan batsman Kumar Sangakkara plays a shot on the first day of the second Test against South Africa at the Sinhalese Sports Club grounds in Colombo on Wednesday. — Reuters photo


Sri Lankan batsman Kumar Sangakkara plays a shot on the first day of the second Test against South Africa


The West Indies captain Brian Lara plays a shot during a practice session at Old Trafford, Manchester, on Wednesday
The West Indies captain Brian Lara plays a shot during a practice session at Old Trafford, Manchester, on Wednesday. The third Test between England and the West Indies begins today.
— Reuters

Ace long distance swimmer Bula Chowdhury in a jovial mood in Kolkata on Wednesday
Ace long distance swimmer Bula Chowdhury in a jovial mood in Kolkata on Wednesday. Bula is about to begin her 40-km expedition in Palk Straits in her bid to become the only woman to conquer seven seas. — PTI

Zidane to quit French team
Paris, August 11
Football great Zinedine Zidane is set to announce his retirement from the French national team, the daily L’Equipe reported today. Although the newspaper cited no sources, it wrote that Zidane will announce his retirement from international football “in less than a week”.

FIFA coins to be available in India
New Delhi, August 11
India figures among the 69 countries selected by Federation Internationale de Football Association for its commemorative coin programme, launched worldwide. 

Under-17 soccer team wins two games in UK
Kolkata, August 11
Just when East Bengal was setting the English turf on fire, the India under-17 squad quietly left their impression in UK with a show of mettle they possessed by winning two games.

CK Nayudu award for spin quartet
New Delhi, August 11
The legendary spin quartet of the 1970s — Erapalli Prasanna, BS Chandrasekhar, Bishen Singh Bedi and S. Venkatraghavan — would be presented the prestigious CK Nayudu award for 2003, it was announced here today.
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India can win hockey medal, say ex-Olympians

New Delhi, August 11
The Indian hockey team led by defender Dilip Tirkey has enough talent to clinch a medal at Athens Olympics provided the individual brilliance is translated into a well-knit unit, Olympian Zafar Iqbal said.

Despite the controversies in the run-up to the games, Zafar feels the eight-time gold medallists have enough firepower to regain Olympic glory that has eluded them in the last five games.

“The team is doing well and there is no doubt about it. We have a clear chance of reaching at least the semifinals. The squad is well-balanced, having a combination of both experience and youth,” Zafar, who captained India from 1982 to 1984, said.

He said although teams like Holland, Australia and Germany were considered strong contenders to win the title, no team was clear favourites.

Echoing similar views, former Indian captain M K Kaushik said “India’s chances of making the semifinals are very bright.”

“We have some world class players and I think we can easily reach the semifinals if we play unitedly and according to plan,” said Kaushik, also a former Olympian and a national coach.

Kaushik said India needed to tighten their defence and must not concede too many penalty corners.

Ashok Kumar, Olympian and son of hockey wizard Dhyan Chand, said India would need to put in a big effort and display tremendous willpower to make a mark in the prestigious competition.

“Give little chance to the opposition to attack your post and at the same time to keep up the pressure on the rival defence should be the side’s strategy” said Ashok Kumar, whose memorable winner against Pakistan gave India the 1975 World Cup. He said India’s chances in the mega event would greatly depend on how the seasoned forwards, including Dhanraj Pillay, who would be playing in his fourth Olympics, perform.

National selector and former player Aslam Sher Khan said the Olympics would provide a great test to young players, particularly Sandeep Singh, who is expected to fit in the shoes of ace drag-flicker Jugraj Singh.

He also justified Indian Hockey Federation’s decision to remove chief coach Rajinder Singh and appoint Gerhard Rach in his place just a few days before Olympics.

“India’s first foreign coach has infused a new life into the team,” he argued. — PTI
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Veterans defy march of time to seek glory

Athens, August 11
A sharp-shooting Australian grandmother, an Indian weightlifter and stars such as Martina Navratilova and Merlene Ottey are among an array of women lining up at the Athens Olympics to prove age is no barrier to success. Annette Woodward (56) will be the oldest female competitor at the games when she takes part in the 25 metre pistol event.

Woodward only took up shooting after being inspired by the performance of a compatriot in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

“You just fall into these things. I didn’t start this aiming to be the oldest at anything,” she told reporters in Athens.

