C O

Culture @ the Olympics
issues, trends and perspectives

www.culturalolympics.org.uk

Athens Olympic Games 2004
Research diary of the British Academy project Andy Miah and Beatriz García

Between the 2nd and the 23rd of August 2004, we were based in Athens undertaking research about the role of non-accredited media centres in promoting the culture of the hosts of the summer Olympic Games. This project was funded by the British Academy and is described in C@tO (vol.6, issue 1). The following pages present our informal research diary notes. 2 August
On Route to Athens The flight from Glasgow was with British Airways. We had expected to see a reasonable amount of Olympic branding, since BA is the UK official carrier. However, there was very little on our journey that indicated we were on our way to the Olympic host city or that the Games were about to begin in just over a week.

3 August
Welcome to Athens Arrival in Athens at 3.30am local time. We have been travelling since 3pm UK time the day before (Monday). We sleep in the airport until 7am. Just over one week before the Games begin, the new airport is looking very tidy and spatious. It was an early flight arriving around 5am - so we didn't really get to test the airport at its busiest, but all was smooth in any case. We decided to try the bus system into the city, which would drop us off near to our accommodation.

Athens looks completely transformed by the ‘look of the Games’

Culture @ the Olympics, 2004: vol. 6, issue 2, pp. 8-34

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The bus actually seemed quicker than other times we have had to travel from the Airport into the city. It had been just under a year since either of us were last in Athens and, on the bus ride alone, it seemed like a different place. We spend a lot of this day getting re-acquainted with our hosts. We are staying in area called Nea Smyrni, which is not far from the new tram route from the city centre, south towards the port, where some of the coastal sports venues are located. It is a nice neighbourhood 15min away from Athens city centre and other 15m from the coast, the Faliro Olympic complex etc. First priority was to purchase a new SIM card for the mobile phone! Easily done, but only if you have a Greek friend or can speak a little yourself. This was not the city centre and the area has a very local, community feel to it.

display areas with information about Greek culture, the environment, events and business.

One of the comfortable press working rooms at the Zappeion Press Centre

6 August
Pre-Olympic Congress in Thessaloniki The International Council of Sport Science and Physical Education (ICSSPE) Pre-Olympic congress is the largest Sportrelated congress on the calendar. This year it is taking place in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece at the border with Macedonia. We have a very nice train ride from Athens with views of the changing Greek landscape, including mount Olympus and the sacred hills of Meteora.

4 August
The Zappeion Media Centre Our fears of being denied accreditation at Zappeion Press Centre (ZPC), the Athens Olympics non-accredited media centre, are soon dispersed. It is very easy. They have our cards ready on arrival and the place is just great. There is plenty of space to work, free broadband connections, a wide range of

We get a nice first impression of Thessaloniki, one of four Olympic cities around Greece hosting the football tournament. The city is full of Olympic banners, but has a

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very different feel to Athens. The air is cooler, the buildings have a marked Turkish and Macedonian influence and there is not the chaos of Olympic preparations that pervade in the capital. The trip from the train station to the hotel is very straight forward. Upon arrival we met one of the Congress delegates in the station and both proceed to ask for information from the unaffiliated info stand. Hotel very pleasant, even a small glimpse of the ocean and not too far from the Congress venue.

The evening ends with a range of cultural presentations and – finally! – some nice Greek food.

Greek dances at the opening of the PreOlympic congres, Thessaloniki 2004

7-8 August
Congress in progress What is most noticeable about the Pre-Olympic this year is the presence of social science and humanities research. There are a lot of papers discussing the law and philosophy of sport, which were not quite so present in Brisbane 2000. However, Brisbane was an important stage towards this presence and the role of John Nauright in 2000, who was able to put a lot of social science on the programme, was greatly appreciated. It is encouraging that some of the sport science congresses are now opening up to the less hard sciences. The ECSS meeting is also a good indication of this and its numbers are also quite staggering – around 1800 in 2003. In the evenings we have the chance to explore a bit of the city.

Thessaloniki, Olympic city 2004

The congress opening ceremony is around 6pm and includes MANY welcomes from officials, including Patrick Schamash, the IOC representative for Jacque Rogge and high priests from the Greek Orthodox Church coming from Olympia, the birth place of the Ancient Olympic Games. The long and elaborated ceremony offers a first glimpse at Greek protocols which are going to be continued at length throughout the Olympic fortnight all around the country.

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Thessaloniki has great food to offer, very different from the excessive touristy bias that tends to predominate in Athens most popular spots (there is not really a Plaka here, but rather plenty of little squares full of local unpretentious flavour).

11 August
Museum moments The morning is a little cooler today, helped by getting out of the house by 9.30am. We managed to catch the bus to Dafni within seconds of arriving at the stop. This was helpful as the last two times we have had to wait around 20minutes for the bus to arrive. At first, we had trouble asking for tickets in Greek and finding a kiosk, but were assisted by an English speaking Greek woman. This is essential where we are staying, though even those who do not speak English try to help. We arrive in Syntagma square around 10am, looking for some breakfast. At first, we see the fancy café on the square and sit to eat, but decide it would take too long and cost too much. What we want is a quick, tasty breakfast, or, failing that, just a quick one. We decide to walk to one of the museums and on the way grab a croissant and a frappe. The museum is just five minutes to the north west of Syntagma, it is the Old Benaki Museum. The museum is beautiful, full of classic items from antiquity and more recent times. The building is four stories high with ornate decorations and a view towards the Panathenaiko stadium. We spent at least 40 minutes there. There were few people attending, but we saw at least one female

9 August
Back to Athens After the conference, we took train back to Athens and had dinner there with a friend from University of British Columbia, Canada. The city is thriving – and restaurant prices roaring!! We do not get home until 1am, after taking a metro to Dafni and then getting into a taxi with a driver that tries to scam us by taking unnecessary long turns in the area. We jump off at the first opportunity but then feel we are in the middle of nowhere. A bit scary considering that we are carrying laptops and all the material gathered during the Congress. The tram services that are to run late every night during the Olympic fortnight are not yet fully operational. As it is common in most Olympic host cities in the final days before the Games, travelling at night is a bit messy but we end up managing well. We find a nice old lady in one of the lonely streets who offers some useful directions – in English!

