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The legacy of the 2004 Athens Olympics
07:51, August 07, 2008

By Dora Bakoyannis, the Foreign Minister of Greece

It's as if it were only yesterday when I proudly handed my friend, Beijing Mayor Wang Qishan, the Olympic Flag with Greece's best wishes for the 2008 Olympics.

Dora Bakoyannis (R), the Mayor of Athens, handed the Olympic Flag to Wang Qishan (L), the Mayor of Beijing on Aug 29, 2004.

Now, only days ahead of the XXIX Olympiad, I cannot help but once again feel the excitement that the world's greatest sporting event continues to instill in people thousands of years later.

It is a great pleasure to be visiting China in this most important moment in its history. On August 8, the international spotlight will turn to the city of Beijing, to once again highlight the timeless Olympic ideals of sportsmanship and fair play. It is a wonderful opportunity to educate tomorrow's generations and promote peace, understanding between nations, goodwill and tolerance.

I am confident that the Chinese people are ready - as the Greeks were in 2004 - for this once-in-a-lifetime experience; ready to bring the world into China.

Demanding and rewarding experience

There is no doubt about it that hosting an Olympiad is both a demanding and rewarding experience. The Athens 2004 Games were the result of an Olympian effort. For almost a decade ahead of the event, hundreds of thousands of people worked towards achieving one great goal: displaying our capacity and proving our potential, seeing our country put on its best face, and making our fellow citizens proud.

And I am honored to have been one of those people. One of the Greeks who worked towards this aim, especially at the finish line, the decisive last two years.

For us, the Olympiad was of an additional sentimental value, as Greece is the birthplace of the Olympic Ideal. So succeeding in organizing excellent, safe Games was truly a "national affair", and of course, a group effort. We were all very proud of the work done by successive governments and the Organizing Committee led by Ms Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki.

So if there is something to look back on in the end, it is the pride and joy of experiencing one of the greatest moments in our country's history, and the most momentous moment for Athens.

Trying moments

As Mayor of Athens in 2004, I can definitely say that hosting the Olympics was a unique experience, one that I will remember and cherish forever. And I am certain this applies to all Greeks and visitors who had the opportunity to be part of the 2004 Games.

I must admit, it wasn't easy. Quite the contrary, our road to the 2004 Olympics was long, difficult, even trying at times. There was widespread skepticism, criticism even, as to whether Greece, the smallest country to host the Olympics, would rise to the challenge. I remember vividly many in the international press going out of their way to underline the challenges we faced. Furthermore, besides having to deal with the inherent difficulties, Greece was faced with a new global challenge: security in the post-9/11 era.

Greece was the smallest-ever country in modern times to stage the largest-ever games, the first after 9/11. There were many considerations and concerns as to how to deal with the challenges and threats posed and at the same time ensure that visitors, athletes and citizens did not feel confined.

Looking back, I can now say that we achieved a great deal. We transformed the Greek capital, not simply its image but from the ground up. We upgraded infrastructure, improved the functionality of the city, brought colour back, made it cleaner and greener, created more parkland. I am especially proud of the 2.5km Dionysiou Areopagitou pedestrian walkway linking the city's archaeological sites into the largest such park in Europe. But most importantly, we provided a better quality of life for our citizens.

On a larger scale, we saw the emergence of 21 sporting venues, a new airport, metro system, suburban railway and a tram network that opened up the city to the once-inaccessible coastline, today brimming with marinas, beaches, parks and recreation centres. Indeed, many of these projects were long overdue, and undoubtedly the Olympics acted as a driving force, setting the best preconditions for economic growth. Greece, a modern European country, emerged a regional power, and today plays a constructive role in the Balkans and in Europe.

Was it worth the cost?

It goes without saying that 2004 was an exceptional year, one of worries, tension and hard work combined with joy, satisfaction and pride.

Indeed, as much as the Olympics were an unforgettable and once-in-a-lifetime experience, they primarily paved the way for permanent change in the city. Undeniably, there are always risks and challenges involved when a country is awarded the Olympiad, but can you imagine the loss if Greece had not and our country and people missed this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?

With the enlargement of the EU, Greece is now in the centre of activity, no longer at the edge of the Union. Along with the geographical and diplomatic advantages, Athens radically improved in terms of efficiency and functionality. It has first-class transportation, telecommunications and tourism facilities, complemented by a highly-skilled, multilingual workforce.

