Organizers: Record amount sold Thursday

ATHENS, Greece -- Ticket sales for the Olympics are up, but
organizers still have a long way to go to reach their goal.

Organizers said they sold a record of 53,997 tickets Thursday.

"We're working hard to keep this momentum with the Greek
public," said Michael Zacharatos, an Olympics spokesman.

A week before the games, more than 2.3 million tickets had been
sold out of a total of 5.3 million. Organizers want to sell at
least 3.4 million.

"What is important is that ... everyday we are breaking new
records," Zacharatos said. "The response from the Greek public
over the past week has been overwhelmingly great and we hope by the
times the games begin we'll go even closer to our record."

Flame to burn on eve of Games
ATHENS, Greece -- After traveling around the world, the
Olympic flame will burn on the Acropolis on the eve of the opening

The torch will light a cauldron on the "sacred rock," as
Greek's call the hill. Members of the International Olympic
Committee and other dignitaries will attend the Aug. 12 ceremony.

The festivities will then move down to the 1,800-year-old Herod
Atticus open-air theater at the foot of the Acropolis.

Greek officials may also use the occasion for some international
lobbying for the return of the Elgin Marbles from the British

The frieze, which once adorned the 2,500-year-old Parthenon, was
taken in the 19th century by Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to
the Ottoman Empire. Britain has refused to return it.

Greece hoped to have a new Acropolis Museum ready for the
Olympics to increase pressure for the return of the frieze. But
delays plagued the project, which is now scheduled to be completed
in 2006.

International incident
Belarus minister of sport Yuri Sivakov
was banned from the Athens Olympics because of alleged human rights
abuses, but he intends to try to attend anyway.

The Greek government said it would slap a visa ban on Sivakov to
keep him out of the country even if he does have a credential for
the Aug. 13-29 games.

"He will not come. It is over," Greek Foreign Ministry
spokeswoman Ioanna Efthimiadou said.

Sivakov doesn't agree.

He denounced the Greek move as "clumsy political games" and
said he plans to attend the Olympics despite it, his spokesman,
Anatoly Artemyev, said.

While an Olympic credential serves as a visa, it was unclear
whether it could get Sivakov into the country -- or how the Greeks
would try to stop him.

Sivakov and Belarus' president, Alexander Lukashenko, have been
implicated in the disappearances of prominent opposition figures.

Belarusian Foreign Ministry said that the Greek government's
decision "contradicted the Olympic spirit" and he demanded the
ban be lifted.

"Using the Olympics for increasing political pressure on
Belarus is counterproductive and wouldn't help restore a political
dialogue with the European Union," the ministry said.

The decision to ban Sivakov came after the 25-nation European
Union, of which Greece is a member, issued a statement saying that
Sivakov's presence at the games would "be completely

Web watch
Athens organizers launched an updated Olympics Web
site, which they say could be the largest ever for a single event.

More than 300,000 visitors logged on Wednesday and over 10
million people are expected to view it every day during the Aug.
13-29 games.

The site includes information about venue access, venue history,
photographs of sports events and live results for all sports.
The Web site, "is poised to become the largest single event Web
site in history," said Michael Zacharatos, an Olympics spokesman.

Express service
Athletes and Olympic officials probably will
be spared a common Greek experience: long lines.

Athens International Airport officials have arranged to
"fast-track" members of Olympic delegations when they arrive for
the Games -- and when they leave.

Although teams and International Olympic Committee members are
already streaming in, airport authorities expect Aug. 12 to be the
busiest day with tens of thousands of passengers arriving.
Additional passenger clearance areas and accreditation desks have
been set up to handle the extra load.

Flying out of Athens will also be easier. Athletes and other
team members can check in for flights at the Olympic Village.

It looks as if they won't hang around. Airport management
expects a mass exodus Aug. 30, the day after the closing ceremony.

Gianna's new look
Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, chief
organizer of the Athens Games, is usually hard to miss. Her
tailored suits, double-strand pearls and colorful handbags are part
of her attention-grabbing look.

Lately, however, she's blending in. She's been appearing in the
blue-and-orange uniform of the Olympic volunteers: shorts, a polo
shirt and the fashion no-no -- sneakers.

She can at least claim the ensemble has a good pedigree. They
were created by London-based designer Sophia Kokosalaki.