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athlete walking around on her own. Accreditations and security One of the problems with wearing any form of accreditation is that you do not really know if people change their approach to you just because you are wearing something official. We do not stand out like the fully accredited Olympic family.

main press centre or International Broadcast Centre, do not have this information clearly visible. All officially accredited people – athletes, coaches, camera people, presenters, IOC members – have the same kind of accreditation and their specific affiliation is in very small print, too small to catch unless you have excellent eye sight. After the museum, we walk through the park to Zappeion, taking the route through the zoo and the maze of paths that surround the building. For the first time, the guard seemed interested to check our accreditation, perhaps an indication of the heightened security, given that the Mayor of Athens is presenting today. Though perhaps this is just a coincidence. We make it through the x-ray machine, following a couple of broadcasters who are worried about their expensive cameras. Working our way around The ZPC is quite peaceful at this time. Computers available, though sometimes trouble working out how to change the keyboard settings from Greek to English. The facilities are excellent, though we wonder how much busier it will become and whether there will be enough space. The provision of free lockers is a big help to free-lance journalists. We keep there a change of clothes and every-day

Official cars display their Olympic accreditations

Our accreditation looks less official and most people probably would not have heard of the Zappeion Press Centre, though all Athenians do know the Zappeion building, which sits just inside the park adjacent to Syntagma. The building has a long Olympic history, having been the headquarters for the first Olympics in 1896. It is possible that we look more official, or simply official in a different way, as our accreditation clearly indicates ‘Zappeion Press Centre’. In contrast, media accredited to the

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material, which accumulates quickly. After a couple of hours emailing and addressing journalists and interviewee correspondence, Andy attends the final minutes of the lecture from Prof. David Young, Olympic historian. The lecture is well attended, though lacks dynamism and the slide show is poorly lit. Afterwards, Andy speaks with the PR person, who could not seem less interested in him. However, Andy speaks with Prof. Young, who is delightful and pleased to make contact. We will try to meet again at the Society of Olympic Historians’ AGM in Athens. At 12.30pm, we take the metro one stop from Syntagma to Akademia, to pick up some tickets for tomorrow night’s welcome torch ceremony. It will take place in the Odeon theatre at the Acropolis. Tickets are free to anyone, but the difficult part is finding that out and then knowing where to pick up the tickets. It is not clear whether it is elitist, but it seems likely. This information is not available everywhere, though we have not yet fully checked the Ministry of Culture’s website. Press conference with the Mayor of Athens After obtaining the tickets, we head back to the Centre for the press conference with the Mayor. We arrive an hour before, though cannot receive the press packs

until 45 minutes before. We take our seats early, a few other journalists are there, though many cameras are already set-up. We speak with a presenter from US television in Colorado, who has a Greek advisor with her. They are both busy constructing the ‘track’ for her recording later. As time goes on, the room fills up, until eventually the Mayor, Dora Bakoyannis, is escorted in. She is an impressive woman, tall and attractive, with a distinct presence. She is dressed in white with a Greek blue Athens 2004 tshirt. Her hair is immaculate and she is accompanied by an adviser.

The mayor of Athens, Dora Bakoyannis

The conference lasts for one hour, with first questions from the main media companies, who seem to receive special attention from the chair, though this might just be an impression. Most of the questions are banal; we really wonder what journalists think they are doing. Is Athens ready? Of course. Do Athenians want it? Of course. Is everything wonderful? Of course.

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No surprises here, though she does still have a way with people that is playful and yet authoritative and uncompromising. Afterwards, a cocktail reception is held and the Mayor stays for 15minutes or so. The Centre is quite busy now, not much room to find a computer. We check email a few more times and then sit for a while in the massage chairs that are provided by one of the sponsors. Andy receives a phone call from BBC Five Live about his book. Then we head out for some lunch at around 430pm. We don’t seem to get hungry, despite the messy eating times. Street cycling and gallery walks On the way to finding food, we notice Syntagma in a little chaos. The main road was closed and we wondered whether the torch was about to arrive. Some police confirmed this, though it actually turned out to be the time trial for the road cycling. The bikes whizzed past, one of them even taking a photo while peddling past the government building. Who says Olympians don’t sight see as well?

We get some food in what has become our usual, unremarkable place, though the food is ok and it is quick and convenient. Afterwards, we do a little clothes shopping and then find somewhere else to eat for dinner at around 9pm. After dinner, we take a stroll to one of the art galleries, which are open from 8pm until midnight during games time. It is all part of the organising committee (ATHOC) official cultural programme, consisting of contemporary exhibits at unusual venues. The building for this one is a block of flats and doesn’t seem too inviting, but the exhibition is beautiful and worthwhile. The way home, again, is not straightforward. We take the metro to Neo Cosmos, then the tram, though had to wait around 20mins for the tram to get moving. They seem to be having problems with this system. When it works, it is excellent, but we have had difficulties so far.

