NEWS

‘Dream Games’ slip into history

The Athens 2004 Games, the 28th Olympiad of the modern era, ended last night with a closing ceremony that celebrated 16 days of competition and the nation that had played host to the world. Athens presented the Games with state-of-the art venues, and, through an unprecedented multinational effort, it provided security in the air, the sea and on land. But in the end, it was the athletes who were at the heart of the Games, setting as they did several new world and Olympic records. Four years ago, IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch warned Athens that it might lose the Games as it was falling seriously behind in its preparations. A major effort, which is now estimated to have cost some 7 billion euros, was mounted. This resulted in successful and safe Games but also in major transportation projects that transformed Athens. Last night, Jacques Rogge, at the closing of his first Summer Games as president of the International Olympic Committee, was full of praise for the hosts. Starting his short speech in Greek, Rogge said, «Dear Greek friends, you have won! You have won by brilliantly meeting the tough challenge of holding the Games.» He praised Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki for leading the organizing committee with «great vision and charisma.»  He also praised the government for leaving Athens with «an extraordinary urban and sporting heritage.» He thanked the «marvelous volunteers who have charmed us with their confidence and kindness.» The Olympic flag was handed over to the mayor of Beijing, which will host the 2008 Olympics. The closing ceremony, which began with a tribute to the folk music and dances and bucolic traditions of many parts of Greece, was tinged with melancholy as the Olympic Flame went out over the Olympic stadium. The giant spindle through which the flame burned, swiveled downward, like the beak of a huge metal bird, and lit a lantern carried by a little girl. In an echo of the Greek Easter celebrations, she then passed the flame on to others in the audience. At 10.46 p.m., from the floor of the Olympic Stadium, the girl blew gently toward the flame high up in the sky and it went out. A concert including some of Greece’s best known pop stars then began under a full moon and in a crowded stadium. Director Dimitris Papaioannou had said the closing ceremony would be «a human celebration, full of music and singing.» The Greeks celebrated their best showing in the Olympics since their revival in modern form in Athens in 1896. Greece won six gold, six silver and four bronze medals. It was placed 15 by gold medals and 17th by total. The United States won the medals race, with 35 gold, 39 silver and 29 bronze. China was second.