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FALL 2016

ISSN: 2459-041X

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No matter which city is hosting the Olympics, it all starts here in Greece, at ancient Olympia. The lighting of the flame is the Games’ most “Greek” and symbolic ritual.

The first Olympic Games of antiquity were not the beginning, but a step in an evolutionary process imbued with mystery, religion, politics – and also a dark side.

The vision of Pierre de Coubertin; Athens and the first modern Olympic Games; Spyros Louis’ historic victory and the glorious revival of the Authentic Marathon.

Moments of greatness and shame; the battle to keep the Olympic spirit alive; a 40-page special on the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games.



Ariston & Rafaela BY GIORGOS TSIROS e d i t o r - I N - C H IE F , G REE C E I S

“I looked at all the cheering spectators and tried to prepare for the most difficult event of my life. The contest was long and tiring, but I managed to defeat my opponent with virtue and courage. Immediately afterwards, I had to face the winners of the other matches and defeated all of them as well. The crowd cheered and applauded as the judge crowned me (...) I accepted the applause modestly, proud that I had bestowed glory and everlasting fame on my city...” This personal account comes from the ancient Olympian Ariston, son of Eireneus of Ephesus, whose testimony forms the prologue to this collector’s edition of Greece Is, dedicated to the global celebration of sports that is the Olympic Games. But it doesn’t really matter who said it. From the first Ancient Olympics in 776 BC to the last Games in Rio de Janeiro, hundreds of thousands of athletes have astounded and inspired the crowds by competing honorably for all that is beautiful, great and real. The description could have come from any of them. Imagine the 24-year-old Brazilian judoka Rafaela Silva, a girl raised in the poverty and violence of Cidade de Deus, who found a way out through sports at the age of eight. Think of her triumphant return to that favela, so much more than just a welcome break from the relentless war between gangs

and security forces that has cost so many civilian lives there. Standing in front of the cameras and talking about her accomplishment – winning the first and, in many ways, the greatest medal won by the host nation – she would certainly mention the long hours of arduous training at the neighborhood Instituto Reação, which helped hundreds of athletes find a purpose in life and escape the hell of life in those streets. Doubtless, she’d talk about the support and sacrifices of a family that didn’t even have enough money to buy her uniform, her awe at entering the Carioca Arena for her first bout and the tough one-way street that led her from victory to victory. Finally, she’d bring up the pride she felt at bringing glory and hope to her favela, inspiring others to follow her example. In the pages that follow, you will find articles on the origins of the Olympic Games, on the ideals that inspired their revival, on the highs and lows of their gradual transformation into multi-billion-dollar fiestas tainted at times by corruption and greed. Nevertheless, we must always remember that, at their core, the Games are special precisely because there will always be Aristons and Rafaelas, athletes who dedicate their youth, indeed their whole being, to achieving a dream – and who, in doing so, give us the drama, the emotion, the spectacle and the passion that keeps the Olympic spirit alive.

Cidade de Deus children rejoicing at Rafaela Silva’s Olympic triumph.




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CONTENTS Greece Is - The Games, Fall 2016, Second Edition 6. Tale of a Young Victor. A reality-

48. Stories of Booing, Cheating and

88. Beauty, Greatness, Truth.

inspired story from the ancient world.

Diplomacy. Four revealing episodes

Highlights of the modern Games that

10. Timeline. The long road to Rio de

shed light on the Olympic Games’ strong

reflect the Olympic ideal.

political role.

94. Before World Records. The


12. Lighting the Flame. The ceremony

ancient Olympics were all about effort,

modern 54. The Rebirth. The vision of Pierre de

courage and strength, not milliseconds.

Coubertin and how the modern Olympics

competition is one side of the Games,


performance-enhancing drugs is the

62. Miracle in Marble. The story of


the Panathenaic Stadium, a timeless

98. Passing the Torch. The

expression, the Olympic Games.


International Olympic Academy.

28. The Origins. Athletic glory in the

70. The First Host City. How Athens

that draws the world’s attention to ancient Olympia.

ANCIENT 20. Why the Greeks? Explaining the concept of agon and it most characteristic

shadow of Zeus.

34. Anatomy of a Sanctuary. Ancient Olympia and beyond.

36. Broadcasting from Ancient Olympia. How would a modern-day sports commentator describe the events?

42. The Dark Side. Despite our rosetinted view of the ancient Olympics, they were not so dissimilar to our modern Games.


96. When Cynisism Rules. Honorable

Olympic Games.

RIO 2016 104. The Highlights. A photo gallery

76. A Much-needed Hero. Spyros

of the 2016 Olympics’ most memorable

Louis, the winner of the first Olympic


Marathon, played a crucial part in the

132. Behind the Fireworks. David

and its citizens made it through the 1896

early history of modern Olympics.

82. Athens Marathon: The Authentic. Attracting thousands of runners every year.

Goldblatt’s take, the day after.

134. Impossible? The Greek Paralympic team and their proud sponsor, OPAP.

138. Spirit in Motion. Paralympic history and legends.

88 138


104 greece is - the games fall 2016, second edition

Published by: Exerevnitis - Explorer SA, Ethnarchou Makariou & 2 Falireos St, Athens, 18547, Greece ISSN: 2459-041X Editor-in-chief: Giorgos Tsiros ( Commercial director: Natasha Bouterakou ( Creative director: Thodoris Lalangas / Creative consultant: Costas Coutayar Deputy editor: Natasha Blatsiou Art director: Ria Staveri Editorial consultants: Dimitris Tsoumplekas, Vassilis Minakakis Pagination: Natasha Kaika Translations/Editing: Don Domonkos, George Kolyvas, John Leonard, Alexia Liakounakou, Damian Mac Con Uladh, Stephen Stafford, Danae Seemann, Christine Sturmey Proof-reading: John Leonard, Christine Sturmey Photo editors: Maria Konstantopoulou, Marika Tsouderou Photoshop: Christos Maritsas, Michalis Tzannetakis, Stelios Vazourakis Advertising: Sophia Tsepa ( Advertising department: Tel. (+30) 210.480.82.27 Head of public relations: Lefki Vardikou GREECE IS - THE GAMES is a special edition, published on the occasion of 2016 Rio Olympic Games and distributed free of charge. Contact us: It is illegal to reproduce any part of this publication without the written permission of the publisher.

ON THE C OVER Panathenaic amphora, a victory prize from ca. 530 BC depicting a foot race, attributed to the painter Euphiletos. (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Source: Games and Sanctuaries in Ancient Greece, Kapon Editions)



Nespresso’s Olympians N e s p r e s s o - P r o u d s p o n s o r o f R i o ’ s b r o n z e m e d a l i s t s Pa n agiot is M a n t is a nd Pav los K agi a l is Nespresso wishes to extend warm congratulations to its champions Panagiotis Mantis and Pavlos Kagialis, who won the bronze medal in the Men’s 470 sailing event during the 31st Summer Olympic Games at Rio. Nespresso has been sponsoring this sailing duo since the 2015 Hellenic Match Racing Tour (HMRT) competition, supporting their efforts and helping them towards this very impressive achievement at the Olympics. Having consistently ranked among the world’s first five in both national and international competitions over the last four years, these outstanding Greek athletes sailed their way into the medals at Rio, rewarding the efforts and the guidance of their coach Makis Orologas and bringing pride to their Greek compatriots. Nespresso’s Country Business Manager for Greece and Cyprus, Antonis Avgeropoulos, stated: “It’s an honor to be supporting the efforts of athletes like Panagiotis and Pavlos, who have, with integrity and hard work, achieved a very important victory for Greek sports. We congratulate the team for the honor and the joy they have bestowed on Greece and we wish them every success. We fully expect that they will continue to make us proud with similar distinctions in the future.”


“I bestowed glory and everlasting fame on my city...” The reality-inspired tale of Ariston, son of Ireneus of Ephesus, an Olympic victor of the ancient world.



, Ariston, son of Ireneus of Ephesus, started training at my city’s gymnasium, under the supervision of a gymnast named Kallias. I dealt with wrestling, boxing and the pankration, a mixture of the former two, and I excelled in all of them. My gymnast combined my training with lessons about the regulations for participation and the qualities needed in order to excel in the Olympic Games. He taught me the rules of the pankration: “The pankration athletes, my boy,” he used to say, “train in a dangerous style of wrestling. They have to withstand blows to the eyes and learn special holds, so even if they fall down they still have a chance to win. They should possess knowledge of a range of special techniques in order to apply strangulation holds, bend ankles, twist arms, and punch and jump on their opponents. There are no forbidden holds in the pankration, other than biting and attempting to poke out the opponent’s eyes.” Kallias also taught me the qualities of being a good wrestler and boxer: “The competitor’s neck should be as straight and proud as that of a horse,

which is beautiful and knows it. The shoulders should be broad and square. Arms suitable for wrestling are those that have wide veins starting from the neck and the shoulders. A straight back is attractive, but a slightly bent one is more athletic, because it better adapts to the posture of wrestling while leaning forward. Flexible ribs satisfy the needs of both offensive and defensive wrestling. Most of all, a great athlete should have endurance, courage and skill.” As the Olympic Games approached, a herald came from Olympia and announced that the festival would start in two months. I decided to participate in the boys’ pankration. Fifty days before the contest, my trainer Kallias and I boarded the ship from Ephesus, our home city, and sailed for mainland Greece to take part in the obligatory training exercises at Elis. Athletes, in accordance with the Eleans’ official rules, had already started assembling to continue their preparations for the Games. As soon as we arrived, the Hellanodikai (judges) divided us according to our age and told us: “If you have trained to such an extent that you are worthy to attend Olympia, and

Source: The Olympic Games Through Time, a virtual reality tour of ancient Olympia and the exhibition Stories of the Olympic Games, produced by the Foundation of the Hellenic World, Info: Hellenic Cosmos Museum & Cultural Center, 254 Pireos, Athens, tel (+30), www.hellenic-cosmos.



if you haven’t done anything despicable or proven idle, take heart and move on. Those of you that haven’t worked so hard, go wherever you want.” For 30 days I trained with other young men at the square gymnasium building in the city of Elis, where we practiced wrestling. There were special rooms where we smeared ourselves with oil. The training area floors were covered with dirt, so we could fall on soft ground. The oil made us slippery, so we needed more strength to hold our opponents. A little dust scattered on our hands kept the opponent from easily slipping out of our grip. On the eve of the Games, we departed for Olympia. It was a very hot day in the sacred month. As we approached our destination, the smell of plane trees and the raucous cicadas reminded me of stories I had heard about famous Olympic victors. I remembered Milonas of Croton (6th century BC), the six-time winner in wrestling, who, as they say, carried his own statue to the Altis. Also, Theagenes of Thasos, son of Timosthenes (5th century BC), who, when he was only nine years old, carried home on his shoulders a bronze statue of a god he had removed from the agora, and who later became a famous victor in the pankration. Before reaching the River Alpheios, we passed Typaean, the famous high mountain with steep slopes. From here should be thrown any woman, the Eleans ruled, who, in violation of the prohibition imposed during the Games, watched them in secret or even happened to be found on the eastern side of the river. We crossed the river and we found ourselves in the Altis, the central sacred area of Olympia. Looking over its landscape, we could see the stadium. Around it were olive trees with gray and green leaves, as well as other trees. Filled with emotion, I entered the temples of Zeus and Hera for the first time in my life, and gazed on the surrounding statues of glorious athletes. At Olympia I met other athletes, well known for their victories. First, I met Sostratus the Sicyonian, famous for his technique in the pankration. He won

12 victories at Isthmia and Nemea, three in Olympia and two at Delphi. Later, I also met Leontiskos, a wrestler from Messene. He was crowned once at Delphi and twice at Olympia. His technique in the pankration was similar to Sostratus, but he was particularly famous for his finger-bending skills. On the day of the inauguration of the Olympic Games we all assembled in front of the statue of Zeus Horkios at the Bouleuterion, to swear an oath that we have strictly followed our training for 10 consecutive months. All the athletes, together with our fathers, brothers and trainers, swore over the severed testicals of a sacrificial wild boar that we would not commit any offence during the Games. The officials also took an oath that they would judge fairly, accept no bribes and keep confidential any information they had learned about a contestant. On the day of the boys’ events, after we had reached the venue, we were systematically divided into pairs as follows: Officials put small, bean-sized lots containing inscriptions in the sacred silver ballot box of Zeus. One pair was represented by the letter Α, another by the letter Β, a third by the letter Γ and so on. The same letter was always inscribed on two lots. Each of us stepped forward invoking Zeus and put his hand in the ballot box. One after another, we drew lots. When everyone had a lot, the judge had us stand in a circle and checked our lots. Then he matched each of us with the other person that had the same letter. I had the letter Γ and so I had to compete with Politis of Karia. I looked at all the cheering spectators and tried to prepare for the most difficult event of my life. The contest was long and tiring, but I managed to defeat my opponent with virtue and courage. Immediately afterwards, I had to face the winners of the other matches and defeated all of them as well. The crowd cheered and applauded as the judge crowned me with the kotinos, the victory wreath woven from a wild olive branch. I accepted the crowd’s applause modestly, proud that I had bestowed glory and everlasting fame on my city.

“If you have trained to such an extent that you are worthy to attend Olympia, and if you haven’t done anything despicable or proven idle, take heart and move on. Those of you that haven’t worked so hard, go wherever you want.”




I L L U S T R A T IO N by I G N A T I O S M A N A V I S

1912 – Stockholm

776 BC First recorded Games held at Olympia.

Automatic timing devices are introduced for the track events and, for the first time, competitors in the Games come from all five continents. The star of the Games is Jim Thorpe, a 24-year old Native American who won both the pentathlon and decathlon.

1936 – Berlin Introduction of the torch relay. African-American athlete Jesse Owens wins four gold medals, prompting Hitler to leave the stadium. Thousands of pigeons are released as a peace gesture, just three years before the outbreak of World War II.

1948 – London

AD 393 Emperor Theodosius I prohibits the worship of pagan gods and disbands the Games.

1924 – Paris American swimmer Johnny Weissmuller triumphs with three gold medals and one bronze. Later discovered by Hollywood, he went on to become famous in the role of Tarzan. The Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger) is used for the first time.

The first post-WWII Olympics are held in a city with still-open wounds. The photo finish camera is used for the first time. The star of the Games is 30-year-old Fanny Blankers-Koen of the Netherlands, aka “The Flying Housewife,” who wins four gold medals.

1928 – Amsterdam

1896 – Athens First modern Olympics: 241 athletes from 14 countries compete in 43 events in nine sports. One sprinter wears a pair of white gloves because, he explains, he will be running in the presence of the king.


A symbolic fire is lit during the Games for the first time and women are allowed to compete in athletics and gymnastics. Australian rower Henry Pearce stops halfway through a race to let a family of ducks pass, but still manages to win.