12 August
Is Athens ready? Just one day to go. It is the first morning that we have had the strength to get up at 7.30am. We are getting used to the heat. Athens looks ready as the Mayor of Athens, Dora Bakoyannis emphasised in her press

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conference at the Zappeion Centre yesterday. She looked confident and pleased, and probably she has good reason. The city looks fantastic. However, some things keep going wrong with local transport: the tram is not very reliable at the moment, there are signs indicating how long until the next train, but you get stuck in the longest ‘1 minute’ waits ever. The screens never seem to go beyond ‘7min’ to the next tram, no matter whether you have to end up waiting for one hour. On the other hand, the metro and buses seem to work fine. Olympic cultural programmes We are particularly impressed with the cultural preparations. Since the first day we wandered around Athens, 4th of August, the final touches to an extensive public art programme and the amount of information about other initiatives throughout the city have developed at an amazing speed. ‘Catch the light’ is a visual arts programme consisting of images of Greek (or Athenian) people in medium size boards hanging from the gates of the National Gardens, plus enormous billboards showing stills of sports and creative views on Greek culture and related endeavours that cover full buildings at different points of the city.

Catch the light bright boards at the National Gardens

It is an effective programme that achieves a difficult balance between being creative and attractive and blending with the environment. It is a far cry from the ‘in your face’ flashy sporty images, heavy on official logos and sponsor recognition that were common in Sydney and Salt Lake. Information also abounds on the ‘other’, additional cultural events, that range from ‘happenings’ (or impromptu performances) in Olympic venues and surroundings to concerts in public squares, national parades, free theatre and other arts related shows organised by the Municipality of Athens and ATHOC. There are many other, paying events, organised as part of the Cultural OIympiad and the Athens Festival. In fact, it is confusing to realise who is in charge of what, and this, at times, jeopardises the value of ‘cultural

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guides’ that may include certain but not all activities taking place. ATHOC’s programme is the most clearly dedicated to highlight the Olympic experience. It takes place in and around selected Olympic venues, in the Olympic Village, and as end of the day celebration to the torch relay in every night-stop of the tour around Greece. The programme also includes an interesting visual arts programme, with the beacon exhibit ‘Monument to Now’, a daring proposal of contemporary art organised in collaboration with the DESTE foundation. Interestingly, ATHOC has also coordinated a ‘gallery walk’ that takes you through the little street of Athens, from Psyrris, Plaka and Monastiraki to Kolonaki and as far as Kifisia. The Municipality of Athens has launched its ‘A Celebration all over the City’ programme, which is all free and, as in the case of ATHOC, focuses on the period of Olympic sport competition. The programme is heavily focused on entertainment but has a greater level of cultural endeavour and is more unique to Athens than the ‘LiveSites!’ in Sydney. The Cultural Olympiad has stopped its performance programme during the Games, only leaving a collection of interesting exhibition at prestigious venues and a reduced number of free events that are often ‘by invitation only’ in rare

venues. Special performances and events will continue in September, once the sporting competitions are over. The Athens Festival is also in full swing, with top cultural events taking place almost daily at the beautiful Odeon of Herod Atticus, the most spectacular theatre in Athens. The events are often pricy, but welcomed by visitors interested in the arts and aware of this prestigious festival.

A further myriad of activities are taking place under the wings of several foundations, cultural centres etc. There is not clear coordination of all of this wealth of cultural offerings, but it is obvious that Athens exudes it and this makes the experience of walking around the city particularly provocative, enticing and memorable. City initiatives: ‘real prices’ & volunteering We also observe some other interesting initiatives. The Municipality has issued a ‘real prices’ list for visitors to ensure

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they do not get ripped off by overly ‘entrepreneurial’ retailers. The diversity of ‘volunteer programmes’ is also remarkable. In contrast to previous Olympic hosts, where most volunteering is managed through the official Olympic organisers, in Athens, the Municipality has made parallel arrangements, among them, the ‘may I help you’ programme. The transport authorities have also created their own ‘follow me’ campaign to guide visitors and locals through the constantly changing public transport schedules. The only difficulty is knowing what to ask to which person and when!

the amount of activities on show. These include extensive information materials, puppet and shadow theatre and chorus performances among others. It is clear that the initiative has a high profile in Greece. Interviews with cultural players Beatriz interviews Georgia Iliopoulou at the Hellenic Culture Organisation. It is a pleasant meeting, though brief. The interview is useful to get a first understanding of the structure of the Cultural Olympiad and its relation to the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and ATHOC among others. We also meet with Jude Kelly, the chair of Culture and Education at the London 2012 Olympic Bid. She is extremely open with her views and very interested in our work. She invites us to attend a lunch with Tessa Jowel, UK Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and head of DCMS. This will take place tomorrow. The flame arrives Yesterday we got free invitations to attend the special party to welcome the torch to Athens. It is in the beautiful Odeon of Herod Atticus. It is a full house, so it takes a while for people to get to their seats in this ancient open theatre. In the meantime, the torch is being carried around Athens towards us, footage of which is being projected over the wall of stone behind the stage.
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Patras, European Capital of Culture In the Zappeion on the 12th we see the Symphonic Chorus of Children from Patras. Many efforts are made by representatives from this city to ensure a strong presence in the Zappeion. They are promoting its programme as European Capital of Culture 2006. We have been impressed by the dedication and

