Athens 2004 is ready to take on Salt Lake City. In an effort to make a better impression at the Winter Olympics than in Sydney – where very few high-ranking government officials showed up – Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos said yesterday he will use these Games to promote Hellenic culture and the Athens 2004 Games. «It is an extraordinary opportunity for us to see on site the level of American preparations, the new security measures, the functioning of the whole system,» said Venizelos ahead of his trip to New York and Salt Lake City next week. Athens’s preparations for the 2004 Games have faced years of delays, but recently the International Olympic Committee (IOC) acknowledged that the government and organizers had reached a «cruising speed,» and said it hoped it could be maintained. During the Sydney 2000 Summer Games, then Culture Minister Theodoros Pangalos canceled his visit to the Olympics after refusing to approve what he considered exorbitant salaries for some officials in the Athens organizing committee, reports had said. Athens will set up an exhibit and a gift area selling replicas of Greek antiquities at the Winter Games. The official opening of the kiosk, which cost 300,000 euros ($264,000) and is located near the main press center, is scheduled for February 9. Venizelos said that the stand will focus on 2004 Olympic preparations, the Cultural Olympiad – which includes a four-year festival featuring events in Greece and abroad – and the ongoing campaign to return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece. Greece has long sought – and Britain long resisted – the return of the marbles, a 160-meter frieze consisting of 17 figures that once decorated the Parthenon atop the Acropolis hill in central Athens. The sculptures were taken from the Acropolis in the early 19th century by Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. The visit to Salt Lake City «is a very important opportunity to promote our position,» Venizelos said. While in New York, Venizelos will meet with representatives of major museums and the Metropolitan Opera, to promote cooperation for the Cultural Olympiad. Tomorrow, a delegation of Athens 2004 organizers, headed by Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, will travel to Salt Lake City to represent the country and report on progress to the IOC executive board. The Winter Olympics are «the last before the Athens Games and, therefore, especially useful for obtaining knowledge and experience,» 2004 organizers said in an announcement.