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Olympics chief says Zeus smiled on Athens

Posted: Monday August 30, 2004 9:54PM; Updated: Monday August 30, 2004 9:54PM
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ATHENS, Aug 30 (Reuters) -- Zeus and the other gods of ancient Greece smiled on the Athens Olympic Games, whose spectacular success surprised the world, the head of the organising committee said on Monday.

In her first interview since the world's biggest sporting event ended on Sunday, Gianna Angelopoulos told Reuters the Greeks had earned and deserved the praise that has poured in for the conduct of the once-troubled Games.

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"These were the most successful Games ever," she said, going further than IOC (International Olympic Committee) chief Jacques Rogge, who described them in his closing ceremony speech as an "unforgettable dream."

"Not just Zeus, but all the Gods smiled on what we have done," Angelopoulos said.

She said the Games marked the emergence of a new Greece and were worth every cent of the billions of dollars that were spent to stage the homecoming of the Olympics to both their ancient and modern birthplace.

Some economists estimate the cost of the Games have more than doubled from the original 1997 budget of $4.6 billion, setting the scene for a likely political battle in the weeks ahead.

But Angelopoulos, who even critics agree carried the Athens Olympics across the finishing line almost singlehanded after several years of political infighting, said the Games were the spur for infrastructure work that was long overdue to make Athens a modern European capital.

HUMAN LEGACY

Much of the money went into upgrading transport and other projects that have finally untied the knot of old roads that made the city one of the world's most congested.

"There is also the human legacy of the skills that our people have learned which can never be calculated," she said.

Angelopoulos said Athens had also won a battle against fear by hosting the first summer Games since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States with a "flawless" security operation.

More than one billion dollars were spent on Europe's biggest peacetime security operation, which included the involvement of NATO in protecting Greece's airspace and long coastline.

Angelopoulos praised the way security forces had managed to protect the Games while remaining unobtrusive, and said people had asked her: "Where are the troops?"

Her advice to Beijing, which stages the next summer Olympics in 2008, was to follow its own dream because each city that hosts an Olympics is unique.

But she suggested there could be parallels between Athens and Beijing because both were capitals of countries with famed ancient civilisations that were knocking on the door of the 21st century.

Angelopoulos gave no indication of what lay in her own future but admitted: "Some sleep would be good."

Copyright 2004 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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