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The city mayor, the head of the Hellenic Culture Committee, the Greek Prime Minister and the head of ATHOC all make speeches at the Parthenon and, after this, come to join us at the Odeon for a concert. The concert is also attended by the King of Greece and the rest of top Greek personalities. It is a beautiful concert, in particular, the second piece, with title ‘Slow Motion’, by a Greek contemporary composer. There is also a funny situation during the third piece by Shostakovich. The solo pianist stops playing of a sudden in a rage and seems about to leave due to being disturbed by loud noise in the background that spoils the quiet moments of the composition. This is the down side of having the whole of Athens celebrating! The orchestra director manages to convince him to stay to the relief of the concert organisers and front row personalities. In the way out of the concert we have the chance to say hello to Kostas Georgiadis, the dean of the International Olympic Academy, who, as always is half-smiling and happy to see us. Unfortunately, we end up missing the special cultural activities organised by ATHOC to celebrate the opening of their ‘Catch the Light’ programme in the Keramikos area. Our group has grown unexpectedly and we must accommodate and go to Plaka for a most needed dinner.
Miah and García, 2004: Research diary

One of the many Olympic torch bearers passing by the city neighbourhoods

As the torch passes the Odeon, it is carried by former Olympic champion Carl Lewis. The torch is finally taken up the Acropolis and there is a special ceremony at the Parthenon, where the torch is to rest at night. We have followed all of this through video projections on the Odeon’s stone, which create a strange and memorable effect.

Impressive light projections at the Odeon of Herod Atticus to celebrate the arrival of the torch to Athens

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13 August
Let the Games begin! Oddly, today is a public holiday in Athens. The day of the Opening Ceremony and everyone gets a holiday, as if all the work is done. Actually, we thought this was supposed to be some reward for the city, but we seem to find out that it was just a coincidence. The streets are empty and we leave home at around 9.30am – breakfast on the go. Spend time in the ZPC until 11.4pam, trying to find out about arrangements for the ceremonies. The difficult task was finding out about public spaces, where we could watch a screen showing the ceremony – a €900 ticket for the actual ceremony just didn’t fit into our budget! However, nobody can tell us of any clear venues where people could gather. There was some suggestion of big screens, but the ‘May I help you’ people deny this. Lunch with the British Olympic Association We depart the ZPC at around 12.30pm for our meeting with Jude Kelly at the British Olympic Association villa. The area where we needed to arrive is ‘Psychiko’ and buses did not seem obvious. We are fortunate enough to have some advice from some locals and make it there on time. The bus passes by the Hilton IOC hotel, very impressive, with

cameras everywhere waiting to spot a VIP. The lunch was really informative and a great opportunity to talk with London 2012 bid committee members, among others. It was hosted by Jude Kelly, but invitations were on behalf of Tessa Jowell, MP. Some time through the lunch, we were told that Cherie Booth, the UK Prime Minister’s wife, would join us, as she was soon to be announced as a new ambassador for the bid. This was also a great opportunity to have a discussion about Olympism, which is precisely what took place. It was a small gathering and included Ric Birch (executive producer for the ceremonies at Sydney’2000, Barcelona’92 and LA’84), Nigel Short (British Chess champion), Marco Balich (executive producer of the ceremonies in Torino 2006) and the British Council Director based in Athens. Opening ceremony At 4pm, we leave and take a bus to the area of the Hilton Hotel, where we visit one of the Modern Art Gallery exhibitions – TransCultures, part of the Cultural Olympiad programme. We then try to find out more on the Opening Ceremony, but still no information available. It is amazing that we know nothing and that, with all our contacts, nobody can confirm any arrangements. We wonder what visitors will be doing – probably watching the television!! Around
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7pm, we arrange to meet a friend from ATHOC, who has been told of a big public screen at Omonia Square. We all walk down there and nothing is happening, so it is back to the ZPC to watch the event at a big screen that has been installed within the perystile.

They have not had a very good impression of the facilities, though this seems largely due to their expectation to access sports information, for which the ZPC is not set-up. Olympic truce event We both meet at the ZPC at 12.15pm awaiting information about the Olympic Truce press conference. There is nothing available yet, so we check emails, etc. At 12.40pm, Cathy Freeman turns up with her Samsungsponsor entourage. We spend some time watching the media frenzy and get a sense for why she is there. We are given the opportunity to interview her, but decline seeing how tired she looks and given that this is her lunch time!

The Olympic flame is finally lighted at the main Olympic Stadium, signalling the end of the Opening Ceremony and the start of the XXVIII Games.

14 August
BBC interviews We depart the flat around 9.40am and take the bus to Sygrou Fix, where the tram is now terminating, due to the road cycling track arrangements in the city. From hereon, the tram does not leave from Syntagma Square for the rest of the Games. Andy’s first task is an interview for the BBC Today Show radio programme at one of the BBC posts nearby the Panathenaiko Stadium. He also records a generic for the BBC and talks with the journalists about the Zappeion Press Centre.

Cathy Freeman pays a visit to the ZPC

Nevertheless, her associates seem to know which media is worth giving specific time to; we are asked just because we have already begun to make friends there. Stelios Korkidis, Greece Press Counsellor in Beijing and previously Sydney, spends a bit

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of time talking to us and at 2pm we leave the ZPC just in time to catch the cyclists whiz by for the road race. We then try to find one of the Cultural Olympiad exhibitions, but find it difficult to locate the venue, despite asking advice from the local police. Actually, we get the impression that a lot of the police on the streets have been brought in from elsewhere. At around 315pm we arrive back in the ZPC for the Olympic Truce conference, due to take place at 4pm. What we were led to believe would be a low-profile meeting turns into the highest profile meeting of the entire schedule for the ZPC. It is not completely chaotic, but certainly no media were getting into the official meeting. All press were lined up ready to take photographs of guests, but only the select few – mainly international news wire reps such as Associated Press – were allowed into the meeting room, where the IOC president Jacques Rogge would introduce the Truce.

