CULTURE

Athens 2004 chief charms the media at Eleftherias Park

Today the countdown clock on Kifissias Avenue shows there are 398 days left before the start of the Athens Olympic Games. Time is a sprinter running in Greek colors – a Kenteris! Athens 2004 Organizing Committee President Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki has declared that preparations will be ready on time and that the Games will be «unforgettable.» Yet she also mentioned the fact that every day she has to race against the clock. «It is not only what I do, but what I want to do and don’t have time for, during the day,» said Gianna. Over the remaining 398 days, the 90,000 volunteers who are still being interviewed will have to be trained, Olympic projects will have to be completed on schedule, along with the very important security systems, transport, athletes’ village, press center, accommodation for athletes and visitors – all officials will be at the Hotel Grande Bretagne – everything will have to be ready and waiting. The entire operation is an undertaking of titanic proportions. Just looking around Athens, all the way to the historic Marathon site, at the work in progress, one gets an impression of the magnitude of the task at hand. The Athens 2004 president, her staff and advisers are working around the clock. Then there is the State, which has to hand over the public works being built for the Games. What remains is for Greeks themselves to get involved – all of them – to send the message that «Greece, who gave the world the Games, is now going to give them the best Games.» «I was there when the Olympic Flame returned to Greece,» is to be the slogan. Everyone will take something away with them. Fortunately, we have plenty of olive trees, we can give them an olive branch and keep their applause with us for ever. Now it is the media’s turn to get into the act. Not only to inform, and on occasion criticize, but to send the message that everyone, headed by the volunteers, will have to provide our unique good will so that it is not only a national effort but a national achievement. It was in this spirit that media columnists and reporters were invited by the Athens 2004 press office and its directors Seraphim Kotrotsos and Yiannis Provis to a dinner at the Eleftherias Park earlier this week. Everyone was there, apart from a few prime-time stars. When Gianna arrived on the arm of her husband, Theodoros Angelopoulos, she greeted everyone in turn with a handshake and a pleasant word. She was the only woman at her table of columnists and editors-in-chief and then went to each table in turn, relating plans, figures, data with the ease for which she has become known. When she stopped by the Kathimerini table, she had a lot to say about the International Olympic Committee (IOC) meeting in Prague where she presented the new Olympic medals approved by the IOC, depicting the Nike (Victory) of Paeonius and the Panathenaic Stadium in the background on the one side and the words of Pindar’s Ode on the reverse side with the emblem of Athens 2004. Gianna’s trip to Prague was marred by the five stitches in her leg after a water-skiing accident off the island of Spetses, and had to reply to the IOC officials’ questions with her leg stretched out. Of course, they all wanted to know «if everything will be ready on time.» «As far as Athens 2004 is concerned, everything will be ready,» was her answer, also given to the press at the Eleftherias Park, along with praise for her staff, young people who have found work that reflects their enthusiasm. «The experience will be very useful for them in their future careers,» she said. Everyone promised her they would put their backs into the task of rallying to the cause. The positive climate was enhanced by the cool evening and the sense of camaraderie – Gianna, once a municipal councilor, has always had good relations with the press. An added benefit that evening was the presence of painter, dancer and choreographer Dimitris Papaioannou, artistic director of the Games’ opening and closing ceremonies (tickets 1,000 euros each). His assistant, Giorgos Matskaris, 27, a dancer and choreographer from New York was also there. Optimistic, and with first-class young associates, Papaioannou is confident of the result. In the early fall, he will be auditioning young, physically fit people aged 16 years and over for the grand celebrations. No dance training is needed.