Just 16 centuries later, we return to Olympia

Arizona Republic, AZ
Aug 18 2004

Just 16 centuries later, we return to Olympia

Jeff Metcalfe

ATHENS – So, where did we leave off?

You remember, of course, Armenian Prince Varazdates and the spectacle
of his boxing triumph. And who can forget Zopyros of Athens,
wrestling-boxing his way to the junior pankration crown.

It seems like just yesterday, and a scant 1,611 years later, the boys
are back in Olympia. This time the girls were invited, too, and for
more than marrying off.

In the spectacle of all spectacles in the Olympics’ return to Greece,
the men’s and women’s shot put will be held today at the revered site
of the ancient Games, near where the flame for each modern Olympics
is lighted.

“It’s the lush, ancient Olympic scene,” said John Godina, the
two-time Olympic shot put medalist who now makes Mesa his home. He
and the other U.S. throwers, who could pull off a men’s medals sweep,
have been in Olympia, 210 miles southwest of Athens, since Sunday.
“It’s really getting me charged up. I have to relax myself so I don’t
waste any nervous energy. It’s exactly what you’d think it was going
to be.”

That’s the rub of being part of the emotional touchstone of these
Olympics. It’s simultaneously inspiring and draining, with as much
potential for crashing as for soaring in the personal playground of
Zeus and Hercules.

“I just want to keep it as serious as possible,” said Reese Hoffa,
who competed wearing a mask in 2003 as the Unknown Shot Putter.
“Olympia itself is enough attention right now. I don’t want to make a
mockery of the site or Olympia itself.”

Godina, Adam Nelson and Hoffa could post the first U.S. men’s sweep
since 1960. Godina places those odds at 50-50, but first priority for
the 32-year-old is to add gold to his silver medal from 1996 and
bronze from 2000.

Andrei Mikhnevich of Belarus and Janus Robberts of South Africa could
challenge the Americans, but the U.S. treasure chest of 46 all-time
men’s shot medals will almost certainly grow.

Russians Irina Karzhanenko and Svetlana Krivelyova are favorites to
become the first female champion at Olympia, where women participated
only as chariot-race owners during the ancient Games.

There was no shot put in Olympia, either. Discus and javelin were the
throws in the pentathlon, which also included long jump, running and

Modern style – allowing two body turns rather than three-quarters of
a turn – and distances make the discus impossible in a stadium that
is only 232 yards long. Some 45,000 crammed in for the ancient
Olympics, but attendance is restricted to a third of that today.

And unlike the ancients, today’s Olympians are keeping their clothes

“Most of the fans are very thankful about that,” Godina said.