We arrived and managed to squeeze to the front of the press line, increasingly frustrated at what was happening. Truce is one of our major interests and we thought we had planned for this event. But, here we were being squeezed out of the main meeting. Admittedly, we had no entitlement to be there, as we learned once the guests started arriving.

Among the VIPs were Tony Blair and Cherie Booth, Juan Antonio Samaranch, Prince Albert of Monaco, Queen Sofia of Spain and many, many more. So here we were, missing the entire event, only to see people arrive and walk into the adjoining room. We just weren’t having this. We quickly needed a plan B! Andy protested at our exclusion to one of the ZPC staff, who clearly did not have any influence. So, he tried someone else who seemed a little more central to the proceedings. This woman, as it turns out, was coordinating the event. He quickly explained that we are

The IOC president arrives at the ZPC

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university ‘professors’ and that this was central to our research and, by the way, could we get in. Andy also tried to play the ‘we met Cherie Booth yesterday and arranged to see her here’ card, which seemed to work reasonably effectively, though her PA was clearly not overwhelmed. Could it be for the fact that he was in beach wear and looking not much like a professor? What can we say? We did not expect this to be anything like the event it turned out to be. Anyway, perhaps it was because this woman was from the UK, but, she let us in and we were able to get a reasonable position on the speeches. At the close of the meeting, one of the initiatives was the Truce wall, where guests were asked to sign their support for the initiative. Beatriz nearly rugby tackled Tony Blair on the way out, but everything went fine enough.

Afterwards, we had a chance to speak with Stelios and also foreign press counsellors Stavros Stathulopulos (Germany) and Nikos Papaconstantinou (London and Egypt). We have some renewed kudos from having been two of the few to make it into the meeting. Hehe. It is a very fruitful conversation, about the ZPC, how it emerged, who was pushing for it and what were its expectations. After the main guests had left, everything calmed down considerably and it was back to the real work. We sent a couple of emails to inquire about access to the International Broadcast Centre and the Main Press Centre, and Monday seemed possible. Then we took a walk to the Acropolis and Monistiraki, where we had a drink. The restaurant where we ate that night had an ‘Olympic’ theme – a 5 course meal, each course representing one of the rings and the food even corresponded to the colour of each ring. ZPC again at the end of the day and home by 1am.

15 August
Beach Volleyball Today was our first sporting event, Beach Volleyball. It was about time we found out how the journeys to Olympic venues functioned and what kind of experience visitors had throughout the process. We had

The Olympic Truce function was a high profile event aimed at generating some media headlines about this poorly recognised but important initiative

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to leave at 7am, walking first the 10mins to the tram and then taking it south to the water venues in the south of the city. First problem – the tram is delayed and both we and one of the volunteers for the beach volleyball venue have to give up. She advises us to take the bus, which is just arriving. At the end of the line, we change to Tram 2, which takes us north along the coast.

anywhere we like within our section. We easily access the front row and have a great view for the entire morning. If you ignore the fact that the ambiance of beach volley is a little masculine – note the ‘fun girl’ dancers at time-outs – there is a cool, relaxed feeling about the place. The competitions take place with music throughout and a DJ. The matches went well. Spain won the final match, which pleased Beatriz!

One among many volunteers helping direct people to the enormous coast-side Olympic venues

Arriving at the beach volley venue, the surroundings look unfinished, but it could be that these spacious areas look strange when there are few people present and they are really geared up to deal with big crowds at peak times. There were no queues at the venue, we could easily have arrived much later. The food and drink was not overly expensive and it was easily accessible at this time of day (around 8.30am). The stadium was less than half full, so we are able to sit

The session finished around 1250pm and we then walked across to the sponsor park (the Water Plaza), where Swatch had a range of stands, including ‘serving spots’, where you could serve a volleyball and see how fast your serve is. Other sponsors were also visible, particularly the Visa ATM machines – oh yes, if you are visiting the Olympics, don’t forget that official retail outlets only take VISA cards or cash. If you want to use any other plastic, you will struggle!

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Sponsor spaces Across from the beach volley venue was the Water Plaza, another sponsor spot, with a range of spaces of activity. This is the first time we see a ‘big screen’, like the LiveSite! Screens in Sydney. Apparently, they were open for opening night, but few were present. One of the major spaces here is the Coca Cola pin trading area, an enormous room shaped like a coca cola bottle. It also included sport spaces, where you could have a go at archery, weight-lifting, karate, baseball, fencing and shooting. Great idea, though seemed poorly placed – quite empty too. Hyundai cars also had space and would take photographs of guests in front of their cars, drawing people in with the big fluffy ATHOC mascot people, with whom you could take your photograph. They also offered a free bus back to Athens, but we didn’t think too much of the schedule – seemed few and long wait time between them. Olympic park and gymnastics We took the tram and metro back to the centre on our way up to the main Olympic stadium – OAKA – where the rest of the day would be spent watching the artistic gymnastics. It takes a while to go from north to south, but we make it in time, fitting in some selfservice food before hand and popping in to the ZPC for updates.