“I’m hoping that my being here will inspire other women to get out there.”

The radiographer from Victoria has won three Commonwealth gold medals but missed out on the 2000 Sydney Olympics, having retired in 1998 to nurse her cancer-stricken husband and poured her energy into her job after his death the following year.

“I really needed to make a comeback. I didn’t want to leave the sport the way I had,” she told Reuters earlier this year.

Navratilova (47) will continue her own age-defying comeback by taking part in the women’s doubles for the US team, becoming the oldest player ever at an Olympic tennis event.

Sprinter Ottey has run at every summer Olympics since Moscow in 1980, winning a silver with the Jamaican relay team last time around. In Athens, she will become the first female track and field athlete to take part in seven Olympics.

At the age of 44, when most sprinters have long ago swapped spikes for slippers, Ottey will run both the 100 and 200 metres.

But this time she will run for Slovenia, the base of her coach and her adopted home, rather than her native Jamaica.

Navratilova and Ottey may have much of the media marvelling at their ability to battle the march of time. But there are less well-known women also turning in top-level performances at an advanced age for their sports.

At 37, Brigitte McMahon of Switzerland is defending her Olympic title in the triathlon, where most athletes peak around their late 20s. McMahon comes to Athens having had two daughters since Sydney to add to a son born in 1997.

Cyclist Jeannie Longo of France is also in one of the most gruelling Olympic sports but still competing at the age of 45.

A gold medal-winner at the Atlanta games in 1996, Longo has won 13 world titles and claimed her 48th national crown in June to qualify for Athens. She will compete in both the individual time trial and the road race events.

Another competitor admired for her staying power is weightlifter Kunjarani Devi. Considered the grand old lady of her sport in India at the age of 36, she will be the oldest woman weightlifter at Athens.

The Assistant Police Commander nicknamed “big sister” by team-mates competes in the 48 kg category. She has battled back from a doping ban and is rated one of India’s best medal hopes. — Reuters
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Athens Diary
Athens yet to buzz with excitement
Prabhjot Singh

Even as the Olympic flame is set to enter Athens, with the altar of the Olympic Stadium being its destination on Friday night, the birth place of the Olympiad continues to miss the excitement and enthusiasm normally associated with such major events.

Though the start of the final run of the torch has its own significance, yet the huge inflow of Olympic revellers witnessed in Barcelona (1992), Atlanta (1996) and Sydney (2000) is conspicuous by its absence here. Though the organisers are making every effort to make the event a success, people participation seems to be an area of concern for them.

One still vividly remembers the crowded streets of Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney with metro transport stations bursting to the seams from early morning till late at night. But here, things come to a standstill by late in the evening as the pressure on road and rail transport eases considerably.

Omonia, the centre point of Athens, has some music and jazz groups playing every evening, yet the gusto of being an Olympic city, where the games have returned after 108 years, is sadly missing.

All hotels, motels, available apartments and even ships anchored in and around Athens are booked but those occupying these rooms are still to be seen on the streets of this ancient city.

The local transport system is working as usual. Traffic snarls have started. Athletes, officials and newspersons are still arriving. Things are picking up slowly. With only 48 hours to go for the start of the opening ceremony, Athens continues to looks virtually normal with excitement eluding the city.

Yesterday, I met an old couple, Mr Piara Singh and his wife, at Omonia Square. They have come from Venice in Italy to watch India’s opening match against the Netherlands in hockey.

The couple belongs to Ludhiana. “Venice has become another Southall. We have 16 gurdwaras there. Surprisingly, there is none here,” says Mr Piara Singh, who plans to return by the end of the week.

One finds lots of Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Indians on the streets in downtown Athens. While talks for improving Indo-Pak relations are continuing back home, there is bonhomie and camaraderie between the diaspora of the two countries here. One downtown restaurant is Pak India Restaurant, which is run by a Bangladeshi who employs people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
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China eye golden start

Athens, August 11
China aim to roar out of the starting blocks at the Athens Olympics with its shooters and divers targeting five golds on the first medal day.

"On August 14, we have five possibilities for gold: two shooting events, one women's weightlifting event, and two diving events," Xiao Tian, Chinese Olympic Committee COC vice-president, told a news conference.

