The one event that all the 7,000 athletes here have entered is the half-mile shoppers shuffle through the teeming streets of the Itaewon shopping district.

Entrants must weave their way through Itaewon's crowd-clogged sidewalks weighed down with tailor-made silk suits, shopping bags full of eelskin purses, Korean jade jewelry and whatever else the local merchants can encumber them with as they pass by.It used to be possible to pinball past sidewalk stands, bargain tables and slower-footed competitors to make it to the end of the course in as little as two hours.

But that was before the Olympics brought shoulder-to-shoulder shopping crowds and the advent of the picture ID cards that dangle by chains from the necks of all Olympic athletes, officials and journalists.

This gives the sidewalk merchants who work the curbs and the street shills who steer traffic into the stores across the one-lane footpath from the curbsiders a special advantage. They can call you by name.

"We got a special bargain for you, Ale-mer," a guy outside a leather shop called out to me after reading my tag.

Within seconds my name, or a rough form of it, was on the lips of every shill and street hawker within the sound of his voice.

"We make deal for you, Ale-mer."

"Over here, Ale-mer"

"Look! Ale-mer look!"

You get gently nudged into shops so heavily stocked with wares that there is barely room to sidestep your way back outside and into the waiting arms of the merchant from the adjoining store.

There are literally stores on top of stores. Narrow stairways lead from one ground-floor shop to upstairs lofts where a merchant may be selling the same line of wares in direct competition with the guy whose stairway led you to him.

Alleys too narrow to have sidewalks are lined with stores so small that most of their goods are hung outside on hooks.

Every available inch of floor space is covered with merchandise. There are things hanging from ceilings and walls off of doors and over countertops, stores where the layout of the tiny floor space tends to funnel you toward a place where someone with a calculator is waiting to bargain in the currency of your country.

And language is no more of a barrier than a lack of small change.

There are athletes and journalists here from 160 nations. Some can only converse in languages as obscure as Urdo and Xhosa.

But merchants are able to point and gesture and speak just enough of something they can understand to keep them from going home empty-handed. Most merchants speak some French and Japanese. You haven't heard anything until you've heard Spanish spoken with a Korean accent.

And they all speak a little English. The street shills even practice American regional accents to sharpen the spiels they use on American soldiers from the neighboring Yongsam Army base.

"If they hear us talking, they try to imitate us," drawled Lionel Avery, a motor pool sergeant from "near Nashville" who is stationed at Yongsam.

"It makes a lot of guys mad. But they think that's the way to get your attention.

"We keep coming back, though. So I guess they think we like it."

They keep coming back because the bargains here are real even, though a lot of the labels are not. You can pick up a pair of "brand name" running shoes or a jogging suit for less than it would cost the manufacturer whose logo is on it to make the item.

You can buy satin team jackets with the Olympic symbol and your name embroidered on them for about $25. For a few pennies more, they will sew in a label from your favorite designer.

Or, to help you beat the duty fees when you go home, they will make up a half dozen suits for you with labels from New York or L.A. stores so Customs agents will think you brought them with you.

The best buys are in leather and furs, handmade shoes and tailor-made clothing.

Ramon Rivas, who is here playing for the Puerto Rican national basketball team, stopped to have a pair of formal slippers made.

"I couldn't pass them up," he said, pointing toward the pair of soft leather tasseled shoes on the floor in front of him.

"If I can make shoe this big for him," said the merchant who was holding his hands about 2 feet apart, "I can make something for you."

Philadelphia TV sports anchor Lou Tilley had a pair of silk suits and 10 custom shirts made for about what he would have paid for an off-the-rack designer suit in Philadelphia.

"How can you beat that?" Tilley asked. "Even if they fit funny I can give them to my brother."

But they seldom fit funny. And if they do, they'll start all over again for the same price.

You walk into one of the dozens of tailor shops along the main drag and someone is on you in an instant running a tape measure across your shoulders and down your arm and calling out the measurements to an invisible tailor behind a partition.

There are leather shops where you can walk in in the morning, get measured and choose from a sampling of hides and come back the next night to pick up your leather overcoat.

You can pick up a full-length, black, ranch mink coat that might cost you $4,500 in the United States for about $3,500 here, slightly less if you use cash.

And an accommodating furrier will then write it up as mink-dyed beaver and give you a second receipt for a third of the actual purchase price to save you another 5 percent in duty charges.

It's a different scene at night. the little shops stay open well after sundown. But they seem to fade into the background in the blinding display of neon signs winking from the fronts of discos and nightclubs that you somehow don't notice in the sunlight.

Merchants who sold handbags and scarves from sidewalk stands during the day turn them into curbside lunch counters with smoking braziers.

The street hawkers are selling different wares, too, especially along a neon-spangled incline called "hooker hill" that rises from one end of the main drag.

By 10 p.m. the street is as crowded with night people as it was during the daylight with shoppers. And it's business as usual in Itaewon.