1956 – Melbourne The first Games outside Europe and North America are held in November/ December, which is summer for Oceania, but winter for the rest of the world. The Soviet Union tops the medal table.

1984 – Los Angeles 1960 – Rome Summer Olympic Games are telecast in North America for the first time. Constantine, heir apparent to the Greek throne, wins a gold medal in sailing; bare-footed Ethiopian Abebe Bikila wins the Marathon; and the great Muhammad Ali (still Cassius Clay at the time) wins the light-heavyweight class.

1968 – Mexico A high altitude and the new Tartan track surface contribute to an impressive 48 World and 190 Olympic records. American Dick Fosbury revolutionizes the high jump event with his then unconventional “Fosbury flop.”

1972 – Munich The Games are overshadowed by the deadly terrorist attack known as the Munich Massacre. US swimmer Mark Spitz wins seven gold medals. In the controversial basketball final, the Soviet Union beats the US, but the Americans refuse their silver medals.

The Games are marred by political conflict: Eastern Bloc countries refuse to participate in retaliation for the American boycott of the Moscow Olympics four years earlier.

2008 – Beijing The most expensive Summer Games ever held, with the total cost spiralling to $44 billion. American swimmer Michael Phelps is awarded eight gold medals, seven for new world records. This is the biggest number of medals ever to have been won by an Olympic athlete.

1988 – Seoul Over 10,000 accredited media outlets cover the Games, which bring 30 world and 117 Olympic records, but also several high profile doping scandals.

2012 – London In the first city to host the Games for a third time, organizers receive some 240,000 volunteer applications. Team GB finishes third with 65 medals – their best haul since London first hosted the Olympics in 1908.

1992 – Barcelona The US men’s basketball “Dream Team” leaves its stamp on the Games after the event becomes open to professionals. The team has no trouble taking gold while raising the sport’s international profile to unprecedented levels.

2016 – Rio 1976 - Montreal Nadia Comaneci reigns supreme. The 14-year-old gymnast from Romania wins three gold medals, plus one silver and a bronze, and is awarded – for the first time ever – a perfect score of 10.

2004 – Athens The Olympic Games return home. The opening and closing ceremonies held at ancient Olympia, along with the shot put event, touch the world.

10,500 athletes from 206 countries are competing in Brazil, the first South American country to host the Olympics. Ιt will be winter in Brazil when the Games take place, with conditions similar to springtime in the Northern Hemisphere.





© REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis


LIGHTING THE FLAME There is no sporting symbol quite as dramatic as the Olympic torch. Every four years it burns brightly as a “clarion call” that the Games are coming. BY PHILIP BARKER

The Olympic Flame, along with the five rings, is the most recognizable symbol of the Olympic Games. It commemorates the theft of fire from Zeus by Prometheus. In ancient Greece, a fire was kept burning throughout the celebration of the Olympics. In modern times, it was first lit at the 1928 Amsterdam Games, although using a switch. Since 1936, a reflective bowl is used to catch the rays of the sun and spark a flame.






he flame-lighting ceremony in ancient Olympia lasts less than an hour, but still, it is an opportunity for all the modern world to reconnect with the Olympic Games of antiquity. The link with Greece is honored to this day. As the competitors will enter the stadium for the Olympic opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, the Greek team will lead the way in symbolic acknowledgement of the nation’s unique place in the history of the Games, both ancient and modern. Yet, in 1896, when the Games were revived in Athens, there was no Olympic flame; only a procession of lanterns through the city. Not until the Amsterdam Games in 1928 did a beacon burn above the stadium, and even then it was lit by a switch. Finally in 1936, Berlin became the first host city to welcome an Olympic flame carried by a relay of runners from Olympia. The idea had taken root in 1934. Writer Alexandros Philadelpheus had suggested lighting a flame from the rays of the sun. Greek official Ioannis Ketseas and Carl Diem, a leading figure in the Berlin organizing committee, then spoke at length about what they called the ‘Apollonian light.’ Their conversation is commemorated by a plaque which can be seen to this day in the small village of Tegea in the Peloponnese. “Greece is summoned after 2,000 years to give the light of its superior civilization to the whole world... Greeks help us convey the Olympic light,” announced an official bulletin. By July 1936, all the arrangements had been made. Workmen busied themselves to make sure Olympia had “a dignified appearance in the eyes of foreign visitors.’’ Huge crowds made their way to see a flame kindled by Koula Pratsika, a dance teacher from Athens. She was surrounded by many of her pupils. The first bearer, one Kostas Kondylis, was later portrayed on the label of a box of matches. Such was the excitement that “Only the sick stayed at home,” as was the verdict of Greek newspapers, while German radio broadcast reports as the flame traveled through Europe. A little over a fortnight later, the arrival of the final torch bearer, Fritz Schilgen, in Berlin’s Olympic

Stadium was the dramatic highlight of the opening ceremony. As a matter of fact, that special moment has been the “showstopper” of all ceremonies ever since, although the means of transporting the flame have long since outstripped the simple runner. It has flown across continents, explored the sea bed at the Great Barrier Reef and been passed by cyclists, rowers, swimmers, the Pony Express, on water skis and even abseilers. It has also been carried to Mount Everest. On one memorable occasion in 1976, it was transmitted from Athens to Canada by electronic pulse. Yet for all the innovation, many are still drawn to ancient Olympia, which, for one brief moment every four years, becomes the center of the Olympic universe. What is it that makes the lighting ceremony so very special? An important element is the location, among the pillars, in the ruins of the temple of Hera, beneath Kronos Hill. To walk here is to be transported back to the ancient Games. No wonder that Olympia Mayor Efthymios Kotzas speaks of “the unique message of this landscape.’’ Everything about the ceremony is designed to invoke the spirit of the ancient site, from the poem Light of Olympia by the late Takis Dokis to an incantation asking for “sacred silence” by the high priestess. “Apollo, god of the sun and the idea of light, send your rays and light the sacred torch for the hospitable city of Rio de Janeiro,’’ the chant went at the ceremony in April this year. The actual moment of lighting is beautifully simple. A reflective bowl is used to catch the rays of the sun and spark a flame. The participants in the ritual are drawn from classical dance theater in Greece, but this is no ordinary performance. “I cannot say this is like any other choreography,” admits ceremony director Artemis Ignatiou, who first participated as a dancer back in 1988. “When choreographing for the Olympic flame, I serve an idea that comes from Greece and now belongs to the whole world. I treat it with great respect, because we have to deliver a message of global equality and peace.”

What is it that makes the lighting ceremony so very special? An important element is the location, among the pillars, in the ruins of the temple of Hera, beneath Kronos Hill. To walk here is to be transported back to the ancient Games.


The archaeological site of Olympia includes the sanctuary of Zeus and other buildings erected around it. Pictured is the palaestra, a 66m2 building that dates to the late 3rd or early 2nd century BC. It is thought to have been used to train wrestlers and other athletes.

WATCH THE VIDEO Get a backstage pass to the rehearsal of this year’s ceremony.


© REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis, ENRI CANAJ, AFP




1. The young men (or heralds) at this year’s ceremony were dressed in dark olive green, the darkest color used in a flame-lighting ceremony since 1952 in Helsinki. 2. The lighting of the flame is followed by the Dance of the Priestesses. This year, the first part of the dance performance was titled Kouroi and Korai (Youths and Maidens) and the second Nereides after the goddesses of the sea – choreographed by Artemis Ignatiou. 3. The first torch bearer is always a Greek sportsman. This year, the honor belonged to 2015 world champion gymnast Lefterios Petrounias. 4. Children from local schools appear in the formation of the five rings of the Olympic flag. 5. The site of Ancient Olympia is a place of great beauty, but it’s also a good spot for a friendly race. 6. Composer Yannis Psimadas composed music for flute, percussion, bagpipes and lyre to create the ceremony’s soundtrack. 7. As a symbol of peace, doves are released into the sky after the bowl is lit. 8. President of the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee Carlos Nuzman, embracing IOC President Thomas Bach.









Throughout its journey, the flame has been seen as a beacon of hope and peace. The idea of the ancient cessation of hostilies, “Ekecheiria” (or truce) during the Games, had been called for many times.

The costumes worn by the dancers are also inspired by ancient designs. For 2016, Eleni Kyriacou created long flowing dresses in turquoise and olive green for the maidens – a fresh approach to the traditional chiton. The young men or heralds were dressed in olive green. All danced to delicate melodies on flute and lyre composed by Yannis Psimadas. As if to beckon it towards Rio and the Copacabana, the 2016 lighting ceremony was attended by cloudless blue skies. Even so, organizers still took care to keep the flame from each rehearsal, just in case clouds should arrive unexpectedly on the big day. The first torchbearer is always Greek and most often a prominent sportsman. This year the choice fell on gymnast Eleftherios Petrounias, a man with high hopes of adding an Olympic gold medal to his 2015 World Championship gold. As tradition dictates, he carried the torch to a marble stele set amongst the olive groves to pay homage to Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the Modern Olympics. Then came the first exchange of the flame to Giovane Gavio, a legendary figure in Brazilian volleyball – 12 years ago he won his second gold at the Athens 2004 Games. His return to Greece was clearly one of great emotion, as he knelt to receive the flame. Each handover, or “kiss,” takes the flame further on its journey. Waiting at

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Philip Barker is a British broadcaster, writer and the author of The Story of the Olympic Torch. He has reported extensively on the progress of the Olympic flame and was a torchbearer in 1996 and 2012.


the bridge over the Kladeos River was Dr Kostas Georgiadis, dean of the International Olympic Academy. He ran with an escort of students from across the world. It was the perfect symbolic spot, for this was the outer precinct of the ancient Olympic site. Then onwards towards Athens. Only in the Greek capital did the fire finally become the responsibility of Rio. Since then it has embarked on a 95-day odyssey across the vast lands of Brazil. Throughout its journey, the flame has been seen as a beacon of hope and peace. The idea of the ancient cessation of hostilies, Ekecheiria (or truce) during the Games, had been called for many times. But in the new millennium, both the establishment of the International Olympic Truce Center in Athens and a plea for peace at the United Nations, gave it new resonance. In 2016, some 60 soldiers symbolically laid down their guns and walked from Elis to Olympia as they would have done in ancient times. A week later, at the suggestion of Hellenic Olympic Committee President Spyros Kapralos, Syrian amputee swimmer Ibrahim Al Hussein took the torch at the Eleonas reception center for refugees in Athens. It was a poignant moment. That message of hope has by now traveled all the way to Rio, where for the first time a team of Refugee Olympic Athletes is taking part in the Games.

Info A N C I E N T O LY M P I A : Olympia (county of Ilia) • Tel. (+30) 26240-22517 • Opening Hours: 08:00 - 20:00 (autumn and winter closing times vary) • Admission: Full €12, Reduced €6 (Valid for the archaeological site of Olympia, the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of the History of the Ancient Olympic Games and the Museum of the Excavations)

Touring Olympia On entering the site of ancient Olympia, one is immediately impressed by its natural and architectural landscape. On the left lie Roman baths, while on the right the Hellenistic-era Gymnasium and Palaestra. More Roman and earlier Greek baths lie just beyond, as well as the workshop of the great sculptor Pheidias. Continuing eastward, one finds the double-apsed Bouleuterion, where athletes and judges were sworn to obey the rules. The heart of Olympia’s sanctuary was the Altis: the sacred area containing the now-lost Altar of Zeus; the Doric temples of Zeus, Hera and Cybele/Rhea; and the long-venerated Precinct of Pelops. Overlooking the Altis was a row of small treasuries for dedications, erected by various city-states. Nearby, the elegantly restored Philippeion, a circular heroon, was erected by Philip II to emphasize his Macedonian supremacy over Greece. Beside the Echo Stoa, which offered visitors protection from sun or rain, an arched tunnel led into the Stadium. Olympia’s museums should not be missed! The Museum of the History of the Ancient Olympic Games contains statues, painted vases, inscriptions and other revealing artifacts. The centerpiece of the Archaeological Museum are the Severe Style sculptures from the Zeus temple’s pediments, depicting mythical Pelops’ chariot race against Oenomaus and wild centaurs struggling with Lapiths (the Centauromachy). In another gallery stands the magnificent Hermes with Baby Dionysus, attributed to the 4th-century BC master sculptor Praxiteles. - JOHN LEONARD

ancient GREECE IS


the roots Tracing the origins of the ancient Olympic Games; getting to know the events and the first athletic heroes; shedding light on their dark side. Barry’s Pictures: The Victors at Olympia, edited by Charles Knight, London (Virtue, ca. 1880) Š Bridgeman Images



WHY THE GREEKS? The Olympic Games were the most characteristic expression of the competitive spirit of the ancient Greeks, who could never have imagined that they were making a unique mark on human civilization. BY PA N O S VA L AVA N I S *

cording to Castoriadis, this is the common starting point for philosophy and democracy. But such questioning at the time, unlike today, was far from the norm; it could not have appeared on its own, as it presupposes an inner tendency of people to wish to surpass certain limits. And this disposition for transcendence goes hand-in-hand with the element of competition: the desire to be tested, to confront, change, overturn and improve. In such a context, extrapolating the thoughts of Castoriadis, one could say that a key concept for understanding and explaining ancient Greek civilization is the idea of agon (struggle, contest, competition). Thus, questioning and agon were part of a single viewpoint, an overall life stance, which pervaded all manifestations of ancient Greek life, permeated all activities and was the driving force behind all expression of culture. In ancient Greek society, the concept of agon underlay the view that anything

Scene of a triumphant athlete, from a 5th century BC red-figure kylix painted by Epictetus. The crowned winner (left) is shown with symbols of victory, ribbons around the body and olive branches. (Louvre Museum, Paris)


One of the key concepts for understanding and explaining ancient Greek civilization is the idea of agon: it means struggle, contest, competition.