Fellow COC vice-chairman Cui Dalin elaborated on Xiao's prediction, saying China were looking for gold in the women's 10-metre air rifle from Zhao Yinghui or Du Li, and men's 10-metre air pistol from Wang Yifu or Tan Zongliang.

Chinese gold hopefuls on Saturday also included 48 kg women's weightlifter Li Zhuo as well as the women's synchronised three-metre springboard duo and the men's synchronised 10-metre platform pair, he said.

"We are striving to get off to a very good start," Cui said.

Li Furong, another of the 15 COC vice-presidents, said China aimed to place "first in the second tier of countries" behind the USA and Russia — matching their third place finish in the medals tally in Sydney.

But China, eyeing a strong showing when Beijing hosts the 2008 games, had brought a far younger team to Athens than they took to Sydney. Only 83 of the 407 Chinese athletes in Athens have Olympic experience, Li said.

China brought home 28 gold medals in Sydney, but they have set more modest goals this year, while focusing on developing younger athletes for the 2008 Beijing games.

"Based on performances in international competitions in 2003, we set a goal of 20 gold medals. We still believe that is attainable," Li said. — Reuters
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Women wrestlers grapple with prejudice

Athens, August 11
When women wrestlers step onto the mat at the Olympics for the first time, they will be grappling with prejudice as well as each other.

“There’s a long way to go, even within our own sport, to gain respect,” said Patricia Miranda of the USA, one of the athletes who will make history at the inaugural Olympic women’s wrestling competition at the Athens games.

“Athens is our opportunity, is our stage to say ‘hey look at us’ — look at us for more than a sly joke or thinking about us mud wrestling,” she said on Wednesday.

“Look at us and see the sweat, see the tears, see the triumph that is sport and that is as intense as any other sport or any other male sport,” said Miranda, a 25-year-old Stanford graduate who is going on to Yale law school after the games.

Women wrestlers have been struggling for decades to be accepted by their male counterparts and society in general. Members of the US team, among the medal favourites in Athens, said attitudes had improved but they faced a long battle.

Much of their early careers were spent wrestling men as no other women took part in the sport at their schools or colleges.

“I grew up in Ohio, which is a pretty strong wrestling state and it was really tough at first,” said 21-year-old Toccara Montgomery, originally from the city of Cleveland.

“I definitely had ... guys refusing to wrestle me or coaches refusing to look at me but it’s definitely changed over the last couple of years,” Montgomery said.

Tela O’Donnell had to conduct a lobbying campaign with phone calls and letters to persuade her junior high school in Homer, Alaska, to let her wrestle.

“I guess I was pretty motivated,” said 22-year-old O’Donnell, competing in Athens in the 55kg category. Men’s wrestling has an Olympic history going back to ancient times and was part of the first modern games in 1896. While the men now wrestle in both Greco-Roman and freestyle categories, the women make their debut in four freestyle weight classes.

The US team has one competitor in each class and coach Terry Steiner said all four athletes had a great opportunity to both win medals and change perceptions.

“We can talk all we want about what we think of women’s wrestling but their actions, both on and off the mat, are going to move the sport forward — or hold it where it’s at,” he said. — Reuters
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Tricolour hoisted at games village

Athens, August 11
The Indian flag was ceremonially hoisted at the games village at a simple ceremony last night, marking a special moment for the Indian contingent taking part in the Olympic Games.

All the Indian athletes, who have already checked into the games village, watched the moment as the Tricolour was unfurled with a local band playing the national anthem.

The Mayor of the games village, the Deputy Chef-de-Mission, Harish Sharma, Secretary-General of the Indian Olympic Association, Randhir Singh were among those present at the ceremony.

Besides the hockey team, star long jumper Anju Bobby George, shooters Anjali Bhagwat, Abhinav Bindra, lifters Karnam Malleswari, Kunjarani Devi, shuttler Aparna Popat and tennis hero Leander Paes were among the star Indian sportpersons, who witnessed the event.

The opening ceremony of the 28th edition of the modern games, where about 11,000 athletes will be battling for honour in 37 disciplines, is scheduled for Friday. — PTI
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Even one gold will make Phelps happy

Athens, August 11
US swimmer Michael Phelps insisted today that he would be happy with a single gold medal despite his campaign to win a games record eight titles.

