Mrs A could mean far more to London than Mrs B

Many said these Games would be a shambles, but they turned out to be sensational. Sensational not just because of the virtual dope-of-the-day revelations but in their ancient concept and their modern execution. We always knew Sydney would be a hard act to follow, and now Athens will be for Beijing.

Many said these Games would be a shambles, but they turned out to be sensational. Sensational not just because of the virtual dope-of-the-day revelations but in their ancient concept and their modern execution. We always knew Sydney would be a hard act to follow, and now Athens will be for Beijing.

Athens 2004 worked assiduously to make things work, and most things did. The result is that it is a photo finish with Sydney for the best-ever Olympics.

That is not simply because the British, despite the pre-Games gloom, have ended up draped in medals and adorned with laurel wreaths, or that Athens has attracted the best-ever global viewing figures, but because the Greeks themselves have turned what could have been a catastrophe into a triumph.

When I mentioned to a taxi driver that I thought the Games had been a success he smiled: "Well, what do you expect from people who came up with the idea in the first place?"

As in Sydney, it is the people themselves who are the real gold-medal winners. The other night a British friend got lost in an Athens backstreet while returning to his hotel. There was no cab to be found, and no one around to ask directions until a man came from a taverna and enquired in English if he could help.

He promptly took my friend into the taverna, sat him down, bought him a glass of wine and insisted ferrying him back to his hotel on the back of his motorbike.

It was the sort of Olympic spirit that the modern Greek goddess of these Games, Gianna Angelopoulos, had hoped would be engendered. For four years she banged tables, and heads, together to ensure her nation did not suffer the humiliation much of the world predicted. "This has been an Olympics we daren't not dream about," she said yesterday. "The Games have brought a warmth and discipline to our city I pray we can keep."

The cost of the Games may almost have doubled from the original budget of £3.7bn, but Angelopoulos maintains that it will be worth it, not only in terms of the legacy but because of "the pride and self-esteem the Olympics can enthuse among the people."

So are there lessons here for London? Of course. And one of them is that Sebastian Coe should be wooing Mrs A to join his team as an ambassador, where she would be far greater vote-winner than Cherie Blair.

A renowned Anglophile, the Greek diva knows the IOC inside out. She knows how to bid for, win and run a Games. But there may be bigger things on her horizon, among them a return to politics and the eventual presidency of Greece. Or could it be that by the time 2012 comes around she will actually be the first female president of the IOC?

Apart from the fact that the Olympic Games returned gloriously to their cradle, Athens 2004 will go down in history for another reason. These have been the Games in which the drugs testers have finally caught up with, and are beginning to overtake, the cheats.

Revealing their names to the world has been the task of a British woman who has emerged as one of the star performers of the Games. Giselle Davies does not wear a tracksuit and has watched hardly any of the events. For every day she has been in the firing line as the public face of the IOC, answering frequently hostile questions with professional aplomb. She has done the job at her first Games with patience and diplomacy, repeatedly having to deny suggestions of a conspiracy to discredit the Greeks over doping or a cover-up with US athletes.

The Greek media have little time for the Americans, and Davies has had to deal nimbly with allegations that the US government have been using the Olympics in the presidential campaign. No so much ambush marketing as Bush marketing.

And so to Beijing, where the Chinese, now fast catching up with the Americans in the medals league, will be seeking world sports domination.

Inevitably, there have been rows and recriminations, notably in the judging of gymnastics, where surely the IOC have to stop the rot, as they did with ice skating after the Salt Lake City scandals.

Following their coup at Euro 2004, with the medals they have acquired on home soil and the brilliant organisation of their Games, Greece surely have arrived as a significant sporting power. But the tragic by-product has been the emergence of doping almost as a national sport, for which the present government blame a lack of vigilance by their predecessors. Apparently there have been heated words between the IOC president, Jacques Rogge, and Angelopoulos. They may have cleaned up Athens, but Greek sport now needs to clean up its act.

On a personal note, I had a much happier encounter with the BBC's outspoken and outstanding pundit Michael Johnson than did Darren Campbell. I am indebted to him for advising me to put a few euros on Justin Gatlin in the 100 metres.

Tonight's closing ceremony will see a cascade of 250,000 balloons under a full moon, with an invitation from the hosts to "eat, drink, dance and sing the Greek way". Many of us have been doing exactly that these past 17 days. Who knows, perhaps one day the Olympic Games will come home again to Greece. What a pity that home cannot be permanent. For this is where they truly belong.

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