© Games and Sanctuaries in Ancient Greece/ COURTESY of KAPON EDITIONS


henever we speak of ancient Greece and the achievements of their civilization, we inevitably find ourselves asking the question “Why the Greeks?” What was it that led this numerically small people of the Mediterranean to emerge first from the Archaic stage, in which all other ancient peoples were at a standstill, and strive towards the accomplishments of the Classical period? To explain the singularity of ancient Greek civilization, Greek-French philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis identifies something that no other people had at the time as the baseline value of the ancient Greeks: the capacity to question. That is to say, while the predominant values of other peoples could be summed up in the view that “we must hand down to our children the world we inherited from our forefathers,” the ancient Greeks were the first to challenge this perception, by submitting to judgment those ideologies and convictions that had been passed on to them. Ac-






can be achieved as the result of effort, healthy rivalry and noble competition. The most characteristic expression of this competitive spirit was athletics and the Olympic Games, which for the first time in history assumed such dimensions. For athletics, of course, had not first been conceived by the Greeks. Sport had existed in all early societies as an unconscious drive for competition with nature – as expressed, for example, by hunters running to keep up with fast-moving animals, hitting them with weapons from a distance, or fighting them with their bare hands to capture them. As societies developed and early politico-economic systems emerged in Egypt and the Near East, athletics was placed at the service of royal powers. All the prehistoric peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean had athletic interests and activities, but the Greeks were the first to elevate them to a way of life and invest them with more substantial parameters. Below, we shall consider how the concept of athletic competition developed; the forms it took in parallel with the development of the ancient world; and how agon constituted a key component in the ideology and practices of ancient Greek society, adopting from time to time a different ideological mantle. In Minoan Crete and mainland Mycenaean Greece of the 2nd millennium BC, when evidence first exists for athletic activity in Greek territory, athletics served the recreational needs of the elite of the centralized palace system. It is believed that bull leaping, wrestling and chariot racing events

took place in the palace courtyards or somewhere nearby, in the framework of celebrations to mark some important exceptional occurrence, such as a military victory or the birth of an heir to the throne. Modern researchers suggest that many of these competitive events can be categorized as rites of passage, i.e. tasks that young males had to successfully complete in order to prove to their community that they had become men and were fit to join its higher ranks of mature members. In early societies, a person’s development was not just a matter of biological age; it also involved the need to demonstrate physical, and very often mental, maturation. In the following period, so-called early historic times (roughly from the 10th to the 8th c. BC), one can discern two new parameters of athletic contests in the main Helladic region. The first, seen for the first time in Homer, is the holding of games in honor of a recently deceased dignitary, as a complement to the elaborate burial ceremonies. The most characteristic example is the games organized by Achilles in honor of his dear dead friend, Patroclus, which Homer describes in detail in 640 verses in Book XXIII of The Iliad (vs. 257-897). In the same period, specifically in 776 BC according to ancient tradition, games were held for the first time at the sanctuary of Olympia, namely athletic activities in the framework of divine worship. Both of these phenomena, which mark the beginning of athletic contests in ancient Greece, involve respect for and paying homage to the gods and the deceased, which are basic components of ancient Greek ideology.

Competitors in the stadion running event, on a black-figure skyphos from 540 BC. (National Archaeological Museum, Athens)


Š National Archaeological Museum, Athens/S. MAVROMATIS/Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports/Archaeological Receipts Fund


All prehistoric peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean had athletic interests and activities, but the Greeks were the first to elevate them to a way of life and invest them with more substantial parameters.

Marble Roman copy of the famous bronze Diskobolos of Myron, 1st c. AD. (National Museum of Rome, Baths of Diocletian)

Scene of bull leaping. Wall painting from the Palace of Knossos, after the 15th century BC. (Archaeological Museum of Iraklio)

At the sanctuary of Olympia, we see for the first time the staging of the Games at regular periods, with a specific organization, a clearly defined program and elements that gave the activity an institutional character. The institutionalization of the Games was the most important development in the history of athletics, for this is how the Olympics were first established. During this still-early period, members of the ruling class from the larger region would congregate at Olympia at regular intervals, not only to perform their religious duties, but also to use the games as an opportunity to make a show of force and engage in social and political competition. From very early on, it could be said that one’s presence at Olympia, participation in the religious and votive practices, and victory in the Games, were means of gaining prestige and constituted prerequisites for exercising any kind of authority. As the influence of the sanctuary gradually grew, this aspect became even more important. The emergence of the city-state and the spread of the Greeks through colonization were accompanied by the corresponding growth and greater organization of athletic activities at Olympia, with the sanc-

tuary and its Games eventually transcending their local, Peloponnesian identity and becoming a center for the entire Greek-speaking world. The great flourishing of the Games during the Archaic period (7th-6th century BC) was due, to a large extent, to the intensely competitive perceptions of that era; first of all, to the aristocratic ideology of the ruling class, as summed up by the exhortation “always strive for excellence and prevail over others.” This competitive spirit is also evident in the intense rivalry that existed among the various city-states, each striving to prevail over the other through constant clashes. It was also reflected in the organization and development of great panhellenic festivals at three other sanctuaries: Delphi, Isthmia and Nemea. Now, Olympia and its games were being used to strengthen the ethnic identity of the new city-states while also contributing to the consolidation of their social hierarchy and socio-political structures. At the same time, the panhellenic games were a means of reinforcing the Greeks’ collective ethnic identity. A prerequisite for participation, according to Herodotus, was an athlete’s ability to prove his Greek descent. Consequently, anyone com-

One’s presence at Olympia, participation in the religious and votive practices, and victory in the games, were means of gaining prestige and constituted prerequisites for exercising any kind of authority.


© Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports/Archaeological Receipts Fund, Games and Sanctuaries in Ancient Greece/KAPON EDITIONS COURTESY



peting underlined and substantiated his Greek origins. As it has been said most aptly in this respect, “going to Olympia meant in one sense that you were Greek.” Thus, the Games were used as a basic means of distinguishing Greeks from barbarians; and for stressing the “Greekness” of the former, particularly by colonists, who often lived in a more culturally diverse environment, threatened by foreign neighbors. In the Classical period (5th-4th century BC) athletic contests became more democratic, mirroring political and social developments of the time. Not only were ordinary citizens given the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of athletics, but it also served as the basis for military and political training of young men in most city-states. Nothing expresses more vividly the democratic ideology of athletics and the Games than the words of a prominent aristocrat, Solon: “We oblige them to exercise the body, not only with a view to the games, that they might take the prizes – for this is something only very few will achieve – but because we anticipate much greater benefit for the city and for the young people themselves.” The aim of becoming a fine man, i.e. a physically attractive, brave and virtuous citizen, characterized the era and its achievements. The spirit of competition and healthy rivalry went hand-in-hand with another conviction of the Classical-period Greeks, namely that the purpose of every action should be the improvement and progress of society as a whole.

Victories at the Olympic Games also played an important political and social role. A victory and the glory it brought – sufficient for a member of society to gain social recognition and become a leading figure – served as a springboard for a political career. In addition, the pride felt by the victor’s fellow citizens helped consolidate their unity and reinforced their political and social identity. This was particularly important given the sharp antagonism that persisted among Greek citystates, exemplified by the rivalry between Athens and Sparta. Even after the Greek city-states had lost their autonomy and become part of great empires, the Games were so deeply embedded in the Greek psyche that they constituted a powerful political weapon. Alexander the Great encouraged athletic events in all the regions he conquered, making athletics one of the main vehicles for the spread of Greek culture. He took 3,000 athletes on his campaign and in many places organized games with rich prizes, at the same time constructing the necessary infrastructure. These games served as a point of contact and unity for all peoples. Moreover, the gymnasia disseminated Greek culture throughout the East, while giving the Greeks living there the opportunity to bolster their Greek identity. The Hellenistic gymnasium discovered by French archaeologists in the 1960s at Ai-Khanoum in present-day Afghanistan – identified as the ancient city of “Alexandria on the Oxus,” on the banks of Oxus River (today’s Amu Darya) – was

Attic black-figure volute krater of the Leagros Group. On the vase’s neck, in two registers, are depicted nearly every type of athlete and equestrian competitor known in ancient Greek athletics. (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)





Relief on the base of a Kouros statue, ca. 510 BC, found in the Themistoclean Wall. Depicted is a scene from the palaestra, featuring a runner, two wrestlers and a javelin thrower. (National Archaeological Museum, Athens)

undoubtedly a result of Alexander’s impact. Unfortunately, the remains of this particular gymnasium were destroyed during the constant conflicts of recent years in the region, resulting in the loss of an important testament to the role and effects of Alexander’s policy in the East. The Games, as well as Olympia’s role as a political center of Greece, did not change even after the Roman conquest. The old institutions were strengthened to once again become political tools. A number of emperors promoted the Games, realizing that one of the best ways to control the various peoples of their vast empire was to preserve and develop preexisting institutions of a unifying nature. A decisive moment for the Games and their political role came in AD 212, when all freemen in the empire became entitled to Roman citizenship. This enabled all the great athletes of the Mediterranean to compete at

Olympia and at the other panhellenic games, resulting in victors who were not only Greek and Roman, but also from Spain, Africa, Armenia and Galatia. So, the first post-Christian centuries were the period with the greatest growth of the Olympic Games in terms of geographical reach, as they took on another important characteristic – universality. But the Greeks of Greece proper at the time also preserved the Olympic Games as a link with their glorious past and ancestral values. They were fully aware that both they themselves and their history had been shaped by the competitive spirit. They could never have imagined, however, what we know today: that through athletics and the competitive spirit that pervaded every aspect of their life, both public and private, they succeeded with their ideas and accomplishments in putting their unique stamp on the history of mankind.

A number of Rome’s emperors promoted the Games, realizing that one of the best ways to control the various peoples of their vast empire was to preserve and develop preexisting institutions of a unifying nature.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR Panos Valavanis is a professor at the Department of History and Archaeology at Athens University. He has participated in numerous excavations and is the author of 12 books, including Games and Sanctuaries in Ancient Greece (Getty Publications, 2004), Great Moments in Greek Archaeology (Ed., Getty Publications, 2007) and Τhe Acropolis through its Museum (Athens, 2013).

National Archaeological Museum, Athens/G. PATRIKIANOS, Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports/Archaeological Receipts Fund


Fragment of a 580-570 BC Attic black-figure vase painted by Sofilos, depicting horse-racing scenes in games held in honor of the deceased Patroclus. (National Archaeological Museum, Athens)

Bronze figurine of an athlete poised motionlessly, ready to start the race. A victory dedication by a pankratist in the sanctuary at Olympia, 6th century BC. (Olympia Archaeological Museum)

Nike crowns the winner, flanked by the second-place athlete and the judge. Panathenaic amphora by the potter Nikodemos and the “painter of the wedding procession,” 363/362 BC. (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)





Athletic Glory in the Shadow of Zeus 28


For ancient Greeks, the idea of physical or athletic prowess went right to the heart of what constituted an upstanding, admirable, well-educated, disciplined and capable individual.

Pelops, racing away from Oenomaus, with Hippodamia; from an Attic red-figure neck amphora, 410 BC. (National Archaeological Museum, Arezzo, Italy)

BY John Leonard




© VANGELIS ZAVOS, Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports/Archaeological Receipts Fund




he importance and depth of meaning that athletics and athletic competition held for Greeks in the ancient world is difficult to overestimate. The idea of physical or athletic prowess went right to the heart of what constituted an upstanding, admirable, well-educated, disciplined and capable individual. An already age-old familiarity with athletics and systematic physical training can be traced back to Homer’s Iliad (ca. 8th-7th c. BC), the story of the Trojan War, which along with its sequel, The Odyssey, and Hesiod’s roughly contemporary poems, mark the oldest known written works in western literature. The hero Achilles, who was encouraged by his father Peleus “always to be bravest and excel over others” (Iliad, 11.780), represented the archetypal youth, ideal warrior and human incarnation of divine perfection. Athletic training, in part as preparation for military service, formed a key part of his education, along with 30

music and song. To compete and to win are essential, timeless elements of being Greek. From at least the Late Bronze Age, the heroic era referred to by Homer, demonstrations of athletic ability were common features in the life of royals and other political or social elites. Minoan and Mycenaean wall paintings, painted pottery and other art depict bull leaping, boxing, wrestling, running and chariot racing. According to Homer’s description, which also reflects the culture of his own time, athletic contests were organized as funeral games or special presentations in honor of a guest. Yet the threads of athleticism, competition, mythology and religion, as we begin to discern from characters such as Achilles, were also intertwined from earliest times. Athletic competitions eventually became a formalized, panhellenic institution at Olympia, controlled mostly by the nearby city of Elis, with the

1. View through the entrance tunnel from inside Olympia’s stadium, toward the Altis, the sanctuary’s sacred central grove. 2. Reconstruction of Pheidias’ seated, gold and ivory cult statue of Olympian Zeus (ca. 430 BC), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. 3. Herakles’ fifth labor: cleaning out the stables of King Augeas. A metope panel from the Temple of Zeus, ca. 470 BC - ca. 457 BC. (Olympia Archaeological Museum)



first Games traditionally dated to 776 BC. Long before that momentous date, however, ritual sporting events were already being conducted there during the local worship of Zeus. Nevertheless, athletics were of secondary importance. Archaeologist Catherine Morgan has argued that the many bronze figurines and tripods unearthed at Olympia were votive offerings dedicated to Zeus, not prizes awarded in athletic games. Initially, the sanctuary at Olympia was foremost a center of religion, not athletics, and it was home to a range of deities and heroes including not only Zeus and Hera, but also Pelops – after whom the Peloponnese was named – his bride Hippodamia and Demeter Chamyne, whose altar stood in the stadium and whose priestess was the only married woman granted access to the arena. Herakles, too, in various forms, was closely associated with Olympia. The local hero Pelops, who had to compete in a chariot race to win the


lovely Hippodamia’s hand from her father King Oenomaus of Pisa, was credited by some as the legendary founder of the Olympic Games. Alternative founding figures included Neleus and Pelius, two sons of Poseidon, as well as the kings of Elis, or even Pisos, the eponymous hero of the Eleans’ longstanding rival Pisa. Another tradition named Hippodamia as the founder of the Heraia, the women’s running competition. The Classical poet Pindar (ca. 522 – ca. 443 BC) wrote that the mighty hero Herakles had established the Olympian sanctuary, defining the boundaries of the sacred grove (Altis) and dedicating the first Olympic Games to Zeus. Herakles undertook these actions in celebration of his having completed one of his 12 labors in the vicinity of Olympia: the purifying of Elean King Augeas’ stables through a diversion of the Alpheios River. Herakles was also said to have laid out the first stadium

Pindar wrote that the mighty hero Herakles had established the Olympian sanctuary, defining the boundaries of the sacred grove and dedicating the first Olympic Games to Zeus.




