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Sentiment a factor as Athens gets 2004 Olympics
Posted: Fri September 5, 1997 at 3:48 PM ET
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (CNN/SI) -- Athens, birthplace of the modern and ancient Olympics, again will host the Summer Games, the International Olympic Committee announced Friday.
After months of wining, dining and hand wringing, Athens beat out Rome, considered by many the slight favorite to get the 2004 Games, and three other cities: Buenos Aires, Argentina; Cape Town, South Africa, and Stockholm, Sweden.
The first modern Olympics were held in Athens in 1896. And Friday's vote made up for a snub to Athens, which lost out to Atlanta for the 1996 Centennial Games.
Athens won in a fourth-round runoff against Rome in a secret ballot by 107 members. With a majority of 54 required for victory, Athens prevailed 66-41.
Athens led the voting in each round with 32 in the first, 38 in the second and 52 in the third. The margin of victory came when Athens picked up the votes that had gone to Cape Town.
Stockholm went out next with 19 votes and Cape Town was ousted in the third round with 20.
Canadian IOC member Dick Pound said Athens' perseverance after its unsuccessful bid for the 1996 games paid off.
"They came back after defeat," he said. "They had corrected their mistakes. They were totally focused on the qualities of the bid rather than demanding it as a right."
Pound said the emotion for Athens was decisive in the final vote against Rome.
"In the final analysis, sentiment came into play," he said. "Rome were the favorites. They didn't do anything particularly wrong. Perhaps it is because Rome had it only 37 years years ago."
After International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch opened a sealed envelope and read out the name of Athens to a worldwide television audience, Greek supporters broke into loud cheers and waved the white and blue national flag.
They chanted "Gianna, Gianna" in recognition of Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, the charismatic bid chief credited with running an outstanding campaign. She is the first woman to lead a successful bid for the Olympics.
In Rome, a collective sigh of disappointment and some tears followed the announcement on a giant screen TV in Piazza Navona.
The crowd, estimated by police at 5,000, began to disperse immediately after the announcement. Several large Italian and Rome city flags were immediately lowered and furled up.
"We accept the decision in the Olympic spirit of friendship," Rome Mayor Francesco Rutelli said in Lausanne. "We are proud of our work, and we did our best."
By choosing Athens, the IOC returned to its traditional roots in Europe while declining to take the games to Africa or South America for the first time.
Athens, Rome (1960) and Stockholm (1912) had all staged the games before. There was strong sentiment to take the games back to Europe in 2004 after 10 years and four Olympics away from the continent.
Personal appeals to the voters in Lausanne from South African President Nelson Mandela and Argentine President Carlos Menem failed to win over the IOC.
Athens officials used their final presentation to distance themselves from their failed bid for the 1996 games. The Greeks then virtually demanded the games by right after staging the first modern Olympics.
"This is a new bid for a new city, a better candidacy," Angelopoulos-Daskalaki told the IOC delegates. "We learned that what is at stake in this election is not what an Olympics can do to a city but what a city can to do bring honor and glory to the games."
Addressing the bid's weaknesses, she said the city was making big strides in fighting air pollution and traffic congestion. She said a new subway under construction would reduce the number of cars by 250,000 a day and help improve air quality by 35 percent.
Just hours before the vote, Mandela urged the IOC to award the games to Africa for the first time to celebrate the "rebirth of a continent."
"Very rarely does humanity have such an opportunity as the one presented to you today, a day which cannot be postponed," Mandela told the IOC session in a late push on behalf of Cape Town. "We trust you will hear our dream."
Mandela appeared stiff and nervous. Some IOC members said they were disappointed he read from a prepared speech rather than "speaking from the heart."
With many IOC members still undecided and little separating the five candidates, the final presentations were expected to determine the outcome of the most open Olympic votes in years.
Europe had the largest bloc of votes with 44, followed by the Americas with 21, Africa 20, Asia 17 and Oceania 5.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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