2004 Athens, Greece

The 2004 Summer Olympic Games, officially known as the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad, was a premier international multi-sport event held in Athens, Greece, from 13 to 29 August 2004 with the motto Welcome Home. 10,625 athletes competed, some 600 more than expected, accompanied by 5,501 team officials from 201 countries. There were 301 medal events in 28 different sports. Athens 2004 marked the first time since the 1996 Summer Olympics that all countries with a National Olympic Committee were in attendance. It was also the first time since 1896 (other than the since-downgraded 1906 Intercalated Games) that the Olympics were held in Greece.

Athens was chosen as the host city during the 106th IOC Session held in Lausanne on 5 September 1997. Athens had lost its bid to organize the 1996 Summer Olympics to Atlanta nearly seven years before, on 18 September 1990, during the 96th IOC Session in Tokyo. Under the direction of Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, Athens pursued another bid, this time for the right to host the Summer Olympics in 2004. The success of Athens in securing the 2004 Games was based largely on Athens’ appeal to Olympic history and the emphasis that it placed on the pivotal role thatGreece and Athens could play in promoting Olympism and the Olympic Movement.

Furthermore, unlike their bid for the 1996 Games which was largely criticized for its overall disorganization and arrogance – wherein the bid lacked specifics and relied largely upon sentiment and the notion that it was Athens’ right to organize the Centennial Games; the bid for the 2004 Games was lauded for its humility and earnestness, its focused message, and its detailed bid concept. The 2004 bid addressed concerns and criticisms raised in its unsuccessful 1996 bid – primarily Athens’ infrastructural readiness, its air pollution, its budget, and politicization of Games preparations. Athens’ successful organization of the 1997 World Championships in Athletics the month before the host city election was also crucial in allaying lingering fears and concerns among the sporting community and some IOC members about its ability to host international sporting events.

Another factor which also contributed to Athens’ selection was a growing sentiment among some IOC members to restore the values of the Olympics to the Games, a component which they felt was lost during the heavily criticized over-commercialization of Atlanta 1996 Games. Subsequently, the selection of Athens was also motivated by a lingering sense of disappointment among IOC members regarding the numerous organizational and logistical setbacks experienced during the 1996 Games.

After leading all voting rounds, Athens easily defeated Rome in the 5th and final vote. Cape Town, Stockholm, and Buenos Aires, the three other cities that made the IOC shortlist, were eliminated in prior rounds of voting. Six other cities submitted applications, but their bids were dropped by the IOC in 1996. These cities were Istanbul, Lille, Rio de Janeiro, San Juan, Seville, and Saint Petersburg.

Highlights of the Athens Olympics

ñGreek sprinters Konstantinos Kenteris and Ekaterini Thanou withdraw from the games after allegedly staging a motorcycle accident in order to avoid a drug test.

ñWorld record holder and strong favourite Paula Radcliffe crashes out of the women’s marathon in spectacular fashion, leaving Mizuki Noguchi to win the gold.

ñWhile leading in the men’s marathon with less than 10 kilometres to go, Brazilian runner Vanderlei de Lima is attacked by Irish priest Cornelius Horan and dragged into the crowd. De Lima recovered to take bronze, and was later awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal for sportsmanship.

ñBritish athlete Kelly Holmes wins gold in the 800 m and 1500 m.

ñLiu Xiang wins gold in the 110 m hurdles, equalling Colin Jackson’s 1993 world record time of 12.91 seconds. This was China’s first ever gold in men’s track and field.

ñThe Olympics saw Afghanistan’s first return to the Games since 1999 (it was banned due to the Taliban’s extremist attitudes towards women, but was reinstated in 2002).

ñHicham El Guerrouj wins gold in the 1500 m and 5000 m. He is the first person to accomplish this feat at the Olympics since Paavo Nurmi in 1924.

ñGreek athlete Fani Halkia comes out of retirement to win the 400 m hurdles.

ñThe US women’s 4x200m swimming team of Natalie Coughlin, Carly Piper, Dana Vollmer and Kaitlin Sandeno win gold, smashing the long standing world record set by the German Democratic Republic in 1987.

ñThe United States lost for the first time in Olympic men’s basketball since NBA players were permitted to play in the Games. This defeat came at the hands of Puerto Rico 92–73.

ñArgentina wins a shocking victory over the United States in the semi-finals of men’s basketball. They go on to beat Italy 84–69 in the final.

ñWindsurfer Gal Fridman wins Israel’s first-ever gold medal.

ñDominican athlete Félix Sánchez won the first ever gold medal for the Dominican Republic in the 400 m hurdles event.

ñGerman kayaker Birgit Fischer wins gold in the K-4 500 m and silver in the K-2 500 m. In so doing, she became the first woman in any sport to win gold medals at 6 different Olympics, the first woman to win gold 24 years apart and the first person in Olympic history to win two or more medals in five different Games.

ñSwimmer Michael Phelps wins 8 medals (6 gold and 2 bronze), becoming the first athlete to win 8 medals in non boycotted Olympics.

ñUnited States’ gymnast Carly Patterson becomes only the second American woman to win the all-around gold medal.

ñChilean Tennis players Nicolás Massu and Fernando Gonzalez won the gold medal in the Doubles Competition, while Massu won the gold and Gonzalez the bronze on the Singles competition. This were Chile’s first-ever gold medals.

ñAnchored by Brazil, South America had its best Olympics, with nine Gold Medals.

To commemorate the games, a series of Greek high value euro collectors’ coins were minted by the Mint of Greece, in both silver and gold. The pieces depict landmarks in Greece as well as ancient and modern sports on the obverse of the coin. On the reverse, a common motif with the logo of the games, circled by an olive branch representing the spirit of the games.

Preparations to stage the Olympics led to a number of positive developments for the city’s infrastructure. These improvements included the establishment of Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport, a modern new international airport serving as Greece’s main aviation gateway; expansions to the Athens Metro system; the “Tram”, a new metropolitan tram (light rail) system system; the “Proastiakos”, a new suburban railway system linking the airport and suburban towns to the city of Athens; the “Attiki Odos”, a new toll motorway encircling the city, and the conversion of streets into pedestrianized walkways in the historic center of Athens which link several of the city’s main tourist sites, including the Parthenon and the Panathinaiko Stadium (the site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896).

All of the above infrastructure is still in use to this day, and there have been continued expansions and proposals to expand Athens’ metro, tram, suburban rail and motorway network, the airport, as well as further plans to pedestrianize more thoroughfares in the historic center of Athens.

The Greek Government has created a corporation, Olympic Properties SA, which is overseeing the post-Olympics management, development and conversion of these facilities, some of which will be sold off (or have already been sold off) to the private sector, while other facilities are still in use just as they were during the Olympics, or have been converted for commercial use or modified for other sports.

The annual cost to maintain the sites has been estimated at £500 million, a sum which has been politically controversial in Greece, though many of these facilities are now under the control of domestic sporting clubs and organizations or the private sector.