Originally created 09/06/97

The Games return to its birthplace



LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) - This time, sentiment prevailed.

After the snub of 1996, the Olympics are returning to their Greek birthplace in 2004.

Athens was awarded the first Summer Games of the new millennium Friday, bringing the Olympics to the Greek capital for the first time since the modern games began in 1896.

"We're giving back to the Greeks what they gave to us," said International Olympic Committee member Jacques Rogge. "The extra value of the Greek tradition made the difference."

The decision set off celebrations in the streets of Athens, where young people linked arms in traditional Greek dances near the Acropolis and motorists honked in joy. Ships in the western port of Patras sounded their fog horns.

Some of the jubilant Athenians said the decision was a sweet payback for Greece's devastating loss to Atlanta for the 1996 Centennial Games.

"They owe it to us because of 1996," said Yolanda Lalabake, celebrating in central Athens.

"There is a natural sympathy vote for Greece," said British IOC member Craig Reedie. "If you go with your heart rather than your head, you vote for Athens."

The sentimental factor produced a surprisingly large victory for Athens over Rome, its main rival and considered by many to have been the favorite. The other losing cities were Buenos Aires, Argentina; Cape Town, South Africa, and Stockholm, Sweden.

Greek and IOC officials said the Athens bid also benefited from its promise to take the games closer to their roots and away from the commercial excesses that tarnished the Atlanta Games.

"As a great athletic contest, we have to provide the possibility for the Olympics to cleanse itself from rampant commercialism," Greek Premier Costas Simitis said.

Athens beat Rome by 25 votes - 66-41 - in the fourth and final round of a secret ballot by 107 IOC members at the Beaulieu Palace in Lausanne.

It was one of the biggest winning margins in IOC history. It equaled Seoul's 25-vote margin in the two-city race against Nagoya, Japan, for the 1988 games.

"It was expected that either Rome or Athens would win," Rogge said. "What was unexpected was the margin."

Buenos Aires and Cape Town tied for the fewest votes in the first round. In a tiebreaker, Cape Town won 62-44, and Buenos Aires was eliminated. Stockholm went out next with 19 votes and Cape Town was ousted in the third round with 20.

With a majority of 54 votes required for victory, Athens led in every round with 32 votes in the first, 38 in the second and 52 in the third. The margin of victory came when Athens picked up 14 votes that had gone to Cape Town.

Most of the credit for Athens' victory went to Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, the charismatic bid chief. A lawyer, former member of parliament and wife of a millionaire steel and shipping tycoon, she is the first woman ever to lead a successful Olympic bid.

"She united a team that was not united before," Rogge said. "She delivered. She was able to rally forces and build a team."

Canadian IOC executive board member Dick Pound said she had learned from the mistakes made by the previous Greek bid, which involved different people.

"They came back after defeat," Pound said. "They corrected their mistakes. They were totally focused on the qualities of the bid rather than demanding the games as a right."

By choosing Athens, the IOC returned to its traditional roots in Europe while declining to take the games for the first to Africa or South America.

Athens, Rome (1960) and Stockholm (1912) had all staged the games before. There was a strong push to take the games back to Europe in 2004 after 10 years and four Olympics away from the continent.

Personal appeals to the voters in Lausanne from South African President Nelson Mandela and Argentine President Carlos Menem failed to win over the IOC.

Perhaps the biggest loser was Primo Nebiolo, the powerful Italian president of the International Amateur Athletic Federation who had sharply criticized the Greeks over their organization of last month's track and field world championships. His outbursts may have alienated a number of potential Rome votes.

Nebiolo said Rome was defeated by a last-minute alliance between Athens and the African bloc. He said the deal was worked out in a hotel suite Thursday night, with the Africans agreeing to support Athens if Cape Town was eliminated. In return, they expect Athens supporters to back a South African bid for 2008.

"The vote was a message of support for Africa," Rogge said. "Getting into the third round is a good beginning. Our message is: improve and your time will come in the near future."

While the Greeks offended many IOC members in their previous bid with their arrogance, Angelopolous-Daskalaki ran a virtual one-woman show that played all the right cards.

"This is a new bid for a new city, a better candidacy," she said in her final presentation to the IOC before the vote. "We learned that what is at stake in this election is not what an Olympics can do to a city but what a city can to do bring honor and glory to the games."

Now the IOC wants to make sure Angelopolous-Daskalaki stays on as part of the organizing team for the next seven years. She promised she would.

"I should be the last one not to stay and to work for my country with all our people," she said.