The Games of Athens

When we look back on the Athens 2004 Olympics, let us remember that the finest athletes of the world gathered in this ancient city and, to the cheers of their compatriots and people from every country of the world, they did their best to be the best. And, in a world of fear and sorrow, they did this in a safe and happy city. When the madman who interrupted the marathon in the final minutes of the Games and the doping scandals are forgotten, this will be remembered. The numbers themselves suggest Athens’s success. Ticket sales of 3.55 million were better than those of the Seoul and Barcelona Olympics, despite Greece having a fraction of Korea’s and Spain’s population and despite the unbelievably bad press preceding the Games that must have prevented countless visitors from coming. IOC President Jacques Rogge said that international sports federations had praised the venues as «outstanding» and that global broadcasters said TV ratings had risen by more than 15 percent from the Sydney Games. It will take much longer for all of us to know what the long-term benefits for Greece, for the Olympic idea and for the sponsors will be. But, despite the huge costs involved in such a massive operation involving the athletes, officials and fans from 202 countries, all indications are that things were better than anyone expected. Even a waitress changing tablecloths at 3.30 a.m. on Sunday in a Thiseion tavern, preparing for more customers, said, «Thank God we have had work.» And this is the second aspect of what these Games were about. There has been an awakening in Athens. It’s own residents have come out of their routine and seen their city with new eyes. They have held hands with people from all over the world and they have partied, glad to open to the world a home of which they can be proud. Aside from the major projects that have changed the face of the city and the way in which its people will now live and work, Athens has gained new confidence. After the full accounting, with all the good and bad, the benefits and costs, one thing will be certain: This is an historic moment for Athens. It has come out stronger and richer. For once, we Greeks did not spend all our energies trying to negate each other. There was plenty of that, of course, but in the end we did achieve something that was greater than each of us alone. This is the team spirit that the soccer squad surprised us with in the Euro 2004 championship (even more than its victory). This is a new mentality, a newly discovered self-confidence. It is this momentum that Greece has won and which will carry it over many obstacles in the future. But what the world has won is a renewal in the ancient power of the Olympics. It did this because the athletes came and, together, they touched glory. We can always be proud that nothing stood in their way. We will miss all our new friends but we know we’ll be seeing them again.

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