NEWS

Olympic Flame arrives

The Athens 2004 Olympics kicked off yesterday with men’s and women’s soccer matches being played in four cities outside the Greek capital, two days ahead of the official opening ceremony. Also yesterday, the Olympic Flame arrived in Piraeus aboard a replica of an ancient trireme, the warship that secured Athens in the fifth century BC and made it safe for the social and political experiment that turned out to be the birth of democracy. «Today Greece is crossing the finish line of its marathon effort, with the Olympic Flame’s arrival in Attica,» government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said, noting the start of the Games with the soccer matches in Thessaloniki, Iraklion, Patras and Volos. In Iraklion, the US women’s team beat Greece 3-0 and in Thessaloniki the hosts’ men’s team drew 2-2 with Korea. The latter game witnessed the first glitch, with state broadcaster ET-1 unable to show the game to Greece between 8.40 and 9.05 p.m. due to a short circuit in its master control unit in Athens and the failure of backup systems. This did not affect international broadcasts. Government sources indicated heads would roll at ET. Meanwhile, more and more people are arriving in Athens, both members of national sports delegations and visitors. According to figures released yesterday, 711 flights were expected to arrive and leave Athens International Airport yesterday. On Tuesday, the country’s main airport handled 658 flights and 45,484 passengers. The forecast for today is 831 flights in and out. One of Tuesday’s arrivals was former US President George H.W. Bush, who yesterday enjoyed a cruise of the northern Aegean aboard a luxury yacht owned by the Latsis family. He is accompanied by his wife Barbara and the twin daughters of their son, President George W. Bush. At a stop in Lesvos, Bush commented to journalists that he was sure Athens would host «historic» Games and said he felt «absolutely» safe in Greece. Bush heads the US delegation to the Olympics. Referring to criticism that Greeks faced in the runup to the Games, he said, «I have known all along – I have told my Greek friends – the Greeks will be ready for the Games.» He added, «They have all kinds of outside, uninformed criticism and now people are going to see what I know will happen – a wonderful opening ceremony of the Games, followed by some historic Games themselves.» Asked if he felt safe, Bush replied: «Oh yeah. Absolutely. We’ve got great security, wonderful people.» He noted that he knew many of his bodyguards from previous visits. «We have every confidence in them. You can’t go around worrying about some crackpot that still likes Saddam Hussein. I feel very safe here.» Meanwhile, on two other fronts, those of security and traffic, officials noted significant developments. They said that the security sweep of all Olympic facilities had been completed and they had been «locked down,» which meant that anything or anyone entering them would be subject to strict security. With regard to traffic, Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said that 1 million people were now using public transport daily. The result has been astonishingly little traffic in a city notorious for it.