Background to the Games

The Games were awarded to Athens at the 106th International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session, held in Lausanne, Switzerland on the 5th of September 1997. Athens beat Rome, Cape Town, Stockholm and Buenos Aires to be the host city. 

In June 2001 the IOC and International Paralympic Committee (IPC) signed a co-operative agreement which would bring significant benefits to the Paralympic Games, although it was due to come in to force for the Beijing 2008 Games, Athens voluntarily implemented many of the actions, including having a single organising committee for both the Olympics and Paralympics.

The build-up to the Games

LogoLogo for the Athens 2004 Summer Paralympics

Logo for the Athens 2004 Summer Paralympics ©IPC

The logo, featuring the image of an athlete, was meant to signify strength, determination and an optimism for the future.

Poster

Poster for the Athens 2004 Summer Paralympics

Poster for the Athens 2004 Summer Paralympics ©Ian Brittain

Changes to Events

Judo and women’s sitting volleyball, along with handcycling, were added to the schedule of sports.

The scandal which followed the revelations by Carlos Ribagorda, a journalist with a Madrid based business magazine, Capital, that 10 of the 12 gold medal winning Spanish basketball players at the Sydney 2000 Games had no intellectual disability and were recruited to increase the strength of the team to win medals and guarantee future funding brought a major change to the Athens Games

A full investigation by the Spanish Paralympic Committee concluded that fraud had been committed. Starting in December 2000 the IPC launched its own investigation commission which found that 157 (72%) of the 219 registration cards from the International Association of Sports for Persons with Intellectual Disability (INAS-FID) were invalid. On the 29th of January 2001, the IPC Management Committee suspended INAS-FID and all athletes with an intellectual disability from all IPC activities. The IPC Executive Committee upheld and endorsed the decision on the 9th March, 2001

Late in 2002 the IPC and INAS-FID were still working on establishing a more robust eligibility system with stringent verification procedures. In 2003 it was decided that the new system was still insufficiently reliable and events for athletes with an intellectual disability were removed from the Athens 2004 programme.

Venues

  • Agios Kosmos Olympic Sailing Centre
    Built for the Games, the International Sailing Federation described it as the best ever facility.
    Spectator capacity – 1,600.
    Used for sailing.
  • Ano Liosia Olympic Hall
    Designed by architects Molfesis, Genias and Associates, construction started in October 2001 and was completed in January 2004.
    Spectator capacity - 9,300.
    Used for boccia and judo. 
  • Athens Olympic Sports Complex
    Somewhat controversially, Santiago Calatrava, a Spanish architect, was selected by the Greek Organising Committee and the Ministry of Culture of Greece, to redesign the Olympic Sports Complex (OAKA), originally built in the 1980s.
    • Main Stadium
      Spectator capacity 69,618.
      Used for the opening and closing ceremonies, athletics.
    • Tennis Centre
      Main Court spectator capacity – 8,000
      Court 1 spectator capacity - 3,000
      8 competition courts – total capacity 3,400.
      Used for wheelchair tennis.
    • Velodrome
      Spectator capacity – 5,000.
      Used for track cycling.
    • Aquatic Centre
      Spectator capacity – 22,500.
      Used for swimming.
    • Indoor Hall
      Spectator capacity – 18,500.
      Used for wheelchair basketball.
  • Faliro Coastal Zone Olympic Complex
    London based architects Sport Concepts designed the stadium which cost £25m and was seen as a crucial part of the redevelopment of the area.
    Used for goalball.
  • Galatsi Olympic Hall
    Designed by Alexandros Tobazis, the venue was purpose built for the Games.
    Used for table tennis. 
  • Helliniko Olympic Complex
    The venue, built for the Games, is on the site of the old Athens international airport.
    • Indoor Arena & Fencing Hall
      An aircraft hanger was converted to create these facilities.
      Indoor Arena
      Spectator capacity – 13,000.
      Used for wheelchair rugby.
      Fencing Hall
      Split into two rooms, spectator capacity 3,500 for the preliminaries and 5,000 for the finals.
      Used for wheelchair fencing, sitting volleyball.
    • Baseball Centre
      Two fields with spectator capacities of 8,500 and 4,000.
      Used for archery.
    • Hockey Centre
      Pitch 1
      Spectator capacity – 8,300.
      Used for 7-a-side football.
      Pitch 2
      Spectator capacity – 2,000.
      Used for 5-a-side football.
  • Markopoulo Olympic Equestrian Centre
    Completed in December 2003 the venue was officially opened on August 12, 2004.
    Spectator capacity – 8,100.
    Used for equestrian.
  • Markopoulo Olympic Shooting Centre
    The venue was opened just before the start of the 2004 Olympic Games.
    Spectator capacity – 4,000.
    Used for shooting.
  • Nikaia Olympic Weightlifting Hall
    This venue, which included warm-up and training halls, medical facilities, a press centre and restaurant, was opened in 2003 for a Grand Prix event.
    Spectator capacity – 5,000.
    Used for powerlifting.
  • Vouliagmeni Olympic Centre
    Used for road cycling.