© VANGELIS ZAVOS, Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports/Archaeological Receipts Fund


at Olympia and to have introduced the wild olive to the area, from which the victory wreaths were prepared for the crowning of triumphant athletes. By the 5th century BC, the concepts of agon (struggle, contest, competition) and nike (victory) were such essential components of Greek life that they came to be considered divine figures, with sculpted and other tangible, artistic depictions of them being erected as offerings in the Olympian sanctuary. One of the great showcases of Competition and Victory could be found on the Acropolis in Athens, where the Parthenon’s sculpted metopes displayed legendary or mythological contests with various levels of meaning for ancient Greeks, including the Trojan War (Greeks vs foreign foes), the Centauromachy (struggle of law/order vs chaos), the Gigantomachy (struggle of civilized people vs mythical monsters) and the Amazonomachy (again a reminder of Greek/Athenian supremacy). Competition was seen as well on the Parthenon’s western pediment, where Athena and Poseidon vied for the position of divine patron of Athens. At Olympia itself, the Centauromachy again appeared in a prominent position in the Zeus temple’s western pediment, while the eastern pediment held a magnificent late Archaic-early Classical scene of Pelops preparing for his chariot race against Oenomaus (now in the Olympia Archaeological Museum). The labors of Herakles were displayed on the temple’s metopes. Virtually everywhere visitors to Olympia looked, they were faced with gods, heroes, victorious athletes and other reminders of agon, nike and the exalted role of competitive sport. Pindar suggested in his victory odes that athletic triumph represented the greatest height to which mortals could aspire. With the ascendancy of athletics’ popularity, and ever-growing numbers of visitors flocking to Olympia, the Games became less about religious worship and more a form of entertainment, assertion of ethnic identity, or instrument of diplomatic and political 32


expediency for a wide spectrum of athletes and spectators from all walks of life. This disentanglement is witnessed in the gradual relocation of the stadium out of the sacred Altis to its present eastern location outside the sanctuary, where boisterous crowds were also more easily managed and accommodated. Although Zeus and the other divinities continued to be respected in name, it was athletes who increasingly became the people’s much-admired gods. Philosophers and other intellectuals, much like today, came to resent the great esteem and privilege offered

Virtually everywhere visitors looked, they were faced with gods, heroes, victorious athletes and other reminders of agon, nike and the exalted role of competitive sport.

1. Olympia’s stadium, view to the southeast. Visible are the altar of Demeter Chamyne, the reserved area for judges and the starting line.


to athletes, suggesting that true perfection came only with a balance of mind and body, but enthusiasm for sport and athletic glory continued to rise. Through the Roman period, the athletic games at Olympia and elsewhere, and all that they entailed, became more and more like sporting events we might recognize today. Athletics remained a channel for great aspirations and idealistic personal or societal/political aims, but the lifeblood of the ancient Olympic Games was always fierce competition and victory, often at any cost. Like today, officials and judges (Hellanodikai)

had to be vigilant about corruption. The line of “Zanes,” Zeus statues on bases bearing moralistic inscriptions, which were erected outside the stadium by athletes caught cheating, were a constant reminder that rule-breaking continued to be a problem. Olympia’s universal fame also came from one of its greatest attractions: an enormous seated cult statue of Zeus, more than 13m high, constructed from gold and ivory by the renowned sculptor Pheidias (ca. 430 BC), which ranked as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In the end, however, Olym-

pia was severely sacked by the Roman general Sulla in 80 BC, invaded by the marauding Heruli tribe in AD 267 and finally succumbed to restrictions and closures imposed on pagan sanctuaries by the edicts of the emperors Theodosius I and II in the late 4th and early 5th centuries AD.

2. Bronze 6th century BC figurine of an old man with a staff, possibly Nestor, from the rim of a votive vessel. (Olympia Archaeological Museum)





Anatomy of a Sanctuary 1

“There is no modern parallel for Olympia; it would have to be a site combining a sports complex and a center for religious devotion, something like a combination of Wembley Stadium and Westminster Abbey.”

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- British Museum classicist Judith Swaddling



n ancient Greek sanctuary was a sacred space reserved for the worship of a deity by his or her followers. Sometimes a sanctuary was a small place featuring only a simple altar or shrine. Panhellenic sanctuaries, which ultimately drew pilgrims, athletes and other travelers from all over ancient Greece and neighboring regions, were large, highly developed complexes that served many functions and could accommodate their visitors’ diverse needs. Olympia, as the leading panhellenic sanctuary of the ancient Greek world, represents the most sophisticated, instructive paradigm of such a complex. Around its early altars and shrines grew up a cluster of monumental Archaic and Classical temples or precincts dedicated to Hera, Pelops, Zeus, and Rhea/Cybele (the Metroon), all located within the sanctuary’s sacred central grove, the Altis. Also in the 6th and/or 5th century BC, two administrative buildings were constructed on the Altis’ north and south sides: The Prytaneion, where officials, priests and Elean VIPs met, dined and received victorious athletes and official envoys; and the Bouleuterion, home to Elis’ Olympic Council and the sanctuary’s archives, where judges and athletes took oaths to uphold the rules and a special court examined cases of cheating or unfair competition. An elevated row of treasuries (storehouses for valuable offerings) belonging to different city-states were installed on a terrace northeast of the Altis. Simple facilities for athletic competitions appeared during the Geometric era (9th, 8th century BC) as part of the sanctuary’s core infrastructure. The earliest stadium stood just beside the Great Altar of Zeus. As the Olympic Games increased in importance, and more and more athletes and spectators arrived, the stadium’s location gradually shifted eastward to its present, more spacious position. Additionally, a hippodrome was laid out nearby for equestrian races. A palaestra and gymnasium provided practice spaces for boxing, wrestling, 34




Olympia, as the leading panhellenic sanctuary of the ancient Greek world, represents the most sophisticated, instructive paradigm of such a complex.

jumping, running and the throwing of the javelin and discus. The palaestra was also used for instruction, recreation and the oiling and sanding of athletes’ bodies. To protect visitors from sun and rain, roofed, colonnaded shelters (South Stoa, Echo Stoa) were erected. A massive ban-

THE “ B IG F O UR ” Panhellenic Games BEYOND OLYMPIA Just as the modern Olympics represent a flagship event in sports but not the only athletic show in town, so in ancient Greece the widely popular Games held every four years at Olympia were not the only known athletic competition. Nowadays, athletes prepare for the Olympics by participating in regional qualifying events. In antiquity, they could ready themselves for Olympia by first attending three other major panhellenic events – at Delphi, Isthmia and Nemea. Athletes had numerous opportunities, in fact, to demonstrate their physical prowess, since athletic contests, large and small, were a ubiquitous feature of life in post8th century BC Greece, much as they are today for sports fans. Nevertheless, the Games at Olympia were special; the culmination of a four-year, four-sanctuary sporting circuit that drew the best competitors. The four venues for the panhellenic games, located within a central geographical zone stretching across mainland Greece, allowed convenient access to visitors coming from all corners of the Greek world. Athletics and religion intermingled from earliest times and sanctuaries served as traditional public gathering spots, especially during religious festivals. Pilgrims and athletes celebrated top gods in diverse settings: Apollo at Delphi, among mountains and forests; Poseidon at Isthmia, beside the sea; and Zeus at Nemea and Olympia, amid rich inland agricultural districts.



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queting hall, the Leonidaion, offered 80 couch-lined rooms for ceremonial dining, while, by Roman times, bathing could be enjoyed at a half-dozen different establishments. Nighttime accommodation was found at several hostels, or in makeshift camps surrounding the sanctuary. When not competing, athletes could gather in clubhouses (leschai) such as that preserved at Olympia’s southwestern corner. Visible throughout the sanctuary would have been dedicatory statues and other votives, as well as impressive monuments erected by or for VIPs (Philippeion, Nero’s triumphal arch/entrance). Many of these features were also characteristic of the panhellenic complexes at Delphi, Isthmia and Nemea, as well as Epidaurus and other large sanctuaries. One question remains: was there no theater or odeon at Olympia, for dramatic or musical performances? The earth still holds its secrets.

1. Gymnasium 2. Palaestra 3. Pheidias’ workshop 4. Heroon 5. Greek and Roman baths 6. Leonidaion 7. Temple of Zeus 8. Philippeion 9. Prytaneion 10. Temple of Hera 11. Treasuries 12. Echo Stoa 13. Stadium 14. Nero’s Villa 15. Bouleuterion 16. South Stoa





BROADCASTING FROM ANCIENT OLYMPIA How would a modern sports commentator describe the most thrilling moments of the ancient Olympic Games? BY At h o s D i m o u l a s B A S E D O N T E X T S B Y P R O F . P A N OS V A L A V A N IS I L L U S T R A T IO N s B Y A N N A T Z O R T Z I

532 BC, 62nd Olympiad The Legendary Wrestler It’s only been a few years since Milonas from Croton, then still a child, entered this very same sandpit and proved himself to his opponents – with startling ease – an Olympic wrestling champion. Today, a grown man, he has returned again and is thirsty for victory. The beefy Crotonian pinned every one of his opponents three times to the ground with little effort. Stories abound about his superhuman muscular strength. People say that if you tie a rope around his head, he can break it just with the force of his facial muscles. Or that to sustain his hulking body, he eats 5kg of meat and 5kg of bread every day! Truth or fiction, the sure thing is that at this moment there is no athlete in the world who can beat the speed and power of his hands, not even the Spartans, who triumphed in the last nine Games with Hipposthenis and Etoimoklis. Milonas, who won a total of six times at the Olympic Games, is considered one of the greatest athletes of the ancient world. His exploits made him a near-mythical figure. • The pairing of opponents in heavy sports (wrestling, boxing, pankration) was determined by lot and contestants advanced to a final match as the defeated competitor in each round was eliminated. • Athletes who won without falling, that is, with a 3:0 score, boasted that they had won “unfallen.” • In heavy events there were no distinctions in weight between athletes. •


Ιllustration inspired by a 3rd century BC marble sculpture of a typical pankration scene. The original is exhibited at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.






512 BC, 67th Olympiad

480 BC, 75th Olympiad

448 BC, 83rd Olympiad

All-distance Runner

Pentathlon Exploits

In the Name of the Father

Fanas made it into the Pantheon today. The young athlete from neighboring Pellene won three running events in a row, reveling in the cheers of some 45,000 spectators who have come from all over the world to honor Zeus and take in the exciting competitions between top athletes. The young man excelled in the stadion race – covering the distance of 600 podes (Greek feet) faster than his opponents – and then ran twice that distance in the diaulus event, before triumphing in the dolichos, finishing first after 24 laps. His performance is clear proof that a fast runner can also have remarkable endurance. Fanas’ victory has put an end to the long winning streak by athletes from Croton, who have dominated the running events since the 48th Olympiad.

Damaretos of Heraia was a great athlete in his youth, the victor in the 65th and 66th Olympic Games in the hoplite running race. Today, his son Theopompus demonstrated – in the same stadium in which his father competed – that he too has extraordinary talents. After all, who could challenge the sheer power of an athlete who managed for two consecutive Olympiads to triumph in the pentathlon, thereby proving he had speed, strength and endurance? Today’s competition started in the stadium with jumping, followed by the discus, javelin and running events, then ending with wrestling in the sandpit. Consecutive victories in the pentathlon have been recorded since the 28th Olympiad, as have the feats of the legendary Philombrotos of Sparta.

After the two brothers Akousilaos and Damagetos were crowned with olive wreaths for their victories in boxing and the pankration, they ran wearing their wreaths to their father in the crowd and lifted him up on their shoulders! Their father was none other than the legendary Diagoras of Rhodes, the Olympic boxing champion from several years ago and a frequent victor in panhellenic games. None of his past accomplishments, however, gave him the same pleasure as he felt today with his sons – the joy of watching one’s children excel while also displaying great graciousness of character. Indeed, someone from the audience yelled out: “Time to die, Diagoras! You won’t climb any higher or reach Olympus!” Well said, because truly no moment of his life from hereon will top today.

600 podes correspond to approximately 192m or one ancient stade. • The start of running races was marked by a long stone pavement with two parallel grooves, on which the runners placed their feet, thus assuring a fair, equal starting position. Later, a taut horizontal rope began to be placed in front of the runners, which was dropped with a special mechanism triggered by the starting official. • Athletes who won three running events in the same games were called “triastis.” Fanas was the first to achieve this feat. • Leonidas of Rhodes was considered the top runner of the ancient world and the athlete with the greatest number of victories at the Olympic Games. He became a triastis at four consecutive Olympiads, from the 154th to 157th.


Theopompus II, son of Theopompus and grandson of Damaretos, also became an Olympic champion, in 440 BC, in wrestling. • Jumping took place from a still position, but with the help of two hand-held stone or lead jumping weights, weighing 1.5-2kg, which athletes thrust in front of their bodies at the moment of take-off. Their efforts were accompanied by music from a flute. • The bronze or stone discuses had a diameter of 17-32cm and weighed 4-5kg. Each competitor was given five throws to achieve his best mark. • The spear-like javelin was wooden and had a length of 1.5-2m. At the center-point of its weight a leather loop was tied, through which the thrower hooked two fingers, while his other three gripped the javelin. After he released the javelin, the athlete would yank the loop forward, thus giving his javelin greater momentum.

Dorieus, the third son of Diagoras, was also a famous boxer and pankratist, who won twice at Olympia in 432 BC and 428 BC. He won again in 424 BC, but this time on behalf of Thurii in southern Italy, where he had fled after being exiled by his political opponents. • In the pankration, everything was allowed (headlocks, punches, kicking), but no biting or eye-gouging. • The pankration ended only when one of the two competitors made a gesture with his finger to acknowledge his defeat. • Although the pankration was the cruelest and most dangerous of all the events in ancient Greek athletics, fatal incidents or serious injury among pankratiasts were minimal, which is generally very commendable for an ancient sport. •


In the pankration, everything was allowed (for example, headlocks, punches, kicking), but no biting or eye-gouging.








396 BC, 96th Olympiad

AD 49, 207th Olympiad

The Female Touch

A Dancing Boxer

After centuries, this, the 96th Games, will go down in the history books not only for the achievements of the athletes, but also for the unprecedented number of women who attended! We have seen the brave Kallipateira defy a penalty of death by entering the stadium disguised as a trainer in order to revel in the sight of her son Peisirodos competing in wrestling. And while a second proud mother, Roditissa, similarly violated the sacred rules, another woman, Cynisca, followed the regulations precisely and became the first female Olympic champion! As a daughter of the Spartan King Archidamus II and sister of Agesilaus II, Cynisca invested her wealth in buying chariots and horse breeding, before hiring a skilled charioteer that managed to win the chariot race. Her two-wheeled chariot with four powerful horses was the first to finish the 12-lap race.

Ancient boxing is an event that is barely recognizable today. Melankomas, a handsome athlete with a gentle appearance, has demonstrated that the thrilling but sometimes violent and lethal sport can also be approached peacefully. The new Olympic champion from Caria defeated his opponent and took the olive-wreath crown using a very special technique through which he avoided injury to himself and his opponents – a fact that brings even greater glory to his triumph. The athlete completed all the matches without taking a single punch to his smiling face and without having to hit anyone. Taking advantage of the time limit provided for by the rules, he relied on his extraordinary strength and constant movement – almost as though dancing – to methodically dodge his opponents’ blows, driving them to complete exhaustion and admission of defeat.

