Sunday, July 18, 2004

Expectations for Athens less than Olympian

Anything more than utter failure will be considered a success

By Mike Lopresti
Gannett News Service

One month before the Olympics, there are no reports this morning of new problems in Athens. But the day is young.

Last week it was a grass fire, this week a major blackout. What next, locusts or Persians?

They say Greece is a cauldron in the summer, and it was 104 degrees Monday when the lights, not to mention the air conditioners, went out.

I am almost afraid to ask if that temperature was centigrade or Fahrenheit.

Blackouts can and do happen anywhere. But only in Athens, whose Olympic preparations have read like the logbook from a 911 operator, could one come just at the moment the minister of transport was testing out a new, vital rail link for the Games to showcase progress.

The official party ended up walking. So may we all next month.

The organizers want these Olympics to evoke traditional and solemn images of Greek's ancient games. I suppose that could include no electricity.

The Games can always go on in darkness, but you wouldn't want to be sitting in the archery bleachers during it.

The Greek government hurried out a flurry of statements assuring that all will be well by August. This thing will be added and that thing will be fixed and the other thing will be built. Besides, it gets much cooler in Athens in August.

Down to 90.

Oh, and there was also the mention that part of the strategy in a power crunch would be to draw energy from a presumably reliable source nearby.


Now, having never been to Bulgaria, it might be one giant generator, for all I know. It might be a CVS stacked to the ceiling with batteries.

But this continues to be a strange Olympic saga indeed, when one of the contingency plans for a power outage is that the Games might have to continue on Bulgarian watts.

There have been some other recent items of interest. Something about the American-led consortium not having the security system fully installed yet.

But then, what's the hurry? The terrorists aren't due for weeks.

And if the security officials needed any further motivation, maybe they noticed someone threw a few hand grenades at Iraq's Olympic chief Monday in Baghdad.

Actually, through all its troubles, Athens might have actually hit on the perfect marketing strategy.

Low expectations.

After stories of construction delays, worker strikes, government turnover, public antipathy, money troubles, security lapses, unfinished venues, unpaved roads, planted bombs, brush fires, blackouts and traffic jams, anything less than chaos in Athens will be considered a success.

Just imagine if the trains run on time and the lights stay on and the Games come off without gunfire.

Just imagine if everything goes so smoothly, everyone can get back to the normal pastime of the Olympics - which, of course, is getting mad at the judging.

Why, then, Athens would be everybody's hero. Athens is a 10-1 underdog that should know by now if it finishes in one piece, it will look like a champion. Athens is Rocky.

Atlanta tried it the other way in 1996, promising the world. A lot of good things happened in Atlanta, but there was a little trouble with the buses running on time - I'm not sure they're all accounted for yet - and Georgia was never forgiven.

There isn't enough Tylenol in the world to treat all the headaches Athens has had to face.

And so there are just a few more items to put on the what-to-do list for the Olympics of 2004:

• What to do in case of kidnapping.

• What to do in case of chemical attack.

• What to do if the place goes dark.

And a month left to add even more.


Mike Lopresti writes for Gannett News Service.

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