MELBOURNE -- Out for a stroll on their day off, U.S. soccer players Brandi Chastain and Tiffeny Milbrett became the center of attention at a trade protest.
"They were semi-bashing Americans - and Nike in particular, and we're both Nike athletes," Chastain said. "Everybody has their own perspective on things, and we didn't agree with what they were saying."
This was Sunday, the day before the start of the three-day World Economic Forum in Melbourne, the same type of meeting that sparked riots in Seattle last year. The two players just happened to pass one of the demonstrations at a park.
"This one big guy was like, 'Whoever's wearing Nike, wave your hand,' " Chastain said.
Milbrett, perhaps the most outspoken player on the team, shot up her hand.
"I'm like, 'Oh, God!' He starts going on and on and this woman just starts ranting as well," Chastain said. "They're pointing now at Millie and I. Millie goes, 'Oh yeah, and what shoes are you wearing?' And she points at the lady."
Eventually the furor died down and the players beat a hasty retreat, never admitting that they were actually Olympic athletes. "Not that it wasn't something we shouldn't fight for, but maybe it wasn't the right time," Chastain said.
So, in other words, even though they are spending most of the Olympics in Melbourne -- not Sydney -- the U.S. women just can't seem to avoid the limelight.
Potential riots aside, however, the players are enjoying a welcome dose of anonymity some 500 miles (800 kilometers) from the big party. Privacy was one of the costs of their World Cup triumph last year, and they can no longer check into a hotel in the United States without attracting autograph seekers and fans.
"It's kind of nice to come to a place where nobody knows your name," captain Carla Overbeck said. "Mia Hamm and I were walking down the street yesterday -- no one knew who she was. For her, that's kind of nice."
Soccer at the Olympics is always spread across the host country. The U.S. women play all three of their first-round games at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, starting with Thursday's match against Norway. They get to play in Sydney only if they advance to the medal round, although they will make a quick roundtrip there Friday for the official start of the games.
"At least we're going to the opening ceremonies," defender Kate Sobrero said. "I think we're going to get the feel of the Olympics there. I'm kind of glad. From what it sounds like, it's so hard to concentrate on the Olympics while you're there. You're battling 15,000 people for transportation, for food, for everything. And here it's just totally concentrating on playing soccer."
The woman who drew Overbeck's blood for a doping test Monday said she didn't even realize that women played soccer. Other than shopping during breaks in the cold, rainy weather, one of the main pastimes at the hotel has been filming mock interviews with the Brazilian men's team.
The more mellow atmosphere is just what coach April Heinrichs wants. She even asked that the players not be housed in the Olympic village if they advanced to the medal round, "but our federation wouldn't go for that," she said.
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