The four-horse chariot race was introduced in 680 BC. By 256 BC, seven other equestrian events had also been gradually added, classified by the horses’ age and sex, as well as by the kind of chariots they pulled. • After the starting signal, every charioteer tried to push into the inside lane in order to cover the shortest possible distance. The outcome of the draw for positions was thought to be the product of divine intervention. • Women were forbidden from competing, but were allowed to breed horses and to take part in chariot races through the participation of their horses and charioteers. Women entered the stadium on penalty of death, but Kallipateira was allowed to go unpunished because she hailed from a family of Olympic champions. • Cynisca is referred to as an Olympic champion because the victory crowns in equestrian competitions were received by the owner of the winning horses or chariot, not by the charioteer or rider. Thus, we also find in the Olympic victors’ lists from equestrian events the names of such well-known figures as the Athenian tyrant Peisistratus, King Philip II of Macedon and the Roman Emperor Tiberius.

Melankomas died quite young, but in his short life he reputedly never lost a single match. It has been written that he was Emperor Titus’ lover. • Competitors in boxing directed punches mainly at each other’s faces and upper torsos, until one of them became exhausted or was forced to admit defeat by raising a forefinger. • The Spartans avoided competing in the boxing event, as they considered the possibility of defeat too disgraceful. • Boxing competitors initially wrapped their fists with strips of oxhide, then introduced straps that were further reinforced with tough leather and lined with wool. Later, the Romans added metal beads that could make a boxer’s blows fatal.

Women were forbidden from competing, but were allowed to breed horses and to take part in chariot races through the participation of their horses and charioteers.





THE ANCIENT GAMES: NOT SO ROSY Traffic congestion, corruption, professional athletes and spiralling costs – despite our rose-tinted view of the ancient Olympics, they were not so dissimilar to our modern Games. BY Mary Beard*



he Olympic Games of AD 165 ended horribly. Not far from the main stadium, watched by a large crowd, an old man called Peregrinus Proteus – an ex-Christian convert turned loud-mouthed pagan philosopher and religious guru – jumped onto a blazing pyre to his death. This self-immolation was modelled on the mythical death of Herakles (one of the legendary founders of the Games) and was meant as a gesture of protest at the corrupt wealth of the human world, as well as a lesson to the guru’s followers in how to endure suffering. In fact, Peregrinus kept putting off the final moment. It was not until the Games had officially finished, that he built the pyre and took the plunge. But there was

still a big audience left to witness his death, because traffic congestion (too many people trying to leave the place at once), combined with a shortage of public transport, had prevented most people from leaving Olympia. Then as now, presumably, only the VIPs were whisked away. The story of Peregrinus is told by an eye-witness, the ancient essayist Lucian – who not only describes the old man’s last moments, but also throws in the point about the ancient Olympic traffic problems. Lucian himself has no time for Peregrinus: “a drivelling old fool” bent on “notoriety,” he sneered. But the story is not a sign of the decline of the Olympics under Roman rule. It was because the Games were still such a

major attraction that Peregrinus chose the occasion for his histrionic suicide; and it was because of their considerable cultural significance that the incident was so prominently written up. When we now think back to the ancient ancestors of the modern Olympics, we usually bypass the Roman period, and concentrate instead on the glory days of Classical Greece. It’s easy to ignore the fact that the ancient Games were “Roman” for almost as

Panathenaic amphora, a victory prize from ca. 530 BC depicting a foot race, attributed to the painter Euphiletos. (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)




© Games and Sanctuaries in Ancient Greece/KAPON EDITIONS COURTESY



long as they were “Greek” – in the sense that they were celebrated under Roman rule and sponsorship from the middle of the 2nd century BC until they were abolished by Christian emperors at the end of the 4th century AD. In most modern accounts, the true ancestor of “our” Games lies in the rose-tinted age of Classical Greece, between the 6th and 4th century BC, or maybe even further back (according to legend the ancient Games were founded in 776BC, though not much has been found to justify that date). For us, talk of these “original” Olympics conjures up a picture of plucky amateur athletes – men only, of course – fiercely patriotic, nobly competing in a very limited range of sports: running races, chariot races, wrestling and boxing, discus and javelin throwing. There were no team games then, let alone such oddities as synchronized swimming. Everything was done individually, for the pure glory of winning – and no material reward. You didn’t even get a medal if you came first in 44

an Olympic competition, just a wreath of olive leaves and, if you were lucky, a statue of yourself near the stadium, or in your home town. The luckiest might also be celebrated in one of the Victory Odes, specially composed by the poet Pindar, or one of his followers, which are still read 2,500 years later. What is more, the whole contest was performed in honor of the gods. Olympia was a religious sanctuary as much as it was a sports ground, and the Games united the Greek world under a single religious cultural banner. Although the warring city-states of Greece were usually doing just that – warring – every four years the Olympic truce was declared to suspend conflict for the period around the competition, to allow anyone from everywhere in the Greek world to come and take part. It was a moment when sport and fair play trumped self-interested military conflicts and disputes. As with most stereotypes, there are grains of truth here: there were no medals and no women at the an-

The Lyre of Pindar: The Play at Olympia, watercolor by Corwin Knapp Linson, 1896.

cient Olympics, for example. But taken altogether, as a picture of what the Games were really like back then, this tissue of cliches is deeply misleading. It owes more to the preoccupations of the founders of the modern Olympic movement than it does to the ancient Greeks themselves. Men such as Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who successfully relaunched the modern Olympics in 1896, systematically projected their own obsessions – from their disapproval of alcohol to their rather woolly ideas of world peace and harmony – on to the early centuries of the ancient Games and their participants. One particular obsession of those in charge of the modern Olympics, until as late as the 1980s, has been the cult of the amateur. Coubertin and his


successors sometimes cruelly policed the frontier between the amateur contestants – who were warmly welcomed as modern Olympians – and the professional interlopers, who were definitely not. One of the most mean-spirited incidents in modern Olympic history is the story of the brilliant American athlete Jim Thorpe, who won both the pentathlon and the decathlon at the Stockholm Games of 1912. He was an ordinary working man, part native-American, and a famously downto-earth character: on being presented with a commemorative bust of himself by King Gustav of Sweden, he is supposed to have replied “Thanks, king.” It later came to light that he had received some trivial payments ($25 a week) for playing minor league baseball in the US; he was reclassified as a professional, stripped of his medals and asked to return the bust. A change of heart did not come until 1983, when his family was sent some replica medals. Thorpe had died in 1953, in utter poverty. For Coubertin and his like, the Classical Olympic Games were the precedent for this rule. They would have insisted that the great competitors of the 5th century BC were noble amateurs, not vulgar money-grubbers selling their athletic prowess for cash. Well, yes and no. The competitors at the Classical Olympics were certainly not “professionals” in our sense. But that is largely because the familiar divide between “amateurs” and “professionals” did not operate in Classical Greece. To put it another way, if we approach the ancient Games armed with modern categories of sporting competition, we do not find many “grubby professionals,” but we don’t find much “noble amateurism” either. For a start, the winning athletes may not have received cash prizes at Olympia, but many did very nicely when they got back home: not just honorific statues, but free meals for life at the state’s expense, cash handouts and tax exemptions. And there are hints of something closer to a professional athletics circuit than the founding fathers of the mod-

ern Games would have liked. According to the ancient lists of Olympic victors, between 588 and 488 BC, 11 winners in the short sprint race – about a third of the total number – came from the not particularly large Greek town of Croton, in southern Italy. Maybe the people of Croton just got lucky, or maybe they lived in some fanatical athletics bootcamp. More likely they were buying in top talent from other cities, who wore the colors of Croton. But no less damaging to the idea of the ancient world’s pure amateurism is the fact that some of the most prestigious wreaths of victory went not to the athletes themselves, but to men whom we would call “sponsors.” The grandest event of the Games was the chariot race, but the official winner was not the man who actually did the dangerous work, standing in the chariot and controlling the horses, but the king, princeling or plutocrat who had funded him and paid for the training, at no doubt vast expense. In fact, this was the only Olympic event at which a woman could claim victory – as one Spartan princess did in the 4th century BC. As far as we know, she did not get a victory ode (though she did get a statue at Olympia). But some of Pindar’s bestknown Olympian poems were written to celebrate not athletes at all, but these grandees who had shown no sporting prowess whatsoever, just a deep pocket. The other main myth about the ancient Olympics that Coubertin and his colleagues promoted was their contribution to peace and understanding. This centered on the so-called Olympic Truce, which has increasingly been turned into the model for our own romantic ideal of a gathering of all nations, friend or foe, under the Olympic banner. But in fact, the ancient Games were by no means consistently marked by an atmosphere of national or international harmony. There are, it is true, some ancient references to a cessation of hostilities to ensure that competitors and their trainers could reach the Games safely, and in one of the temples at Olympia

Some of Pindar’s best-known victory odes were written to celebrate not athletes at all, but grandees who had shown no sporting prowess whatsoever, just a deep pocket.

you could still see, in the 2nd century AD, a supposedly very early document – almost certainly a later forgery – that referred to the origins of this “truce.” But how it was enforced, and by whom, is anyone’s guess. Sometimes it wasn’t enforced. On one occasion, in the 4th century BC, there was actually a full-scale battle in Olympia itself during the Games. A force from the nearby town of Elis (which traditionally ran the Olympics) invaded the site, right in the middle of the pentathlon, to get control back from the rival town of Pisa, which had temporarily taken over. And the truce certainly didn’t prevent people exploiting the Games for violent power struggles back in their own cities. In the 630s BC, there was a coup in Athens against one of the leading families while they were away competing in the Olympics. In general, the real-life experience of competing in the ancient Olympics was a far cry from what Coubertin imagined. The modern Olympics are (officially at least) committed to the ideal of fair play. However much rivalry there is about the medal table, participation is still supposed to be more important than winning. That is nothing like the ancient Games, where winning was everything and there was no such thing as honorable losers. Contestants fought viciously, and cheated. When one Athenian contestant in the 4th century BC was caught red-handG R E E C E IS




One poem of the Roman period pillories a hopeless contestant in the race in which everyone ran dressed in armor. He was so slow that he was still going when night fell, and got locked in the stadium overnight.

ed attempting to bribe his rivals in the pentathlon, a fine was imposed. The Athenian authorities thought this so unreasonable that they threatened to boycott the Games in future – though they gave in when the Delphic oracle refused to give them any more oracles unless they coughed up the money. The ancient Games were a decidedly uncomfortable one for the spectators too. The occasion attracted crowds of visitors, but there were hardly any decent facilities for them: it was blisteringly hot, with little shade; there was no accommodation for the ordinary visitor (beyond a no doubt squalid and overcrowded campsite); and the sanitation must have been rudimentary, at best, given the inadequate water supply to the site, which could not even guarantee enough clean drinking water to go round. But this is where the Romans come in. The likes of Coubertin lamented the Roman influence on the Games, with the growth of a professional class of competitor, and the malign influence of the Roman emperors (who occasionally took part in events and were supposed to have had the competition rigged so that they could win). For the spectators, though, it was the sponsorship of the Roman period that made the Olympic Games a much more comfortable and congenial attraction. The Romans may not have solved the traffic congestion, but they installed vastly improved bathing facilities, and the Roman sena46

tor Herodes Atticus laid on, for the first time, a reasonable supply of drinking water, building a conduit from the nearby hills and a fountain in the middle of the site. Predictably, perhaps, some curmudgeons thought this was spoiling the Olympic spirit. In a typically ancient misogynist vein, Peregrinus accused Herodes of turning the visitors into women, when it would be better for them to face thirst like men. For most visitors, though, an efficient fountain must have been a blessed relief. In some ways the character of the Games continued under the Romans with little change, and sporting records were broken. In AD 69, for example, a man called Polites from modern Turkey won two sprint races and the long distance – a considerable achievement given the different musculature required. Apparently it was the first time it had been done in almost a millennium of Olympic competitions. And there was the same disdain for losers. One poem of the Roman period pillories a hopeless contestant in the race in which everyone ran dressed in armor. He was so slow that he was still going when night fell, and got locked in the stadium overnight – the joke was that a caretaker had mistaken him for a statue. But in other respects the Romans worked towards an Olympics that is much more like our own than the earlier “true Greek” version. Whatever his other faults, Nero introduced some “cultural” contests into the Games. The Olympics had always been (unlike other Greek athletic festivals) resolutely brawny, with no music or poetry competitions. Nero didn’t succeed in injecting much culture for very long (it soon reverted to just athletics), but, knowingly or not, the 19th-century inventors of the modern Olympics took over his cultural aims. It’s easy to forget that in the first half of the 20th century, Olympic medals were offered for town planning, painting, sculpture and so on. Coubertin himself won the 1912 gold medal for poetry with his Ode to Sport. It was truly dreadful: “Sport thou art Boldness! / Sport thou art Honor! / Sport thou art Fertility!” …

The most lasting contribution of the Romans, though, was to make the Olympics, as we now think of them, truly international. The Classical Greek Olympics had been rigidly restricted to Greeks only; Roman power opened up the competition to most of the then known world. It is a nice symbol of this that the last-named victor at Olympia in 385 AD, the prizewinner in the boxing contest, was a Persian from Armenia called Varazdates. Ironically, though, it was during the Roman period that the nostalgia about the early Games started. At the same time as the Romans were ploughing money into the Olympics and making them an international celebration, authors were already inventing the romantic image of the great old Greek days of Olympic competition. Writing in the 2nd century AD, Pausanias devoted two volumes of his guide to the noteworthy sites of Greece to the monuments of Olympia. He sees the place almost entirely through Classical Greek spectacles. He is the source of most of our stories about the notable Olympic achievements and heroes of centuries earlier. He doesn’t even mention Herodes Atticus’ splendid Roman fountain, which he must have seen as he walked round the sanctuary. Even Peregrinus, speechifying as he was about to throw himself on the pyre, compared himself to the great tragic heroes of “Classical Greece,” centuries earlier. The Games have been a nostalgic show for longer than we can imagine. It has probably always seemed that they were better in the past. * Originally published in The Guardian (c) Guardian News and Media

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Winifred May Beard, a wickedly subversive commentator on both the modern and ancient worlds, is a professor of classics at the University of Cambridge. She is widely regarded as “Britain’s best-known classicist.”


