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Anniversary Ring(s) Fit Greece Fine

Olympics: Athens awarded 2004 Summer Games after new strategy overtakes Rome in elections.


LAUSANNE, Switzerland — The Olympic Games will return to their birthplace in 2004, thanks to a secret-ballot election here Friday that sounded like a field report from the battlegrounds of antiquity:

Rome sacked by Greece.

Seven years after losing the 1996 Centennial Games to Atlanta and vowing never to bid for the Olympics again, Athens swallowed its pride, retooled its strategy and campaigned again, this time outmaneuvering all comers, among them its centuries-old--and favored--rival from Italy.

After a five-city field had been reduced to two, Athens routed Rome on the final ballot, 66 votes to 41, earning the right to host its first Olympics since the inaugural Games of the modern era in 1896.

Cape Town, whose formal presentation before the International Olympic Committee was bolstered by the presence of South African President Nelson Mandela, reached the semifinals and possibly positioned itself as a favorite for the 2008 Games.

Buenos Aires and Stockholm, the other finalists, were eliminated in the first two rounds.

Athens succeeded where it had failed in 1990, by owning up to the mistakes that cost it the 1996 Games. Accused of arrogance, sloppiness and complacency then, Athens returned with a mea culpa campaign that proved effective.

"We saw, back in 1990, that our desire and heritage alone would not guarantee our election to host the Games," Gianna Angelopoulos, president of the Athens 2004 bid committee, said during the city's formal presentation Friday.

"After that, we Athenians looked at Athens with a more critical eye, to see our city through the eyes of the international community. And we realized that, yes, we should improve our city. Yes, we should improve our environment. Yes, we should improve our infrastructure. . . .

"So we all embarked on a journey forward to make our city worthy of its past, and we have met with success."

The new humility played well with IOC members, who awarded Athens the most votes in each of the four rounds of balloting.

"Last time, their pitch was, 'We are Greeks, therefore we should have the Games,' " newly elected IOC Vice President Anita DeFrantz of Los Angeles said. "Now it was, 'We have the facilities, we'd like the Games, we need your support.' "

Added Dick Pound, IOC vice president from Canada, "They had a good presentation. They took every tough issue facing them and dealt with it. The approach they took and the attitude they had was very reassuring."

Rome, long regarded as the favorite, might have hurt its chances by flaunting that position. Rome argued that it had the best facilities, the best organization, the most experience at hosting major sporting events, the top amenities--that it was, really, the only choice the IOC could make.

"This, then, is the country that has come to advocate its candidacy before you, proudly and confidently," Italian Deputy Prime Minister Walter Veltroni told the electorate before adding, "We confidently trust in your sound judgment."

When IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch opened the sealed envelope and announced that Athens had won the bid, the Rome contingent stood in stunned silence while Athens organizers pummeled one another with giddy backslaps and bearhugs.

Italian IOC member Ottavio Cinquanta said he believed Rome was sabotaged by Cape Town supporters who threw their votes to Athens once Cape Town was eliminated, possibly hoping for reciprocation if and when Cape Town bids again.

"You have to be very practical when you cannot win," Cinquanta said. "You try to pave the streets for the future, you understand what I mean?

"When South Africa was defeated, where did they put their votes? A 25-vote difference between Rome and Athens? That's impossible."

Needing a simple majority, 54 of 107 votes, to win, Athens ended the third round with 52 votes to Rome's 35. Cape Town, with 20, was eliminated.

Fourteen of those 20 votes shifted to Athens in the fourth round while Rome picked up only six.

Another Italian IOC member, Mario Pescante, contended that Cape Town had set itself up for a successful bid for the 2008 Games.

"There will be a majority for South Africa for 2008," Pescante predicted. "The next decision will go [to a country] outside Europe."

Cape Town's case was pleaded here by Mandela, who made the final speech of the South African city's 55-minute presentation. It didn't get the emotional knockout Cape Town organizers had been hoping for, but Mandela's brief speech implored IOC voters to "give the African march to the new future the great and unequaled impetus it needs and deserves."

"We trust that you will hear our plea, which is motivated neither by a spirit of antipathy toward any of the other competing cities nor a search for glory.

"Rather, we are moved by the deep conviction that very rarely does humanity have such an opportunity as the one presented to you today . . . a day that cannot be postponed."

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