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Livin' Large in The Wee Hours

Sunday, August 29, 2004; Page E15

By the time I stopped writing Thursday night, it was 45 minutes past midnight. I called Vassili Thomadakis to apologize for taking too long, for blowing my chance to experience Athens's night life. It was going to take me 15 minutes to get to the hotel, another half-hour to shower and change. I wouldn't be able to meet him until 1:30, 1:45 at the earliest.

"And your point is what?" he said. "That's just about the right time to start."

_____ Day 16 _____
The U.S. women's basketball team beats Australia to win the gold medal.
The U.S. men's basketball team salvages bronze.
The United States will take home the most medals for the third consecutive Summer Games.
Moracco's Hiram El Guerrouj gets a historic double in track and field.
Mia Hamm will carry the American flag during Closing Ceremonies.
American Steven Lopez overcomes hostile crowd to win taekwondo gold.
Sailors John Lovell and Charlie Ogletree win silver in Tornados.
American Cael Sanderson wins gold in freestyle wrestling.
A Hungarian weightlifter is stripped of a silver medal.
Argentina wins the men's soccer gold medal, 1-0, over Paraguay.
France's Julien Absalon wins the mountain bike race.

_____ More From The Post _____
Sally Jenkins: Dawn Staley epitomizes the U.S. women's basketball team.
Michael Wilbon: U.S. track and field is experiencing a youth movement.
Mike Wise: Tim Duncan may never want to play internationally again.

___ Saturday's Medals Results ___
Men's 800
Men's 5,000
Men's 4 X 100 relay
Men's 4 X 400 relay
Men's javelin
Women's 1,500
Women's 4 X 400 relay
Women's high jump
Canoe-Kayak (Flatwater)
Men's kayak singles 500
Men's canoe singles 500
Men's kayak doubles 500
Men's canoe doubles 500
Women's kayak singles 500
Women's kayak doubles 500
Cycling (Mountain Bike)
Gymnastics (Rhythmic)
Men's star
Men's under 80kg
Women's under 67kg
Wrestling (Freestyle)
Men's 55kg
Men's 66kg
Men's 84kg
Men's 120kg

_____ Photos _____
Day 16
Gold medal fans
Photo galleries page

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Thomadakis is a D.C. kid. He grew up right behind the "Soviet Safeway" in Northwest, he went to Georgetown Day, Harvard undergrad, then Georgetown Law School. He clerked for James Robertson, a U.S. District Judge, and a year ago joined Davis, Polk & Wardwell in New York as a litigation associate. And like what appears to be thousands of volunteers here at the Olympics, Thomadakis is Greek, one of the many who live on another continent but responded to the "Welcome Home" theme of these Summer Games that appealed to those of Greek heritage. Thomadakis has one grandparent and many other family members who live in Athens.

When people like me, an American who speaks no Greek, look lost or forlorn or just generally clueless, people like Thomadakis come out of nowhere to deliver us from frustration or the wrong subway, find box scores or translate a conversation with an athlete who speaks a different language. He's a lifeline for a foreign visitor. And he's also a dashing, well-traveled young man who knows where to take somebody who wants to get past the tourist spots and see what happens, uh, after hours.

So we started at 1:45 in the morning -- we're talking Thursday night, people -- in a district called Psiri, which is essentially in central Athens. As I was walking to meet Thomadakis, he's guiding me to the meeting spot by telling me to look up to my left to make sure I can see the Acropolis, which I could. We met his college roommate, and fell into a joint called "Bee" at about 2, maybe 2:15.

We walked block after block, street after street in Psiri, and all we saw was one joint after another, packed with thousands and thousands of people eating, drinking, dancing to hip-hop, roughly half of it American recording artists and half of it Greek artists. At 3:30 I remember turning to Thomadakis and telling him, "It's like 11:30 on a Saturday night in Times Square."

For people who like 10 p.m. dinners and 10 a.m. wakeup calls, Athens is the spot, baby. It's like Barcelona, but even later. There's no place I've ever been in the United States -- no, New York isn't even up for debate as a comparison -- that has as good a time as late as Athens. At 4 a.m. I started saying goodbyes, but couldn't make it through all the gyrating bodies to the front door. At 5, I started looking for a taxi. The traffic was as thick as it is on M Street heading into Georgetown, but on a Friday night after work.

"It's been a fairly slow couple of weeks down here," Thomadakis told me. "A large percentage of people are away at the beaches this time of the summer."

There was a time not long ago -- Barcelona rings a bell -- when I wouldn't have cut away so early, not from this much of a good time, not with people dancing on tables to Usher's "Yeah!" at 4:45, and people still arriving, not leaving. But that was 12 years and a lot of mileage ago, and there's no official "Siesta" in Greece that I know of.

My taxi pulled up to the hotel at 5:25 in the morning, at the same exact moment a taxi was dropping off my co-workers, Sally Jenkins, Mike Wise and Barry Svrluga, who had been working all night. "Where the hell have you been at this hour?" I heard somebody ask. "Doing research for a piece," was my answer. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

-- Michael Wilbon

© 2004 The Washington Post Company