Boxer at Rest, a splendid bronze statue depicting a boxer resting after a bout. Inlaid copper represents drops of blood fallen from his face onto his arm; his body also displays signs of injury. Dated between the late 4th and mid-1st centuries BC. (National Roman Museum)





Olympic Games: Boxers, English School (20th century) / Private Collection / © Look and Learn / Bridgeman Images



Stories of Cheating, Booing and Diplomacy Four revealing episodes shed light on the ancient Olympic Games’ strong political role. BY Pa n o s Va l ava n i s


thletic games in ancient Greece were not autonomous activities, but were held in the context of major religious holidays, as an element in the worship of a particular god, combined with prayer, hymns, animal sacrifices, consumption of the slaughtered animals, public and private banqueting and the opportunity for all forms of human contact. These festivals, more than any other activity in the ancient world, represented the largest gatherings of people for a peaceful purpose: some 40,000 people would assemble every four years, only in Olympia. Aside from the locals, for whom access to the sanctuary was easy, spectators usually consisted of the ruling classes of ancient Greece’s citystates and of Greek colonies throughout the Mediterranean. Their presence in the great panhellenic sanctuaries not only allowed them to participate in athletic competitions, but also provided an opportunity to pursue politics on an individual and/or state level. Theoretically, most of them arrived

at the sanctuaries as part of their city’s official delegation. We can imagine the panhellenic sanctuaries as being regularly filled with the political and military leadership of all the Greek citystates, thus creating an ideal setting for politics and diplomacy. Olympia during the Games was the most important center for decision-making and alliance-forging in the Mediterranean. The Triumph of Alcibiades The presence and especially the wealth of a city-state’s ambassadors (theoroi) were beneficial in public demonstrations and claims to office. In 416 BC, for example, four years after first being elected general in Athens, Alcibiades joined the Games’ most high-profile event, the chariot race. He arrived at Olympia with seven fourhorse chariots and assumed the position of “architheoros,” leader of the Athenian delegation, under whose purview also came the participation of the representatives of all the Athens-allied cities. This Athenian mission to Olympia

was based purely on ulterior political motives. Here, one year prior to 415 BC, the Athenian leader seems already to have been laying his plans for the Sicilian Expedition. The 91st Olympiad became Alcibiades’ ultimate triumph. He won the top three places and shattered the Spartans’ past record of domination in the event – a fact he celebrated most splendidly by organizing his own victory parade, hosting a meal for all the spectators and providing fodder for all the horses. A few months later, to support his views in the Athenian assembly concerning the Sicilian Expedition, Alcibiades claimed that his grand appearance and personal victories at the Olympics had brought great prestige to his native city and had made a largerthan-life impression on all the Greeks (Thucydides 6.16.1). It was with this argument that the famous Athenian general succeeded in persuading his countrymen to adopt a major military campaign and to entrust its command to him.





Athletes, as representatives of their towns or city-states, were automatically considered also to be spokesmen for the political and ideological policies of their regimes.

Laughing with a Tyr ant There were also cases, however, in which a great city-state mission achieved the exact opposite results from those intended. This happened in the early 4th century BC when the tyrant of Syracuse, Dionysius I, aiming to promote himself and to increase his reputation among the Greeks, dispatched an official delegation to Olympia with several four-horse chariots and envoys that resided in luxurious tents. As Dionysius had a passion for poetry, he also sent poetry readers to publicly recite his own work, hoping to be glorified as a great muse. At first, this resplendent delegation stirred the other spectators’ curiosity and admiration. But once the bards began to read Dionysius’ pathetically poor poems, the audience broke out in laughter and mockery. At that moment the orator Lysias, there to read his own Olympic speech, urged the crowd not to accept the envoys of a tyrannical regime. Many of the spectators attacked and destroyed the delegation’s tents and more or less drove the Syracusans from Olympia (Diodorus 14.109). Lysias’ action stemmed not only from his anti-tyrannical ideology, but also from the fact that the Syracusans at this time were allies of Sparta. Boxer-Or ator Another revealing episode, in which we see the Olympic Games’ strong political role, occurred in 212 BC, in the 142nd Olympiad, during the men’s boxing final. One of the competitors was the powerful and famous Kleitomachos from Thebes, who had dominated the sport for many years. Opposite him stood the Alexandrian Aristonicus, whom King Ptolemy of Egypt had prepared and sent – in the hope that if his 50

athlete defeated the well-known favorite, he himself would win points in the contemporary political arena: a typical case of self-serving political patronage in ancient athletics. The spectators, however, instantly took the side of Aristonicus, since they viewed him as the underdog, and tried to spur him on. When he managed to inflict two hard blows to the face of his stronger opponent, the crowd rejoiced. Once the Theban Kleitomachos recovered, he called a stop to the fight, turned to the crowd and expressed his wonder at their attitude: Did they think he wasn’t fighting fairly or did they not believe that he was fighting for the glory of Greece, while the Egyptian competed for the glory of a king? And what did they prefer? To see an Egyptian defeat a Greek and take home the crown, or to hear the herald announce a Theban as the winner of the men’s boxing competition? As soon as Kleitomachos had said his piece, the spectators had such a change of heart that Aristonicus was beaten by the crowd rather than by his stronger opponent. Such anecdotes not only highlight the power of the crowds, who could alter the course of a match, but also reveal the strong loyalties to national identity that lurked within the stadiums and hippodromes. Moreover, it is obvious that athletes, as representatives of their towns or city-states, were automatically considered also to be spokesmen for the political and ideological policies of their regimes. The “Rigged” Pentathlon Lust for victory sometimes led athletes to break the rules. Such was the case in the summer of 332 BC, during the 112th Olympiad. The Athenian competitor in the pentathlon, Kalippos,

was caught bribing his opponents and consequently sentenced to pay a huge fine. Because he himself was unable to pay, his obligation was automatically transferred to his city-state. However, because the amount was exorbitant, the Athenians refused to cover his debt and sent the orator Hyperides on a diplomatic mission to defend their decision before the Elean Council, the Games’ highest administrative body. The Eleans rebuffed the Athenians’ excuses and insisted on payment of the fine. The Athenians reacted by employing a tactic well known today from the modern Olympic Games in Moscow and Los Angeles: they threatened to stop sending their athletes and to boycott the next Olympics in 328 BC. The case thus having reached a deadlock, the solidarity that existed between the panhellenic sanctuaries then came into play: the Eleans appealed to the Oracle at Delphi, which announced that it would no longer serve the Athenians until they paid their fine, which they eventually had to do. With the money collected from fines imposed on offending athletes who had tried to buy off their opponents, the Olympic authorities in the early 4th century BC began to erect a series of bronze statues dedicated to Zeus. By Roman times they had installed 17 such figures in front of the stadium’s entrance, for all incoming athletes to see and to discourage the recurrence of such misdeeds. The didactic epigrams on the statues’ pedestals served the same purpose, one of which states that victories are won not by money but by the speed of an athlete’s legs and the strength of his body. Once he has been bribed, the shame of his corruption will survive long after his death.

SPORTS & DEMOCRACY More on the subject, from Democracy & Economics by Prof. Dr. Nicholas C. Kyriazis & Dr. Emmanouil M.L. Economou, University of Thessaly.

Olympic Games: Boxers, English School (20th century) / Private Collection / © Look and Learn / Bridgeman Images



modern GREECE IS


CARRYING THE TORCH The revival of the Olympic Games; the eternal clash between the greatness of the Olympic ideal and cheating scandals; and an introduction to this year’s Greek contenders. French cyclist Paul Masson (1874-1945) being congratulated by a compatriot on winning a race at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens, 1896. Š World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo




THE REBIRTH The modern Olympic Games emerged from a long and bizarre encounter between European modernity and an ancient religious festival. BY Dav i d G o l d b l at t *


It is clear that the telegraph, railways, the telephone, the passionate research in science, congresses and exhibitions have done more for peace than any treaty or diplomatic convention. Well, I hope that athletics will do even more... Let us export rowers, runners and fencers: there is the free trade of the future, and on the day it is introduced within the walls of old Europe the cause of peace will have received a new and mighty stay... This is enough to encourage your servant to dream now... to continue and complete, on a basis suited to the conditions of modern life, this grandiose and salutary task, namely the restoration of the Olympic Games.” Thus, in 1892, Pierre de Coubertin, a French aristocrat, delivered a speech that may have been the most significant public call for the creation of the modern Olympic Games. “International competitions” was its theme. But it was not the first. More than half a century before, in his poem Dialogues of the Dead, the Greek poet Panagiotis Soutsos imagined the ghost of Plato speaking to the newly independent but devastated Greek na-

was the first to call for a revival of the Games; Coubertin was the first to bind that notion to some form of internationalism and make it happen; but both ideas emerged from a long and bizarre encounter between European modernity and an ancient religious festival about which only fragments are known. As the dominant world power of the 19th century, Victorian Britain might have seemed an obvious Games-revival catalyst. However, it was not Britain’s public schools or Oxford and Cambridge universities, thick with aristocratic sportsmen and classicists, that took on the Olympic idea, but Dr William Penny Brookes, a doctor from the small Shropshire market town of Much Wenlock. In 1850, he inspired the first Much Wenlock Olympian Games, deemed a forerunner of the modern Olympics. Eclectic in every way, the games were part rural fair, part school sports day. As they grew more popular, Brookes added processions and pageantry, poetry competitions, shooting, cycling and an ever-changing pentathlon. The odd classical reference aside, Much Wenlock’s Olympian credentials were always rather thin. Brookes was among those English proto-Olympians who met in London

It was not Britain’s public schools or Oxford and Cambridge, thick with aristocratic sportsmen and classicists, that took on the Olympic idea, but Dr William Penny Brookes, a doctor from the small market town of Much Wenlock.

The members of the first International Olympic Committee. From left: Willibald Gebhardt (Germany), Pierre de Coubertin (France), Jiri-Guth­Jarkovsky (Bohemia), Dimitrios Vikelas (President, Greece), Ferenc Kemeny (Hungary), Alexei de Butowsky (Russia), Viktor Balck (Sweden). (Albert Meyer, Benaki Museum Photographic Archives)

tion: “Where are all your theaters and marble statues? Where are your Olympic Games?” Now, finally free of Ottoman suzerainty, where were its great spectacles, arts and athletics? Soutsos was sufficiently fired by this thought that he made a proposal to the Greek state that it should revive the ancient Olympics. In the 60 years between Soutsos’ poem and Coubertin’s address, there would be dozens more Olympic events, recreations and spectacles, now shaped by the emergence and globalization of modern sports and the archaeological excavation of Olympia itself. Soutsos

in 1865 with a view to forming a National Olympian Association (NOA). They envisaged an organization that could “bring into focus the many physical, athletic and gymnastic clubs that were spreading all over the country,” and could stage national games open to “all comers” – a proposal that did not include women or professionals, but at least on the matter of class origins, it was neutral. London was the group’s natural choice as the venue for the inaugural NOA games in 1866. However, rivalries with other groups ultimately thwarted its efforts. G R E E C E IS





Back to Greece Hellenic pretensions carried a lot more weight in modern Greece, where Soutsos issued the first call for the revival of the games just a few years after independence. Soutsos’ most important convert to the cause was the shipping magnate Evangelos Zappas. In 1856, seeking a legacy for his fortune, Zappas wrote to King Otto proposing a revived Olympic Games to be held in a renovated Panathenaic Stadium, with prizes for the winners, all paid for by a very considerable financial bequest. The government replied that money might be better spent on a building that could house a quadrennial exhibition of Greek agricultural, industrial and educational advances, with a single day reserved in the program for athletic games and amusements. A deal was reached in 1858, and the first Zappas Olympic Games were held in 1859. 56

Staged in a cobbled city square in Athens over three Sundays, there were running, horse and chariot races, discus and javelin competitions modeled on the testimony of ancient sources, as well as the climbing of a greasy pole. The games were opened by the king and queen, medals bearing the words First Olympic Crown were issued and prizes were plentiful. The crowds appear to have been large, athletes came from across the Greek-speaking world to attend, but the organization was poor. In 1865, Zappas died, leaving much of his huge fortune to the continuing task of reviving the games. Otto was now in exile; he had been replaced in 1863 by George I, a teenage Danish prince. An enthusiast for sports, and conscious of his limited Hellenic credentials, George readily backed the staging of a second games in 1870, once again as part of a bigger agro-industri-

al festival. Using just a portion of the Zappas bequest, the Panathenaic Stadium was partly rebuilt, a small grandstand was erected and considerable travel expenses and prizes were offered to athletes traveling from all over the Greek-speaking world. The games were deemed a great success and attracted a crowd of 30,000, but some were appalled by the presence of athletes from the working class. At the next games, in 1875, only athletes from the “higher social orders” would be allowed to compete. Despite the glee in the press that the games would be “much more respectable,” they were a disaster. Not surprisingly, the Zappas Olym-

Excavation site with workmen and archeologists at the temple of Zeus, Olympia, 1875­-1876. (German Archaeological Institute)



pic committee kept a rather low profile for the next decade. They proposed a fourth Zappas Games, but the committee never really had its heart in it. Revivalism survived in the form of the newly formed Panhellenic Gymnastic Society – the center of aristocratic sport in Athens – which held its own small Panhellenic Games in 1891 and 1893, attracting both King George and Crown Prince Constantine as spectators and patrons. In 1890, Constantine went so far as to sign a royal decree announcing that a four-year cycle of Greek Olympics would begin again in 1892. However, if the Greek monarchy and its allies wanted to revive the Games, they were going to need support from somewhere else. An Olympic baron Pierre de Coubertin’s body may lie in Lausanne, with his heart buried at

Olympia, but he hailed from France and was definitively shaped by its political travails. Born in Paris in 1863 as Pierre de Fredy, Baron de Coubertin, he was the fourth child of a long-established aristocratic family. By the time Coubertin left his Jesuit school, the outwardly conformist schoolboy had decisively broken with the key beliefs of his parents, rejecting a career in the priesthood. He enrolled at the elite Ecole Libre, where he took a variety of whatever classes happened to please him. It was an intellectual atmosphere of experimentation and iconoclasm that suited him well. But, as useful as studying was, Coubertin clearly yearned for something more in keeping with his status as an aristocrat, a person of standing in the world. For most of the 1880s, Coubertin was a man in search of a role, a grander and higher mission and purpose.

