It was the eve of the 1997 World Athletics Championships in Athens. Archer was standing in the foyer of the Hilton, fuming because an overworked saleswoman in the hotel bookshop had had the temerity to keep him waiting. 'To think that they're organising these games is a real joke,' he grumbled. 'They're bloody hopeless.' His tirade was embarrassing. But what struck me more, living in Greece and being British, was the ferocity of such Anglo-Saxon condescension. It was both disquieting and buffoonish. In the event, the championships were the best of recent times.
As Greeks defy sceptics with world-class sports venues and a vastly improved city for the Olympics, I wonder what put-downs Archer and his ilk will come up with now? That Athens 2004 isn't a patch on what London could be in 2012? Or perhaps they will take a leaf out of Tessa Jow-ell's book? After touring the Greek capital last week, the British sports minister could only exclaim: 'We are here to learn... and support the city in the face of doomsayers - they have turned it around.'
Greece is the smallest country to stage the Olympics, which are the biggest ever. The feat will help dispel some of the self-doubt and nagging inferiorities that torment Greeks.
Not even the humiliation of seeing the farcical flight from drug testers of their two star athletes could take the gloss off Friday's magnificent opening ceremony.
If the Games go as well and remain incident-free - and the Greeks have spent a record £900 million providing security for the event - the organisers may just succeed in proving that Athens is no longer Europe's Christian Orthodox 'odd-man out'. That, actually, it can very effectively 'organise its way out of a paper bag'. But will the Olympics also change the prejudices against Hellenes?
In Britain, it seems, there is still a readiness to think of the Greeks as barely civilised: they are all called Zorba, sport bushy moustaches and smash plates. If not that, then they are corrupt southern Europeans with a criminal justice system that goes out of its way to target British plane spotters. Such stereotypes are born of an idea of Greece as a Balkan backwater, a country that has no place in the European Union.
AGAIN AND AGAIN, in the course of reporting from Greece, I have met such prejudices. What still surprises me, though, is the extent to which they appear to have colonised the minds of people I might otherwise respect.
A year spent in the irrepressibly progressive environment of Harvard, as the new century dawned, only served to highlight how entrenched and
peculiarly British such views tend to be. Like our fondness for that cliche of Greeks bearing gifts, we seem unable to abandon our belief that modern Greece is a contradiction in terms.
Increasingly, I find myself thinking the British, rather than the Greeks, are trapped in outdated mindsets.
As a Briton, I find much to squirm about, whether it's the Elgin marbles or my compatriots running wild in vomit-splattered Faliraki or feckless, bare-breasted English girls being incarcerated in Greek jails, which are, naturally, described as 'medieval' in the British press.
Few ever stop to think how the British might behave if hordes of unprepossessing, out-of-control Greeks invaded our coasts? More often than not, Greek authorities react to such excesses with a leniency far beyond the call of duty.
No one can deny the Greeks' bewildering last-minute work ethic. In recent months, preparations for the Games appeared so chaotic that they bordered on the burlesque. But, sadly, stereotypes tend to colour political views.
What people tend to forget is just how far the Greeks have come. Three decades ago, Athens was under the iron grip of small-minded military dictators, men as intent on banning mini-skirts as banishing leftists to remote island prisons.
Now, Hellenes worry not about human rights or the rule of law, but consumer goods and their second homes overlooking the sea. It is all the more miraculous when you remember that before the colonels came years of wars, coups and near-constant political and social unrest.
It is true that with their extraordinary ability to be their own worst enemy, the tumult was often self-inflicted. The disastrous 1923 Minor Asia campaign, subject of Louis de Berniere's latest book, did not enhance the country's reputation.
Nor did Athens's fiercely pro-Serbian and less than magnanimous stance in the recent Balkan wars.
But Greece is changing. Just as the country is no longer the economic laggard of the European Union (at around 4 per cent, its GDP growth rates are the second highest in the eurozone), it is no longer the political juvenile of yore. The trenchant nationalism of the 1980s and early 1990s is no more; instead of generating firebrand politicians with only thinly disguised dreams of conquering Constantinople, it produces men and women who want only to improve relations with Turkey.
PROGRESSIVE immigration policies, an area for which Greece deserves more credit, are rapidly changing the country's ethnic make-up. Around 10 per cent of its 11-million strong population are now foreign-born, mostly Albanian, although increasingly from the former .Soviet republics, Africa and the Middle East.
Admittedly, Greece was never a multicultural paradise; treatment of newcomers has not always been exemplary. But I have often wondered what the reaction would be in other European countries to such a great influx.
In years to come, others might contemplate the wisdom of tasking small states such as Greece with the organisation of a show such as the Olympics. But of one thing there can be no doubt: no other single event has so effectively transformed or revitalised Athens in the 180-plus years since Greece won independence from the Ottoman Turks.
In one fell swoop, it seems, the Greeks have cleaned up their act. They have cracked the nasty November 17 (the group that killed British military attache Stephen Saunders); they've used EU funds and dug deep into their coffers to build highways, a sophisticated transport network, a gleaming , new airport and a f metro system that makes the London Underground look primitive.
They haven't built a new Acropolis Museum yet, but they've united all their ancient masterpieces into a giant and spectacular archaeological park, no mean feat in a city of more than four million people.
How long has it taken to even agree to build London's Crossrail? It is unlikely it will be ready by 2012.
The new Greeks are innovative. In contrast to the patronising eggheads who govern the likes of the British Museum, they come up with forward-looking polices: 'Why not loan us the Elgin marbles, instead of'giving them back' and we'll display them in a branch of the British Museum beneath the Parthenon?'
Lovers of Greece will weep to see that acceptance has taken so long, but it could prove to be one of the greatest legacies of the Games.