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Athens warms to Olympic spirit

By Robert-Jan Bartunek for CNN

• Olympics 2004: Special report 

(CNN) -- The Athens Games were off to a bumpy start.

Empty stadium seats at many events and the doping scandal surrounding Greek sprinting stars Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou sparked fears that the return of the Olympic Games to their birthplace could be a letdown.

After one week however, officials say that the Olympic Games are going better than anyone could have hoped.

Athens organizing committee executive director Spyros Capralos told CNN he was very satisfied with the way things were going.

"Frankly, I'm happier than I ever thought I could be. There are no major problems: transport is working well, TV images are fantastic and everybody here is enjoying Greek hospitality and Greek food.

"It is normal to have low ticket sales for lesser known events in the first week, but now the stadiums are full and the atmosphere in the city center is amazing.

"I think many people at home see these images on TV and regret they didn't come to Greece for the Olympic Games."

Just a few months ago, Athens' preparations were so behind schedule that there were serious doubts the city would be ready in time for opening ceremony.

Former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch said that Athens came very close to not hosting the Olympics at all because of the delays and poor organization.

Samaranch, now the IOC's honorary president for life, said it took a stern warning to get things moving, but once the government and organizers understood what they had to do they staged excellent Games.

"We had a wonderful opening ceremony. All is going very well and the Greeks are showing to the world they are excellent organizers," the 84-year-old Spaniard told Reuters.

Tourism boost fails to materialize

In spite of all the publicity, Greek tourism has yet to receive the boost that the Greek government was hoping for by staging the Olympics.

Pantelis Kalfopoulos is the owner of three hotels in Athens. He told CNN his hotels were fully booked for the duration of the Games, but that the situation was different elsewhere in Greece.

"It is not a normal season for Greek tourism and at the start of the year it has been difficult," he said.

"It is hard to pinpoint the reason for this but I guess security fears aren't the main issue. Everybody was able to see that the Greek government did everything to guarantee safe Olympic Games.

"I think a bigger problem is that people think that because of such a humongous event all of Greece is fully booked and that everything will be much more expensive."

Capralos also acknowledged that Greek tourism outside of Athens was down from last year but said this would only be temporary.

"Usually Athens is empty in August, now it is fully booked. But with all the great publicity we get I'm sure we will see many people come to Greece who have never been here before next year and in the years to come."

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