2004-06-16 / Front Page

Summer Olympic’s Torch Relay Starts In Astoria’s Athens Square Park

By John Toscano

Summer Olympic’s Torch Relay Starts In Astoria’s Athens Square Park

Gazette photoGazette photo

By John Toscano

Athens Square Park in Astoria will be the focus of world attention this Saturday at 10:30 a.m. as the starting point of the Athens 2004 Olympic Torch Relay throughout the five boroughs and the world.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the 35 mile route and the event last Sunday, with the starting point in the one-acre park at 30th Avenue and 30th Street, the center of the largest Greek community outside of Athens.

More than 120 tri-state residents will carry the torch through the five boroughs, ending up in Times Square, the Crossroads of the World at about 10 p.m. Simultaneously, over 10,000 torchbearers will be participating in similar events throughout the world, carrying the Olympic flame as part of the Athens 2004 Olympic Torch Relay.

The mayor, enthused over the first event of this kind, put out the welcome mat for all New Yorkers in announcing the relay. "I encourage all New Yorkers to come out along the route and celebrate the excitement of the Olympic Torch Relay as it continues its worldwide journey," he said.

This year’s Summer Olympics will be held in Athens. The Olympic flame was lit by the sun’s rays during a traditional ceremony in Olympia, Greece in March on the anniversary of the date that the modern Olympic Games were instituted in 1896.

City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., (D), Astoria’s representative in the council, noted: "The Olympics began in Greece and it is only fitting that the relay begins in Athens Square Park in Astoria, the center of the Greek–American community outside of Greece."

Speaking of the torchbearers, who include Firefighter James Efthimiades, of Queens, who was involved in the Sept. 11, 2001 rescue effort at the World Trade Center, Vallone said "They represent the Olympic values of unity and courage and all that is good about mankind and the human spirit."

He continued, "The Astoria community is proud of each and every one of them and excited that the relay team will appropriately begin in Athens Square Park."

The park, in the heart of Astoria, is named for the modern capital of Greece and the center of Greek civilization.

The park was first funded by Vallone’s father, former Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. and serves as a gathering place and cultural center of the Greek community. The incumbent councilmember continues to provide funding for the maintenance and upkeep of the facility.

In announcing the Torch Relay, the mayor declared: "When the Olympic Torch travels through New York City’s diverse and vibrant neighborhoods, it will be as if it were passing through whole different counties scattered around the globe."

From Astoria, the torch will be carried along Myrtle Avenue, beginning in Ridgewood, then through Brooklyn en route to the Brooklyn Bridge. Once over the bridge, it will be carried past Ground Zero, then onto a ferry to Staten Island for a quick trip to the Richmond County Ballpark before catching a return ferry to Manhattan, landing at the Chelsea Piers on the Lower West Side.

From there, the torchbearers will wend their way up to Bryant Park and Columbus Circle before going north to the Upper West Side and Harlem to Yankee Stadium in The Bronx.

On its return to Manhattan, the torch will be carried past the Greek Consulate on Fifth Avenue before being carried to its final stop in Times Square.

The mayor described the Torch Relay as "a unique opportunity to highlight the very best of New York City, its diverse communities, cultures and defining landmarks."

Among other key points that will be visited are Broadway and Steinway Street in Astoria, the Statue of Liberty, the Chelsea Piers, Radio City Music Hall, Central Park, Yankee Stadium, Museum Mile, Rockefeller Center and the United Nations.

Among the torchbearers will be Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, a music and entertainment mogul now appearing in his first Broadway play; Stephon Marbury and Dikembe Mutombo of the New York Knicks basketball team, former football great Boomer Esiason, Olympic Gold Medal skater Sarah Hughes of Great Neck, Television News Anchors Lester Holt and Paula Zahn and Trisha Meili, who survived an attack in Central Park while jogging.

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