Tag Archives: Athens Olympics

In the Olympic race, Athens fell short of the line

One of the beauties of the Olympics is that it provides cut-and-dried answers to questions like “Who is the fastest?” “Who can jump the longest?” and “How high can they reach?” But while such queries are answered on the track, the field and elsewhere, the success of the Games themselves is a much more subjective thing.

Few can doubt that London2012 exceeded expectations. So surely it must be classified as a success. Well, it’s not that simple. Athens2004 also blew people away but its legacy has been in doubt almost since the moment the last athlete left the city. Today, the Athens Games are the bogeyman deployed to scare any other cities that might be inclined to see the occasion as a carefree celebration rather than a precision-timed exercise in planning and public spending.

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In pursuit of fool’s gold

In a harrowing Olympic Games for Greece, perhaps the country’s most tragic figure in London was open water swimmer Spyros Gianniotis. After 10 kilometers of grueling competition in Hyde Park’s Serpentine, an Olympic medal slipped from the 32-year-old’s grasp in the final seconds of the race. Gianniotis, a world champion in this event, missed his fourth chance to add an Olympic medal to his collection. He admitted that at his age, this might have been his last opportunity. Seconds later, he broke down in tears.

There was something else eating away at the swimmer. He knew that at these Games, where the Greek Olympic squad was whittled down to just 105 athletes, some traveling without their coaches due to a lack of funding, and where just two bronze medals had been won by Greek competitors, another podium finish would have meant a great deal.

“This was different from all my other races,” he told NET TV. “I wanted to do this for my country.”

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Greece and the euro: The end of the affair

Graffiti by Absent

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by a Danish journalist in front of Parliament. He took out a 2-euro coin, flipped it over and showed me the engraving depicting the mythological story of Europa being whisked off by Zeus, who transformed himself into a bull to achieve the task. It’s a scene that is usually known as the seduction, or even abduction, of Europa. “This coin shows the Rape of Europa,” the journalist said. “Do you think Greece is raping Europe or is Europe raping Greece?”

After picking up my jaw from the floor, I gave an inadequate answer about Europe and Greece having a consensual relationship that was going through a rough patch. “We knew all about each other when we climbed into bed together,” was my final repost to his jarring question. Of course, the truth is that seduction only really works when you don’t know all about each other. And, as we’ve discovered over the last few months, Greece knew little about itself, let alone about Europe, before becoming part of the euro.

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London calling. Listening, Athens?

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

On the day London was awarded the 2012 Olympic Games, we played The Clash’s “London Calling” on a radio show I co-hosted in Athens. The song — about a world slipping toward some kind of destruction — was played by a lone guitarist at a recent event to mark the one-year countdown to the English capital hosting the world’s biggest sporting event. A few days later, its lyrics — such as “London calling to the underworld/Come out of the cupboard, you boys and girls” — proved an appropriate soundtrack to possibly the worst civil unrest, rioting and looting the city has ever seen.

It seemed a delicious irony that an e-mail informing me about ticketing arrangements for the 2012 Olympics should arrive in my in-box on Tuesday afternoon, as London and other cities braced for a fourth night of rioting. But there is nothing amusing in seeing the city you were born in being ripped apart a few weeks after the city you live in suffered the same fate. I can feel nothing but sadness at seeing areas I know well, places where friends live and a neighborhood where my father ran a business for more than two decades being decimated by youths who appear to have no comprehension of the damage they are wreaking on communities.

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A marriage of convenience

For some reason, weddings seemed to be on people’s minds over the past few weeks. Along with tying the knot, anniversaries were also a popular subject. While Britain revelled in Will and Kate’s moment in the sun, Greeks had a less pleasant moment of their own to share: a few days before the royal wedding, Greece marked a year since it made an official appeal to the European Union and the International Monetary Fund for an emergency loan package.

Understandably, there was no flag waving or street parties to accompany the one-year anniversary of Greece admitting its political and economic failure. There was no puffing out of chests or swelling of pride to mark the 12 months since Prime Minister George Papandreou accepted that the party was over for Greece and it needed help to pay a bill that would have made even the Windsor’s wince.

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