Rogge: Athens 'unforgettable, dream Games'

ATHENS, Greece -- Four years ago, the IOC warned Athens was
in danger of losing the Olympics because of severe delays. On
Sunday night, the verdict was vastly different.

"These Games were unforgettable, dream Games,'' International
Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said in his speech at the
Closing Ceremonies of the 17-day festival.

Former IOC chief Juan Antonio Samaranch made a habit of lauding
host cities for staging "best ever'' Games. But Rogge, who
succeeded Samaranch in 2001, has repeatedly stressed he will never
do the same because it's unfair to compare.

"Dear Greek friends,'' he said in Greek. "You have won! You
have won by brilliantly meeting the tough challenge of holding the

Rogge paid tribute to Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki for leading
the Athens organizing committee with "great vision and charisma."
He cited Greek government officials for leaving the city with
"an extraordinary urban and sporting heritage.'' And he thanked
the "marvelous volunteers who have charmed us with their
confidence and kindness.''

Rogge said the Games -- protected by an unprecedented $1.5
billion security plan -- were held "in peace and brotherhood.''

Referring to the record two dozen athletes caught for doping
offenses, he said: "These were the Games where it became
increasingly difficult to cheat and where clean athletes were
better protected.''

Rogge praised the athletes who "have touched our hearts by your
performances, your joys, and your tears.''

Then came the words Greece waited to hear: "unforgettable,
dream Games.''

Rogge declared the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad closed and
called on the youth of the world to gather in Beijing in 2008. He
concluded by saying in Greek: "Thank you, Athens! Thank you,

Earlier, in a wide-ranging news conference, Rogge said Athens
had pulled off a rousing success despite the concerns over
construction delays, security threats and cost overruns.

"I'm an extremely happy president of the IOC,'' Rogge said.
"We always expressed our confidence in our Greek friends. I've
always said I believed there was enough time to finish the
preparations in due time. Many did not believe me.''

"I think our friends have delivered in Athens in a very
splendid way.''

In March 2000, Samaranch said the Games were in jeopardy because
of what he called the worst organizational crisis in his career.
Since then, the Greeks made a frantic push to complete preparations.
The government spent $8.5 billion to get venues and transportation
systems ready in time. That included a security cordon featuring
70,000 police and soldiers, surveillance cameras and a blimp.

Rogge said the security had been "flawless.'' He also noted
that ticket sales of 3.55 million had topped the figures from Seoul
and Barcelona, international sports federations praised the venues
as ``outstanding,'' and global broadcasters reported that TV
ratings were up more than 15 percent from Sydney four years ago.

Moving to other topics, Rogge said the IOC will consult with
international sports federations to avoid the judging and scoring
errors that affected gymnastics, equestrian, fencing and other

He reiterated the IOC will not consider changing the result of
the men's all-around gymnastics competition in which America's Paul
Hamm won the gold after judges incorrectly scored the parallel bars
routine of South Korea Yang Tae-young.

"Paul Hamm was declared the winner and therefore he has
received the gold medal, and for us that is final,'' Rogge said.

With 24 athletes -- including seven medalists -- expelled or
withdrawn for drug violations, Rogge said the anti-doping program
had been a major success. More athletes could be exposed -- and
medals stripped -- in coming months when the IOC analyzes samples
which have been stored for further scrutiny, he said.

"Definitely, this is one of the weapons we want to use,'' he

Rogge said the IOC will expand drug testing for the 2006 Winter
Games in Turin, Italy, and the Summer Games in Beijing two years
later. Nearly one in four athletes was tested in Athens, and that
figure will "vastly increase,'' he said.

As for the competitions, Rogge singled out the emergence of
Asia, which recorded a 50 percent increase in gold medals from
Sydney, and predicted an even stronger performance in Beijing.

"These were the Games where we saw the awakening of Asia,'' he