Photo © Oli Scarf/Getty Images

For the Greeks, the 2004 Olympics in Athens and the aftermath have become a symbol for everything that has gone wrong in their country. Workers struggled up to the last minute to finish many venues as Olympic officials fretted. The cost of the effort was more than $11 billion, double the original projections.

After the Games, plans to convert sites to new uses stalled as money ran out and political will evaporated. Santiago Calatrava's Olympic Stadium is home to two major soccer clubs, and the indoor stadium hosts basketball games and concerts, but more than a dozen other facilities on the three Olympic sites are graffiti-covered and vacant. Plans to convert the canoe and kayak slalom venue into a water park have evaporated, squatters camp on the Faliro Bay site, and the large park at Helliniko is abandoned. Half the 2,300 low-income apartments in the Olympic Village are reportedly empty, and parks and public spaces are in disrepair.

The economic crisis has also tarnished Athens's world image, one of the primary reasons for hosting the Games. This leaves infrastructural investments as their main positive legacy—expanded mass transit, a ring highway, a new international airport, and a network of pedestrian walks connecting historic sites—projects that have lowered the city's chronic congestion and pollution.