Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, President, Athens 2004 Organising Committee (ATHOC)
And the Games came Home...
And what a glorious homecoming it was! Athens and indeed the whole of Greece lived through spectacular days in the summer of 2004. To the chagrin of all those who said that we wouldn't make it, Athens not only made it, it showed the world what glorious things could be achieved! The smallest country ever , but also the only one whose history alone entitled it to host the Olympics, put on the greatest Olympics ever. All those Cassandras who predicted that we would be painting and nailing right through to the Closing Ceremony were proved wrong! Our Australian friends, who should have known better, and should have been more sympathetic, after having hosted their own Olympics four years earlier in Sydney in 2000, were amongst the most critical unfortunately!
But Greeks invented satire and proved that more than anything, we knew how to laugh at ourselves...at the pre-show, just before the Opening Ceremony began, Greek French Showman Nikos Aliagas, in blue workers' overalls hammered in the last nail and beamed happily, 'At last, we're finished!', before he took off the overalls and settled in to present the show, receiving ecstatic laughter and thundering applause from the 70,000+ audience! The greatest ever celebration of youth and sport was about to begin, and Athens was in celebration mode!
Let the Games Begin!
And the Games began!!! And what incredible Games they were...Dimitri Papaioannou's magnificent Opening Ceremony set the tone for the days that were to follow!
For all those who were in Athens during those magical 30 days, for all those who worked for the Olympics, either directly or indirectly, either as paid staff or as volunteers, the experience was one we will never forget!
For us, Athens changed incredibly and for the better!
For 30 days, Athens was a gracious and wonderful hostess to the World and like a real Diva, lived up to her myth! The atmosphere was superb and Athens had its own unique way of making every day memorable! Hundreds of thousands of people, athletes, officials, our extraordinary volunteers, including 3500 volunteers of Greek origin from Australia to Uruguay (more about these very special volunteers in another post), gave of their very best and thus achieved the ultimate!
The years of upheaval as the whole city underwent major structural and constructional changes and in fact became one huge construction site, paid off - it all pulled together beautifully just like the Calatrava Roof on the Olympic Stadium, just weeks before the Opening Ceremony.
As Jacques Rogge, the President of the International Olympic Committee so aptly said
"Athens' preparations for the Games are like the Syrtaki - It starts very slowly, it accelerates and by the end you can't keep up with the pace."
We lived through magnificent, glorious days in August of 2004, forgetting all the problems as the countdown began for the best ever Olympic Games! The IOC President might not have said exactly that at the closing Ceremony 16 days later, but he said enough to ensure that the Athens Olympics would leave their own mark in history, along with the first Modern Olympics of 1896, and the Classic Olympics of Antiquity!
Efharistoume, Athena! Thank you, Athens!
Dear Greek friends, you have won. You have won by brilliantly meeting the tough challenge of holding the Games.
These Games were held in peace and brotherhood.
These were the Games where it became increasingly difficult to cheat and where clean athletes were protected.
These Games were unforgettable, dream Games.
Photo:Mike Blake for Reuters
the world watched in awe, mesmerised and enchanted.
Athens 2004 Closing Ceremony
Photo: Arko Datta for Reuters
Ευχαριστουμε Ελλάδα! Efharistoume Ellada!
Greece, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for those unforgettable, magical moments !!
And the apologies came rolling in from every side ....
We were wrong
Rick Reilly in SI 31 August 2004
Greece overcame the world's paranoia to stage a glorious GamesDear Athens,
Well, we feel bad. We really owe you an apology.
So, sygnomi, as you would say. Sorry.
Sorry about the way we acted. We were paranoid and stupid and just flat out wrong. Our bad. If you want, we'll sleep on the couch.
We mocked you, ridiculed you, figured you wouldn't be ready. We envisioned you as a bunch of lazy, swarthy guys in wife-beater T-shirts chugging ouzo instead of finishing the baseball dugouts. We were sure steeplechasers would have to jump over drying cement, pole vaulters over tractors, divers into 3 feet of water.
We were wrong. It was all done and it was beautiful. OK, so the swimming stadium never got a roof. Big freaking deal. Imagine: having to swim in an outdoor pool. Let's all sue. Besides, you know what? It was more fun that way. Michael Phelps was out there so much he ended up with raccoon eyes from his goggles. He looked like a snowboarder. "Cool!" he said.
We predicted women madly weaving olive wreaths next to the podiums as the national anthems started up. We foresaw painters sprinting along painting stripes just yards ahead of 400-meter runners. We figured beams would be falling on people's heads. Who knew Wrigley Field would be a lot more dangerous?
