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In Washington, the Games Are a Capital Event

July 17, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Brazilian soccer player Sissi is an invited guest at the biggest party the world has ever thrown. She has only a twinge of regret that her assigned table is 642 miles from the dance floor.

While Atlanta is the happening place to be for most of their compatriots, some 150 Olympic athletes have settled into their dorm rooms at Mount Vernon College in Washington; RFK Stadium will be the site of nine first-round soccer games over six days, beginning Saturday.

They have their own Olympic Village, just like Atlanta. They have to go through metal detectors, just like Atlanta. It’s hot and sticky, just like Atlanta. They’ll even have their own opening ceremony, just like Atlanta.

Truthfully, however, the village at Mount Vernon is much smaller than the one at Georgia Tech. Security is tight, but it hasn’t altered the flow of the nation’s capital the way it has Atlanta. The humidity isn’t quite as bad. And the opening ceremony at RFK on Saturday will be small, short, little-noticed and a day later than the big one at the Olympic Stadium.

``It’s the same experience, the same spirit,″ Sissi, a 28-year-old midfielder, said as she and her teammates moved in to Mount Vernon. ``The only thing we miss is the official opening ceremony. We’re living the dream of being in the first women’s Olympic soccer competition; it doesn’t matter where it is.″

Promoters battling an Olympic identity crisis sold 165,000 tickets for the games, or 55 percent of capacity, as of Wednesday. The big problem: convincing the public these, indeed, were the REAL Olympics and not some sort of qualifying competition for Atlanta.

``We have attempted to explain to people they can see a part of Olympic history by witnessing the events in Washington,″ said Paul Marstaller, a marketing vice president of the local organizing committee. ``It’s not very often that the Olympics take place in your own backyard.″

It helped that Washington, with its huge foreign community, is a solid soccer town. The national men’s and women’s teams have made RFK a second home. The men’s Olympic coach, Bruce Arena, won five NCAA titles at Virginia and is now the coach of D.C. United, the local Major League Soccer franchise.

The city also landed one game involving the U.S. men’s team. The July 24 match against Portugal, which will likely determine whether the United States makes it past the first round for the first time ever, is expected to be a sellout.

The Americans won’t be staying at the Olympic Village, however. The U.S. team, along with those from Italy, South Korea, Argentina, Mexico, Portugal and Tunisia, have opted for more posh accommodations at local hotels.

The Tunisians moved out Tuesday, carrying a suitcase full of complaints.

``If you go to the bathroom, everybody wakes up,″ coach Henry Kasperczak said. ``If you take a shower, that makes noise, and that disturbs people. The beds are uncomfortable, and therefore you cannot rest properly.″

Despite the cramped quarters, the six teams left behind are hardly living like paupers. The village includes a hair salon, flower shop, bank, coffee house, chapel, cafeteria and dance club _ enough to make most of the residents feel Olympian.

``It’s the Olympics regardless of whether we get to be in Atlanta,″ Brazilian forward Marileia Santos said. ``It’s the dream of all athletes to be in the Olympics, and we’re realizing that dream.″

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