In Athens, many of the venues from the 2004 Olympic Games remain abandoned or rarely used. This site, shown in 2012, was an Olympic fountain. (AP)

In Athens, many of the venues from the 2004 Olympic Games remain abandoned or rarely used. This site, shown in 2012, was an Olympic fountain. (AP)

After a 108-year hiatus, the Summer Olympics returned to Athens in 2004. Gianna Angelopoulos played a critical role in bringing the Games back to Greece. In her recent book My Greek Drama: Life, Love, and One Woman’s Olympic Effort to Bring Glory to Her Country, Angelopoulos tells that story.

Bill’s Thoughts on My Greek Drama

Gianna Angelopoulos refers to the “typical cast of Greek power brokers” as “self-promoters, back-stabbers, and do-nothings.” No wonder she felt that if Greece was to win the opportunity to host the 2004 Olympics, she’d have to take charge of the effort herself.

The background to her successful effort includes her country’s failure to capture the 1996 Games. Apparently many in Greece felt their nation had earned the right to host the spectacle that marked the 100th anniversary of the modern games simply by being Greece, where the original Olympics were staged. It didn’t work out that way, of course, and according to Angelopoulos, when she agreed in 1997 to head the bid for the 2004 Olympics, she made it clear that she would have to “rebrand” Greece.

As Angelopoulos tells it, she was successful in that effort. Even though she and her husband often had to dig into their own deep pockets to cover basic expenses such as filing fees and office rental, Angelopoulos and her team “treated every IOC member like royalty,” thereby convincing the Lords of the Rings that Greece could handle the Games. Her work completed, Angelopoulos accepted the congratulations of her colleagues and left the building.

Then everybody else dropped the ball. In 2000, three years after Greece had been chosen to host the 2004 Games, the organizing committee was utterly disorganized. They had done so little to prepare for the spectacle that the very members of the IOC who’d been treated like royalty began talking about yanking the Games from Athens and asking Sydney, the 2000 venue, to host them again. The call went out to Ms. Angelopoulos once more, and eventually she agreed to take responsibility for making sure the Games actually happened.

“I was the Olympic bitch,” she writes. “Indeed, the Super-bitch: a rough and wealthy woman who dictated how everything should be done.”

Post-Olympics Greece made the news by going broke and threatening to drag the European Union down. According to a recent story in Time, many in Greece now see the expenditures associated with the Olympics as the beginning of that crisis. Whether or not that’s the case, certainly a lot of what was built to accommodate the 2004 Games has been left to fall apart. Angelopoulos quotes various figures to demonstrate that she brought the Games in under budget. Her contention is that she gave the government every opportunity to “transform the lives of the Greek people,” and that those “back-stabbers and do-nothings” botched the job. Her opponents, whom she identifies as “the Greek politicians and their cronies in the press” who “would never forgive me my Olympic success,” maintain that she ended up being part of the on-going problem rather than, as she suggests, the promise that others could not sustain.