OAKA was calm, no enormous or long queues and the gymnastics was also easily accessed and quite enough that we could sit in seats that were more expensive than our ticket price. It pays to watch the heats! The artistic gymnastics is amazing. The tv only conveys one section at a time. Watching the event live is so very different, so much is happening at any one time and the athletes fall a lot!

16 August
City scenes We arrive at ZPC at 11.30am only to find out that our Main Press Centre accreditation application has been declined. The ZPC officials are clearly not that influential when it comes to ATHOC accredited buildings. We go to the New Benaki Museum, another Cultural Olympiad venue; an impressive exhibition of clothing from a range of locations called

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‘Ptychoseis=Folds+Pleats’. This is definitely one of the most extraordinary exhibitions during the Games. We then venture over to the Technopolis venue, an extensive complex of cultural centres and activity. There were few people around and the guard seemed desperate to talk to someone. One of the exhibits was a video of Olympic history, which included interviews with Olympic veteran academics John MacAloon and Norbert MXXller. Back at the ZPC at 7pm to find out about a Torino 2006 function due to take place that night. No info is available, which ruins the plan for that evening. Instead, we take the evening to have some sushi and find some of the Catch the Light events. However, there was no information available about this at Syntagma square and the people handing out leaflets about it at Korai Square were almost invisible. At around 10pm, one of the ticket booths happened to be closing and we saw an argument between a visitor and an employee, the former of which was protesting at their closing so early. A fight very nearly broke out! The volunteers are so vulnerable sometimes and just get too hard a time from visitors.

The Olympic volunteers look cheerful and relaxed regardless of the heat and pressures from some Olympic visitors

17 August
Athens by art Depart home around 9.15am, Beatriz meets Nelly Kyriazi, Director of the Municipal Gallery of Athens. She is meeting her to talk about her role as curator of the ‘Athens by Art’ contemporary public art programme being presented throughout the city during the Olympic fortnight. Andy was at the ZPC until 1230pm, conducting the daily archival work.

The Athens by art programme brings a refreshing look at the city by placing contemporary public art within otherwise traditional environments

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ZPC events Later that day, the Expo 2008 Thessaloniki bid committee gave a presentation about their aims. That night, we would prepare for one of the ZPC culture events, an evening of Greek cuisine. We had hoped for a table with ZPC officials and it more or less worked out, except for an unusual Frenchman who decided to sit with all of us and show us photographs of him with, among others, the Pope!

hungry guests, so it was a quick McDonalds later. We stayed at the ZPC all night tonight, since tomorrow was the 4.30am departure to the ancient stadium of Olympia for the Shot put. This will be the first time the venerable stadium hosts a professional sports event since ancient times.

18 August
Olympia or bust At 3.45am, we walk over to Syntagma to catch the media coach down to Olympia. This was not provided free and was actually quite expensive. Their luxury coach was far from being luxury and we did feel sorry for some of the media, many of whom were big guys with big equipment. The 5hr journey down to Olympia cannot have been easy. Most of the journalists were from the Main Press Centre and it was full. We arrive in Olympia at 9am and the route was quite different towards the end. Olympia had gone through some dramatic changes in recent months. Andy was last here in June 2003. Upon arriving, we discover that departure is not until 8pm – we had been told it was 1pm, after the shot put finished. This spoils our plan to be back in Athens for the Cultural Olympiad event tonight at 9pm, so new plans were necessary.

The magnificent Zappeion perystile is used to host daily cultural events

This was a truly bizarre evening, with somewhat serious consequences. The meal was supposed to be the one occasion when colleagues from the ZPC could sit and have some relaxing, together time. Well, while we had been invited to join their table, he had not and he was taking the last seat. Ultimately, the boss of the ZPC group dealt with it very professionally, but we did feel sorry for them! Anyway, the food was great, but not sufficient for the many

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The tour guide assures us she will find out about other possibilities, so we watch the event and relax a little. It is amazing how they have transformed the walk from Olympia down to the stadium, though there are nearly no water kiosks and certainly no food anywhere.

The train back to Athens was not much fun. First leg was packed in like chickens. The second leg began in a nice first class carriage, until we were moved and had to walk through a ‘raining’ carriage – air conditioning leaking into the train – and into our less airconditioned, but dry carriage. It took around 6.5 hours to get back and we were exhausted by the end of it. Still, just enough time to get cleaned up for the Cultural Olympiad function at the ZPC.

We feel privileged to be part of the crowd at the ancient stadium of Olympia, hosting its first professional sport competition in almost three millennia.

At around 12.30pm, we rush to the restaurant to see if we can grab a bite before learning that we need to take the 1pm train back to Olympia to ensure we make it there for the evening. It is a shame, since it would have been good to talk more with the journalists, one of whom said that being in Olympia is the highlight of his career. So much for being cynical about sports media journalists. Here we were in the heart of where sport began and it actually managed to touch someone in a very important way. How reassuring.

