ALL THAT'S MISSING ARE GREEKS.
ATHENS, Greece - Let's see, how about: Dear Greeks, You're having great Games, wish you were here.
No, doesn't quite capture it. The Greeks who somehow have been left behind, seem to be swell people. Genuinely friendly. Very helpful. Will leave behind a nice legacy.
Apparently they're all working here. Volunteers, or on the $1.5 billion security payroll, or had some reason to be left in the rearview mirror.
Otherwise, this is developing into one very strange Olympics.
There's nobody here. Most disappointingly, not at the Games themselves. But also not around the Games, not in the Olympic park, not in the streets.
It's an Olympics without a sense of itself. There are no gathering places. Crowds do not mill around the Olympic Center. There is no Olympic ambiance, no underlining excitement, no real anticipation.
I thought these people were desperate to have the Games back. They've been trying to host them again for like 100 years.
Have a T-shirt back home picked up on a trip to Europe in 1985, which I'm certain still fits, that reads: Greek Olympics 1996.
They didn't get that one. Were deemed not ready. Tried again for 2000, same scenario.
So they finally get their beloved games back in Athens again for 2004 and everybody immediately headed for Cyprus or Myconos or Santorini or apparently anywhere that isn't Athens.
``The Greeks are on holiday,'' said a Greek volunteer.
All of them? Nobody wanted to stay behind and take in some weightlifting or Greco-Roman wrestling? Maybe check out those Greek synchronized divers.
So confused. Athletes have trained for years to finally make it to the Olympics, and they're performing at near-empty arenas and stadiums.
You have to feel for them. The men's gymnastics finals performed before a half-empty arena? Softball players diving for foul balls into empty seats?
Hey, I'm not a big Olympic table tennis fan, but should they really be able to hear their ping-pong ball echo throughout the arena?
Know the difference between an empty Athens arena and one with competition going on? The latter has athletes in it.
Here's the killer: Greece thinks it's doing a bang-up job on attendance. They tell us that every morning. Just a raging success.
``We're happy to announce that so far we have done an excellent job,'' said Marton Simitsek, chief operating officer of the Games. ``We have managed to exceed the total ticket sales of Seoul and to match Barcelona sales.
``So far we have sold 3,002,852 tickets, a total of 181.2 million Euro (about $1.20 to the U.S. dollar), which covers 99 percent of our target budget.''
Guess they must have built a lot bigger arenas here. Or that no-show factor is setting European records. Footnote: They claim to have sold 3 million tickets but 5.3 million are available.
One factor, if not huge still significant, is the Americans are not here. Say what you want about us, but we travel well. We get up and travel to Olympics all over the globe.
Unless it's in the wake of 9/11 and all you've heard about is terrorist threats and concerns Greece wouldn't finish its venues in time.
So most did not come. If you're concerned about a possible terrorist attack, do you take Little Johnnie to the Games in Athens or stay home and check out the action on NBC? Most decided they could put up with Bob Costas.
A lot of the rest of the world must have felt the same, except they don't have Bob Costas.
The Greeks claim many venues have been well attended. Swimming and all things wet seem solid draws. Men's basketball can bring a big following, but the U.S. women must have played before 400 people the other day.
Volleyball, baseball, softball, boxing, handball, table tennis, archery, field hockey, shooting, beach volleyball, even soccer - all played before less than half-empty crowds.
And there's just no buzz on the street, no bustling, electric atmosphere. Olympic Center, called OKKA here, should be the Olympics center, but it's normally deserted. No parties, no live performances, precious few wandering people.
All Greeks not investing time on their Mediterranean tan or working, apparently sit in cafes all day and smoke cigarettes. Timed it, and the official record for a Greek between tobacco hits is 30 seconds.
And that much ballyhooed security plan is real hit-and-miss. Nobody checked my bag on the way into the Opening Ceremony, the one where I sat across the aisle from Britain Prime Minister Tony Blair.
After the ceremony, the media was allowed into the main press center without bags screened or having to go through the medal detector.
They did make me take my laptop out at the table tennis venue, however, and turn it on. Now I know a lot of people who would probably like to blow up table tennis at the Olympics, but I don't count Al-Qaeda among them.
From what I can tell, that $1.5 billion security bill has gone to paying guys in blue shirts and blue berets, guys in green shirts and blue berets, and guys in army fatigues and black berets with rifles strapped across their chests, to stand under umbrellas, smoke cigarettes and talk to each other.
At least there's a show of force somewhere.
Four days into the competition is a little early to lapse into the Ugly American bit, but there are some great competitions going on.
Too bad Greece is missing it all.
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Aug 18, 2004|
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