With a magical Opening Ceremony, Athens welcomed the best athletes from around the globe for the Olympic Games, which returned home. Connecting symbolically the Ancient Olympia Stadium with the Athens Olympic Stadium, the beginning of the Opening Ceremony bridged 3,000 years of Olympic Games history.
ATHENS, 14 August - A beautiful Athenian sunset greeted the world to the Opening Ceremony of the 28th Olympiad tonight.
A capacity crowd of 72,000 came together in the Athens Olympic Stadium to welcome the Olympics home.
The centre of the stadium was transformed into a lake which became the centre piece of the ceremony.
A team of 400 drummers played on its edge, the Olympic rings - lit by a ball of fire - burned on its surface and a young boy sailed across it bearing a Greek flag.
Following the theme of a 'unique Games on a human scale' the ceremony incorporated elements of Greek culture, in the poetry of George SEFERIS, and Greek Legend, in the shape of a Centaur, as it told the story of the growth of Greek civilisation and human consciousness.
The story ended with a pregnant woman walking through the water followed by a cast of hundreds towards a giant water fountain which had a double helix projected upon it - representing new life and hope for the future.
It was then the turn of the athletes to take centre stage.
As they entered, DJ Tiesto transformed the stadium into a dance party. The Dutch disc jockey playing upbeat party music.
The Athletes were led out by the Greek Flag, which received a standing ovation. The Greek alphabet giving the five person St Lucia team the unlikely honour of leading the parade of nations.
Santa Lucia were the first team to break rank, dancing and playing up for an appreciative crowd.
Switzerland's tennis star Roger FEDERER and China's NBA star YAO Ming, both chosen as flag bearers for their respective countries, received the most attention from their fellow competitors, with seemingly the whole Italian team at one stage lining up to snap a picture of the giant Chinese basketballer.
The USA, Australia, France, Cyprus, Iraq, Italy, Canada and Palestine received the warmest welcome, while the symbolism of both North and South Korea marching as one team was not lost on an appreciative crowd.
However, none of the cheers for the visiting teams compared to those which greeted the Greek team. The crowd rose as one screaming "Hellas".
When all the athletes had entered, Icelandic singer BJORK sang 'Oceania' and the organisers paid tribute to past Olympic cities.
In the shade of a olive tree, the President of the Athens 2004 Organising Committee for the Olympic Games Gianna ANGELOPOULOS-DASKALAKI and IOC President Jacques ROGGE welcomed the athletes to the Games.
The President of the Hellenic Republic, Kostic STEPHANOPOULOS, then declared the Games open.
The much anticipated lighting of the Olympic flame was made by Nikos KALAMANAKIS. The gold medallist in the Mistral class at Atlanta in 1996 made the run from one end of the stadium to the other, climbed the steps and, as the giant torch lowered to greet him, he offered his torch to the crowd one last time and then lit the flame.
It rose back in to the night sky among mass cheering, clapping and screaming and the Athens 2004 Olympic Games were underway.
The moment was celebrated with a spectacular pyrotechnics display that circled the roof beams of the stadium and echoed around the seating bowl.
However, the Indian contingent unfortunately seemed miniscule in strength compared to the others:(