The key for Coubertin was travel, and it was his time in Britain and the United States that allowed him to focus his interests in sport, educational reform and national development. His English travels are best understood as a series of glorious confirmations of his own reading of the bestselling Tom Brown’s School Days – by Thomas Hughes, a pupil at Rugby school in the 1840s – which came to define the meaning of the public-school experience of the games ethic for generations. On close reading, its ponderous didacticism, moral pomposity and cloying sentimentality is occasionally shot through with more subversive

Spectators entering the Panathenaic Stadium, at the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens.





meanings – a barely concealed homoeroticism, flashes of real human warmth and a disdain for the cruel and violent excesses of these appalling institutions. But Coubertin was never a man for close reading. In his view, English public school team sports offered an arena for the cultivation of a manly physique and a gentlemanly disposition. Competitive but not cut-throat, they inculcated respect for authority and the rule of law without crushing individuals. The wider athletic culture aspired to the Hellenic virtues of a balance between mental and physical health. Above all, it reserved a place for glory and honor, bravery and valor. Coubertin’s distillation of the public-school games ethic would in time form a core component of his syncretic notion of Olympism. Coubertin had his cause, but now he sought action. In 1888, he helped form and run the General Committee for the Propagation of Physical Exercise in Education, which, two years later, fused with a smaller competitor to create the Union des Societes Françaises de Sports Athletiques (USFSA). Opponents, deeming it too anglophile, created a rival organization that even called for the creation of a French version of the ancient Olympic Games. Amazingly, just three years before he would launch his own brand of revivalism, Coubertin was dismissive of the notion, even a little contemptuous. Yet this is precisely what he would go on to create, while the revival of the Olympic Games would become, for him, the cause of all causes, combining innumerable personal and political, sporting and intellectual strands in his life. There is no doubt that Coubertin’s Jesuit education would have ensured he was familiar with some of the classical texts on the Games, but he was probably also aware of some of the information emerging from the German excavations at ancient Olympia. Meeting Dr Brookes However, the most likely explanation for Coubertin’s volte-face, at the very least the catalyst for his change 58

of mind, was his encounter with Dr Brookes and the Much Wenlock Olympics. In early 1889, Coubertin had put out a call through the columns of English newspapers for correspondents who would care to communicate on the matter of physical education. Dr Brookes was one of his respondents, sending him a steady stream of Olympic-related letters, cuttings and reports. In his later correspondence with Brookes, which resulted in an agreement to attend the Much Wenlock games in October 1890, the issue of the ancient Olympics did not arise. The sport really wasn’t much to write home about, but Brookes went big on pageantry. Competitors arrived in elaborate costume and processed through a stage-set triumphal arch. The field was decorated with banners in ancient Greek, quoting the classics. The games themselves were short: eclectic track and field events were followed by tilting at the ring and an elaborate faux-medieval prize-giving. The doctor also introduced the baron to his scrapbooks, his Olympics-revival archive and correspondence, and his personal library – as well as, during the course of this, the history of both his National Olympian Association, the various Zappas revivals and his own subsequent exchanges with the Greeks. Turning point Something must have clicked. On his return to France, Coubertin wrote an article about Much Wenlock. Coubertin made it plain, as he would never do again: “If the Olympic Games which modern Greece could not bring back to life are revised today, the credit is due not to a Greek but to Dr Brookes.” It seems indisputable that it was only in the months after his visit to Much Wenlock, that Coubertin became an Olympic revivalist. In the 18 months between the publication of his Much Wenlock article and his 1892 speech at the Sorbonne, where he first proposed an Olympic revival, he forged a unique version of the modern games. Moreover, unlike his predecessors, he would

be able to create an international social and political coalition that could make it happen. Perhaps Coubertin’s greatest advantage was his capacity to think big. He fused his Olympic revivalism with the most universal call of all – internationalism – envisaging the games not as a recreation or a country fair, but as a grand, if restrained, urban cosmopolitan spectacle; and he had the personal connections and ideological appeal that could tie the revival of the Olympic Games to the gentlemen athletes of the industrialized world. Although he had rejected a career in diplomacy, one of the few avenues open to him, Coubertin’s social rank and connections made him a natural part of the world of international affairs. The most effective way of mobilizing these forces was on the question of amateurism in sport, and to make it the common task of international congresses to discuss, propose and try to set international norms in their field of expertise. There was a final component in the mix: to revive the ancient Games, even under modern conditions, was to enter the realm of the sacred. Coubertin recognized and was greatly attracted to the indelibly religious character of the ancient Olympics. The Catholic aristocrat, searching for glory and heroes, marooned in an increasingly demotic and secular world, had found his vocation, his gods and a stage on which to venerate them. FINAL STRETCH In 1892, less than two years after his Much Wenlock visit, Coubertin gave his famed speech at the Sorbonne, at a conference held to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the foundation of the

Portraits of Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863­ 1937), whose dream of reviving the Olympic Games was realized with the first Modern Games in Athens in 1896.



USFSA. The early responses were not good. Some in the audience, thinking the whole thing an elaborate pageant, joked as to whether the athletes would be naked. Undeterred, Coubertin looked for other opportunities to make his pitch and, in 1893, a friend suggested the USFSA host an international conference on the principles and problems of amateurism in the sporting world. Coubertin seized on the opportunity, suggesting that his Olympic idea might also form a small element of the discussions. Initial interest was thin. Trips to the USA and Britain in late 1893 failed to drum up any public support or interest, but, during the spring of 1894, the baron assembled the other essential components of the congress. A French state senator and former ambassador to Berlin was persuaded to act as a figurehead. Moreover, the letterhead of the congress was gilded by an enormous list of Coubertin’s correspondents, including many in Europe’s royal houses. On the final set of invitations, the meeting was now known as the International Athletic Congress and the Olympics component had crept up the agenda. Coubertin had also been working the Greek back-channels and secured two key allies. First, Prince Constantine agreed to be an honorary member. Second, Coubertin acquired a Greek delegate to the congress who would be able to make the case for him that Athens should be the first host city: the elderly Greek writer Dimitrios Vikelas. Coubertin asked him to chair the committee that would deal with the revival of the Olympic Games. Coubertin’s congress attracted 78 delegates from sports clubs and organizational bodies, drawn mainly from France and predominantly from Europe. Proceedings opened in the great amphitheater of the Sorbonne, where the audience heard the recently discovered and translated Hymn to Apollo, a classical ode set to music by the composer Gabriel Faure. Coubertin thought 60

they listened “with religious silence to the divine melody which lived again to salute the Olympic revival across the dimension the ages,” and that “Hellenism infiltrated the whole hall.” Athens clinches it Back at the Sorbonne, the two committees got down to work. At the opening session of the Olympic committee, there was a strong case made for London as the inaugural host, rather than Athens, but with his consummate committee skills, Coubertin persuaded the meeting to leave the question open. Then, at the decisive moment, Vikelas spoke to the congress, advocating an Athens games: “A Greek institution was being revived for which a Greek city was an appropriate host,” he said. Much to the baron’s surprise, Vikelas’ suggestions were warmly received. The congress went on to confirm that the first games should be held in Athens in 1896, the next in Paris in 1900. Under the strict terms established by the congress’ other committee, they would be open only to amateurs, with the exception of fencing masters. A permanent committee was established, with Vikelas as its titular president and Coubertin as the general secretary. The congress may have finished on a high, but the award of the Games was not well received by the Greek government of Prime Minster Harilaos Trikoupis, which argued that, given the economic situation, Greece could not host the games. Despite official opposition, Coubertin was able to convene a meeting at the Zappion to discuss plans for the games. Coubertin had a few allies among the assembled Greek gentlemen, but most were active supporters of Trikoupis. Coubertin announced that Prince Constantine had agreed to act as honorary president and that the bill for the Games really wouldn’t be as much as they imagined. He then chose four vice-presidents and declared them the organizing committee of the 1896 Athens Games.

Fruition Not long after his return to France, however, Coubertin learned that the committee he had left behind later got cold feet and collectively resigned. Into this vacuum stepped the royal house and, in particular, Prince Constantine. He established and steered a new organizing committee, mobilized the monarchy’s own networks of supporters, traded favors and began preparations. An initial series of public donations were supplemented by a huge gift from Georgios Averoff, a rich Greek businessman living in Alexandria. Almost a million drachmas enabled the ancient Panathenaic Stadium, already partly renovated for the previous Zappas Games, to be completely rebuilt and reclad in marble. The final months of preparation offered many of the tropes that still structure Olympic coverage a century later. Rumors persisted that the stadium and other facilities would not be ready on time. But start on time they did, on Greek Independence Day (March 25) as Panagiotis Soutsos had argued for over half a century earlier. However, it was Coubertin’s intervention that really ignited a serious and sustainable Olympic revival movement.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR David Goldblatt was born in 1965 and taught the sociology of sport at Bristol University, De Montford University, Leicester and Pitzer College, Los Angeles. He has published highly acclaimed books on soccer. This article is based on the first chapter of this latest book, The Games: A Global History of the Olympics (Macmillan, 2016).


Preparation for the 100m race in the Panathenaic Stadium, photographed by Albert Meyer, official photographer of the German delegation to the 1896 Olympics.

Pierre de Coubertin monument in Olympia, at the headquarters of the International Olympic Academy.

A scoreboard bearing a quote by the founder of the modern Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin, at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in London’s Wembley Stadium, 29 July 1948.





MIRACLE IN MARBLE The restored, 2,500-year-old monument – a jewel of cultural heritage – stands apart as the world’s only all-marble stadium and the only to host three Olympics. BY ELEFTHERIA TR AIOU



The Panathenaic Stadium looking splendid at dusk.





late 5th cENTURY BC To escape the midday heat, the philosopher Socrates and his pupil Phaedrus decided to venture out to an idyllic area outside the city walls. There, beneath a towering plane tree, the pair conversed about love and hate – as Plato, Socrates’ disciple would later describe, transforming their dialogue into his play Phaedrus. Beside them, the waters of the Ilissos River rolled gently by, flowing past temples, altars and shrines. 338 BC The orator Lycurgus was elected for four years as Curator of the War Fund, a post he would keep for another two fouryear terms after he managed to more than double the government revenues of the city and find money to build grandiose public works projects. The Panathenaic Stadium was created under his supervision, built in the sacred riverside 64

spot close to Ilissos where Socrates and Phaedrus had sought quiet and shade. Athens now had an appropriate venue for sporting competitions held during the Panathenaic Games, one of the city’s great celebrations. The stadium would be used for the first time in 330/329 BC. A ravine between two hills was deemed the ideal site. Significant excavation work was carried out, transforming the natural cavity into a space for athletics, while the “theater,” i.e. the area for the spectators, was hewn into the surrounding clay slopes. The stadium had a rectangular shape, the typical form of ancient Greek stadiums also seen at Olympia and Epidaurus. The land on which it was built belonged to Deinia, who gave it to the city, while the exorbitant construction costs were covered by major donations, such as the thousand pairs of oxen provided by Eudemus of Plataea.

2nd century AD During the period of the Roman Empire, Athens was not a political power. However, for the duration of Emperor Hadrian’s rule (AD 117-135), intellectual and artistic expression flourished; the city acquired new, extravagant buildings, churches and wealthy mansions with gardens beside the riverbed of the Ilissos. The stadium still had a plain dirt surface. Apart from sporting events, it also hosted animal fights, such as the historic event organized by Hadrian, involving 1,000 wild animals. Soon, however, the quarry on Mount Penteli, which had supplied material for the

The Panathenaic Stadium was turned into a vast construction site during its 1895 reconstruction. In the foreground, wooden scaffolding used to place the marble.



1. Treasures of the Panathenaic Stadium, these two double-sided herms from the 2nd century AD were discovered during the 18691870 excavations. 2. The white Pentelic marble covering the Stadium from end to end is what gave the monument its nickname, Kallimarmaro, or beautiful marble.

Acropolis monuments, would also provide its famous white marble for a complete transformation of the stadium, thanks to Herodes Atticus. The son of an extremely wealthy, aristocratic Athenian family, the orator and sophist Herodes was one of the major sponsors of Athens’ various public works projects. The most important were the famous Odeon of Herodes Atticus, on the south slope of the Acropolis, and the Panathenaic Stadium, which changed drastically in appearance after two significant innovations. Firstly, its original rectangular shape of was adjusted to a horseshoe – typical of stadiums during the Roman Age – while the seating area for spectators was enlarged and veneered with brilliant Pentelic marble. Equally impressive was a three-arched bridge at the front of the stadium, which crossed the Ilissos and served as a monumental point of access for Athenians to make their way to the arena. Numerous marble statues also provided a lavish decor.



Α true gem in the heart of modern Athens, the gleaming Panathenaic stadium hosts cultural and sporting events, as well as being one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions.





The stadium’s capacity exceeded 50,000 fans and historians of the time wrote that it represented a marble “miracle,” a work that was incomparable to anything of its kind in the world. The Athenians, for their part, playfully teased that it rightly bore the name Panathenaic Stadium since it was built with money from all of the citizens. They were implying that, in financing the Stadium, Herodes had disregarded the wishes of his father Atticus for every citizen to receive an annual payout as a gift from the family’s vast fortune. the 19th century After centuries in the doldrums, the stadium returned to the spotlight in 1896 when it was decided that it would host the first modern Olympic Games. The reconstruction costs were far too high for the country’s own coffers, however, as the stadium was covered by tons of soil and had long ago been stripped of its valuable marble – for reuse in the construction of other Athenian buildings. The entire cost was instead taken on by a Greek benefactor, Georgios Averoff; but on one condition: the stadium would be rebuilt exactly on the foundations of the ancient monument, which were uncovered thanks to an archaeological excavation. The architect Anastasis Metaxas took on the project. The reconstruction work became a race against time as it had to be completed in less than a year. In the summer of 1895, the stadium resembled a construction site, filled with stacks of

1. A view of the sphendone, the curved end of the racetrack, which was shaped like a horseshoe and built on the ruins of the ancient monument. 2. The underground passage, used by athletes to enter the racetrack, is believed to have been opened when the stadium was originally built in the 4th century BC.





marble slabs, wooden scaffolding, stone masons, laborers and sturdy horsedrawn carts carrying materials to and from 350 different mines. A total of 550 people were involved in the project. The snow that covered Mount Penteli at the start of 1896 made it impossible to fully complete the project with Pentelic marble, forcing the Hellenic Olympic Committee to cover the remaining parts of the Stadium temporarily with limestone statues and wooden benches.


2004... Athletes and spectators alike experienced moments of thrills and chills at the Panathenaic Stadium, which played host to archery and the finish of the Olympic Marathon. Α true gem in the heart of modern Athens, the gleaming Panathenaic Stadium hosts cultural and sporting events, as well as being one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions.

3. The elegant Discus Thrower by Constantinos Dimitriadis was placed facing the Panathenaic Stadium in 1927. 4. Ornate thrones were sculpted for the kings of Greece, as protocol dictated, but also to provide more comfortable seating.






6 April 1896 The Panathenaic Stadium hosted the inaugural international Olympic Games, making it the celebrated place where the Olympics were revived in modern times. By 1900, the stadium was covered entirely in marble, prompting its new nickname “Kallimarmaro,” or beautiful marble. The Greek state honored Averoff by erecting a statue of him to the right of the stadium’s entrance, just as ancient Athens had honored Herodes by placing his tomb at the top of the hill to the left of the entrance.


Live it up! Monuments are more beautiful when they come to life. Every autumn at the Panathenaic Stadium, you can experience the festive atmosphere of The Athens Authentic Marathon, either from the stands, along the route, or by participating yourself in the most important international sporting event in the Greek capital. It’s not often that we get to enjoy a concert at the stadium, but when it happens, it’s an event in itself (Depeche Mode, The Cure, The Stranglers, Run-DMC, Culture Club, Bonnie Tyler, Joan Jett and REM are just a few of the musical acts that have rocked the venue).

