With three days to go before Opening Ceremonies, organizers of the Athens Games declared that the country would keep its promise to deliver a unique, successful Olympics. The pressing question is: Will the grandstands be half empty for the competition?

During a news briefing Tuesday, ATHOC officials said 2.5 million of 5.4 million available tickets (slightly more than 46 percent) had been sold. Tickets are sold out for most of the event finals, as well as the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. But millions of tickets remain despite pleas from Greek officials for their countrymen to show their support at the ticket windows.

Still, ATHOC officials accentuated the positive, noting that they were 91 percent of the way toward meeting their financial goal of 183 million Euros in ticket revenue. Achieving their financial goal, they added, was the most critical measure of success. To finish the job, another 600,000 to 900,000 tickets must be sold.

The 2004 Games threaten to become a financial calamity for the Greeks. The cost of staging the Games stands at $7 billion -- more than twice the cost of the 2000 Sydney Games. Security costs alone account for $1.2 billion of that.

Ticket sales have been sluggish from the outset, with security concerns cited as the chief deterrent. But ATHOC officials have insisted that Greeks will show up in droves at the last minute.

Just 35 percent of available soccer tickets have been sold, but 75 percent have been sold for the sport's opening day, on Wednesday, when the Greek men's team debuts against South Korea in Patras. The Greek women's team also opens play that day, facing the United States in Heraklio.

Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has called on citizens to show their support, and International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge did the same on Monday when he toured the Olympic compound. Sales were lukewarm Monday, with 84,282 tickets sold. Of those, 17,800 were for soccer and 17,236 were for track and field.

Liz Clarke will host a chat today at 11 a.m. to discuss the best events of the upcoming Summer Games. Go to www.washingtonpost.com/

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