Athens - In a bewildering example of poor judgment, officials of the Athens Olympic Organizing Committee (AOOC) acknowledged that they were responsible for the dispersal of 12,000 pounds of itching powder during the Games' opening ceremonies.
Citing a desire to create a closer bond between the people attending the Games and the athletes, they decided that a "shared experience" would achieve this goal. To accomplish their end, AOOC officials had the powder (which is essentially just fiberglass insulation) added to the ventilation system of the Athens Olympic Stadium. Because the Stadium is largely open air, the irritant had its greatest impact on those in the restrooms and concessions areas, as well as the athletes preparing to take part in the parade of nations.
It took about seven minutes for the fiberglass to be dispersed throughout the stadium and another ten before people realized that the itching was being experienced by everyone around them. Mark Forbes, of Atlantic City, New Jersey, thought that a terrorist attack was underway. "When I first got itchy," he said, "I figured it was my sunburn or something I ate. But when I saw everyone itching, I got worried, like this was an attack or something."
Forbes was not alone is his assesment of the situation. Twenty minutes into the event, spectators were in a panic - streaming for the exits, seeking security and medical personel and tying up cell lines trying to reach friends and family. Olympic officials conceeded that not alerting the security staff of the itching powder plan may have been a mistake since it resulted in the lock down of all Olympic venues as dictated by the event's emergency response protocol.
Dimitris Papaioannou, the Concept Creator and Artistic Director of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Athens Olympic Games was caught off-guard by people's reponse to the itching powder. "We wanted to create the sensation of an itch that couldn't be scratched; a sensation that is akin to the need to compete. Because the Olympics come only every four years, the athletes are struggling to wait for their moment in the sun, to ‘scratch the itch' so to speak, and we wanted that feeling in the observers."
Mitt Romney, the governor of Massachusetts and the president of the Salt Lake City Organizing Committee for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, was among those critical of the AOOC decision. "I suppose I understand the symbolism," said Romney, "but I have to say that it was a disaster. What were these people thinking? Sometimes a good idea should stay on paper, and frankly, this was one of those times."