Athens Gets 2004 Olympics

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ATHENS, Greece: Speaking by cell phone from the raucous celebration on the streets of Athens, TIME Athens reporter Anthee Carassava said today’s decision by the International Olympic Committee to award the 2004 Olympic Games to this ancient city was the biggest morale-booster Greece had experienced in a century.

As the cradle of the modern Olympics, Athens felt cheated out of its right to host the centennial Games in ’96. Since then the city has made extensive investment in its transport system and infrastructure, whose deficiencies allowed Atlanta to “steal” the centennial Olympiad. “Athenians are particularly proud this time, because they feel they’ve been awarded the Games not on the basis of birthright, but on the basis of merit.” The city beat out ancient rival Rome on the final ballot, after Buenos Aires, Stockholm and Cape Town were eliminated in earlier rounds of voting.

But once today’s party ends, Athens will confront the Herculean challenge of financing the preparations for the Olympiad at the same time as the country undertakes austerity measures necessary to qualify for European Monetary Union. “The organizers have adopted a Spartan $1.7 billion budget, saying they reject the over-commercialization of the Games,” says Carassava. “But it remains to be seen whether they’ll manage to stay within that budget and not add to the burden of an already cash-strapped city.” Because as many previous host cities can testify, from a financial angle hosting the Games can be something of a Greek tragedy.