My intrepid, certified Olympics-nut father has returned from Athens, and this is what he has to say:
by Ray Olsen, Part 1
So, how was the sixth Summer Olympics experience in Athens? In one word,
wonderful, with a big bonus of enjoying it during a first trip to Greece. As everyone knows by now, there were absolutely no problems of any kind, in spite of all of the dire predictions.
A great prelude was forced by the lack of confluence of the only dates obtainable on the inbound flights to Rome and Athens and the availability of the apartment in Athens. One then had to spend three glorious days on the island of Rhodes, including a day trip on the ferry to the bazaars in Marmaris, Turkey. After that ordeal, and a short hop back to Athens, the best surprise of the trip was that the owner of the apartment had just put in an air conditioning unit in my bedroom as well as the advertised one in the living room. That was much appreciated on the few days when the outside temperatures were over a humid one-hundred degrees.
Another relief and reassurance that there are still some instances of “truth
in advertising,” was that the Olympic Stadium and several other venues were indeed within 15 minutes walking distance (when downhill in the morning – 25 minutes when uphill, tired and in the heat of the evening at night) and only 15 minutes to the nearest metro station to get to almost all the other venues. When you couldn’t get to an Olympic venue by a metro line, they had special Olympic buses at the nearest station that took you directly to the event. A score of 10 to the Organizing Committee for transportation.
Although they didn’t sing to you as you were leaving the Olympic areas, as they did in Sydney, another 10 to the thousands of volunteers. Always helpful, knowledgeable, friendly and at least bilingual in English, their smiles will be long remembered. A surprise to those who lived in Greece or been previous visitors (according to several conversations with locals and others), was the average Greek citizen’s willingness to go out of their way to offer assistance, strike up a conversation with strangers and do everything to make you feel at home.
Several Greek families, volunteers and other Olympic visitors became instant friends on Metro and bus rides, in venues during events and in ordinary pursuits during the day.
As for the venues, athletic facilities and the Games themselves, they were first rate. You couldn’t tell that there had been a rush at the end to complete everything. It looked much like Sydney and previous Olympic Games that had finished preparations up to a year in advance. All of the 30+ events and ceremonies that I attended went off without a hitch.
Yes, I know, what were the best events that I witnessed in person? Well, the most exciting, emotional and satisfying was the gold medal Women’s Soccer game – US vs. Brazil. The US team, whose 32 to 36 year old core players (Mia Hamm et. al.) had been together from the beginning of international soccer in 1987, were retiring after this game. After winning the first two Women’s World Cups and the first Olympic contest, we had seen them lose to Norway in overtime in the Sydney Olympics and then they lost to Germany in last year’s World Cup. (Germany beat Sweden for the 2004 bronze medal in the preliminary game.) After regular time, the game was tied 1 – 1. In the second 15 minute overtime, the Americans won 2 – 1. As you can imagine the players and fans went wild.
The game was also very interesting in the stands, as my seat was on the aisle of row 5, just across from the entire Brazil rooting section. By the end of the regular time, additional Brazilian fans had infiltrated, filling the steps on the aisle and all of the surrounding empty seats in my section. In fact, we had become part of the Brazil rooting section. Even for having seen of the shouting, singing, never-sit-down, number-one-fan group in the world in previous Olympic Games, it was an amazing experience.
The other great team events that were also exciting and fun, but more predictable, were the US women’s teams wins over Australia in both Softball and Basketball.
The Basketball gold medal game was a repeat from Sydney and much closer than the final 74 – 63 score indicated. In Softball, the US team was not only undefeated, but had not been scored upon during the entire Olympic tournament until Australia got one run in the sixth (of seven) inning of the final game. In the round robin part of the Softball tournament, I also saw the other American team, Greece (with only two non US players), lose to China.
Needless to say, the US women’s teams far outplayed the men’s teams (American Soccer and Baseball didn’t even get into the Olympics, and I won’t mention Basketball).