Rogge: Athens 'unforgettable, dream Games'

Updated: August 29, 2004, 4:54 PM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Four years ago, the IOC warned Athens was in danger of losing the Olympics because of severe delays. On Sunday night, the verdict was vastly different.

"These Games were unforgettable, dream Games,'' International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said in his speech at the Closing Ceremonies of the 17-day festival.

Former IOC chief Juan Antonio Samaranch made a habit of lauding host cities for staging "best ever'' Games. But Rogge, who succeeded Samaranch in 2001, has repeatedly stressed he will never do the same because it's unfair to compare.

"Dear Greek friends,'' he said in Greek. "You have won! You have won by brilliantly meeting the tough challenge of holding the Games.''

Rogge paid tribute to Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki for leading the Athens organizing committee with "great vision and charisma." He cited Greek government officials for leaving the city with "an extraordinary urban and sporting heritage.'' And he thanked the "marvelous volunteers who have charmed us with their confidence and kindness.''

Rogge said the Games -- protected by an unprecedented $1.5 billion security plan -- were held "in peace and brotherhood.''

Referring to the record two dozen athletes caught for doping offenses, he said: "These were the Games where it became increasingly difficult to cheat and where clean athletes were better protected.''

Rogge praised the athletes who "have touched our hearts by your performances, your joys, and your tears.''

Then came the words Greece waited to hear: "unforgettable, dream Games.''

Rogge declared the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad closed and called on the youth of the world to gather in Beijing in 2008. He concluded by saying in Greek: "Thank you, Athens! Thank you, Greece!''

Earlier, in a wide-ranging news conference, Rogge said Athens had pulled off a rousing success despite the concerns over construction delays, security threats and cost overruns.

"I'm an extremely happy president of the IOC,'' Rogge said. "We always expressed our confidence in our Greek friends. I've always said I believed there was enough time to finish the preparations in due time. Many did not believe me.''

"I think our friends have delivered in Athens in a very splendid way.''

In March 2000, Samaranch said the Games were in jeopardy because of what he called the worst organizational crisis in his career. Since then, the Greeks made a frantic push to complete preparations. The government spent $8.5 billion to get venues and transportation systems ready in time. That included a security cordon featuring 70,000 police and soldiers, surveillance cameras and a blimp.

Rogge said the security had been "flawless.'' He also noted that ticket sales of 3.55 million had topped the figures from Seoul and Barcelona, international sports federations praised the venues as ``outstanding,'' and global broadcasters reported that TV ratings were up more than 15 percent from Sydney four years ago.

Moving to other topics, Rogge said the IOC will consult with international sports federations to avoid the judging and scoring errors that affected gymnastics, equestrian, fencing and other sports.

He reiterated the IOC will not consider changing the result of the men's all-around gymnastics competition in which America's Paul Hamm won the gold after judges incorrectly scored the parallel bars routine of South Korea Yang Tae-young.

"Paul Hamm was declared the winner and therefore he has received the gold medal, and for us that is final,'' Rogge said.

With 24 athletes -- including seven medalists -- expelled or withdrawn for drug violations, Rogge said the anti-doping program had been a major success. More athletes could be exposed -- and medals stripped -- in coming months when the IOC analyzes samples which have been stored for further scrutiny, he said.

"Definitely, this is one of the weapons we want to use,'' he said.

Rogge said the IOC will expand drug testing for the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, and the Summer Games in Beijing two years later. Nearly one in four athletes was tested in Athens, and that figure will "vastly increase,'' he said.

As for the competitions, Rogge singled out the emergence of Asia, which recorded a 50 percent increase in gold medals from Sydney, and predicted an even stronger performance in Beijing.

"These were the Games where we saw the awakening of Asia,'' he said.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press