Teenagers ran through the streets waving Greek flags. Scooters and motorcycles zigzagged around them, honking horns in a raucous midnight celebration. Firework smoke obscured the view of the moon from the Acropolis.
The Olympics are a month away and Athenians finally -- after years of self doubt, worldwide criticism and clouds of construction dust -- are ready to party.
The nationwide celebration that followed Greece's shocking title in the European Championship earlier this month may have served as a taste of what's to come during the Aug. 13-29 Games.
But it also seemed to lift the spirits of a city and nation that had grown collectively grumpy in the buildup to the Olympics. In a poll earlier this year found Greece to be the world's second-most pessimistic nation, behind Slovakia.
But the gloom seems to be lifting. Another survey, published Sunday, found that 85 percent of Greeks now support hosting the Olympics -- with nearly one-fifth of that group admitting they did not support the idea in the beginning.
Tired of constant international doubts about Athens' readiness for the games and frustrated with round-the-clock roadwork, Greeks welcomed the totally unexpected soccer title as a chance to raise a glass of ouzo and toast themselves.
"Until the Euro 2004 win, it didn't feel like there was going to be an Olympics here," says Jason Kazanis, a Greek-Australian who has been living in Athens since late May. "People are now saying, `It's our year, this is our chance to show the world what we can do.'"
Of course, not everything is ready. And Greece's worst blackout in more than a decade hit Athens and southern Greece on Monday, raising concerns about whether the lights will go out at the Olympics.
Roads are still being paved, seats are being installed in Olympic venues and landscaping has not begun around the butterfly-shaped Olympic stadium and other showpieces of the games.
And gaps remain in the US$1.2 billion security system. About 100 subcommand centers still have not been completed, and little time remains to test security networks at the main stadium complex -- where construction is still underway.
A taxi driver proudly points to a freshly repaved portion of Kifissias Avenue, the main road leading from downtown Athens to the Olympic stadium, only to burst out laughing a block later at the sight of a road crew fixing a pothole.
"That's the way it's been, all fixed one night and refixing it the next," he says. "That's the Greek way."
There's also the weather. It was 43? C on Sunday, and the power outage cut off air conditioning for up to four hours as temperatures pushed past 40? C. At one point, generators were pressed into service at Olympic venues.
July is traditionally the hottest month in Greece, with highs often topping 38? C. The Greek weather service said average highs in Athens during the Olympics should be about 32? C.
George Roussopoulos, an information technology consultant, quickly acknowledges Athens is not yet ready for the Olympics -- but says the soccer victory is giving Athenians a chance to believe they can pull it off.
"No one thought Greece would win the Euro and they did," he said, "so anything can happen."
The soccer title high-lighted the striking contrasts of Athens, a city that mixes classical with modern in a way perhaps unmatched by any other place.
Greek orthodox priests sit at sidewalk cafes. A new subway system and one of the world's most impressive airports lead visitors to chaotic downtown streets.
An Athens baker, hearing a visitor speaking English to his family, starts cursing in Greek about "Bush and Blair" and how Americans are ruining the world. Then he hands the children cookies and gives the visitor two free loaves of bread.
Vagelis Constantine, who sells gyros in the touristy Plaka district below the Acropolis, says the Athens Olympics will be in keeping with his nation's style.
"It might not be the most perfectly organized Olympics, but perfect is sometimes boring," he says. "It's going to be a Greek Olympics -- it's going to be totally unpredictable."
DRIVING AMBITION: ‘I was excited by playing at the Olympics ... Who knows what’s going to happen? Hopefully, I could have a chance to win a medal,’ Tiffany Chan said After just three tournaments this year, a chance of Olympic glory postponed and two weeks alone in quarantine, golfer Tiffany Chan could be forgiven for feeling sorry for herself. Instead, Hong Kong’s first LPGA Tour player is sporting a broad grin and taking the positives from the game’s COVID-19 shutdown, determined to establish herself in the fiercely competitive world of women’s golf. The talented 26-year-old kept herself fit physically and mentally during the lockdown, and is happy to be back on the fairways since the easing of coronavirus restrictions last month. “When I came back to Hong Kong [in March], I actually did
Eleven-year-old skateboarder Sky Brown, who is hoping to become Britain’s youngest Olympian next year, fractured her skull and broke bones in her left hand after falling from a ramp during a training session in California. Brown posted a video of the accident on Instagram, but reassured supporters that she was fine. “I don’t usually post my falls or talk about them ... but this was my worst fall. I just want everyone to know that it’s OK — don’t worry, I’m OK,” she said. “I’m going to push boundaries for girls with my skating and surfing. I’m going for gold in 2021
It is the land of the world champions, but is it really a soccer country? That is the question that some in France have been asking this week while its European neighbors work to bring the sport back after the COVID-19 shutdown. Debate has raged ever since Ligue 1 decided in late April to bring a premature end to the season with 10 rounds of matches unplayed. By contrast, two weeks have passed since the Bundesliga restarted, while Italian Minister for Sport Vincenzo Spadafora on Thursday confirmed that Serie A would return on June 20, and La Liga and the English Premier
A feel-good campaign allowing fans to have cardboard cutouts of themselves at Australian rugby league games has been hijacked by pranksters, with a notorious serial killer among those making an appearance — while one TV show edited an image of Adolf Hitler into the crowd. The NRL launched “Fan In The Stand” to coincide with the sport’s return at the weekend after its season was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Supporters are barred from stadiums under strict health protocols, but can pay A$22 (US$15) to have their photograph printed on a life-size cutout and placed in the stands of