Vol. 5 Num 84 Thu. August 19, 2004  

Flag curse

Paradorn Srichaphan and Roger Federer have discovered that the pride of carrying their country's flag at the Olympic Games opening ceremony can be bittersweet.

"It's a once in a lifetime experience and a very high honour for my family. I'm so proud of it," said Paradorn.

However, his joy was shortlived.

Three days later, the Thai tennis ace was packing his bags after a disheartening first round 6-2, 6-3 loss to Sweden's Joachim Johansson.

One day later, world number one and reigning Wimbledon and Australian Open champion Federer, who had led the Swiss team into the arena on Friday, saw his gold medal hopes dashed by world number 74 Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic 4-6, 7-5, 7-5.

"I have been playing non-stop. It's going to catch up with me and unfortunately it's during the Olympics," said Federer.

At least Paradorn and Federer managed to get some action in Athens.

Iran's world judo champion Arash Miresmaeili carried his flag at the glittering opening ceremony and then found himself at the centre of a political storm when he refused to take on an Israeli opponent in a gesture of support for the Palestinian cause.

It was then reported that he would honour his bout against Israel's Ehud Vaks only to barred from taking part when he failed to make the weight and was immediately disqualified.

"We are examining the case very, very seriously," International Judo Federation (IJF) spokesman Michel Brousse said.

The 23-year-old Miresmaeili was two kilograms overweight, a source told AFP.

"The IJF is very surprised that such an elite player could not manage to make his weight," Brousse added.

The host country too has been hit by the curse.

Their flag-bearer Pyrros Dimas, a three-time Olympic weightlifting gold medalist, injured his lower right arm and wrist in training and is in a race against time to be ready for a shot at a fourth Olympic title on Saturday.