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Games come home in ancient and modern glory
Updated: 2004-08-14 07:56

Greece staged a triumphal pageant to welcome home the Olympic Games Friday, weaving ancient tradition and modern technology that lifted spirits after a drugs scandal engulfed the home nation's two top athletes.

By the time the Olympic flame was lit, three hours of music, dance and fireworks had helped dispel lingering doubts about Athens' readiness and taken minds off gold medal sprinter Costis Kenteris -- expected to carry the torch, he lay instead in hospital facing expulsion and shame for missing a dope test.

The Chinese delegation, lead by flag bearer Yao Ming, marches into the Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games August 13, 2004. The games were opened in a spectacular ceremony in their historic birthplace. [newsphoto]

As helicopters patrolled the skies and troops ringed the futuristic new Olympic Stadium for the first Summer Games since the September 11 attacks, Olympics chief Jacques Rogge urged athletes to set an example for world peace. Pointedly, he told them to forswear the drugs that have so tarnished sport's image.

In an age where the televised spectacular has become almost commonplace, tens of thousands of spectators gasped in delight throughout -- from the moment a boy aboard a paper boat sailed across a flooded arena to a video greeting from the Russian and American crew of the International Space Station.

The Olympic rings are lit up during the opening ceremony of the Athens Olympic Games August 13, 2004. [Reuters]
Billions of viewers around the globe saw the teams of 202 countries parade behind their flags.


The troubled nations of Iraq and Afghanistan won the biggest cheers, roars of approval met hand-holding North and South Koreans and there was warm applause for the big U.S. team, despite American fears of a chilly welcome.

The 75,000-seat stadium is the centerpiece of an impressive array of venues, completed in a late spurt to host the world's biggest sporting festival after years of political wrangling and international concern that delays might scupper the Games.

The Olympic torch is shown after its lighting during the Opening Ceremony of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Friday, Aug. 13, 2004. [AP]

"The country that gave birth to athleticism welcomes you," said the announcer before Greek President Costis Stephanopoulos declared the Games open in the city where they were revived in 1896 and the country that created them nearly 3,000 years ago.

Windsurfer Nikos Kakalamanakis, a gold medallist in Atlanta eight years ago, lit the Olympic flame that will burn throughout the next 16 days of action in 28 sports.

He was by all accounts a late substitute for Kenteris, the Olympic 200 meters champion who had plunged home fans into despair by missing an eve-of-Games drugs test and then crashing his motorbike, leaving his participation in doubt.

An artist symbolising Alexander the Great performs during the opening ceremony of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games August 13, 2004. A spectacular opening ceremony launched the Athens Olympics on Friday, lifting spirits in the Games' ancient birthplace after the host nation was rocked by a drugs drama involving its two top sprinters. [Reuters]

His training partner and passenger on the bike, Katerina Thanou, the 100 meters silver medallist in Sydney four years ago, also missed a test and also lies injured in hospital.

Games organizers gave the pair a three-day reprieve, scheduling a hearing for Monday that will determine whether they are allowed to compete when the athletics competition begins next Friday.


A heartbeat of drums had counted down to the opening moment of the pageant. Amid torchlight and fireworks, giant sculptures appeared above the waters of the arena.

A living frieze of Greek myth and history paraded by, the voice of opera diva Maria Callas echoed across the stadium and lasers created a DNA helix.

A Centaur throws a lance during the Opening Ceremony of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Friday, Aug. 13, 2004. [AP]
Many of the 10,500 athletes streamed in for the traditional march of the competitors, with tiny Saint Lucia -- Agia Loukia in Greek -- taking alphabetical pride of place at their head.

Political leaders and crowned heads from around Europe and the wider world watched the proceedings. Former U.S. President Bush was in Greece to join world leaders in a show of unity behind the Olympic ideal of peace.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Greece's old foe, said he would bring a message of global cooperation and Turkish athletes were among those given a warm welcome by the crowd.

Organizers expected four billion watched on television.

Hours before the ceremony, Rogge's International Olympic Committee (IOC) spared the host nation major embarrassment by granting "Greece Lightning" Kenteris and Thanou more time to explain why they missed Thursday's dope tests.


The twists and turns of the drama stunned Greece as television and radio stations broke into programs with the latest news on the nation's heroes.

Officials said neither was seriously hurt but had been ordered to stay in medical care for at least two more days.

The Greek National Olympic Committee said it would hold a special meeting Saturday to discuss the affair.

Rogge said their standing as national heroes would have no bearing on their fate.

The IOC disciplinary commission can rule a missed test is a failed test, carrying a two-year ban.

Greek newspaper Ethnos urged the sprinters: "Tell us the truth -- You owe it to all Greeks to prove you are clean."

The main sporting action begins Saturday with the spotlight on the swimming pool where the United States and Australia will renew decades of Olympic rivalry.

American Michael Phelps and Australia's Ian Thorpe will lead the battle for the four golds on the first day.





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