TIFTON -- The 2004 Summer Olympics will hold special meaning for Dr. Luke Vassiliou, an assistant professor of English and the Director of the Honors Program at ABAC.

Not only will the games be held in his hometown of Athens, but his sister, Eleni Vassiliou, is a member of the Greek women's basketball team.

"My sister has wanted this for a long time," Luke said. "So my family will basically plan their lives around the Greek women's basketball team schedule. Overall, I think the exposure that Greece -- and Athens in particular -- will get is a great benefit for modern Greeks, since for two weeks they will have the international spotlight. This is also Athens' chance to shine as a city and a tourist attraction. Millions of tourists come to Greece annually. They stay in Athens for a couple of days, tour the Parthenon, the ancient market, and Poseidon's temple, and then they are off to the islands. For once, all of these visitors will focus on Athens and the events there."

"I am proud to participate in any Olympic Games because that is the highest honor in any athlete's career." Eleni said. "But I feel incredibly lucky that I have the chance to participate in the Games organized in my own country with my countrymen cheering for me from the stadium seats. That makes me want to excel in them even more."

A native of Athens, Dr. Vassiliou came to the U.S. in 1994 and has lived in Tifton since August 2002. He visited Greece during ABAC's break in May and said Athens looked better than he had ever seen it.

"The main site (the Olympic Stadium in the northern suburb of Maroussi) is a very impressive construction," he said. "It has been revamped with a new roof designed by the famous Spanish architect Kalatrava. When people watch the Games on TV, the stadium cover that he designed will be almost like a trademark of the games. Most of the stadiums are brand new and very pleasing to the eye. Many are built close to the coastline, so people watching at home will see some beautiful shots of the Aegean Sea."

Most people naturally associate the Olympics with Greece. Records of Olympic history indicate that the Ancient Olympic Games were held in Greece as early as 776 B.C. In 1896, the first Modern Olympic Games were held in Athens. Approximately 300 athletes from 13 countries participated in that Olympics and competed in nine different sports. Since that time, the Olympic Games have been on a journey around the world for more than a century. And it seems only fitting that the games are returning to the country of their birth and the city of their revival.

"I would like to think that the historical significance of the games will resonate because they are taking place in Greece," Luke said. "I am really looking forward to seeing some of that history come to life in Athens -- events like the marathon run taking place in the actual distance from Marathon to Athens. The original run commemorates the messenger who ran -- without stopping for breath -- from the battle site of Marathon to inform the Athenians they had won the final battle against the Persians."

Getting Greece ready to host the 2004 Summer Olympics was no easy task. Greece is the smallest country -- in terms of population and gross national product -- to host the modern Games in the last 40 years as they have become a major televised event. So, Greeks had to build a lot of the facilities from the ground up -- even for sports they never play in Greece. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, they also had to allow for additional security measures.

"Greeks have spent an excessive amount of money on security: 1 billion euros -- approximately $1.25 billion dollars -- and they have NATO's cooperation," Luke said. "Many countries, including the United States, have offered their security expertise. I think there is generally an obsession with security since these are the first post- 9/11 games. But to the degree that terrorist action can be prevented, I think Greeks have taken all measures in their power to prevent such action."

The 2004 Summer Olympic Games will be held August 13-29. The competition schedule includes 28 Olympic sports, which will be held at 35 venues.

The Greek women's basketball team plays in Group A for the preliminaries. The United States is in Group B. The Greek team's first match will be against Russia on August 14. Then they will play against Brazil, Nigeria, Australia and Japan. The team will then have to wait to find out if they made it to the next round.

"My goal is to be a valuable member of the team and to offer my best performance," Eleni said. "I want to help in whatever area of the game I am needed and work with the other team players for victory. As a team, we want to perform so that we achieve the highest place possible in the final ranking. We want to make Greeks proud of their women's basketball team."

Luke said he will not be able to travel to Greece for the Olympics since classes will be in session at ABAC, but he is looking forward to watching the games.

"I will be watching on TV -- just like everyone else in Tifton," he said. "And I will be excited to see what my hometown looks like, televised to a world audience."



To contact reporter Lisa A. Lewis, call 382-4321, ext. 207.

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