Mascot

Illustration of the mascot for the Athens 2004 Summer Paralympics

Illustration of the mascot for the Athens 2004 Summer Paralympics ©IPC

The mascot at the 2004 Games in Athens was a seahorse called Proteas; created to symbolise strength, pursuit, inspiration and celebration. The mascot’s creator, Spyros Gogos, felt that Proteas represented the nature of the competition and the "athletes’ constant goal of achieving excellency".

The Paralympic Flame

The contract for the engineering design and manufacture of the torch was won by two Australian firms, G.A. & L. Harrington (Sydney) and Fuel and Combustion Technology (Adelaide). 

The Paralympic torch travelled through 45 Greek municipalities and was carried some 410 km by 705 different torchbearers. Its journey began in front of the Acropolis on the 9th of September. The flame was lit as part of the opening ceremony by Georgios Toptsis, a Greek long jumper.

The opening ceremony

The opening ceremony for the 2004 Athens Paralympics took place on the 17th of September in the Athens Olympic Stadium. The ceremony incorporated themes from classic Greek history and mythology, as well as contemporary ideas, and featured the story of human perseverance in the face of adversity. This theme continued during the Parade of Nations, where the music told the story of Hephaestos who, despite being cast down from Mount Olympus, grew up to become the Greek god of Fire and Metallurgy. 

The Games were officially opened by the IPC President Sir Philip Craven and Greek president Konstantinos Stephanopoulos. 

There were 72,000 spectators at the opening ceremony, and it was watched around the world, including, despite the time zone difference, by around 10 million people in China and 8 million people in Japan.

During the Games

IPC Athens 2004 Paralympic Games highlights https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_QylLlu1kE 

The Paralympic Village housed around 7,000 athletes, team officials and Games officials. 

The Organising Committee produced an 'Accessible Business Guide' listing 1,315 businesses in Athens, Thessaloniki, Heraklio, Magnesia and Achaia. The businesses included shops, restaurants and other service providers that had been made accessible in association with the Ermis - Accessible Choice Programme and the Paralympics.  Accessibility committees inspected them against a range of criteria such as entrances, the provision of ramps, access to the ground floor, bathroom facilities and wheelchair friendly areas.

Having been launched in January 2004, the Athens Paralympic Games were the first major competition under a revised, World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) compliant, IPC Anti-Doping Code.

The Paralympic Village at the Athens 2004 Summer Paralympics

The Paralympic Village ©Ian Brittain

The Medals

Athens 2004 Summer Paralympics gold medal Athens 2004 Summer Paralympics gold medal

Gold medals ©Ian Brittain

The medals at the 2004 Games featured an engraving of the Parthenon atop the Acropolis and the words '12th Paralympic Games Athens 2004' written in the Greek alphabet. On the other side was the Games' logo of a stylised head in profile above the words 'Athens 2004 Paralympic Games'. It also featured the image of three Tae-Geuks and the words 'Athens 2004' in braille.

Medal statistics

The GB team of 101 men and 66 women won a total of 35 gold, 30 silver and 29 bronze medals. Athletes at the games recorded 304 world records and 448 Paralympic records.