“My goal is to win one gold medal and then go on from there. That’s my goal right now,” Phelps told a news conference. His toughest challenge will be in the 200 metres freestyle where he will face off against world record holder Ian Thorpe of Australia.

“I wouldn’t say anything is impossible,” Phelps, (19), said.

Besides the 200m freestyle, Phelps is entered in the 100m and 200m butterfly, the 200m and 400m individual medley and three relays.

He holds the world records in the individual medleys and the 200m butterfly and is attempting to break countryman Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals set at the 1972 Munich games. — Reuters
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Serena Williams, Capriati pull out

Athens, August 11
Serena Williams pulled out of the Athens games today. The former world No. 1 has been bothered by an injury to her left knee, which had forced her to withdraw from WTA tournaments in San Diego and Montreal this month.

Williams, who won the doubles gold with sister Venus at the 2000 Sydney games, will be replaced in the singles draw by Australia’s Samantha Stosur, Athens organisers said.

She was also entered to play doubles with Venus this year, and it is not known whether another member of the US squad will now replace her.

Venus will try to win her second straight Olympic gold in singles when the tennis tournament starts on Sunday.

Serena was the second US tennis player to withdraw from the games in two days.

Yesterday, Jennifer Capriati was forced to pull out of the Olympics with a hamstring injury and was replaced by Lisa Raymond. Capriati won a gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona games, but missed the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. — AP
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Greece lose to USA in women’s soccer

Athens, August 11
Greece’s Olympic campaign got off to a bad start today as their women’s soccer team lost 0-3 to the USA in a Group G match. Shannon Boxx, Abby Wambach and Mia Hamm scored for the winners. The USA led 2-0 at half-time.

Earlier, Greece’s women soccer players kicked off competition at the Athens Olympics, two days before the official opening ceremony. — Agencies
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Sangakkara’s ton puts Lanka on top

Colombo, August 11
Kumar Sangakkara scored his sixth Test hundred as Sri Lanka posted 303 for three on the first day of the second Test against South Africa on Wednesday.

Sangakkara, playing as a specialist batsman in the series, was 157 not out after sharing in important partnerships with Sanath Jayasuriya (43) and Mahela Jayawardene.

Jayawardene, a double centurion in the first Test in Galle, provided the support role for Sangakkara with 82 before he was bowled late in the day by a Makhaya Ntini inswinger. Chaminda Vaas was not out on four at the close.

Sangakkara and Jayawardene shared a record 192-run third-wicket stand for Sri Lanka against South Africa, surpassing the 168 they scored at Durban in 2000.

Both were fortunate as Jacques Kallis missed Sangakkara at slip on 57 and wicketkeeper Mark Boucher dropped Jayawardene on 16 off a thick edge from Nicky Boje.

Sangakkara, who passed 3000 runs earlier in the day, stroked two boundaries in the penultimate over to carry Sri Lanka past 300 and himself past 150 for the third time. The previous two times he passed 150, he went on to score double centuries.

Sri Lanka made two changes to the team that drew the first Test in Galle with record-breaking spinner Muttiah Muralitharan ruled out with an injured shoulder that will require surgery and replaced by left-arm spinner Rangana Herath while fast bowler Lasith Malinga replaced all rounder Farveez Maharoof.

Scoreboard

Sri Lanka (1st innings):

Atapattu c Boucher b Pollock 4

Jayasuriya lbw b Boje 43

Sangakkara batting 157

Jayawardene b Ntini 82

Vaas batting 4

Extras (lb-6, nb-7) 13

Total (3 wkts, 90 overs) 303

FoW: 1-4, 2-99, 3-291

Bowling: Pollock 16-2-49-1, Ntini 18-4-47-1, Hayward 7-1-34-0, Kallis 13-5-44-0, Boje 25-4-79-1, Rudolph 4-0-16-0, Jaarsveld 7-0-28-0. — Reuters
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Zidane to quit French team

Paris, August 11
Football great Zinedine Zidane is set to announce his retirement from the French national team, the daily L’Equipe reported today.

Although the newspaper cited no sources, it wrote that Zidane will announce his retirement from international football “in less than a week”.

