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Athens' Image Bolstered by Olympics - 2004-08-28

Early fears of an Olympics disaster failed to materialize here in Athens, where the heightened security may have been obtrusive, but was not enough to keep away the crowds.

On the final weekend of the Olympics, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people are strolling through the Olympic Park between games, spending money and enjoying the cooler than average temperatures. Although just how much tourism and money were generated by the games remains to be seen, one thing is clear, Athens' image wins the gold. John from Canada says he's impressed.

"Well it's great!" he exclaimed. "Love the country; love the place. It's fantastic."

In spite of numerous controversies surrounding the Olympics, John says the scandals did not distract him from the games. In fact, he says, it's almost to be expected.

"The atmosphere is really just amazing," said John. "There's always going to be some negative in any sort of event so I guess that's just the way you have to take it."

At least 20 athletes have been thrown out of the games for using banned performance-enhancing drugs. More were disqualified from competing even before the games began. And then there were the handful of judging controversies that took away some medals, or gave some of them back.

But that, says German tourist Andrea does not reflect badly on Greece. "I think every year and every sport," said Andrea. "You cannot blame it on the country or on the games or whatever."

Andrea's friend Costas - who is Greek - adds that this Olympics seems to have more doping scandals because testing has become more accurate.

"This Olympics, the doping control was very extensive and very good," said Costas. "The other Olympic games, they weren't that good, the medical tests, so it's logical that more results are positive."

Now at the end of its two and a half week run, the Olympics in Athens can be called a success, especially by those who had the most to lose, the Greeks. In my own unofficial survey, Greeks were overwhelmingly positive about the Olympics, saying it helped make the city cleaner, and put it back on the map for tourists. Several, like Angelos, were quick to point out how much Greeks like Americans, who have made fewer trips overseas since the September 11 terrorist attacks three years ago.

"Because we have three or 3.5 million Americans of Greek origin," he said. "We have very warm feelings for Americans. So don't be afraid and trust people. Believe me they love you."

Hopefully, the Olympics goodwill will outlast the cost of putting on the games, estimated to be about $8.5 billion, several billion dollars above budget. In addition, the cost of maintaining the Olympic venues could add up to millions of dollars a year. And, so far, there are no specific plans in place on what to do with the venues once the games are over.