Prominent British Paralympic athletes

The top GB female athletes (in terms of the number of medals won) were:

  • Nyree Lewis (5 medals, swimming
  • Fran Williamson (4 medals, swimming) 

The top GB male athletes (in terms of the number of medals won) were: 

  • Jim Anderson (4 medals, swimming)
  • James Crisp (4 medals, swimming)
  • David Roberts (4 medals, swimming)
  • Anthony Stephens (4 medals, swimming) 

In terms of the number of gold medals won, the top athletes were:

  • Jim Anderson (4 gold, swimming)
    Jim is a Scottish swimmer with cerebral palsy and qualified in the S2 category. His first appearance at a Paralympic Games was in 1992 in Barcelona, where he won 3 silver medals. He went on to win 2 golds and 1 silver in Atlanta, and 3 silver medals in Sydney. The Athens Games were his most successful, with gold medals in the 50m, 100m and 200m Freestyle, and 50m Backstroke. As a result of his performance he was awarded BBC Scotland Sports Personality of Year.
  • David Roberts (4 gold, 1 silver, swimming)
    David is a Welsh swimmer with cerebral palsy. He first competed at a Paralympic Games in Sydney in 2000, where he won 3 gold medals, 3 silver and 1 bronze. At the 2004 Games in Athens, he won gold in the 50m, 100m, 400m and the 4x100m Freestyle in the S7 category, and silver in the men's SM7 200m individual medley. As a result of his achievements in Athens and Sydney, he was awarded an MBE for his services to disabled sport in 2005.
  • Deborah Criddle (3 gold, equestrian)
    Deb Criddle is a grade III para dressage rider from Taunton. Her para dressage career began following a road traffic accident which resulted in serious injuries to her right-hand side. Her right arm was paralysed and had to be amputated. Deb won gold in the Freestyle (III), Individual (III), and Team competitions at Athens 2004. At that point, she held the Paralympic, World and European titles for her grade.
  • Lee Pearson (3 gold, equestrian)
    Lee was inspired to take up dressage after watching the Atlanta 1996 Games, aged 18, and he has won Team Gold in every Games he has competed. At both the 2000 and 2004 Games (the latter on board Blue Circle Boy) he won all three competitions for his grade (Freestyle, Individual and Team). Lee was awarded an MBE in 2001 and, in 2003, he competed against able-bodied riders at the British Dressage National Championships and won the Elementary restricted class. Lee qualifies for the 1b grade as he has a condition called arthrogryposis, resulting in him being unable to move his ankles or knees. 

Athletes memories of the Games

  • Sophie Christiansen won her first medal, a bronze, in the CP equestrian event at Athens aged just 16; she has since gone on to take gold at Beijing and London. She describes what the Athens games meant to her here
  • Danny Crates won gold at Athens in the 800 metres and took the world record in the same year. He describes the challenges and techniques of running for an arm-amputee athlete here
  • Peter Norfolk won Britain’s first tennis gold at Athens and then repeated the achievement in Beijing. At London he was voted by the rest of the team to act as flag bearer for the opening ceremony. He reflects on the three games,

Athens was exciting; there was always the worry about it being built on time; the crowds were good. It was my first Paralympics and obviously I’ve got great memories winning a gold and a silver… Beijing was way more spectacular, way bigger, much more media… For Beijing, to repeat what I did in Athens was a wonderful achievement which i’m really proud of.

Media coverage at the event

There were around 3,100 media representatives at the 2004 Games and events were broadcast in 25 countries, by more than 50 broadcasters, across the world, where they were watched by a record of almost two billion viewers. In the UK, the BBC coverage attracted almost two million viewers for its first Sunday Paralympic programme.

The closing ceremony

Due to a tragic bus crash on the day before the closing ceremony, which killed 7 Greek schoolchildren who were on their way to the Games, the closing ceremony was shortened as a mark of respect. The artistic and musical elements were removed and only the athletes’ parade, the closing speech by the President of the IPC, Sir Philip Craven, the handover of the flag to the Beijing 2008 organisers, and the extinction of the Paralympic flame took place. 

As part of the flag handover, the IPC’s new logo was also unveiled. This new logo followed a strategic review of the organisation’s responsibilities and a “focus on sport development starting at a grass roots level - especially in less developed countries."

References

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