Since the Athens games have more participating teams than the UN has members, it is a truly global event. To be sure, many small countries are only represented by one or two athletes with no realistic chance to win a medal, but their presence -- proudly announced in the Opening Ceremony, highly visible in the Olympic Village -- gives the games an unquestionably global color. This is hard to see on TV, which focuses almost exclusively on the events where Americans do well and downplays the rest.
The Winter Games are a much smaller affair -- fewer events, fewer participants -- given the fact that large parts of the world suffer from an acute lack of snow and ice. "Outsiders," like the famously inept British ski-jumper and the "cool-running" Jamaican bobsledders, are now largely excluded, for their own safety most of all and for the integrity of the sports. But the winter games are also a chance for small countries -- Sweden, Switzerland, Slovakia, Slovenia, etc. -- a rare chance to earn the global spotlight.
IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch declared at the Closing Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympic Games,"I am proud and happy to proclaim that you have presented to the world the best Olympic Games ever." Subsequent Summer Olympics held in Athens and Beijing have been described by Samaranch's successor, Jacques Rogge, as "unforgettable, dream Games" and "truly exceptional" respectively - the practice of declaring games the "best ever" having been retired after the 2000 games.
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