We were sure every street corner would have three or four terrorists, just kind of killing time, looking for somebody to kidnap. Some bozo said, "The only place worse to hold an Olympics would be Baghdad." Please. I guarantee you, we felt a helluva lot safer these three weeks in Athens than we do in L.A. Or Detroit. Or the Republican National Convention.
We insisted you spend 1.2 billion euros on security. You had to put up blimps and cameras all over the city. You couldn't throw a bucket of grapes anywhere and not hit a soldier with a rifle. And nothing happened. Zero. The only incident was when our Secretary of State said he was coming to visit. In other words, if Colin Powell would've just been happy with his remote, you wouldn't have had a single problem.
Why you had to pay for our paranoia, I'll never know. It's the world's problem, the world should have to pay for it. What small country is going to be able to afford to host the Olympics anymore with these insane security demands? From now on, if a country wants to send a team to the Games, it pays its share of security, based on its share of the gross world product. In other words, it's our war, we should have to pay for it.
And our ignorance cost you more than just the billion or so Euros. Our Edvard Munch screams leading up to these games kept millions of people away. Corporations bailed on you. Fans chickened out. I know burly journalists who were too scared to come.
Sygnomi. Really. You did such a beautiful job on all the venues, arenas and stadiums and yet most of them were so empty you would've thought you'd stumbled upon a goiter seminar. At one basketball game, we counted: There were 307 people. One women's soccer game involving the U.S. started with fewer than 50 people. I had a friend call one night and say, "You better get over to gymnastics, quick. There's only 15,000 seats left."
The shopkeepers told us, "We've never seen it so dead in August." Hotels came down on their prices by three-quarters. Shirt stores lost their shirts.
It's too bad. It was a glorious Olympics. It really was. The opening ceremonies were fabulous. The nightlife was amazing. Even the stray dogs and cats couldn't have been friendlier. I got lost once and had to hitchhike out of nowhere, and a motorcyclist not only picked me up but drove for miles until he found me a cab. So, efharisto, as you say. Thanks.
Somebody did a poll and found that 97 percent of fans were "satisfied" with safety and security, 95 percent appreciated the job the volunteers did and 98 percent had a favorable impression of Greece. The other two percent were Paul Hamm's family.
And what did you get for all your trouble? Nothing but heartache. With 9,000-plus Greeks about to go delirious, our men's volleyball team handed you a giant buzzkill --- coming back from eight points down to win the fourth set and then the fifth to advance to the semifinals. The only really good game our men's basketball team played the whole time was against Greece.
It was Greek Tragedy Fortnight on TBS. It started even before the Games with your heartbroken judoka jumping from a balcony, followed two days later by her distraught boyfriend. Your two best sprinters turned in their credentials to end a doping/conspiracy/motorcycle wreck soap opera that tore the nation up. One of your favorite weightlifters had to give up a medal for a failed drug test, then wept in front of the world protesting his innocence.
And now you're stuck with about $8.5 billion in debt, a bunch of huge, expensive stadiums you'll never use (Hey, kids, who's ready to synchronized dive?!) and a whole lot of "Get Your Butt to Team Handball!" shorts nobody was around to buy. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?
So, really, we're sorry. If it makes you feel any better, we all feel a lot more Greek now. We're all coming back to the States telling the daughter, "OK, you be Athena and I'll be Zeus!", demanding our favorite restaurants reserve us a table about 1 a.m. under the moon, right near a 2,500 year-old ruin. We keep spitting in people's hair for good luck, crushing plates for no reason and hollering "opa!" in the shower.
No idea how to make this right for you, except this: We vow, here and now, we'll never make you host us again.
See you in Baghdad, 2016.
Thanks Rick! We accept!
(For original article Click here)---------------------------------------------------
To the People of Greece: We Apologize
By ANN KILLION
San Jose Mercury News
Posted on Sat, Aug. 21, 2004
ATHENS – The Greeks could sue for defamation of character. They could demand an apology from the world. Instead they just shrug and order another frappe.
Their Olympics are going beautifully. Just like they expected. After all, they invented this business.
For years, we heard how miserable these Olympics would be, how dangerous, how choked with traffic, how polluted, how unfinished. After just a couple of days, some observers turned in an instant thumbs-down on the Games. No atmosphere. No crowds. The horror – gymnastics wasn’t even sold out!
Such rips are ridiculous. For one thing, you can’t judge the Olympics until they start. And, in reality, the Athens Games didn’t start until Friday, when track and field got under way.
