The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Countdown begins in Athens

Athens: Three days before the start of the Olympics, Athenians were on Tuesday pulling out all the stops to put last-minute finishing touches to the Games, amid optimism and confidence that not even tough security measures have dampened.

Olympic fever has finally trickled down to spectators, and tens of thousands of tickets have been sold daily for the past few days, with Greeks again displaying their tendency to leave things to the last minute.

“We’re ready. You can see that at the sites, in the streets, in public transport,” proclaimed the head of the Games’ Organising Committee, Gianna Angelopoulous-Daskalaki, herself running a high Olympic fever.

“I can’t sleep any more than three or four hours a night,” she admitted.

But Angelopoulous-Daskalaki is not the only Greek suffering from Olympic-related insomnia.

Maria, a 55-year-old seamstress, has not seen the colour of her pillowcase since the weekend.

“I’ve spent the last three nights hemming volunteers’ outfits. Naturally, they were given to me at the last minute,” she said.

While all Olympic facilities are finished, some of the peripheral amenities still required a finishing touch.

The extension of the Athens metro that will link the capital to Peristeri, in a western suburb, where boxing events will be held, was inaugurated on Monday.

Twelve thousand athletes and officials have already taken up temporary residence in the Olympic Village out of the 16,000 the organisers are expecting.

The Village, in the shadow of Mount Parnitha, northwest of Athens, has reached its cruising speed and was ready to welcome the remaining competitors and officials before Friday’s opening ceremony.

In the streets of the capital, Greeks are making a lie of the image they have as rule-breakers, leaving free the fast-lanes reserved for accredited vehicles and allowing Athens’ notoriously congested traffic to flow relatively smoothly. Their co-operation has meant relief for another organisational headache.

Indeed, after years of bickering, haggling and foot-dragging accompanied by suspense over whether Athens would be ready on time for the Games, the Greeks can now pat themselves on the back, and even poke fun at their penchant for 11th-hour scrambling.

“Even if we had started earlier, we are such perfectionists that we would have worked to the last minute to be sure everything was perfect,” said Angelopoulous-Daskalaki with a strong dose of irony.

But, she added, preparing for the Olympics changed something in the Greek mentality.

“We are now able to resolve problems in a few hours. The ‘tha doume’ (wait and see) mentality is gone,” she said.

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