Memories of These Great Games

Nancy Jaffer relates the best--and the worst--of the Athens Olympics.
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Nancy Jaffer relates the best--and the worst--of the Athens Olympics.

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Markopoulo, Greece, August 28, 2004--And just like that, it's over. The two weeks of the Olympics that sometimes seemed as if they'd never end will wrap up tomorrow night with the closing ceremonies.

I'll be watching them, but, I hope, on TV while I relax on my family-room couch. Though that's a lot more comfortable vantage point than I've had during my stay in Greece, it won't be half as exciting.

I could have lived without yesterday evening, though, seeing Royal Kaliber--who I've written about throughout his career--being loaded into a horse ambulance. We all feared the worst and hoped for the best. Checking today, I was told it will probably take Royal a year to recover from his bowed tendon, but Chris hopes to have him back to try for another medal or two at the World Equestrian Games in 2006. I wish them both well.

Aside from that, I'm already forgetting the long hours, the transportation snafus, the frustrations and the extreme lack of sleep. Last night topped it all though; I had a take-out-food dinner at 3 a.m.

Those unhappy moments are being replaced by memories of what was really a great Olympics, particularly in view of the "they won't be ready" hype that we heard for years before the Games.

I tip my Athens 2004 baseball cap to the Greeks. They did it their way, but they did it. And it was great. Equestrian particularly was beyond anything I ever imagined it could be. Many said this was the best venue they'd ever seen (aside from the footing in the jumping arena.)

Here are some things I'd like to forget:

  • Greek rap music.
  • My struggle with the Internet when I first arrived.
  • Getting up at 5 a.m. after going to bed at 2 a.m.
  • Falling asleep at the dinner table one night.
  • Not having enough access to athletes, who I can chat with any time I want at home.
  • The crush in the "mixed zone" as hordes of reporters tried to fit themselves into a tiny space within earshot of whoever they were interviewing.
  • The controversy over the eventing medals.
    I'll want to remember: The beautiful fences for both cross-country and show jumping that taught me a lot about the history and flavor of Greece. Seeing (albeit fleetingly) the Acropolis and the Parthenon. Kim Severson's cross-country trip and all the medals the U.S. won. The stadium, with its much-discussed roof that looks like the Sydney Opera House (was that a coincidence, considering the success of the Sydney games?) while the Olympic flame burned brightly and inspirationally beside it. The way they played "Chariots of Fire" at the platform of the tram line. Others were going for gold; I was going downtown, on my own, in a strange country where I didn't speak the language. And I did it. A little victory, but my own. The way they sell broken pottery, copies of archeological finds. And speaking of archeology, the digs everywhere you look, reminding you that a lot of people were here before you came. Athens is, after all, a pretty interesting town. See it if you ever get the chance. But the experience won't match the one we've had here, with the assets of Greece heightened by the excitement of the Games. Despite its problems, there's nothing like the Olympics, especially if you keep thinking of the ideal and ignore the rest of the stuff. When you hear from me next Sunday, I'll be back to business as usual, covering the Hampton Classic's Prudential Grand Prix. 'Til then, kalinikta (that's "goodnight" in Greek.)