The view of the Acropolis from the Old Olympic Stadium
The 2004 Olympic games have ended and I am feeling a little depressed. It began during the marathon which I watched after a day of swimming and snorkling on the island of Kea and increased in intensity last night watching the closing ceremony at a taverna in the town square of the village of Ioulida. I was filled with a nostalgia for the days and nights I spent in Athens, the energy of the games, the nightlife and just being on the familiar streets of the city I love, with so many people from so many countries. I know that the Olympics won't return in my lifetime so it is a feeling that may never go away because there will never be another time like Athens 2004, and those who were here will know what I mean. It was a wonderful experience to watch the Greek Baseball team take the Cubans to the brink while beyond the outfield Mount Hymmittus glowed in the setting sun. Hearing the cheers and chants that had become so familiar during Greece's unlikely run to the EURO 04 Football Championships being used to urge on the Greek baseball team in a packed stadium no less, was as close to heaven as I suppose I will get in this lifetime. Or watching the Greek basketball team scare the hell out of the US "Dream Team" in a stadium so loud it would make Ozzy Osbourn jealous is a memory I will treasure as will my 11 year old daughter who sat with me. (I cheered for Greece and she cheered for the USA) Even so for me the Olympics were a backdrop for the city rather than the other way around and I was caught asking myself during these games "I wonder what is happening in Psiri? Or in the Plaka? Or Thission?" Getting back to the center after an event was never disappointing. The city streets were alive no matter when you showed up and Athens was sparkling, playing the role of host city so well that it made the warnings of the US media look like sheer paranoia.
I realized a couple things. One is how much I love Athens. I also realized that there are a lot of jerks in the media. Negative reports about terrorism, construction delays and the insinuation that maybe Greece was not up to hosting these games caused too many people to skip them. Then to make an issue of the empty stadiums was the height of hypocracy. There were victims of terrorism in Athens because those empty seats belonged to the people that the media had terrorized out of coming. But I guess this is life in a post 9/11 world.
Believe it or not the US media was not the worst and at least some members had the integrity to admit they had made a mistake and judged Greece too harshly. At the top of the heap is the Australian press which acted as if their biggest fear was that Athens would upstage Sidney and went about trying to make sure this did not happen. Some of their articles pulled few punches in ridiculing Athens and the Greeks. It is too bad the Australian media lacked the character of their teams and fans who were in my opinion the best and most creative and fun to be around.
Some members of the British press went around trying to make their own stories as did a few members of the hapless Mexican media. One famous British reporter walked around the Olympic grounds with a Bin-Ladin name tag to prove the slackness of Olympic security, as if a terrorist would wear a Bin-Ladin name tag. The story goes that he also placed suspicious packages that had the word 'bomb' written clearly on them in various locations and then asked the Greek security team with their bomb-sniffing dogs why they had not found them. The agents' reply was that their dogs did not know how to read. The Mexicans just went around trying to sneak into high-security areas or dressing as homeless people to see how they were treated. Some were supposedly beaten up by a security team which I suppose is possible, but from what I witnessed of the behavior of the police and security in Athens you would have to push one pretty far before they beat you up. You might have to beat them up first. They knew what the stakes were and were on their best behavior. Anyway to the supposed news reporters trying to make their names as news-makers try doing this kind of stuff in China in 2008 and let's see what happens.
Of course even the spectacular opening ceremony was overshadowed by the Kenteris-Thalou affair even on the front page of the respectable International Herald Tribune. For those living in a vacuum, the two runners were invloved in a mysterious motorcycle accident and holed up in a hospital for four days after they were supposed to appear for drug testing at the Olympic village. Like other athletes they had eluded the dope-testers for years. For those who watched the 100 meters which Kenteris was expected to win, held up for ten minutes while the Greeks in the Olympic Stadium chanted his name, and wondered why the country would still embrace a disgraced athlete a couple stories in the Greek press that you may not have read will shed some light. The Greek Athletes were tested because the USA threatened to pull out of the Olympics on the eve of the games if they were not. Meanwhile there was an interesting article about a couple of professional drug-testers sent to Crete where the USA track team was training, for the purpose of testing the runners. Someone reported suspicious looking charactors, possibly terrorists in disguise, lurking around the American team's hotel. The Cretan police arrested the drug-testing team and interrogated them for several hours. Did they manage to test the American runners after that or even find them? From the reaction of the Greeks one would have to assume they did not and you can imagine how they felt when the USA runners came in first, second and third in the race that Kenteris was supposed to win. 50,000 Greeks had bought tickets for that night expecting to see him win. I think I might have chanted his name too if I had paid 100 euro to see him run too.
