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August 15, 2004

Athens - Almost All New

The main show jumping stadium has grass footing.
on location with John Strassburger
 

          Think Southern California--that's basically what the almost all-new Athens looks like. In fact, standing above the final warm-up ring late yesterday afternoon, watching Darren Chiacchia make his last-minute preparations, I felt as if I could blink and find myself in San Juan Capistrano, at The Oaks/Blenheim, site of the dressage selection trials in June.

          It had been sunny and in the high 80s (maybe even 90s) all day, with the wind blowing stronger and stronger. The country looks like a Southwest desert dry here, except where they water or irrigate (sound familiar?). And the architecture looks much the same--whitewashed adobe with red-tile roofs--except much smaller. Or else the buildings are in the midst of construction. Amy Tryon even agreed with me: She too said it looked just like Southern California.

          You know, you hear all about Greece being "the land of the antiquities," but so far I haven't seen very much that's ancient. Mostly I've seen brand new--as in just poured the cement, just painted the trim, or just planted the flowers and trees. Probably on Friday.

          The airport just opened (and it's lovely and seems to work). The highway to it has fresh pavement and pristine lines and signs. The road to Ag. Andreas (the remodeled and revamped Army barracks that's one of the media villages) is freshly paved too, perhaps because the marathon will run along its historic route on part of it. And the main Olympic Complex (for track and field, swimming, tennis, gymnastics and cycling) was finished just in time for the opening ceremonies Friday night, which I missed because I was en route (en plane, actually).

          The equestrian complex here at Markopoulo was largely completed last August, because Federation Equestre Internationale officials insisted on it to run the test event. But the buildings, I'm sure, weren't done then. At least, they sure don't look as if they've been used before.

          Markopoulo is the biggest and grandest equestrian complex I've ever seen in 20 years of Olympics. There are two complete, permanent stadiums--a towering main stadium with a grass field for show jumping and, next to it, a smaller stadium with all-weather footing for dressage. There's also a permanent indoor arena and a race track that looks like a right-handed mile, with a gigantic, white grandstand and clubhouse for which they've completed the shell but clearly have a lot of work to do on the interior (most of it, I'd say!).

          And then there's a two-story, nearly city block-long building that I guess will be for the administration of this complex, but right now it's what we media types and the volunteers and staff call home. It's the biggest media center I've ever seen, but it's a five-minute walk to the dressage arena and a five-minute walk in the other direction to the cross-country start. (I'll give you a rundown of the cross-country course tomorrow.)

          It's a truly impressive, aesthetically pleasing, well-designed complex. But I have to wonder--as has Greek event rider Heidi Antikatzidis in our pages and in Horse & Hound--why?

          We all know what a white elephant the Georgia International Horse Park has been (yes, they have some shows there, but
 
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