SYDNEY, Australia -- The U.S. basketball teams ran their first backdoor play of the Olympics, slipping out of a Melbourne hotel surrounded by demonstrators after a mohawk-haired protester gave the NBA stars his OK.
The bizarre Tuesday morning (Monday night EDT) escape was the result of an odd juxtaposition: the men's and women's hoop teams was staying in the same hotel where the World Economic forum was held.
Protesters were out in force around the Crown Casino and Hotel. After the demonstrators forced cancellation of practice Monday, team officials decided to bolt the hotel the next day.
The protesters, however, blocked the team buses from leaving. It was only after a protester with a punk rock haircut verified that the bus was filled with towering athletes rather than venture capitalists that the team was allowed to leave.
Both teams headed directly to Sydney from the hotel.
n HUNTER'S DECISION: After listing himself as day to day for a week, world shot put champion C.J. Hunter finally acknowledged the inevitable: A knee injury has knocked him out of the Sydney Games.
The U.S. shot putter, who underwent surgery for a torn meniscus on Sept. 3, announced his withdrawal Monday before boarding a flight to Australia, where he will support his wife, track star Marion Jones. He suffered the injury during an August weight training session.
''Marion and I have looked forward to competing together in Sydney,'' Hunter said. ''But I am a professional athlete, and unfortunately injuries are part of the game.''
Hunter, 31, was the biggest athlete on the U.S. track and field team at 330 pounds. He underwent surgery near his North Carolina home, and held out hope that the injury would heal before the Sept. 22 competition.
Hunter was ranked No. 1 in the world last year after winning the world championship with a throw of 71 feet, 6 inches. A bronze medalist at the 1997 World Championships, Hunter is also a three-time U.S. champion and the 1995 world indoor silver medalist.
He finished seventh at the 1996 Olympics; he and Jones were married two years later. Hunter will be replaced on the team by John Godina, the 1996 silver medalist.
n DRUG TESTING: Sydney drug testing officials, stung by criticism of its test for performance-enhancing EPO, shot back Monday that its procedure was more reliable than other options available.
Officials did acknowledge that the test will produce a positive only for athletes who used EPO in the last 72 hours. The less-reliable test covered a period of 30 days.
The IOC approved the test for EPO last month after exhaustive debate and legal advice.
Injected in synthetic form, EPO enhances stamina by increasing the number of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the muscles. Experts say it can improve performance by up to 15 percent.
n CARRYING A TORCH: Before the Olympic torch reaches its final stop in Sydney at Friday's opening ceremonies, some very well-known Australians will get their hands on it.
Lugging the Olympic torch this week on its final legs toward the Olympic Stadium are an assortment of internationally known local heroes: tennis stars John Newcombe and Pat Rafter, actress Rachel Ward, singer Olivia Newton-John and past Olympic greats Dawn Fraser and Murray Rose.
The identity of the torch carrier who will light the flame at the opening ceremonies remains a secret, but organizers had no worries about matching the 1996 moment when Muhammad Ali did the honors in Atlanta.
''The pressure is making something special,'' said torch manager Di Henry. ''In Australia, we have plenty of special people.''
n WEATHER WATCH: When the flame is finally lighted Friday night, the weather should pose no problems.
The forecast is calling for ''cool to mild conditions'' -- unusually cool for a Summer Olympics, with high temperatures only in the 60s and a low of 51 degrees. The wind will be light to moderate, making summer Down Under more like a pleasant fall day in New England.
n OLYMPIC FLAG: Before becoming one of the original Keystone Kops, Hal Haig ''Harry'' Prieste had a brief criminal career. Today, 80 years after he stole the original Olympic flag during the 1920 games in Antwerp, Belgium, the 103-year-old returned the valued icon.
''I thought, 'I ain't going to be around much longer -- it's no good in a suitcase,''' Prieste said Monday after presenting the folded linen flag to International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch.
Prieste was an Olympic diving medalist when he swiped the white flag with its five rings from a 15-foot flagpole. The flag was slightly discolored and tattered where it was ripped from the flagpole, but was otherwise in good condition.
n IOC SUIT: The organizers of Salt Lake City's scandal-marred 2002 Winter Games could face a libel suit from angry members of the International Olympic Committee. IOC officials, incensed by a secret dossier that purportedly held tips on how to bribe them, raised the question of legal action at the opening session of the IOC general assembly.
Although IOC officials later played down the threat, IOC ethics commission chairman Keba Mbaye's reaction was blunt.
''We think we should put an end to such a practice,'' he said of the dossier. ''We need to condemn it and see what sort of legal procedures we could initiate.''
n BAND LEADER INJURED: The manager of the marching band scheduled to take part in the Olympic opening ceremony was injured in a traffic accident.
Bill Lutt, head of World Projects Corp. of San Diego, Calif., was hurt when two cars collided near the band's practice site in Bathurst, about 100 miles west of Sydney, Olympic organizers said.
Andrew Woodward, a spokesman for the organizing committee SOCOG, said Lutt had been hospitalized, but had no further word on his condition.
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