Olympic hosts countdown to Games 

With only a few months to go before Athens, Greece hosts the world at the 2004 Summer Games there are disturbing signs for the Greek tourism industry.

Recent surveys show that there has been an 11.5 per cent drop in hotel capacity utilization in the year before the Games.

"We are at the beginning of this crucial Olympic year and expectations had been cultivated that it would lead to a recovery after three years of stagnation," Stavros Andreadis, chairman of the Association of Greek Tourist Enterprises told Kathimerini, Greece's international English newspaper.

"(But) indications to date point to anything but such a development, and prospects do not seem favourable."

In Turin, which marked its two-year countdown to the start of the 2006 Winter Games this month, the problem is not tourism it's getting the nation excited about hosting the Games.

"The Olympics are a great opportunity for us but only if we can get Italians involved and excited about hosting them," Raffaele Pagnozzi, secretary general of the Italian Olympic Committee told Reuters.

Ever since flamboyant ski champion Alberto Tomba retired in 1998, Italy has lacked a top-class winter sportsman, and interest has waned in winter sports.

Turin's Olympic organizing committee, TOROC, is now trying to reverse that trend and spread the ski bug as far away as Sicily, hoping this year's summer Games in Athens will help people realize Italy is next.

Enthusiasm is definitely not a problem in B.C. which launched its six-year count down to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games last week.

Hundreds paid $60 each to attend a fundraising luncheon for athletes at the Vancouver Board of Trade and the Whistler Olympic information office ran out of cake as people turned up to mark the occasion.

"I hope that six years from now we can showcase this beautiful place as it is today so that the athletes and the visitors and everyone else can see what a really incredible environment we have," said former Olympian and downhill skier Rob Boyd.

With excellent conditions on the mountains, an azure sky and a brilliant sun Feb. 12 would have been the perfect Olympic day in North America's No. 1 ski resort.

But the weather wasn't the only thing on Boyd's mind. Now a ski coach the 1989 winner of the World Cup downhill at Whistler was also excited about the opportunity the Games represents for athletes and the province as a whole.

"Today I am thinking about what a great opportunity it is for us to host the Olympics and showcase not just Whistler and Vancouver but the province and the country of Canada," he said.

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