Stamatis Mavros, President of the Hellenic Culture Company presents his vision of the Cultural Olympiad

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20 August
Research intensive A full research day for both of us. Andy spends time in the ZPC working on new archival material, promotion for the public communication of our work, articles for newspapers and subsequently visits the archaeological site in Athens. Despite it being summer and Games week, it is relatively empty. Beatriz has to go through a real marathon of interviews at the Hellenic Culture Organisation (HCO) headquarters. This is the group in charge of the Cultural Olympiad on behalf of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture. The meetings start at 1pm and do not finish until practically 6pm. She receives great support from Takis Panagiotopoulos, HCO president advisor. The first meeting is with Amaryllis Frangou, the director of communication. She is a very straight forward person who offers very useful information about the evolution of the Cultural Olympiad marketing and promotional campaigns. She shows videos of the Cultural Olympiad TV campaign from 2002 onwards. It is also helpful to learn about the progress of the logo and the notion of a ‘brand’ that is supposed to survive the end of

the Games and become established as a permanent Cultural Foundation with a base in Greece. The next interview is with Liza Tsaliki, director of international collaborations. It is excellent to meet her and it will be definitely be worth keeping in touch. She has an academic background in cultural and media studies and is good friends with Prof. Neil Blain from Paisley University in Glasgow, who happens to be the head of Andy’s school. The interview provides detailed information about the Olympiad wider (and complex!) political context and the difficulties in securing a broad international projection. An unexpected meeting with Elias Vergidis, manager of the new Athens Culture Guide proves very useful as well. The Guide is rapidly becoming a key reference point of Athens cultural agenda. It is by far the best guide to get an impression of the wide range of cultural activity happening in Athens during the Olympics, including not only ATHOC and Municipality cultural activities, but also the Cultural Olympiad, the Hellenic festival programme and a range of alternative offerings. The guide is supported by the HCO and has been set as a long term project. The final meeting is with George Liontos, director of the ‘department of programme
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realization’, that is, the man in charge of cultural programming. He is a rather authoritative man, with a far reaching experience at the Ministry of Culture. He has a very good insight of the evolution of the Cultural Olympiad since its original inception in 1998 and is also well aware of the difficulties in confirming certain acts and responding to the very ambitious design of the Olympiad during the four years it has lasted. Mr Liontos offers a magnificent selection of Cultural Olympiad publications. These include several hard-back (and extremely heavy!) exhibition catalogues with great photographs, which are, indeed, extremely valuable additions to our Olympic culture library collection. Commonwealth connections After the exhausting – but great – interviews session, Beatriz gets back to the Zappeion Press Centre to attend a press conference by the organisers of the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006. During the press reception, we have a brief chat with Lord Sebastian Coe, the chairman of the London 2012 Bid. He is happy to hear about our project and very encouraging. We also see Prof Kristine Toohey from University of Technology in Sydney, with whom Beatriz had worked during her experience at the Sydney Organising

Committee for Games in years 1999 and 2000. The press conference is interesting enough, but the best part comes at the end, with the distribution of information backs and, best of all, nice Commonwealth pins. The pin mania is difficult to avoid in Olympic and related circles!. Olympic opera At 7pm we leave the ZPC for the Odeon of Herod Atticus. There we are going to see the opera ‘Rea’ by Spyros Samaras, which has been made famous because of its music becoming the basis for the modern Olympic Hymn. We are really exhausted and the hard stone seats do not help to make us feel relaxed, so we decide to leave at the end of act 1 and make a couple of tourists very happy with our tickets for the opera’s second half.

A view of the Parthenon from the Odeon of Herod Atticus

We go out for dinner at Kolonnaki square, a very pleasant and upmarket area of

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the city were prices are high but service is truly excellent. We are lucky and have an uneventful public transport return to our flat.

21 Aug
Olympic park - athletics A full day at OAKA today for the athletics. We depart at around 730am, missing our bus and, thus, taking around 40mins to get to the tram. We arrive at OAKA around 915am and are, again, able to sit where we like. So we get some near front-row seats to watch the Heptahlon long jump. Denise Lewis pulls out with injury, though looked good in the performance. A strong performance from Team GB’s Kelly Sotherton. We also ‘see’ the 100m heats, which include Maurice Greene, Kim Collins and Greg Campbell, though the sprint track is on the other side of the stadium, so we don’t really see much more than small dots of people and the television screens in the stadium.

We took some time to get to know the OAKA complex. Some parts look a bit desert-like, sand on the ground, seemingly unfinished, though it would be possible to pass it of as a traditional Mediterranean dry and dusty landscape! There are some beautifully arranged water areas as well, and there is where most of the visitors gather to escape the heat. Despite the many warnings ‘not to get into the water’, there are few of us that can resist the example of the many children who are already enjoying it!

The OAKA complex is a grand venue that looks a bit unfinished in parts but dazzling in others. The water areas are the perfect venue to relax from the heat

Sponsor branding is not too overwhelming, though it is clearly present in the service areas. There are many Kodak and Coke stands and the McDonalds restaurant is bursting at the seams. Water and food are reasonably priced throughout.

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At 12pm we take the metro to Nea Ionia to see the DESTE foundation exhibit ‘Monument to Now’. Well worth a visit, though the volunteers around the area did not know about its existence.

The line for the women marathon which follows the ancient route from Marathon to the centre of Athens

22 August
Visa Olympians meeting centre After a big breakfast with our hosts, we get to the ZPC and spend some time taking photographs at the Olympic Truce stand. We will use these for our university press release and to distribute information about the Truce more widely. We also go to the Panathenaiko stadium to take some photographs while it is empty. It is such a beautiful and memorable stadium. Later on today we will come here to see the end of the women’s marathon.

