Athens to Host 2004 Summer Olympic Games

By Carla Hunt

NEW YORK -- Athens won the right to host the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, an event whose ancient heritage is Greek and whose modern revival began in Greece a century ago. The International Olympic Committee gave its approval to the Athens bid over those made by Rome; Stockholm, Sweden; Cape Town, South Africa, and Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The 2004 Games will be held from Aug. 13 to 29 in the city where the first modern Olympics took place in 1896. Choosing a site in Greece calls on a tradition established in 776 B.C. at the ancient city of Olympia. "Because of the commitment of spirit and feelings about the Olympics, Greece well deserves to have the Olympic Games," said Nick Athans, president of Tourlite International, "and furthermore, Greece will be well prepared to host a spectacular and meaningful event."

Although Athens had hoped to be the venue for the centennials of the Olympic Games in 1996, the International Olympic Committee chose Atlanta and rejected the Greek bid because of concerns about Athens' environmental pollution and weak transportation and communications infrastructure. Athens came to this year's bidding war with construction already under way on an airport, a subway system and a ring road designed to alleviate both traffic and pollution in the downtown area.

According to Yannis Papaioannou, executive vice president of Triaena Tours, "[The Games] will add to the image of Greece as a safe and stable country," he said, "and will serve as a catalyst that may bring investment from European and U.S. hotel chains." Papaioannou and Athans agreed that companies will have to start planning immediately to secure hotel space for their Olympics programs. Although there are some 10,000 rooms in Athens, "we are going to need all the space we can get, and that will include accommodations aboard cruise boats and private yachts," Athans said.

According to an address delivered prior to the city's being awarded the games, Gianna Angelopoulos, head of the Athens 2004 Bid Committee, told the International Olympic Committee that "with or without our bid victory, transport and environmental projects have moved ahead, and by 2001, three large-scale infrastructure projects will be completed." These are:

* By 1999, the extension of the Metro System will be finished, with two new lines and 21 new stations open and a park-and-ride plan in place in many stations. As of April, more than 55% of the system was completed.

* By 2001, Athens' new airport will be finished and capable of handling 6,000 passengers per hour.

* By 2001, a total of 45 miles of new motorway will be ready, creating a major new ring road around Greece's capital city. It will have 32 interchanges and connect with the Metro stations and the airport. According to Angelopoulos, the ring road is expected to reduce traffic by 250,000 cars per day and reduce pollution by 35%.

The Athens 2004 proposal also includes lighting the Olympic flame in the stadium at ancient Olympia and, in relays, carrying the torch around the world to five continents and back to Greece.

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