We laughed at the Greeks, smug Americans that we are. A couple of months ago, many of us were predicting the nation that gave birth to the Olympics was going to make a mess of everything. Roofs would be sitting on the ground next to the stadiums they were supposed to be on top of. Subway lines from the airport to downtown would stop halfway there and everybody would have to hitchhike. They'd forget to put lighter fluid in the torch, and the guy who was supposed to unlock the stadium doors for the opening ceremony was going to be on a coffee break while thousands of athletes, spectators, journalists, and stray dogs lingered outside waiting to get in.
I admit it. I joined in on the new Olympic sport of Host Country Bashing. "The Greek Olympic Committee has announced all preparations for the Games should be completed by March, 2007," I wrote in an earlier blog entry. In my annual Happy Dysfunctional New Year article on my other website at davethefox.com, I predicted a new event: the 1,000 meter Athenian Traffic Hurdle. We were wrong. Greece just hosted an awesome Olympics, completely void of the subway derailments, topless stadiums, terrorism, and rabid dog attacks on synchronized swimmers that we predicted.
After I posted my tongue-in-cheek critique of the Athenian Olympic preparations in May, I received a letter from Ranya, an Athenian who was raised in the United States. Ranya wrote, in part:
I am very sorry to say that all the international community does is try to criticize the Greek Olympic Games. The Greeks are people that although they may be late in performing things, at the end, everything turns out well. I think the final result is what counts the most and not if you follow certain time programs. I was raised in the States and this criticism against Greece is very upsetting to me. Furthermore I don’t believe that the States should criticize Greece about the security of the athletes or if things will be ready on time because I believe that the Olympic Games 1996 in Atlanta were not the best example for the international community.
I wrote back, assuring Ranya that Greece has been one of my favorite countries for years. I said I was actually jealous of the laid back manner in which Greeks live their lives. I was still secretly skeptical that they would get their Olympic preparations done in time. I promised to put Ranya's e-mail on my blog... but then... well... I ran out of time to do so before leaving to go guide my early summer tours in Europe. I was guilty of the same offense I was accusing the Athenians of -- not getting things done on time as promised.
I was not the only writer having fun predicting Olympic disaster, and I'm not the only one feeling a little bit sheepish now. Sports Illustrated correspondent Rick Reilly wrote, "Sorry about the way we acted. We were paranoid and stupid and just flat out wrong. Our bad. If you want, we'll sleep on the couch."
Greece just pulled off one of the best, most flawless Games we have seen in a long time. We made a much bigger mess of things in Atlanta. The Greeks proved all of us skeptics wrong. And I also have to admit I feel a bit silly for mocking the Greek Olympic mascots. I wrote that they looked like "somebody took a blowtorch to plastic Bart and Lisa Simpson dolls and melted away part of their heads." I still kind of feel that way, but having researched the issue of Olympic mascots further, I discovered Izzy, the mascot America came up with for the Atlanta Games. I don't mess around with hallucinogenic drugs, but I imagine that Izzy must be the creation of some poor American who was watching the Smurfs on LSD.
So to Ranya and the rest of Greece, I must echo Rick Reilly's comments. I was wrong. I am sorry. I am coming to your great country in two weeks. I am looking forward to riding your new subway line from the airport. I am looking forward to ruins free of scaffolding. I am looking forward to the best food in the world, and intoxicating folk music, the bluest of seas, and a people with an enviable passion for live.
If you want to take a blowtorch to my head, I will understand.