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Athens' Olympian Effort

Everyone is painfully aware that the success of the Olympics depends not only on preparation, but also on luck. Organizers will pray that it won't rain unseasonably in August 2004, as it did last summer. And fear of a terrorist attack looms. Although Angelopoulos-Daskalaki insists that security "will always remain our top priority," safety can never be guaranteed. That became clear last December when Mayor Bakoyannis just missed being shot by a psychiatric outpatient. Bakoyannis admits, "Everything about the Olympics worries me until it works."

Still, ATHOC and the IOC remain optimistic, with Rogge touting Athens's "extra dimension of culture, history, but also ethical values." The Olympic Truce Foundation will revive the ancient pact among participating nations not to wage war during the contest; the Olympic Torch relay will pass through all five continents for the first time; and a four-year Cultural Olympiad is being staged, with events ranging from classical plays to a concert by Philip Glass. The marathon will follow the path of the original run (according to legend, a Greek soldier covered the 25 miles from Marathon to Athens with news of victory—and promptly died). The cycling race will circle the Acropolis and other ancient sites. Artifacts unearthed during construction will be exhibited, including a piece of Hadrian's aqueduct, to be displayed in the Olympic village. "As long as Athens doesn't go down in history as the most chaotic Games ever," Hadoulis says, "the city could benefit in the eyes of tourists worldwide."

Regardless of how Athens will be perceived during the Olympics, after the Games it will have been transformed. Athenians will gain new access to the sea through the renovated Faliro coastal zone, a seaside resort turned landfill that is being revamped for the Olympics in what Oswald calls "one of the most impressive urban rehabilitations in Europe." But the biggest improvement in this notoriously congested city might be less traffic, thanks to new Metro lines, trams, and roads. Angelopoulos-Daskalaki says that while Athenians are "inconvenienced now with all the work going on, during the Games they will see a new city."

In the end, it may be future visitors who benefit most from the makeover. Tourists who used to give Athens wide berth and head for the islands could soon be tempted by upgraded hotels and museums, multilingual info kiosks, and pedestrian walkways linking archaeological sites. The enhanced facilities are already luring travelers: in May 2004, the World Congress on Information Technology will draw 2,200 visitors. But the most eagerly anticipated guests are those who might be introduced to the city by watching the Games. Mayor Bakoyannis's hope is that when TV cameras follow cyclists whizzing past the Acropolis, viewers will see Athens as "a city that I must visit at least once in my life"—and that Greece's reward for its Olympian efforts will be nothing short of a new identity.

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