L’Equipe noted that Zidane’s decision would be based on feelings of “weariness and isolation” that were aggravated by the recent retirement from the French side by friends of the brilliant midfielder, such as defender Bixente Lizarazu.

On his official website, Zidane said that he met new France coach Raymond Domenech in Madrid on August 4, and the two had a frank exchange.

“We talked,” Zidane said. “He gave me his arguments.... My response was that I told him what I thought: it is between him and me.’’

Zidane said that another meeting with Domenech would take place, and that he would announce his final decision before the September 4 World Cup preliminary match against Israel. — DPA
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FIFA coins to be available in India
Our Sports Reporter

New Delhi, August 11
India figures among the 69 countries selected by Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) for its commemorative coin programme, launched worldwide. The official International Centennial Commemorative Coin Programme has been initiated to celebrate the 100th anniversary of FIFA.

Apart from India, some of the other countries covered in the official distribution agreement are Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Thailand and Indonesia, besides several countries in West Asia, Africa and South America. FIFA has released a set of four silver coins with a design on the obverse representative of significant events connected with FIFA, while the reverse shares a common reference to football.

The one-and-a-half euro French coin features the cock as the national symbol of France, the founding country of FIFA, and a feather that represents the signing pen of the FIFA contract in Paris on May 21, 1904. GoldQuest International, one of the world’s three numismatics companies, has been appointed the official distributor of these coins in India.
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Under-17 soccer team wins two games in UK

Kolkata, August 11
Just when East Bengal was setting the English turf on fire, the India under-17 squad quietly left their impression in UK with a show of mettle they possessed by winning two games.

East Bengal’s visit was arranged by FMM International following the tripartite partnership they established between Leicester City, East Bengal and the AIFF. This coincided with a 10-day coaching trip for the India Under 17 squad to Leicester City Football Club.

A warm-up game against an Anglo-Indian XI saw the visitors chalk-up a fine 5-3 win. — UNI
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CK Nayudu award for spin quartet

New Delhi, August 11
The legendary spin quartet of the 1970s — Erapalli Prasanna, BS Chandrasekhar, Bishen Singh Bedi and S. Venkatraghavan — would be presented the prestigious CK Nayudu award for 2003, it was announced here today.

They are being awarded for their lifetime contribution to Indian cricket, BCCI President Jagmohan Dalmiya said after a meeting which was attended, among others, by six former presidents of the BCCI.

The award, which carries a cash amount of Rs 2 lakh, would be presented at a function, the date of which is yet to be announced. — PTI
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 BRIEFLY

DD gears up for coverage
NEW DELHI:
Doordarshan has made elaborate arrangements to cover the Olympic Games which kick off at Athens on Friday.
Besides round-the-clock coverage of the games on all 17 days on its DD Sports channel, it will telecast live the opening ceremony on Friday and also the closing ceremony on August 29 on the national network on DD 1. DD will also telecast three curtain raisers detailing the stadiums, India’s preparations and the prelude to Athens. It will also have daily capsules on the performances of the Indian sportspersons at Athens, according to a Prasar Bharati press note issued here. — UNI

IOC expels member
ATHENS:
An Indonesian member of the International Olympic Committee was expelled from the organisation on Tuesday in connection with corruption charges dating back 10 years.
Mohamad “Bob” Hasan, a business partner of former Indonesian strongman Suharto, was sentenced to six years in prison in 2000 for his role in a multimillion-dollar scam involving a forest-mapping project in the early 1990s. Hasan, an IOC member since 1994, was suspended from his membership in May, 2001. Previous moves to expel him were postponed pending reviews of his conviction. He is free on parole. Hasan was ejected by a vote of the full IOC general assembly. — AP

Edwards banned
Athens:
World 100 metres champion Torri Edwards was banned for two years on Wednesday after a positive test for the stimulant nikethamide. Edwards, who had been included in the US team for the Olympics, has appealed to the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport. Edwards, 27, was banned for two years from all sanctioned competitions beginning from July 18, 2004, and all her competitive results were disqualified from that date, the US Anti-Doping Agency said in a statement. Her ban opens up a place in the 100 metres team which will now go to two-time Olympic gold medallist Gail Devers, who finished fourth in the US trials. — Reuters

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