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AHI Letter Responds to New York Times Article
July 20, 2004—No.48 (202) 785-8430

AHI Letter Responds to New York Times Article

WASHINGTON, DC—On July 14, 2004, AHI Executive Director Nick Larigakis submitted a letter to the editor responding to a New York Timesarticle titled, "Athens Seemed Like a Good Idea" (Wednesday, July 14, 2004; Page C13). The text of the letter appears below, followed by the New York Times article to which the letter responds:

July 14, 2004
Letters to the Editor
The New York Times
229 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036

Dear Editor:

When will the Times finally accept the fact that Athens will host the 2004 Olympic games?

The article "Athens Seemed Like a Good Idea" (7/14/04) provides the reader with nothing but hyperbole. To suggest that "athletes and tourists and spectators will require miners’ lamps and pith helmets" to see because of Monday's 1-2 hour blackout in Athens, is ridiculous. Let’s not forget that from Ohio to New York last August there was a blackout that lasted almost 30 hrs! These things happen.

No one is saying that these games have not been a challenge for Athens. If it were easy everyone would do it. However, the same hard work, unity, determination and "Greek Spirit" that Greece displayed (100-1 odds) in winning Euro2004, will also carry the day for the Olympics.

Athens 2004 President Angelopoulos-Daskalaki told me a few years ago, Athens will not host a Sydney Olympics or an Atlanta Olympics. Athens will host a uniquely "Athenian Olympiad!" No one should doubt that this will translate into success.

/s/Nick Larigakis
Executive Director
American Hellenic Institute


The New York Times

July 14, 2004


Athens Seemed Like a Good Idea


THE Olympic caretakers reacted to the corporate aftertaste of the 1996 Coca-Cola Games in Atlanta by indulging in the fog of idealism a year later, digging the archaeology of Athens when selecting the summer host site for 2004.

A return to their sepia-toned Olympic roots, the International Olympic Committee proclaimed. A dreamy gaze into an ancient past of olive wreaths and the Parthenon, of Marathon and the Acropolis, the committee declared.

Well, isn't it romantic? The Athens Games by candlelight.

It isn't far-fetched to wonder if athletes, tourists and spectators will require miners' lamps and pith helmets given the embarrassing blackout that left southern Greece boiling on Monday, with the opening ceremony just a month away.

Is this what the I.O.C. meant by using Athens to provide a peephole into its Olympic origins: a power grid prototyped from an abacus?

There was no energy shortage for blame-shifting yesterday, as local officials pointed at one another the day after a blackout left millions without power and hundreds shouting for help in stalled elevators.

There was Dimitris Papagelopoulos, the chief prosecutor, promptly calling for an investigation. And there was bickering between the Hellenic Transmission System Operators and the Public Power Corporation executives over accountability and reliability. One was on the side of doom, the other on the side of denial.

Evangelos Lekatsas, chairman of the transmission system operators, did not exude confidence when discussing the likelihood of a blackout during the peak-consumption Olympics in mid-August.

"Oh yes, if you make such assumptions, there may be some problems," Lekatsas told The Associated Press.

Ignore this man, Athens organizers pleaded. Trust us, the I.O.C. countered.

As one Olympic official added yesterday, "We wouldn't be going ahead if we were not confident," but then he declined to be named.

The bushel of guarantees offered by Olympic leaders, Greek authorities and local politicians has lost credibility after months of wear.

They promised the competition sites would be complete, but then canned the roof for the swimming site. What's a pool without a sundeck, anyway? They vowed to vanquish the street villains, but then three bombs went off near a police station a hundred days from the start of the Summer Games. What are a few hobgoblins of local terrorism?

Having irreversibly committed to Athens, the international Olympic lords continue to minimize the threats and idealize the outcome, but even Athenians are growing weary of the spate of humiliations caused by the nation's procrastination. From 1997 to 2000, from the moment Athens won the bid, barely a shovel was in motion—a situation the I.O.C. derided with hollow threats.

As late as 2002, there was a small window of escape for the Olympic committee, but it refused to pull the ripcord on a situation that was not completely unexpected.

The reason Atlanta was able to swipe the 1996 Summer Games from Athens was because the organizers with the Southern drawls had a plan—as corporate as it was—to be ready. Spurned, and with pride wounded, Athenians were outraged to have lost to America's monster-truck ideology.

Unlike Atlanta officials, Athenians would have never allowed local entrepreneurs to turn the Summer Games into a conventioneer's fantasy, complete with inflatable Elvises dotting the perimeter of the competition sites.

With one hand, the I.O.C. members milked the cash cow in Atlanta to pay their bills. With the other, they crossed their hearts never to let commercialism taint Olympic idealism again.

It's true that Athens organizers were more prepared in their bid leading up to the vote in 1997, but they provided little proof of a conversion to an early-bird's mentality.

The fallout was in the blackout. As an editorial in Kathimerini, a Greek newspaper, concluded yesterday in the aftermath of the power failure, "On the one hand, it is perhaps positive that the blackout happened in the run-up to the Games, as long as it is a lesson in how things should be done, in how serious the challenges are and the gravity of the repercussions which a slapdash, superficial approach can have."

So far, the 11th-hour mad-dash approach has made the Athens Games about security, construction and system failure, not about Olympic spirit.

It is enough to have the steroid investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative—as well as other drug stories in other countries—overshadow the athletes.

With its purity, authenticity and history, leaning on its aura as the birthplace of the Games, Athens was supposed to reignite the Olympic spirit. That was the I.O.C.’s naïve plan. But as one political cartoonist in Greece drew it yesterday, on inexplicably dark days like Monday, the Olympic flame may be the only source of light in town. Isn’t that romantic?


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