Reports of the rude treatment of the American basketball 'dream' team by the Greek crowd are also overstated. I was at the game the USA lost to Argentina and I can tell you that it was not only the Greeks, Argentinians and Lithuanian fans booing the USA. There were Americans booing too just as you would if your team played lousy. It did not help when they left the court without shaking hands with the Argentinians but neither did the Lithuanians when they were upset by the Italians. How can you shake hands with your oponents when they are all in a delirious pile of bodies at center court?
For those who let the media convince you that either the venues would not be completed or that you might not be safe in Athens and who saw the games on TV, if you feel like you missed out, well you are right. The streets of Athens were alive with music, art and people of every nationality and the city looked great, not just on TV but here too. You had to force yourself to go to bed each night.
For those who watched the Olympics and said to yourself "Wow! I wish I was there!" I have good news and bad. The bad news is that the Olympics are over and probably won't be back for awhile. Maybe not for another hundred years, though there is a movement to make Athens the official home of the Olympics. The good news is that Athens is still here and now better than ever. Some writers have suggested that the real star of these Olympics was the city itself and they wondered how they will ever go back to their normal lives again after two weeks of the games, Greek hospitality, dinners at packed tavernas at two in the morning, the street theaters, musicicans and party atmosphere in what, to the surprise of many, is being called the best Olympics ever. Not just because of the events and the excellent transportation and the fact that you felt 100% safe no matter where you were, but because the Greeks, (now finally known by many as the Hellenes, which they call themselves,) know how to put on a party and make sure their guests have a good time. If you were here and want to recover that feeling, Athens even without the games can be pretty festive as you will find out if you come February during Apokreas, which is the Greek version of Mardi Gras or happen to be here next time they win the European soccer championships, or almost any weekend in Psiri.
Thank you to the people who put on the Olympics. I had a fantastic time. I miss you already and the games just ended last night. But it is Monday night and I know that when I finish typing this I will go out to Psiri and find a little ouzerie on a quiet backstreet with some good mezedes and some rembetika music playing and I will mourn the passing of the Athens 2004 Olympics. But I will be so happy that I still have Athens. New and Improved.
The Olympics showed the world that Athens is right up there or beyond New York, Paris and London when it comes to having a good time and you could say that this 3000 year old city game of age in August 2004 when they threw a party for three billion people and everyone had a good time.
Yeah, you may have missed out. But come
join me in Athens for an ouzo and some grilled octopus and I will
tell you all about it.
See My Olympic Photo-album with lots of photos and commentary. Then visit my letters page from people who attended the Olympics or were deeply affected by what they saw on TV. See also the article by Matina Psychogeos Olympic Games:From the Vantage Point of an Athens 2004 Volunteer which may inspire you to volunteer for the next summer Olympics in Beijing.
Is it possible that all the bad press Greece got was intentional? Maybe somebody unhappy about a deal they did or did not get? The idea is far-fetched but one taxi driver has a theory. Read about it
I was sort of reluctant to completely get rid of my Olympic pages which were somewhat obsolete once the games ended. But since they did contain a History of the Olympics it was not too much work to change everything I wrote about what I expected to happen, into what actualkly did happen by changing 'will be' to 'was' and "will come" to "came" and .... well you get the idea. Since I was one of the few writers who expected the games to be a success I did not have to eat my words. I just had to change from the future tense to the past. You can read that here
For my Athens Survival Guide see www.athensguide.com
Olympic Wreaths are definitely IN. Byzantino Jewelry's line of Olympic pieces which are actually based on the ancient victory wreathes. See www.athensguide.com/byzantino/olympics
The Ancient site of Olympia is one of the most visited places in Greece. See www.greecetravel.com/olympia