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It's Greek to them but to rest of world it's scary

Published May 7, 2004

Interesting concept, this 100-day countdown to the Athens Olympics. It's just vague enough to make you wonder about its purpose.

Is it supposed to promote anticipation?

Or shall we take it as an advance warning?

Perhaps it is, so to speak, a shot across the bow. Or, in this case, a bomb across from an Athens police station.

Yup, the Olympics are getting closer by the day - 98 and counting - which unfortunately means fear, anxiety and dread are on the rise.

You should know, by now, the Games have disaster written all over them. Presumably in 50 languages. Only the degree of chaos remains to be seen.

Maybe it will go no further than the inadequate infrastructure of Athens, which is expected to cause frustrations and delays.

Perhaps the problems will be limited to the venues, which still are being furiously thrown together.

Or, possibly, the terrorist threat is real.

For months we have heard about security measures being taken in Athens. How $1.2-billion is being spent to keep athletes and visitors safe.

The Greek government insists there is nothing to worry about and the International Olympic Committee swears it has complete faith in Greece.

So just ignore that $170-million insurance policy the IOC secured last week in case the Games were canceled by war or terrorism.

"There's a possibility of terrorist attacks," U.S. pole vaulter Stacy Dragila told the Associated Press. "It is scary for the world."

It got a whole lot scarier Wednesday morning when three bombs exploded outside a police station in Athens. No one was injured, but the scope and location of the attack left a strong possibility for casualties.

Even though the bombs were timed to coincide with the start of the 100-day countdown, Greek officials insisted it had nothing to do with the Olympics.

Further, they said it was likely the work of domestic terrorists and not an international group.

That's supposed to be reassuring? As if local bombs are somehow less terrifying than those checked at customs?

Greeks are apparently mystified by the worldwide concern. Minor terrorist attacks targeting buildings or vehicles are common in Greece. They are considered a part of life and not a major threat to safety.

After all, wasn't it just two months ago that a terrorist group - using the names of Greece's Olympic mascots - firebombed two trucks during IOC meetings in Athens?

And before that, firebombs damaged three banks in central Athens as FBI director Robert Mueller was in town to discuss security concerns.

No one was killed, so what's the big deal?

What the Greeks do not understand is their casual acceptance of minor terrorists attacks is what makes the world nervous about larger plots.

If these minor-league terrorists are able to elude local authorities, how safe can Athens be from al-Qaida?

"There are no options," British Olympic Association president Craig Reedie said after Wednesday's bombs. "They simply have to get security as right as humanly possible."

Security is even more worrisome because Athens organizers have fouled up so many other aspects of the Summer Games.

The Olympic stadium is still without its 75,000 seats. Part of the track has not been completed inside the stadium. The arches that are supposed to enclose the stadium and serve as a symbol of the Games may be abandoned if construction is not far enough along by next month.

The course for the marathon is not completed, having been delayed when the original contractor went bankrupt.

A proposed tram system has been cut back and continuing road construction around venues is causing traffic snarls.

The greatest fear is the slow progress with venues and public transportation increases the possibility of security breaches. Organizers of the Salt Lake City Games recently have talked about how security was incorporated into the construction of venues, instead of added afterward.

U.S. and Australian officials are concerned enough to have made plans for their own security forces. Australia also will have jets ready for immediate evacuation. French officials say they may send athletes home after events.

Americans have been warned not to wear USA colors or draw attention to themselves for fear of anti-U.S. backlash.

Amid this backdrop, Greek officials act carefree. No doubts, no worries. They seem so intent on convincing the rest of the world that the Games will be trouble-free, they are ignoring every warning sign in their path.

Let's hope, in the next 98 days, they choose to get serious.

Otherwise, they may have no choice at all.

[Last modified May 7, 2004, 01:05:17]

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