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We were wrong

Greece overcame the world's paranoia to stage a glorious Games

Updated: Tuesday August 31, 2004 12:38PM
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2004 Olympic Games
Thanks for the memories
• Rick Reilly: Greece overcame paranoia
• Steve Rushin: The international language
• S.L. Price: Gods and monsters in Greece
• Richard Deitsch: Moved to tears by perfection
• E.M. Swift: Soccer ref learns the hard way
• Jack McCallum: Women's wrestling emotions
• Michael Farber: Seventeen days of Hellas
• Tim Layden: The best moments aren't televised
• Kelli Anderson: My sense of Athens
• Don Yaeger: Hamm touched by special honor
• Brian Cazeneuve: Gardner's golden moment
• Bill Frakes: Indelible images of the Games

Dear Athens,

Well, we feel bad. We really owe you an apology.

So, sygnomi, as you would say. Sorry.

Sorry about the way we acted. We were paranoid and stupid and just flat out wrong. Our bad. If you want, we'll sleep on the couch.

We mocked you, ridiculed you, figured you wouldn't be ready. We envisioned you as a bunch of lazy, swarthy guys in wife-beater T-shirts chugging ouzo instead of finishing the baseball dugouts. We were sure steeplechasers would have to jump over drying cement, pole vaulters over tractors, divers into 3 feet of water.

We were wrong. It was all done and it was beautiful. OK, so the swimming stadium never got a roof. Big freaking deal. Imagine: having to swim in an outdoor pool. Let's all sue. Besides, you know what? It was more fun that way. Michael Phelps was out there so much he ended up with raccoon eyes from his goggles. He looked like a snowboarder. "Cool!" he said.

We predicted women madly weaving olive wreaths next to the podiums as the national anthems started up. We foresaw painters sprinting along painting stripes just yards ahead of 400-meter runners. We figured beams would be falling on people's heads. Who knew Wrigley Field would be a lot more dangerous?

We were sure every street corner would have three or four terrorists, just kind of killing time, looking for somebody to kidnap. Some bozo said, "The only place worse to hold an Olympics would be Baghdad." Please. I guarantee you, we felt a helluva lot safer these three weeks in Athens than we do in L.A. Or Detroit. Or the Republican National Convention.

We insisted you spend 1.2 billion euros on security. You had to put up blimps and cameras all over the city. You couldn't throw a bucket of grapes anywhere and not hit a soldier with a rifle. And nothing happened. Zero. The only incident was when our Secretary of State said he was coming to visit. In other words, if Colin Powell would've just been happy with his remote, you wouldn't have had a single problem.

Why you had to pay for our paranoia, I'll never know. It's the world's problem, the world should have to pay for it. What small country is going to be able to afford to host the Olympics anymore with these insane security demands? From now on, if a country wants to send a team to the Games, it pays its share of security, based on its share of the gross world product. In other words, it's our war, we should have to pay for it.

And our ignorance cost you more than just the billion or so Euros. Our Edvard Munch screams leading up to these games kept millions of people away. Corporations bailed on you. Fans chickened out. I know burly journalists who were too scared to come.

Sygnomi. Really. You did such a beautiful job on all the venues, arenas and stadiums and yet most of them were so empty you would've thought you'd stumbled upon a goiter seminar. At one basketball game, we counted: There were 307 people. One women's soccer game involving the U.S. started with fewer than 50 people. I had a friend call one night and say, "You better get over to gymnastics, quick. There's only 15,000 seats left."

The shopkeepers told us, "We've never seen it so dead in August." Hotels came down on their prices by three-quarters. Shirt stores lost their shirts.

It's too bad. It was a glorious Olympics. It really was. The opening ceremonies were fabulous. The nightlife was amazing. Even the stray dogs and cats couldn't have been friendlier. I got lost once and had to hitchhike out of nowhere, and a motorcyclist not only picked me up but drove for miles until he found me a cab. So, efharisto, as you say. Thanks.

Somebody did a poll and found that 97 percent of fans were "satisfied" with safety and security, 95 percent appreciated the job the volunteers did and 98 percent had a favorable impression of Greece. The other two percent were Paul Hamm's family.

And what did you get for all your trouble? Nothing but heartache. With 9,000-plus Greeks about to go delirious, our men's volleyball team handed you a giant buzzkill --- coming back from eight points down to win the fourth set and then the fifth to advance to the semifinals. The only really good game our men's basketball team played the whole time was against Greece.

It was Greek Tragedy Fortnight on TBS. It started even before the Games with your heartbroken judoka jumping from a balcony, followed two days later by her distraught boyfriend. Your two best sprinters turned in their credentials to end a doping/conspiracy/motorcycle wreck soap opera that tore the nation up. One of your favorite weightlifters had to give up a medal for a failed drug test, then wept in front of the world protesting his innocence.

And now you're stuck with about $8.5 billion in debt, a bunch of huge, expensive stadiums you'll never use (Hey, kids, who's ready to synchronized dive?!) and a whole lot of "Get Your Butt to Team Handball!" shorts nobody was around to buy. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

So, really, we're sorry. If it makes you feel any better, we all feel a lot more Greek now. We're all coming back to the States telling the daughter, "OK, you be Athena and I'll be Zeus!", demanding our favorite restaurants reserve us a table about 1 a.m. under the moon, right near a 2,500 year-old ruin. We keep spitting in people's hair for good luck, crushing plates for no reason and hollering "opa!" in the shower.

No idea how to make this right for you, except this: We vow, here and now, we'll never make you host us again.

See you in Baghdad, 2016.

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