The arrival of the Olympic flame on the Acropolis has finally set Athens alight in Olympic fever. After seven years of hard work preparing for the Games, Greece is proudly looking forward to the opening ceremonies.
After visiting all the continents, the Olympic torch is comnig back
The torch moves from the Acropolis to the Olympic stadium on Friday, when the opening ceremonies kick off the Games. As is usual, there's still a veil of secrecy over many details of the ceremonies, including who will be the final person to carry the torch into the stadium and light the Olympic flame. In Athens, one of the leading candidates is rumoured to be Greek sprinter Konstantinos Kenteris, who won a surprise gold medal in the 200-meter race in Sydney four years ago.
Naomi Campbell was one of many to carry the Olympic torch
The wood-and-titanium torch arrived at Acropolis Hill via the port of Piraeu, where it had spent the night after being carried on a replica of an ancient Athenien warship. More than 600 people helped carry it through the suburbs of Athens. The list of torch-bearers included Greek artists, singers, and celebrities, as well as nine-times Olympic gold medallist Carl Lewis and supermodel Naomi Campbell (photo).
Games are coming home
"The Games are coming home," is the motto of the Greek host city, which -- despite expectations to the contrary -- appears to be well-equipped for the event. "Greece has done everything it can for the success of the Games, it has kept its promises. We're happy and relieved," said the head of Athen's Olympic Committee Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki at the end of the International Olympic Committee's 116th session. IOC President Jacques Rogge repeated his statement that the IOC expects "very, very good Games" from the birthplace of the Olympics.
For many years, it looked like this wouldn't be the case. Chaos had a name: Athens 2004. But no one's talking about that anymore, even though in and around Athens, workers are still frantically carrying out last-minute paint jobs and clean-ups. In the Olympic stadium on Thursday, technicians were laying out the final cables needed for Friday's opening ceremonies. In the Hellinikon sports complex, home to the basketball, fencing, hockey and canoeing competitions, organizers are hoping an irrigation system will transform brown swathes into green lawns. At the volleyball venue in Faliron, the last bits of concrete are still being laid in the parking lot.
It wasn't always clear that the games would come back to Athens
On the other hand, the 10,500 athletes from the 202 teams have nothing but praise for the Olympic Village. Special "Olympic lanes" on Athens' streets have so far allowed traffic to flow smoothly. Public transportation is running on schedule, and 45,000 smiling volunteers are on hand to help. The weather is hot, but not unbearably so.
Over 70,000 security personnel
Patriot missile launchers will watch over the games
Still, there's a great deal of scepticism and uncertainty surrounding the first Olympic Games since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. More than 70,000 security personnel and over €1 billion spent on additional security measures are impossible to overlook. The Olympic Village disappears behind a 4-meter-high wall. Patriot missile launch stations are part of the scenery at the competition venues, as are the war ships along the coast. And yet: "If something were to go wrong here, no one in the world could guarantee security," said the minister in charge of Olympics security, Giorgos Voulgarakis.
Organizers say fears over a possible attack have kept visitors away. Only half of the 5.3 million tickets for the Games have been sold. Most of the finals, however, are expected to take place in full arenas.
But organizers are hopeful that the spectacular opening ceremonies will revive interest in the Games. The head of the Athens organizing committee has already announced that she won't be able to hold back tears of joy. "The efforts of all Greeks have helped turn Athens back into the Olympic city, and the world will look upon us with admiration," said Angelopoulos-Daskalaki. "Every Greek can be proud."
German athletes hoping for victory
Ludger Beerbaum will carry the German flag into the stadium
Among the German contingent, equestrian Michael Beerbaum is already full of pride -- he has the honor of carrying the German flag into the stadium during the opening ceremonies. For the other 450 German athletes, the focus is on stopping the declining medal count since the 1992 Summer Games. "A medal at the beginning -- in the best case, a gold medal-- would do us good. But even if it doesn't start with a bang, we shouldn't let that make us crazy," said the German national Olympic chairman, Klaus Steinbach. Cycling star Jan Ullrich, shooting champion Sonja Pfeilschifter, and the women's swimming team in the 4x100-meter race all have a chance to capture an early gold in their competitions on Saturday.