Road to the 2021 Summer Olympics – 2004 Athens, Greece

by Jay Turner

In this 13th installment of the “Road to the Summer Olympics,” we move to the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. After losing the bid to host the 1996 Olympics, a Games that officials in Athens felt entitled to due to the city serving as the birthplace of the Olympics, the capital of Greece returned to bid for the 2004 Olympics with a more humbled, focused message. Their bid was successful, beating out Italy, South Africa, Sweden, and Argentina to win the host city selection.

The Athens Olympic Games are considered a great success. Not since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics had all countries with a National Olympic Committee attended the games. Some 201 countries with 10,625 athletes competed in the 2004 Athens Games. Two new countries debut in the 2004 Olympics: Kiribati and East Timor. Yugoslavia had officially changed its name to Serbia and Montenegro. Afghanistan returned after being banned from the 2000 Games. The United States ranked number one with the most medals and most gold, followed by China and Russia.

Greece 2000 500 Drachma Torch Runner PCGS MS67. Click image to enlarge.

Greece 2004 (struck 2003) 10 Euros Olympics Discus PCGS PR69DCAM. Click image to enlarge.

Greece 2004 10 Euros Olympics Wrestling PCGS PR70DCAM. Click image to enlarge.

Greece 2004 10 Euros Olympics Weightlifting PCGS PR69DCAM. Click image to enlarge.

Of importance to the numismatic scene, the 2004 Olympics saw a new design for the medals that were awarded to athletes, with a new obverse replacing the obverse motif used since 1928. Also, Greece had recently begun using the Euro system; prior to the conversion, Greece issued three 500 Drachmas to commemorate the 2004 Games in the year 2000. The coins feature an ancient stadium, torch runner, and the gold medal design for the 1896 Olympics. Greece issued a 2 Euro circulation-issue commemorative coin for the 2004 Olympics. There are 16 silver 10 Euro coins with a common obverse and a commemorative reverse issued to commemorate the Games. These coins honor the following events: javelin throw, free running, disc throw, long jump, relay race, equestrian, rhythmic gymnastics, swimming, weightlifting, wrestling, handball, and football. Torch relay coins were issued to commemorate Australia, Asia, Africa, and North and South America. Six gold 100 Euro coins were issued for commemoration of the Games. These coins feature Knossos, Olympia, Panathenaic Stadium, Zappeion, Acropolis, and The Academy.

Australia 2004 $50 Tri-metallic Olympics PCGS PR69DCAM. Click image to enlarge.

Estonia 2004 100 Krooni Olympic Games PCGS PR70DCAM. Click image to enlarge.

Many other countries issued commemorative coins for the 2004 Athens Olympics. These nations include Argentina, Australia, Belarus, British Virgin Islands, Bulgaria, Canada, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cook Islands, Cuba, Estonia, Fiji, Gibraltar, Hungary, Isle of Man, Israel, Kazakhstan, Laos, Latvia, Liberia, Lithuania, Mongolia, North Korea, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Spain, Tokelau, Tonga, Uganda, Ukraine, Vanuatu, and Zambia.

The Olympics would be considered successful and generated significant revenue. However, after the European financial crises, the cost to maintain the buildings and facilities Greece built for the Olympics became a hot-bed topic among the populous. This will not be the first or last time when costs and long-term consequences from the Olympics become a widely debated topic, even when the host country – and the rest of the world – considers the Games successful at the time.