Arts + Culture

The Olympics Effect

by Bob Payne

Athens, Greece, Summer 2004:
The Comeback Olympics

Going for gold: Based on the success of the first modern Olympics—held in Greece in 1896 not far from where the ancients first drew crowds by showcasing their athletic prowess naked—it had long seemed right that Athens again be allowed to host the Games. But the Greeks have such a reputation for not getting things done on time (the Corinth Canal, begun in the sixth century B.C., was not completed until 1893) that the International Olympic Committee waited until 2004 before taking a chance on returning to Greek soil. Most unsettling for doubters, 2004 was the first Summer Games following 9/11, and putting the security in place on time was a primary concern. (Of the $14 billion Athens spent, $1.5 billion went toward security.) To the world's surprise, Athens pulled it all off, and made the city a better place for locals and visitors.

Tourism legacy: The gossamer-winged roof of the Athens Stadium (pictured) by Santiago Calatrava got lots of attention, but the real showpiece was the city's greatly expanded subway system, with many of its stops literally underground museums. The Games also helped usher in a still-expanding era of boutique hotels, and contributed to the development of newly gentrified areas such as Psirri and Gazi.

Results: Silver. All that talk about not being ready for the games? It was the labor unions, positioning themselves for overtime pay.

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