History takes center stage at 2004 Olympics

Deutsche Presse-Agentur
August 17, 2004, Tuesday

FEATURE: History takes centre stage at 2004 Olympics


More than 116 centuries after a Roman emperor abolished the Olympics
because of its pagan roots, ancient Olympia will once again take
centre stage with the shot put competition on Wednesday.

The same day the Panathinaiko stadium in Athens will see the medal
round in the women’s archery competition – the first Olympic final
there since the start of the modern era Games in 1896.

Nestled in a valley covered in pine trees and laurel, the venue at
Olympia will play host to around 80 shot putters from at least 47
countries. Up to 15,000 spectators will watch them, sitting on the
grassy slopes around the stadium, rather than seats, as they did in
ancient times.

The plan to hold the men’s and women’s competition at the ancient
stadium will mark the first time since the Games began in 776 BC that
female athletes will be allowed to compete there. It will also be the
first time women spectators are allowed in.

In ancient times, any woman caught watching the event, where men
competed in the nude, were punished by death.

Spectators lucky enough to attend will pass through an impressive
arch to their places around the arena of the remarkably preserved
stadium, which dates to the 4th century BC.

In its heyday, the stadium had a capacity of 40,000.

Although the shot put was not part of the ancient games, organisers
decided to hold the event at the ancient stadium because it requires
little space and can be completed in a single day before dusk.

“I believe it will be a fantastic spectacle. Just imagining that the
first Olympics were staged there is an amazing feeling,” said German
shot putter Astrid Kumbernuss.

“We will be very careful not to break anything,” she added of the
stadium, which is now a World Heritage Site.

In their infancy, the games took place in just one day, expanding
later to a five-day Olympic festival. In line with its ancient
significance, organisers have decided to keep the event simple with
no corporate banners and the bare minimum of electrical equipment.

The stadium is located next to the ancient temple of Zeus, whose
massive marble columns, crumbled in an earthquake, can still be seen
as a testament to its former glory. The temple once featured a huge
statue of the prominent Greek god, listed as one of the seven wonders
of the ancient world.

The Games were abolished in 393 AD by Roman Emperor Theodosius, who
had adopted Christianity and considered the Olympics a pagan ritual.
His decree ended an uninterrupted 1,169-year Olympic tradition.

The women’s shot put winner – likely Irina Korshanenko or Svetlana
Krivljova of Russia – will be the first Olympic champion in Olympia
since Varasdates, Prince of Armenia, in 369 AD.

When the modern Olympics were revived in 1896 at the Panathinako
stadium or “Kalimarmaro” in central Athens, more than 17,000
spectators were on hand to witness the first Olympic victory by
American James Connolley in the triple jump.

On Wednesday, the famous stadium which is hosting an Olympic
competition for the first time in 108 years will award the first
medals in the archery event.

The marble stadium, also the finish of the marathon races later in
the 2004 Games, underwent a costly modernisation of its marble
structure as Greece welcomed the Games back home. dpa cp jb ms