When the dramatic arched roof at the Olympic Stadium in Athens finally began sliding into place in May, no one was more relieved than Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, president of the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee. The 48-year-old lawyer gets credit for energizing preparations for the Summer Games, which were behind schedule when she took over in 2000.
Completion of the two-piece sliding roof, the Games' architectural centerpiece, was a sign that the Greeks are pulling together the final elements to make the Olympics a success when they begin on Aug. 13. "We won't know for sure until the last person leaves," concedes Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, "but I'm very confident we can deliver."
If all goes well in August, Angelopoulos-Daskalaki could be destined for greater things. Pundits speculate that she will be a candidate for Greek President. Angelopoulos-Daskalaki has taken a nonpartisan line during Olympics preparations, but in Parliament she was a member of the center-right New Democracy party, which regained power in March. The post is largely ceremonial, but its holder is highly visible and can influence debate on major issues. Already, she can take credit for helping to make the Olympics an occasion for Greece to improve its infrastructure and image. "The Olympics are a chance for the country to shine," says James Ker-Lindsay, executive director of Civilitas Research, a Cyprus think tank. "If she can be seen as one of the architects, that would be the springboard to the Presidency." Parliament must choose a new President no later than March.
Angelopoulos-Daskalaki knows politics. She was elected an Athens city councillor in 1986 and to the Parliament in 1989, resigning after her marriage. From 1996 to 1998 she led the committee that returned the Games to their ancient birthplace and was rewarded with an appointment as a Greek ambassador-at-large. In 2000, when sluggish preparations prompted warnings from the International Olympic Committee, the government brought her back.
It's good they did. Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, a presence in any room by virtue of her racy designer wardrobe and jet-black hair, raised $664 million. She solved a shortage of accommodations by arranging for cruise liners to serve as floating hotels. She coaxed the ministries in charge of building Olympic venues and transport links to speed up. And, for security reasons, she beseeched the Greek people to give up their beloved autos during the games and take the subway instead.
Angelopoulos-Daskalaki dodges questions about her plans after the Olympics. "When I have a task, I focus on that task," she says. The first thing she'll do when the Games are over, she says, is spend more time with her three children, age 11 to 21, and her husband, shipping magnate Theodore Angelopoulos. But chances are she'll pick up the torch again soon.