Astoria Greeks will have to cross the ocean if they want to see the Olympics in their homeland this summer. But on June 18, they can travel a few blocks to get close to the games.
Thats because the 35-mile Olympic torch relay through New York Citys five boroughs will kick off from Athens Square Park in Astoria, according to city officials.
The torch relay will begin in Queens at Athens Square Park as a tribute to the Olympics taking place in Greece this summer, said Jennifer Falk, a spokeswoman at the mayors office.
Astoria is the fitting starting line, she said, because it has one of the highest concentrations of Greeks in the world outside of Athens. The relays specifics, including its route and participants, will be announced after May 5, when the Athens 2004 Olympic Organizing Committee should have finalized its plans, she said.
The committee announced the first-ever global tour of the torch in November. Over 35 days, the relay will span 34 cities and 26 countries, according to the New York City government Web site. New York is one of four U.S. cities hosting the torch, including Los Angeles, St. Louis and Atlanta.
Astoria politicians and business owners were thrilled to learn that their neighborhood would host the opening of New York Citys torch run.
Having the Olympic torch across the street from your business, it makes you very proud, said Antonios Maminakis, one of the owners of the Plaza Cafe on 30th Avenue near the park. This park across the street, its a very symbolic place. A lot of people appreciate it.
Thats great, to start from there, added Bill Kouvaros, owner of the Rainbow Cafe across from the park. Its good, its exciting.
Sitting at the corner of 30th Avenue and 30th Street, the Athens Square Park entrance is guarded by a statue of Athena, patron goddess of Athens and the Greek god of the art of war. Inside the park, three giant Greco columns tower near a bronze sculpture of Socrates, the legendary philosopher.
Maminakis, who left Crete 15 years ago for the United States, said he gains strength from the park each morning. Illustrating his Greek pride, he flipped open his cell-phone with a photo of the Athena statue flared across the screen.
The most important thing in my eyes (is) that Im going to have the honor to see the Olympic flame with my own eyes, he said. I hope Im there taking pictures with the torch.
George Delis, district manager of Community Board 1, also plans to be there.
Im tickled pink, Delis said last week, after learning that his district would host the relays start. If the Olympics are coming to New York City in 2012, it should originate in Athens Square Park.
The city has proposed an Olympic village in Hunters Point and a $1.4 billion stadium on the West Side of Manhattan in a bid to host the games.
The Queens section of the torch run can only help the city in its 2012 bid because it will show the world how wonderful the area is, said Debra Markell, Queens borough director for the mayors office.
During Community Board 1s district service cabinet meeting on March 29, she urged locals to clean up graffiti around the neighborhood. Store owners and landlords can sign up at www.nyc.gov to have community assistance teams cover vandalism on their buildings, she said. Volunteers can also register for the streets-cleaning program on the site, she added.
The effort will only make Queens more appealing to visitors, she said.
Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at news@times
©2004 Community News Group
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