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 hypocrisy. 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
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
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.
The Ancient site of Olympia is one of the most visited places in Greece. See www.greecetravel.com/olympia