After lunch, we go to the Visa Olympians Meeting Centre to attend the International Olympic Academy Participants Association (IOAPA) reunion. It is a good chance to catch up with old ‘Olympic circle’ friends. Amongst the best surprises is seeing Thomas Kaptain, who is in excellent shape and funny as ever. We also see Kostas Georgiadis and his wife. Norbert Muller and Manfred Messing from Mainz University are also there. As is Holger Preuss from the same university with whom we have a brief chat. We also have a chat with our friend Evi, and a quick hello to Elisabeth Hanley who makes a speech to congratulate Laurel Iversen for her dedication to the IOAPA. We see Bob Barney, John Lucas and Cesar Torres but have no chance to say hi. We meet a UN culture and sport officer working in Kosovo who knows Ana Belen Moreno (from

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the Olympic Studies Centre in Barcelona). Ana Belen was working with him the year she went to Kosovo. He is an interesting person with a very interesting job. To be followed up. As always a bit of surprise as, in the end, we do not know so many people within the IOA world! The longest time is spent with Noemi Monin from the Museum/OSC, now in charge of Summer Games Coordination – a post briefly held by Nuria Puig, who is now back at the OSC in Lausanne. She will be working on the Beijing links. We discuss our views about the Athens cultural programme. Few people knows about the ‘cultureguide’ and are often confused about the diversity of activity on offer. We share most of the afternoon/ evening with Berta and Chris (from the Centre for Olympic Studies in Barcelona), who have had the chance to see some events through IOC support. They have collected lots of material (25kg) mainly through the Main Press Centre, where they were based. They also visited the ZPC and found it very useful and accessible. Radcliffe’s Greek tragedy We go to the Panathenaiko together to see end of Women Marathon. The entry is a bit chaotic, with contradicting directions being given – entry by the stadium, where tickets are

still distributed at the official boot, or through a special entrance at the National Gardens, linked to stadium through a walled corridor. At the entrance there are lots of people waiting, then we are told to move away, as we cannot get in without tickets. Most of us have them, so it is a useless remark that confuses people. It takes a while to make it through the corridor – constantly stopped to be checked out, with lots of police. We catch a glimpse of two ‘Greek philosophers’ at a bench behind the fences, in the park, looking in on us. (Isn’t alcohol a banned substance at the Games?) Most of the crowd are Brits carrying flags. Every British person in Athens seems to be here, benefiting from the 10 euro ticket.

British fans at the women marathon final in the Panathenaiko stadium

It is not difficult to get good seats near the finishing line – the stadium is large and we are early. We are just next to the media

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seats, which are indeed always the best (better than the VIPs designated area on the side). While we sit, we see Bridget McConnell and her husband the first Minister of Scotland Jack McConnell. A happy coincidence. We had a chance to say hello to them both. With them is the well known former British athlete Dame Mary Peters, creating a fuss as fans ask her for a signature. Japanese fans do not know what is happening (they ask us who she is) but also ask for a signature. The stadium is in full swing with the British fans dancing and flashing their flags. A smaller contingent of Japanese fans is also visible. The race starts and Paula Radcliffe is leading, which brings cheers around the stadium. But she stops, unexpectedly, in the 23 mile mark – just 3 miles to go. She is in tears, and the stadium in disbelief. The Japanese runner wins the race, with all Japanese of a sudden getting prominence. We all cheer for the runners as they arrive, especially for Liz Yelling. When she arrives, Andy spots her husband Martin, an old friend from Bedford, and has a chance to talk with him. It is nice to stay until the very end – the race started at 6pm and the final runner arrives around 9.45pm – almost 10pm. It feels

like this is the real Olympic spirit. It is inspiring to see the reactions and appreciation of the runners who arrive exhausted and still have the strength to smile or send kisses to the crowd while they run the final lap.

British media (Sue Barker) at the finishing line of the women marathon

Several of them collapse after the finishing line and must be taken out in a stretcher. The Japanese winner, though, after a moment of rest, is unstoppable, running around everywhere, carrying the Japanese flag, talking to the media and then, after receiving flowers – one hour or so after winning – running up and down the seating area, mingling with the fans that follow her around. Andy manages to shake her hand. It is so funny! Like a Benny Hill show, says Chris, as we look at the Japanese running around after her, some of them in funny costumes, a group of them all dressed in bright pink. What a strange sight, in this so beautiful and solemn stadium! It is a nice

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feeling throughout, despite the sad end to Paula’s race. We go for dinner in the Italian restaurant that is team Japan’s house after submerging our feet in the Kiatsu bath at the entrance. It consists of hot water and stones for massaging the soles of your feet. It is an initiative of the Japanese to promote healthy practices during the Games, and it works!

23 August
The finishing line This is our last day in Athens. How quickly it has all happened! The morning is spent trying to arrange bags, then rushing to meet Lucy from the Olympic Truce but she cancels so we get back to the house. We do not leave for the ZPC until 12.30 and decide to have lunch first to learn, upon arrival around 2pm, that at 12 there had been a press presentation by the Torino 2006 Winter Games Team. We are disappointed to have missed it, but we get information, including an extensive press pack. On the way, before lunch, we go through Swatch street in Plaka to see ‘Kaleidoscope’, one of many sponsor-related art initiatives. It is a clever idea, consisting of objects made by athletes in the form of art displays. The street is painted as a track lane.

At our return at the ZPC, the Zappeion peristyle has been transformed into a food and drinks display from all over Greece. As always, it has been very well arranged. It is amazing how many shows they are putting on, most of them in excellent taste though poorly attended by the journalists. We get some free ice cream, which is always welcome. We take the bus to the airport and are very happy to learn that British Airways will allow us to take all the material we have compiled without charge. We see many athletes at the airport. They are leaving after their events, which is a shame as one would wish that the Olympic village were full and busy to the end – and that the athletes were able to enjoy the atmosphere. But reality is not always as one would like it. In the end, it is the athletes with less chances of winning who are probably making the most of the Olympic experience. At least, they can relax enough to enjoy and socialise, party and meet different cultures – and stay until to the Closing ceremony!

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