Olympic atmosphere comes from 160,000 people streaming into the park every day. And that can only happen when track starts. Until then, the Olympic park seems deserted even with 30,000 people inside it.
Saturday night, the upper bowl of Olympic Stadium was filled with rippling blue and white Greek flags and fans cheering for runners and discus throwers. The roar of the crowd rose into the Athens night. You couldn’t convince anyone there that these Games have no atmosphere.
So far these Games get a huge thumbs-up from this corner. And not just because I set my personal bar so low – my goal was to come home alive. I swore I wouldn’t whine about slow buses or hot weather.
I’m still alive and feeling sheepish about all my worries. The heightened security is evident but not oppressive. The fear-mongering has dissolved into a happy Olympic atmosphere where Canadian fans wander around in togas and olive wreaths drinking Mythos beer. The Games aren’t over, but so far, Athens feels very safe.
And there hasn’t been much to whine about. The buses run on time. The taxis are cheap. The phones work. Even the weather has cooperated, with temperature mostly in the 90s during the days, but not the 100-plus heat that had been advertised.
Are they as great as the Sydney Summer Olympics, which drew rave reviews? So far, they’re not far behind (and gymnastics wasn’t sold out there either – not everyone loves the little pixies as much as Americans).
The scene at Darling Harbor was terrific – but the crowded cafes of the Plaka, in the shadow of the Acropolis, are almost as lively.
Are these Games as great as Barcelona, which I didn’t attend but many veteran Olympic writers say is their favorite? They’re not far behind – and they’re beating Barcelona in ticket sales.
And how do they compare to Atlanta? There is no comparison. The United States hosted the worst Summer Olympics of the modern mega-Games era.
Everything people feared would happen here actually did happen in Atlanta: There was a bombing, the buses didn’t run on time, the computer system didn’t function, the crowds were suffocating and the weather was oppressive. Greece, the smallest country to host an Olympics in 52 years and one of the poorest countries in the European Union, is outperforming the world’s super power.
On Saturday, Athens was abuzz. The efficient new metro system was packed with fans heading to every venue. Inside the Olympic park every event except trampoline was sold out (and you’re not going to hold it against the Athenians if they don’t support trampoline, are you?).
On Friday, 244,144 fans went to 47 events. Ticket sales have reached 3.2 million – close to the target of 3.4 million – and they’re not done yet. The fact that most Athenians were on vacation until last week is part of the Games’ new energy.
Not only were the Greeks underestimated, their capital city has been mistreated. For those of us who haven’t been here before, Athens is a surprising delight.
Yes, it’s crowded and poorly laid out. But it has dazzling historic sites around almost every corner, restaurants and bars that stay open until almost dawn, and wonderful, gracious hosts.
It also has a terrific coastline along the Saronic Gulf. A new tram runs along the water, and Saturday it carried both Olympic spectators and sunbathers. The beaches were packed and Athenians bobbed in the sparkling water.
The first eight days have been a success. I told my cabdriver how impressed I was.
“Of course,” he said and shrugged. What did you expect from the folks who came up with idea in the first place?
By Zeus, the Greeks are great again!
Instead of sneering at the supposed failings of the Olympic hosts, the British should address their own inadequacies
Sunday August 15, 2004
The only time I met Jeffrey Archer, he was ranting about the Greeks. ‘These bloody people, they couldn’t organise their way out of a paper bag.’
It was the eve of the 1997 World Athletics Championships in Athens. Archer was standing in the foyer of the Hilton, fuming because an overworked saleswoman in the hotel bookshop had had the temerity to keep him waiting. ‘To think that they’re organising these games is a real joke,’ he grumbled. ‘They’re bloody hopeless.’ His tirade was embarrassing. But what struck me more, living in Greece and being British, was the ferocity of such Anglo-Saxon condescension. It was both disquieting and buffoonish. In the event, the championships were the best of recent times.
As Greeks defy sceptics with world-class sports venues and a vastly improved city for the Olympics, I wonder what put-downs Archer and his ilk will come up with now? That Athens 2004 isn’t a patch on what London could be in 2012? Or perhaps they will take a leaf out of Tessa Jowell’s book? After touring the Greek capital last week, the British sports minister could only exclaim: ‘We are here to learn … and support the city in the face ofdoomsayers – they have turned it around.’
Greece is the smallest country to stage the Olympics, which are the biggest ever. The feat will help dispel some of the self-doubt and nagging inferiorities that torment Greeks. Not even the humiliation of seeing the farcical flight from drug testers of their two star athletes could take the gloss off Friday’s magnificent opening ceremony.
