- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The Athens Games are being brought to you with a big, fat smile that masks an underlying uneasiness.

The Greeks have formed a cheerful army of 60,000 to soften the inevitable grumbling that goes with the overdone event in the best of times.

Each unpaid volunteer comes attired in a rainbow-colored polo shirt and an official grin that stretches from ear to ear. The feel-good deployment is the antidote to the unsettling anxiety accompanying the first Summer Games since the terrorist attacks of September 11.

The specter of Osama bin Laden and his head-removing vermin has become an industry all its own. The security bill in Athens has ballooned to a record $1.5billion. This does not necessarily mean it is safe in Athens. This just means some parts of the city are safer than other parts.

A smiling face tempers the leading question: Is something awful going to happen in Athens?

That is the overriding dynamic going into the Athens Games, with the competitions a distant second.

The Greek organizers have labored with the skepticism that they could not meet the deadlines and expectations of the IOC hypocrites. They are set to achieve both.

Now comes the hard part of protecting the show from those who think in symbols, a global audience and bombs.

The invasion of finicky, foreign journalists, many from America, is the first assault that requires the buffer of the smiling volunteers.

The first glitch in the operations is certain to elicit a chorus of “I told you so.”

This is the game within the game every four years, as if a thumbs-up from journalists and the IOC somehow confer greatness on a host city.

Atlanta has yet to live down its transportation woes of 1996. The ceramic statues of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe did not help either.

As it turns out, Atlanta provided an instructive lesson especially applicable in Athens today. It was the lesson of a soft target site that attracts a crowd.

A bomb-free Athens is the elementary hope, the basic definition of success this time around.

As it is, the legacy of each competition is mixed. We had Marion Jones and C.J. Hunter holding hands in an Oscar-worthy performance in Sydney, the wrongly accused Richard Jewell in Atlanta, the original Dream Team in Barcelona, Ben Johnson in Seoul, Carl Lewis in Los Angeles, the U.S.-led boycott in Moscow and so on.

One of the peculiarities of so much activity is its cotton candy-like quality: sweet on the outside but lacking in substance. Here today, most of it forgotten in an instant.

Even the inspirational person of the day, as defined by the television network, assumes a sense of sameness. The person often has three dead parents, was run over by a tractor as a youth, is blind in one eye and suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome and a couple of other syndromes, only to qualify for the Olympics.

None of the overwrought packaging is intended to minimize the person, although that is its effect. It comes with the excess.

The volunteer army that is under orders to smile at all costs completes the disingenuous facade of the Olympics. The volunteers undoubtedly have been trained to maintain their smiles under adverse conditions, including perhaps mild torture.

There is always the promise of a larger good with the Olympics, empty though it is. Bringing the people of the world together in a harmonious, productive endeavor is an increasingly problematic undertaking, the mother of all security headaches.

Many residents of Athens, the unsmiling ones, have resented the intrusion the last seven years, the time it took to complete the infrastructure of the Olympics. They hardly knew the completion of the project would bring a bull’s-eye, too.

That is the real world knocking on the door to Athens.

So unleash those big, fat smiles and release those white doves.

Good luck, Athens.

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