There is no doubt about it, our road to the successful hosting of the 2004 Olympics was long, difficult, even frustrating at times. Yet, the result made it a road well-worth travelling. The benefits of the Games ultimately outweighed the costs. And I really believe that all citizens, feel it was money well spent.

Success in the hands of the people

For me, the most important legacy the Olympic Games left behind was the human capital - the 60,000 Games volunteers, many of them diaspora Greeks who returned to help their homeland welcome back the Olympics. And the additional 3,500 Athenians, young and old, from all walks of life, who enthusiastically responded to our call for volunteers to inform visitors during the Olympics and Paralympics.

I cannot stress more that it is thanks to the people that the Games were such a success. They patiently endured the construction works and then, when the time came, showcased Greece and its hospitality to the world.

The day after

In my experience as Mayor of Athens in the lead up to the Olympics, I can say that success is all about coordination, cooperation and timing, but it is primarily about 'trusting your people'. We trusted the Greeks and they delivered. I believe that most Athenians now look back on the Games with pride but also with a sense of optimism for a brighter future. And to be honest, that's really what the Olympics are all about. It's not only the world's largest sporting event; it's about hope for a brighter, more peaceful future, one of cooperation and respect.

The most important thing is to make the Olympics part of the everyday life of your citizens and to think about the day after. The day after is the most crucial point of hosting the Games. Organisers must ensure that the dozens of venues remain operationally viable and generate operating profits. Today many of our venues for example serve as sports or high-grade entertainment or cultural facilities as well as for conference purposes. For Greece, and I believe for any host, the Olympics were the catalyst for a complete overhaul of the city. These improvements will remain after the athletes go home. Contrary to what many believe, the Olympics do not mark the end of an era. They represent the start of a new one. They set the pace for the future.

Best wishes

On a final note, on behalf of the Greek nation, I would like to wish the Chinese people and the organizers of the XXIX Olympiad every success, and I look forward to a most rewarding spectacle.

The message of the Olympic Games is one, and has withstood the test of time: Excellence in sport is all about hard work, determination and faith. If there is a lesson to be learned, it is that these very same qualities can today - in an even more challenging reality - serve as a vehicle for social change and the development of humankind.

The Foreign Minister of Greece Ms. Dora Bakoyannis

Dora Bakoyannis, the Foreign Minister of Greece

Born in 1954, she is the eldest of four children of veteran Greek statesman Constantine Mitsotakis and Marika Yannoukou- Mitsotakis.

In 1968, Dora Bakoyannis and her family were exiled to Paris by the military dictatorship, which ruled Greece for seven years. They returned to Athens in 1974, when military rule collapsed.

In December of the same year, she married respected journalist and scholar Pavlos Bakoyannis. They had two children, Alexia and Kostas. On 26 September 1989, the November 17 terrorist group gunned down her husband, then a New Democracy party deputy as he was entering his office building. Nine years later, in July 1998, she married entrepreneur Isidoros Kouvelos.

Dora Bakoyannis completed her secondary schooling at the German School of Paris. She studied political science and communication at the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich, and continued her academic studies in political science and public law at the University of Athens. She is fluent in English, French and German.

In 1977, following examinations, Dora Bakoyannis was appointed at the Ministry of Economic Coordination in the Department of European Economic Community (EEC) affairs.

Between 1984 and 1989, she served as Chief of Staff for opposition New Democracy party leader Constantine Mitsotakis.

After her husband’s assassination, she stood as candidate for Pavlos Bakoyannis’ seat in the remote mountainous region of Evrytania, where he had been elected in June 1989. On 5 November 1989, she was elected New Democracy deputy for Evrytania, where she was re-elected on 8 April 1990 and 10 October 1993.

In October 1990, she assumed the post of Under-Secretary of State in the Mitsotakis government, and in December 1992, that of Culture Minister.

For the 1996 elections, she stood as a candidate for the Athens 1st electoral district.

On 22 September 1996, she was elected deputy for New Democracy in Athens’ 1st electoral district, where she was re-elected by a majority vote in the April 9, 2000 polls.

Between September 1991 and August 1992, she served as the General Secretariat of International Affairs for New Democracy, and represented the party at the European Democratic Union (EDU) and International Democratic Union (IDU).

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