If the Games go as well and remain incident-free – and the Greeks have spent a record £900 million providing security for the event – the organisers may just succeed in proving that Athens is no longer Europe’s Christian Orthodox ‘odd-man out’. That, actually, it can very effectively ‘organise its way out of a paper bag’. But will the Olympics also change the prejudices against Hellenes?
In Britain, it seems, there is still a readiness to think of the Greeks as barely civilised: they are all called Zorba, sport bushy moustaches and smash plates. If not that, then they are corrupt southern Europeans with a criminal justice system that goes out of its way to target British plane spotters. Such stereotypes are born of an idea of Greece as a Balkan backwater, a country that has no place in the European Union.
Again and again, in the course of reporting from Greece, I have met such prejudices. What still surprises me, though, is the extent to which they appear to have colonised the minds of people I might otherwise respect.
A year spent in the irrepressibly progressive environment of Harvard, as the new century dawned, only served to highlight how entrenched and peculiarly British such views tend to be. Like our fondness for that cliche of Greeks bearing gifts, we seem unable to abandon our belief that modern Greece is a contradiction in terms. Increasingly, I find myself thinking the British, rather than the Greeks, are trapped in outdated mindsets.
As a Briton, I find much to squirm about, whether it’s the Elgin marbles or my compatriots running wild in vomit-splattered Faliraki or feckless, bare-breasted English girls being incarcerated in Greek jails, which are, naturally, described as ‘medieval’ in the British press.
Few ever stop to think how the British might behave if hordes of unprepossessing, out-of-control Greeks invaded our coasts? More often than not, Greek authorities react to such excesses with a leniency far beyond the call of duty.
No one can deny the Greeks’ bewildering last-minute work ethic. In recent months, preparations for the Games appeared so chaotic that they bordered on the burlesque. But, sadly, stereotypes tend to colour political views.
What people tend to forget is just how far the Greeks have come. Three decades ago, Athens was under the iron grip of small-minded military dictators, men as intent on banning mini-skirts as banishing leftists to remote island prisons.
Now, Hellenes worry not about human rights or the rule of law, but consumer goods and their second homes overlooking the sea. It is all the more miraculous when you remember that before the colonels came years of wars, coups and near-constant political and social unrest.
It is true that with their extraordinary ability to be their own worst enemy, the tumult was often self-inflicted. The disastrous 1923 Pelepponese campaign, subject of Louis de Berniere’s latest book, did not enhance the country’s reputation. Nor did Athens’s fiercely pro-Serbian and less than magnanimous stance in the recent Balkan wars.
But Greece is changing. Just as the country is no longer the economic laggard of the European Union (at around 4 per cent, its GDP growth rates are the second highest in the eurozone), it is no longer the political juvenile of yore. The trenchant nationalism of the 1980s and early 1990s is no more; instead of generating firebrand politicians with only thinly disguised dreams of conquering Constantinople, it produces men and women who want only to improve relations with Turkey.
Progressive immigration policies, an area for which Greece deserves more credit, are rapidly changing the country’s ethnic make-up. Around 10 per cent of its 11-million strong population are now foreign-born, mostly Albanian, although increasingly from the former Soviet republics, Africa and the Middle East. Admittedly, Greece was never a multicultural paradise; treatment of newcomers has not always been exemplary. But I have often wondered what the reaction would be in other European countries to such a great influx.
In years to come, others might contemplate the wisdom of tasking small states such as Greece with the organisation of a show such as the Olympics. But of one thing there can be no doubt: no other single event has so effectively transformed or revitalised Athens in the 180-plus years since Greece won independence from the Ottoman Turks.
In one fell swoop, it seems, the Greeks have cleaned up their act. They have cracked the nasty November 17 (the group that killed British military attache Stephen Saunders); they’ve used EU funds and dug deep into their coffers to build highways, a sophisticated transport network, a gleaming new airport and a metro system that makes the London Underground look primitive.
They haven’t built a new Acropolis Museum yet, but they’ve united all their ancient masterpieces into a giant and spectacular archaeological park, no mean feat in a city of more than four million people. How long has it taken to even agree to build London’s Crossrail? It is unlikely it will be ready by 2012.
The new Greeks are innovative. In contrast to the patronising eggheads who govern the likes of the British Museum, they come up with forward-looking polices: ‘Why not loan us the Elgin marbles, instead of ‘giving them back’ and we’ll display them in a branch of the British Museum beneath the Parthenon?’
