The nation that gave us the marathon ended up relying on a sprint finish to complete construction of the stadia and facilities, and at times there were fears that they wouldn't get over the line at all.
But Greece silenced the doubters and even managed to inject an element of farce into what was arguably the biggest controversy of these Games. The Greek sprinters, Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou, withdrew from their events after staging a motorcycle accident in an attempt to cover their tracks after missing a drugs test.
There was agony for Great Britain's Paula Radcliffe, who started the marathon as favourite but finished it prematurely after being overcome by a combination of the demanding race conditions and the lingering effects of injury. Five days later she also failed to complete the 10,000 metres.
There was ecstasy elsewhere, though, particularly among the swimmers, who dominated the individual medal count.
In his final Olympics, Ian Thorpe added another four medals to his haul from 2000 — but he was upstaged in spectacular fashion by Michael Phelps.
The American had featured in Sydney as a 15-year-old, but without making an impact. In Athens, though, he collected six gold medals and two bronze, three Olympic records and one world record.
There was further success for Dutch pair Pieter van den Hoogenband and Inge de Bruijn, who had performed so well in Sydney.
Van den Hoogenband retained the 100m freestyle title, but had to settle for silver at 200m, Thorpe reversing the placings of four years earlier, and in the relay, while De Bruijn claimed four medals — including one gold — in her final Games.
With gold medals at 200m and in the sprint relay, plus a bronze at 100m, Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown was the most decorated track athlete, but the greatest achievements were over longer distances.
Hicham El Guerrouj won the 1,500m and 5,000mHicham El Guerrouj, who had struck silver over 1,500m for Morocco in 2000, improved to take the gold in Athens and then added a second victory in the 5,000m, while Great Britain's Kelly Holmes became only the third woman to complete the Olympic 800m-1,500m double at the same Games.
Both runners retired afterwards, but there would be more to come from Kenenisa Bekele, the Ethiopian who finished second to El Guerrouj in the 5,000m and won the 10,000m.
Record-breaking Dutch cyclist Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel ended her Olympic career with a gold in the individual time trial and a bronze in the 3,000m individual pursuit. She might have won more, but fell defending her road race title.
Torben Grael, of Danish descent but born in Brazil, was also competing in his last Olympics and he became the first man to claim five sailing medals.
Birgit Fischer won a gold and silver in Athens, 24 years after her first OlympicsBirgit Fischer called time on a remarkable Olympic canoeing career that spanned 24 years, six Games and two nations. She began with a gold for East Germany in Moscow in 1980, missed the 1984 Games because of the Eastern Bloc boycott and then took medals at each subsequent Games, competing for the united Germany from 1992, to finish with eight golds and four silvers.
However, one of the most endearing Olympic stories was that of Merlene Ottey-Page, who competed at seven Olympics from 1980 until 2004 and set a women's record of nine track and field medals, although none was a gold.
Born in Jamaica, Ottey-Page sprinted to three silver medals and six bronzes for her native country, seven of the nine coming for individual events and only two from relays. After a dispute with the Jamaican federation, though, Ottey-Page appeared in Athens under the flag of Slovenia, only to miss out on a medal.
Top three performances
1-Michael Phelps (USA) - The swimmer won six golds and two bronzes, becoming the first athlete to win eight medals in non-boycotted Olympics.
2-Kelly Holmes (GBR) - After a career of injury and near-misses, Holmes beat her training partner Maria Mutola to win an 800m and 1500m double.
3- Birgit Fischer (GER) - The kayaker won a gold and silver medal, becoming the first woman in any sport to win gold medals at six different Olympics, the first woman to win gold 24 years apart and the first person in Olympic history to win two or more medals in five different Games.
Kostas Kenteris, the defending 200 metres champion, and his training partner Katerina Thanou, the 100 silver medallist behind Jones in Sydney, both missed a scheduled doping test and were withdrawn from the Games. Kenteris had been selected to light the Olympic flame.
Bizarrely, US broadcaster NBC pixellated the breasts if a topless Minoan priestess at the opening ceremony. Earlier that year, CBS had been fined after Janet Jackson's 'wardrobe malfunction' in the Super Bowl halftime show.
While leading the marathon, Brazilian Vanderlei de Lima was attacked by Irish priest Cornelius Horan and dragged into the crowd. De Lima recovered to take bronze, and was later awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal for sportsmanship.