28th Olympiad ends in Athens. Greece gains universal praise and totals 16 medals.
ATHENS – A full moon over the main Olympic stadium (OAKA) in Athens served as an ideal backdrop for the 2004 Games’ finale on Sunday evening, with a decidedly Greek folk and pop theme replacing the elaborate and sensationally staged 3,500-year overview of Hellenic art, culture and history that characterised the Opening Ceremony 17 days earlier.
This time around, a spiral field of wheat replaced a miniature sea — an allegorical Aegean — on the stadium floor for a celebration absolutely devoid of the Olympus-sized stress and anxiety that Greek organisers and the entire host-nation felt hours before the 28th Olympic Games commenced amid the shadow of a doping-related controversy.
IOC President Jacques Rogge declared the 2004 Games closed after receiving the Olympic flag from Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyianni and subsequently handing it to Beijing Mayor Wang Qishan, thus officially ending Greece’s seven-year Olympic odyssey.
On her part, Athens 2004 (ATHOC) chief Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki noted that the Olympic Games “returned home, and we’ve shown the entire world the achievements that we Greeks accomplished … Athens was great for the athletes and Greece was great for the Games,” she told a cheering crowd and tens of millions of television viewers across the world.
Hours earlier, and with several one-time Cassandras in attendance at a final 2004 Olympics press briefing, the Belgian IOC chief declared the Athens Games excellent in every way.
Folk dances and music from every province of the east Mediterranean country revolved around the theme of the harvest (“Syngomidi” in Greek), along with traditional wedding processions, a wine-making scene replete with bacchic overtones, Greek isle imagery and, among others, youths leaping over open fires — an ancient custom still practiced in contemporary times. The segments were capped off with dancing to composer Mikis Theodorakis’ Oscar-winning and trademark score from the film “Zorba the Greek”, as five Olympic rings formed from wheat bundles. A bevy of the country’s top performers, from seasoned veterans to the most popular pop stars, accompanied the segment, entitled “May the dances last forever”.
The final act of ceremony in Athens featured children carrying seed-shaped lanterns disseminating the flame from a lowered Olympic cauldron to athletes on the field and the fans in the stands, equipped with their own pendant lights. Moments later the flame atop the Olympic cauldron slowly diminished, with a child blowing out the remaining glimmer.
LET THE CELEBRATIONS CONTINUE?
Now that the party in Athens is over and everybody is heading back home, people are taking stock of what the past couple of weeks meant to them – each from his or her own perspective. Most are still excited, some ecstatic, a few remain skeptical but none, even those who are counting the costs, has talked about a disappointment or a let down by Greece, which had come under severe criticism from various quarters not that long ago.
A smiling IOC chief on Sunday praised practically every facet of the 2004 Athens Games on the day the “Olympic homecoming” comes to what organisers hope will be a flawless finale, while steadfastly maintaining his policy of not rating or comparing host-city organisations.
“We are very, very happy about the (Athens) Games,” a beaming Jacques Rogge said at a late morning press conference at the main press centre, a short walk away from the main Olympic stadium (OAKA).
“This is not a competition between organising committees but between athletes … as a Greek you will be extremely pleased tonight,” he told one reporters after fielding repeated queries, some indirectly attempting to curry a response on whether “Athens was best”.
Comments have come from all walks of life – politicians, depending on their party affiliations, would take either a critical stance or support wholeheartedly what Greece has achieved through the staging of the 2004 Olympic Games. However ordinary people, Greeks and foreigners alike, give the thumbs up to the Athens Games without hesitation, in spite of minor and mostly isolated complaints.
The Greek government is sure to find itself on the receiving end with opposition parties asking questions about anything and everything related to this big celebration Athens wanted so much to succeed. And by all counts, it has succeeded, if we are to believe what people had to tell ANA as the 28th Olympic Games are coming to an end.
A few words spring to mind which describe what Greece and the world of sport has lived through in the past two weeks: fun, celebration, participation, discipline, law and order, sportsmanship. One comment made by spectators over and over again was the wonderful way people from participating nations cheered the athletes – the winners but also the losers as well as those who perhaps felt a bit homesick and needed some encouragement.
Panayiota Demetriou, 28-year-old businesswoman from Athens, managing director of a local tourist office, told ANA “no matter what anybody says, the truth is that we have all enjoyed ourselves, this was probably the biggest and most successful public relations exercise Greece has ever staged to promote the country.
On top of that, we are now left with infrastructure which might have otherwise taken us years to complete, and that is not a bad deal,” she added.
Another Greek, Maro Konstantinou, 50, a teacher, pointed out that fears, mainly from abroad, about security during the Games proved to be totally unfounded – let alone the fact that they caused a hike in the overall cost of the Games. “See, what I was telling everybody? I knew they would not do anything to spoil the Games, not here in Greece anyway,” she said.
The same feelings were expressed by an American tourist, who toured Greece and watched some Olympic events too. “Nothing of what I thought would happen actually did. No bombs, no threats, no unwelcome comments; on the contrary, it was a most wonderful experience, I am coming back to Greece.”
Pat Oates, a 55-year-old English lady, in Athens to watch athletics and the equestrian final, was impressed by the discipline that prevailed everywhere, among volunteers, the public and in the different venues. It is no mean feat to get some 70,000 people out of the Olympic stadium in an orderly manner and without any incident, even when people left the stadium disappointed if their team did not do very well, she said.
And what did young Philip Solonos, 24, from Nicosia, Cyprus have to say about the whole thing: “Absolutely superb, a wonderful experience to be here”, not to mention the night life of Athens, another city that does not sleep.
But what about the professionals who came here? What did they think of the available facilities? Well, here is what Dirk Homeyer Gast, a German cameraman, had to say: “this is very well done, I must admit I did not expect to find such good organization.” And this comment, coming from a German, whose country is renowned for its orderly and timely discipline, says a lot.
Now these Olympic Games are over, in the land where they were born thousands of years ago, there is a sense of relief and pride that all is well that ends well.