Athens 2004

Athens 2004

In 2004 the Olympics went home to Athens, where the ancient Games were born and the modern Games were revived in 1896.

Games organisers had been dogged by criticism since they won the bid. Many critics feared an epic Greek tragedy. There were constant construction delays, budget blow-outs and security fears. However, when the roof of the Olympic Stadium was finally in place, the negative turned to positive and the people of Greece delivered an amazing 17-day spectacle.

A record 201 National Olympic Committees participated, the first time the number of teams had crept over 200. There were more athletes, more female competitors and more events than ever before. Ahead of the Games, the first truly global Torch Relay had visited five continents, having been lit in Olympia and returning to Greece in time for a spectacular Opening Ceremony. The Olympic flame was lit by Greek sailboarder Nikolas Kaklamanakis, a 1996 gold medallist, a local lad who learned his sport on the waters near Athens.

The United States led the medal table with 35 gold medals, closely followed by an improving China, with 32 gold. Australia was fourth with 49* medals overall, including 17 gold, with Russia in third place. * Australia's total increased to 50 medals in 2012 when cyclist Michael Rogers was elevated to bronze in the road time trial following American Tyler Hamilton being stripped of the gold for doping.

Australia at these Games

Australia sent a record team of 482 athletes to Greece, second only to the 631-strong team that competed in Sydney. Sailor Colin Beashel, competing at his sixth Olympics, carried the flag in the Opening Ceremony.

The challenge for the team was to finish in the top five on the medal tally, as they had done in Sydney. The team exceeded even this lofty expectation, placing fourth behind the United States, China and Russia with 50* medals: 17 gold, 16 silver and 17* bronze. The 17 gold medals was a new national record, eclipsing even the success enjoyed at the home Olympics in Sydney (16 gold) and Melbourne (13 gold). It was also equal to our second best final placing on the medal table, beaten only by the third place achieved at Melbourne in 1956.

Such success ensured many memorable highlights. After 48 years of trying, the men's hockey team, the Kookaburras, finally won their elusive gold. The players enjoyed emotional celebrations after the final, in which Jamie Dwyer scored a brilliant “golden goal” in overtime to secure a 2-1 victory over The Netherlands.

The two most successful squads for Australia were the cyclists and swimmers, with each providing several multiple medallists.

Ian Thorpe's victory in the 200m and 400m freestyle gave him a total of five Olympic gold medals, more than any Australian athlete in history. Thorpe also won a silver medal in the 4x200m freestyle relay and a bronze in the 100m freestyle, taking his medal tally from two Games to nine, also an Australian record. Petria Thomas and Jodie Henry, whose three gold medals each - from one individual and two relay swims - represented the best results for an Australian woman since Shane Gould in 1972. Grant Hackett won his second 1500m title, overcoming serious illness to score a popular victory.

At the velodrome, Ryan Bayley won the sprint and keirin events to become our first dual gold medallist in cycling since Russell Mockridge in 1952. Anna Meares won Australia’s first women’s track cycling gold medal in the 500m time trial, while Sara Carrigan outstayed an excellent field to win the road race. There were also cycling victories for Australia’s men’s team pursuit and men’s Madison riders.

Other outstanding results included Chantelle Newbery’s gold in the women’s 10m platform diving – the only other Australian diving gold before her had been won by Dick Eve for plain diving in 1924. Shotgun ace Suzie Balogh became the first Aussie woman to be a shooting gold medallist when she won the trap event. James Tomkins and Drew Ginn, both former members of the Oarsome Foursome, became a terrific twosome in winning the men’s rowing pairs.

The list of luminaries is long from Athens – and does not just include medallists. Other performances of special note include the baseball team winning a silver medal, a first in the sport for Australia; kayaker Nathan Baggaley winning silver medals in the K1 500m and K2 500m (with Clint Robinson) in the same session; and a silver medal for Loretta Harrop in the women’s triathlon after leading almost all through the gruelling race and being caught within sight of the finish line.

Overall, Australia won medals in 14 different sports and disciplines – an awesome display of sporting skill and depth.

* Australia's total increased to 50 medals in 2012 when cyclist Michael Rogers was elevated to bronze in the road time trial following American Tyler Hamilton being stripped of the gold for doping.

Australian Olympians At The Games

Flag Bearers

Olympian Name Ceremony
Colin Beashel Opening
Petria Thomas Closing

Australian Medallists At The Games

No records found.


The most successful athlete of the Games was American swimmer Michael Phelps, who won six gold and two bronze medals. In the 200m freestyle, the most hyped event of the Games, he was beaten by Australia’s Ian Thorpe. Phelps won the bronze medal, with Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband, who successfully defended his 100m freestyle title at the Games, winning silver. The other real stars of the pool were Australian. Grant Hackett produced a swim for the ages in bravely winning his second 1500m freestyle gold medal. The women’s relay teams, led by 100m freestyle champion Jodie Henry and 100m butterfly champion Petria Thomas, stunned the world, especially the formidable US teams, in winning the 4x100 freestyle and 4x100m medley relay golds.

German kayaker Birgit Fischer became the first athlete in any sport to win two medals in each of five different Olympics. In the main stadium, Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj, regarded by many as the greatest miler the world has seen, won both the 1500m and the 5000m, ending his long quest for Olympic glory. In women’s events, Great Britain’s Kelly Holmes triumphed in both the 800m and 1500m.

Argentina achieved a rare double in men’s team sports, winning the football tournament without giving up a goal, and beating the vaunted US team on their way to a gold medal in basketball. It was the nation’s first basketball gold, a win engineered by Argentina’s own NBA star, Manu Ginobili. In women’s handball, Denmark won a record third consecutive gold medal, defeating Korea in a sensational final that was decided on penalty throws. 

 Yet it was the marathon, the most storied event of the Olympics, which best linked the present and the past of Olympic competition. The course followed its historic route, ending in Panathinaiko Stadium, the 2300-year-old stadium which was used as the main venue in 1896. Panathinaiko had earlier staged all four archery events, with Korea winning three of the four gold medals. The marathon winners, Mizuki Noguchi of Japan and Stefano Baldini of Italy, were cheered by tens of thousands of people seated in the marble stands. Another classical highlight was the men’s and women’s shotput events, which were held outside Athens in Olympia.

 These ancient venues, coupled with the state-of-the-art constructions such as the Olympic velodrome and Olympic Stadium, presented a sparkling image of both the revered ancient and dynamic new aspects of Greek culture and tradition. The spirit of the Greek people added an extra element to the mix to make these Games a truly special occasion.

Games Trivia


The colours of the Athens emblem came from the flag of Greece. The design represents an olive wreath which Ancient victors were crowned with. All medallists at the Games were presented with an olive wreath which was placed on their head.


The motto of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games was "Welcome Home"


The Athens games had two official mascots: Athiná and Phévos. The sister and brother were named after Athena, the goddess of wisdom, strategy and war, and Phoebus, the god of light and music, respectively. They were inspired by the ancient daidala, which were dolls that had religious connotations as well as being toys.




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American athlete Eddie Eagan is the only athlete to win gold at a summer and winter Olympics in Heavyweight Boxing (1920) and bobsleigh (1932).