Lovers of Greece will weep to see that acceptance has taken so long, but it could prove to be one of the greatest legacies of the Games.---------------------------------------------------------------
The Olympics Are Ending: Now Athens Pays for a Nice Party
By GEORGE VECSEY – New York Times
THERE will always be two versions of the 2004 Summer Games:
The very pleasant Games most people experienced, superimposed on one of the world’s historic cities.
The very expensive Games that Greeks will have to underwrite for decades.
Many thousands of visitors will go home with a memory of some epic sporting event – a Greek winning a gold medal, a luminous smile on the podium, a perfect meal in a local taverna.
On the other hand, millions of Greeks will stay home and sort out the ledger sheet, and make up their minds whether the security and the new infrastructure were even remotely worth $9 billion, the current estimate.
But whatever Greeks come to think about these Games, they need to remember they were good hosts. They took care of us, with our low expectations and our high demands. Greece came through.
These Games were secure and peaceful, at least until Secretary of State Colin L. Powell planned to come to town, a visceral reminder of things that annoy some Greeks about the order of the world. A nasty demonstration Friday made him change his plans.
These Games were friendly and capable. Maybe that came through on television sets around the world. Or maybe such considerations are not relevant to viewers.
The Olympic Games have become a made-for-television extravaganza, to keep the American masses occupied for 17 days in August until football, tennis, the baseball pennant races and the Champions League of soccer all kick in on the tube.
For athletes, tourists and wretches from the news media, the Games are reality. Fans walk through an Athenian square carrying their national banner, having an experience they will tell their grandchildren about.
When I get home in a few days, I will tell my grandchildren mostly about the ferry rides and the ancient ruins, far more than most sporting events I witnessed. (I loved the use of the ancient stadium and the old stadium, the respect for history. Best single Olympic action? Kristine Lilly’s superb blast-from-the-past corner kick that set up the gold-medal header by Abby Wambach.)
The nice people with the Olympic committee all blur together. I cannot tell a paid official from an unpaid volunteer. They seem to wear the same uniform. They all speak English. They all anticipate our needs.
Greece is said to have a culture of privacy and individualism. (If I may say so after a month here, many Athenians tend to talk, walk and smoke oblivious to others around them.) It is said that Greeks do not volunteer, but somehow the organizers found thousands of the best and brightest of their society and put them in uniforms where some cranky American would come lurching along, trying to find a bus or a bathroom. I will always remember their tolerant and worldly ways.
Some people do stand out. Remember that in Ancient Olympia, women were barred from the grounds. Greece tried that act again in 1997, shunning the woman who had earned the Olympic bid for Athens. Three years later, Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki was brought back to save the nation from disgrace.
Like many charismatic leaders, Mrs. A is easy to caricature. I’m just guessing she may even have a bit of an ego. Let’s be clear about one thing: if it were not for Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, I would be typing this column in L.A. or Sydney or Seoul. I hope Greece and the International Olympic Committee have a big enough medal for this extremely capable leader.
Then there was the mayor, Dora Bakoyannis, who kept telling us her city would be fine. We got here, and the trains were upgraded and the public squares were refreshed and the bilingual signs were up. She’s another big-timer.
A few months ago the mayor laughed when I told her how grungy Athens had seemed when my wife and I visited last year. She let me know that she had been smart enough not to invite houseguests in 2003. Besides, she said, these Games are really about 2005. Next year, the subways and the beaches and the ruins will still be here.
Are you getting the feeling my enthusiasm is for the site and not the Games themselves? The Olympics have become too big. They have lost their center. Maybe that is a function of television. We lumber around on endless bus rides to events halfway to the equator, and NBC polishes it up for the folks back home.
Up close, the Games aren’t all that compelling. “Seinfeld” was about nothing. The Olympics are about buses and security and lines – and ghastly food inside the Olympic perimeter. I blame the sponsors, who insist on selling their burgers and their sodas. In a country of great tavernas, how contemptuous.
Then there are the drugs, which hang over the Games the way smog used to hang over Athens. That clump of jawbone and biceps and thighs who just won a gold medal is tomorrow’s fugitive, running from the drug police like some bicycle thief.
Testing is getting better, I suppose, but if you want to know the truth, I’m sick of drugs and I’m sick of drug testing. I’m sick of judges and decimal points and particularly the weasels from the gymnastics federation. I think I’m Olympicked out. More to the point, the Olympics may be Olympicked out.
I hope the Games go somewhere other than New York in 2012. We don’t need the kind of costly fix these poor folks are about to pay for. But they were good sports, good hosts. Next time we come back, there won’t be any Games and we can get right to the museums and the beaches.
Efcharisto poli. Thank you very much.