RECONSTRUCTED IN LESS THAN A YEAR... ...and other interesting facts about one of Athens’ most impressive monuments

• It is the only stadium in the world made entirely from marble; the same brilliant white Pentelic marble as the monuments on the Acropolis.

Greek benefactor Georgios Averoff. The total cost came to 907,973 drachmas, a very significant amount at the time.

• It is the only stadium in the world that has hosted three Olympics: the inaugural modern Olympic Games in 1896, the 1906 Games, and events during the 2004 Olympics.

• The finishing line for the Marathon, the most important event of the first modern Olympic Games, was laid out in the stadium. A crowd of 80,000 spectators spent a long and increasingly tense afternoon waiting for the runners of the Marathon. The man to enter the stadium first was the Greek, Spyros Louis.

• The word “stadium” derives from stadion, the unit of measurement used by the ancient Greeks to mark out where competitions took place. The stadion was 600 feet, with each foot being 0.308m. Thus, the total length of the Panathenaic Stadium is approximately 185 meters.

• The Panathenaic Stadium was reconstructed for the 1896 Olympic Games. The enormous cost, which was deemed unaffordable for a state which only three years earlier had declared bankruptcy, was covered by the

• The stadium is built to host up to 50,000 spectators. The two tiers are separated by an aisle at the 23rd row and the rows are intersected by 18 staircases, forming a total of 30 stands. • The Panathenaic Stadium was depicted on the Olympic medals awarded in Athens in 2004, in Beijing in 2008 and in London in 2012. It will appear again this year on the Rio medals.

Workmen on the dirt slopes of the Panathenaic Stadium in 1895. The reconstruction of the venue in marble within less than a year was regarded as a major feat.


Athens 2004 Olympics: Italy’s Stefano Baldini crosses the Marathon finish line for the gold, with a time of 2:10:55.4.

Amazing photos

Run a lap

Morning jogging

Because of the marble, temperatures in can get quite hot in the stadium during the summer. The best hours to visit are early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when temperatures are lower. Bring along a bottle of water and sun protection. In winter, care is advised on the steps, especially during rainy weather.

If you want a panoramic shot of Athens, you should climb to the highest row of stand 21, where you can see the Acropolis, the Parthenon, Filopappos Hill, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Zappeio, the National Gardens and Lycabettus Hill. For a perfect “selfie,” stand on the podium against the backdrop of the stadium.

If you’re feeling energetic, you can go for a run around the stadium, following in the footsteps of great athletes. Running shoes are required.

Athenian runners love going for a jog around the horseshoe-shaped track just outside the top of the stadium. The running track is open from 8:30 until sunset.


All-weather tips

For more information, visit






athens 1896

the first host city It was a scramble, but every facility was ready in time to welcome athletes and journalists from around the world. BY Eleftheria Tr aiou

A painting of the crowd cheering for Spyros Louis, winner of the first Olympic Marathon in 1896. The Greek runner’s victory came as a crowning achievement for the host country.





athens 1896


hen it was announced in 1894 that the first modern Olympics would take place in Athens in less than two years, the news did not spread like wildfire, or prompt the kind of widespread enthusiasm among the people and politicians that we see on television today when a country is bestowed the honor of organizing the next Olympics. After all, the world was not interconnected in the way it is today. The telephone, which would eventually replace the telegraph, had only just arrived, and television broadcasts would not take place for another 35 years. Newspapers, however, did exist, and local papers described the euphoria the news generated among Athenians. They also noted that, as far as the Greek government was concerned, the news was received with less enthusiasm. For those Europeans with a classical education, it was self-evident that


Athens was entitled to this honor; the city was a benchmark of Western civilization. It was where democracy and the principles of philosophy and science had been born, as well as the place where great masterpieces of art had been created. Therefore, the International Athletic Congress in Paris (16-24 June, 1894) gladly accepted the proposal from the newly-created International Olympic Committee (IOC) that Athens host the Games, and the announcement was sent by telegraph to Greece. For many, it was welcome news indeed. Athens was developing rapidly in 1894, both as a city and as an important spiritual, cultural and economic center for the nation. For the government, however, there was genuine reason for pessimism. The task of getting the city ready for the Games was immense, not only because of the time constraints – the scale of construction that needed to be completed in less than two years

was staggering – but also because of the cost involved. Just a year earlier, in 1893, the prime minister had informed Parliament that the country was bankrupt and that Athens lacked the necessary sports facilities for the Games. But – as Greek public opinion deemed that the revival of Olympic ideals was a point of national pride, a bet that had to be won in order to prove that modern Greeks were worthy successors to their ancient ancestors – the government had no choice.

General view of the Acropolis in Athens, from the southeast.


athens 1896

Man in national costume and fustanella, 1895.

Portrait of a woman, Athens, 1891.

Portrait of a man, Athens, 1895.

FULL-SPEED AHEAD The enthusiasm of the Athenian people exceeded all expectations, and the mobilization of workers took place on an unprecedented scale. At the same time, the efforts of the Greek Olympic Committee were supported by Greeks everywhere, including wealthy expatriates who assisted with the project and its finances. The marble Panathenaic Stadium, where most of the events would take place, rebuilt on the foundations of the original ancient structure (4th century BC), became a gleaming venue capable of holding more than 50,000 spectators. The city also built a brand-new firing range for shooting events and, despite initial disagreements (Baron de Coubertin, president of the International Olympic Committee, favored one design, the crown prince of Greece another) constructed a velodrome; since the bicycle was now extremely popular in Europe, partic-

ularly in France, the new velodrome was designed with a capacity for 7,000 spectators. In Pireaus, special facilities were constructed for swimming events, while in Faliro on the western Attic coast, work was done on the area assigned to rowing and sailing events. The 1896 Olympics were, without a doubt, a truly prestigious sporting event, with an estimated 285 athletes (all male) from 14 countries competing in 43 different events. Hosting the event, moreover, was a glorious celebration for Athenians, who welcomed a large number of visitors and took pride in showing them imposing public edifices and the mansions of wealthy citizens, which rendered the city beautiful with their splendid, neoclassical architecture, as well as the other more humble homes and buildings that also made up the burgeoning city. By this time, archaeological excavations and restorations highlighting the

glorious monuments of the Acropolis and the temple of Hephaestus in Thiseio had already begun, while the Acropolis Museum and the National Archaeological Museum were in operation, too. Foreign visitors were thus able to enjoy the antiquities of the Greek capital, often on organized tours created expressly for the period of the Games. Foreign visitors The plans laid for welcoming and accommodating visitors from abroad worked perfectly. The Olympic Committee’s team responsible for receiving foreign visitors organized all their accommodations, irrespective of whether they were staying at luxury hotels or in private houses offering more affordable lodgings. Among the visitors were royalty, heads of state, diplomats, politicians and others who, altogether, added a special glamour to the event. There were also a number of correspondents G R E E C E IS



athens 1896

An official poster from the event, on display at the IOC Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The commemorative, on display at the IOC Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland.

A colored edition, by Deanworth & Gavadis, of the sheet music for the Olympic Hymn, composed by Spyros Samaras, with lyrics from Kostis Palamas.

sent from the major newspapers in Europe and America, including The Times of London and The Boston Tribune. Classical scholars turned out in large numbers, as well as other philhellenes, all of whom traveled by ship, because Greece was not yet connected to the rest of Europe by rail. Most tourists from France came in on the steamer Senegal, while other Europeans chose the route through Venice. Greek railway companies offered special rates and put on additional trains for transfers between Athens and the ports of Patra and Corfu. There were also special agreements made with coachmen to help handle the demand for transportation. Of course, not all visitors were foreign. Many Greeks from rural parts arrived in the capital, piquing the Athenians’ interest and curiosity with their traditional outfits, including the fustanella, a pleated skirt worn by men. Athens was more than ready for the big celebration, courtesy of a municipal administration that had succeeded in repairing roads, planting trees, improving street lighting and making sure that city squares had been scrubbed

clean. The central parts of the city were decorated, main streets and squares were illuminated by arched, gas-lighted tubes, and laurel wreaths and flags of the participating countries adorned the facades of public buildings. The celebratory atmosphere was further enhanced by owners of shops and houses who decorated their properties on their own initiative. The Greek government’s desire that the Games be a success, and the need to avoid security issues in order to achieve this success, led to the creation of a peculiar “Olympic truce.” This was engineered by the chief constable of Athens who, in a secret meeting with all those local thieves known to the police, appealed to their national pride and persuaded them to refrain from any criminal activity or wrongdoing that could cause embarrassment to the country. He even appointed some of them as guards and assigned them to keep an eye on their foreign “colleagues” who had traveled to Athens in the hope of easy pickings. The truce worked; there was, it seems, not a single theft throughout the Olympics.

Let the games begin The much-awaited moment finally arrived on 25 March, according to the Julian calendar in use in Greece at the time (or on 6 April, according to today’s Gregorian calendar), with the declaration of the start of the first Olympic Games by King George I. The Panathenaic Stadium, packed with spectators, was rocked by a deafening ovation and, immediately afterwards, the Olympic Hymn – with music composed by Spyridon Samaras and lyrics inspired by the poetry of Kostis Palamas – was heard for the first time. Throughout the Olympic Games of 1896, sports venues were crammed with people cheering for the athletes. During breaks in the competitions, some of Greece’s best philharmonic orchestras played to keep the crowds entertained, while in the evenings, the city’s illuminated squares also hosted musical shows. Other events of light entertainment were taking place around the city as well, all for the amusement of Athenians and sundry visitors alike. The first night of the Games featured a grand parade that involved all



Looking down the stadium for the finish of a race.

the city’s guilds and associations, while on the evening of the second day, an illuminated Acropolis stole the show. Everyone watched spellbound as the “Sacred Rock” seemed to be set ablaze by the colorful fireworks exploding above it. Over in Piraeus, an impressive setting was created for the “Venetian feast” – an unbroken chain of lights and colorful candles encircled the entire coastline and made the sea sparkle, reflecting off the boats and military warships in the harbor. The festive atmosphere was complete with a parade of sailors holding torches while orchestras belted out melodies against a backdrop of yet more colorful fireworks. The National Theater and other professional troupes also provided entertainment for the city’s visitors by staging classic works, including plays from the European repertoire, modern Greek dramas and ancient Greek tragedies. Sophocles’ Antigone, staged by an organization using the original text, called The Company in Favor of the Teaching of Ancient Dramas, raised a storm of debate and helped spur on the revival of the ancient dramatists.

Particularly impressive was the spectacular torch-lit evening of Sunday, 31 March. Musicians from the orchestras, soldiers, students and citizens of Athens all marched across the city holding lanterns and torches, while stadium officials paraded the flags of the countries participating in the Games. The “flood of light” was enjoyed with great enthusiasm by thousands of people. Accolades and a legacy Throughout the Games, the city’s royal palaces and luxury hotels played host to high-society banquets held for athletes and other delegates of the participating countries. Among the other guests at these dinners were, of course, those foreign journalists covering this momentous sporting event that put Greece at the epicenter of international interest. In general, their reports were full of praise for the hugely successful organization of the Olympic Games and of congratulations to the city for putting on such a great show. On 3 April (according to the old calendar), the Games concluded with the awards presentation, followed

The 1896 Olympics was, without a doubt, a truly prestigious sporting event, with an estimated 285 athletes (all male) from 14 countries competing in 43 different events.

by the official closing ceremony. The spectators in attendance on that day had no way of knowing that what they were witnessing with the close of those Games was actually the start of something, not the finish. The beautiful modern Olympic adventure had begun, an adventure which has continued for 120 years and shows no signs of stopping any time soon. G R E E C E IS






THE FIRST OLYMPIC HERO Spyros Louis, a good-natured water-carrier from a northern Athens suburb, became a symbol not only for Greece, but for the modern Olympic Games when he won the first Marathon race.   BY Eleftheria Tr aiou


or most Greeks, the name Spyros Louis, winner of the Marathon event at the first modern Olympics, is associated with speed, as illustrated by the common expression that someone “became Louis,” meaning “sped off” or “vanished.” When this tall, striking runner entered the Panathenaic Stadium in 1896, he became an instant folk hero. But who was the man behind the athlete who left such a formidable legacy? First of all, he was not an athlete as such. Spyros Louis was born into a poor family in Maroussi in 1873. Today, Maroussi has become an affluent northern suburb of Athens, but back then it was only a small village known for its pleasant climate and mineral water. In fact the fine quality of the water, in combination with a drought that had struck the city at the time, created a great demand in the center for water from Maroussi. It was transported on carts by men dressed in traditional pleated skirts, one of whom was Spyros Louis. He also helped his parents, Athanasios and Kalomira, run their modest farm.

Louis was the youngest of five siblings and his formal education went no further than primary school. He apparently loved celebrations and dancing, was warm-hearted, generous, principled, and, of course, an outstanding runner. These qualities brought Louis to the attention of an army colonel, by the name of Papadiamantopoulos, when he was doing his military service at a unit on the outskirts of Athens. It is believed that the soldier’s reputation as a fast runner with endurance became well established in the army. Papadiamantopoulos took Louis under his wing and made the most of the young man’s physical prowess. Every morning he would send the conscript to downtown Syntagma Square for his newspaper, cigarettes and other items. Although this amounted to a considerable distance of many kilometers, it soon became clear that Louis was covering it more and more quickly. After being discharged from the army, Louis returned to Maroussi and his old daily routine. Having never formally participated in sporting compe-

Spyros Louis in national dress, captured by the official photographer of the German team, Albert Meyer.

The visiting runners appear to have been unaccustomed to the challenges of a course featuring different altitude levels and such rugged terrain, while Louis felt completely at home.





Winning athletes of the first modern Olympics parade at the Panathenaic Stadium with their medals, certificates and olive wreaths, led by head coordinator Constantinos Manos and by Spyros Louis.

titions, it did not occur to him to take part in the Panhellenic Games, staged in early March, 1896 as a qualifying event for the forthcoming Olympic Games. Motivated, however, by his former commanding officer, as well as by his love for a girl called Eleni, Louis took part in a second Olympic trial held not long afterward, on 25 March. It appears he wanted to sway the opinion of the girl’s auntie/stepmother, who held an unfavorable view of the young man as a potential husband for her niece. The Marathon had been established as an Olympic event at the suggestion of French philhellene Michel Breal, at an International Athletics Conference 78

at the Sorbonne, Paris in 1894. The conference also unanimously adopted a proposal by the newly formed International Olympic Committee (IOC) that the first modern Olympic Games be hosted by Athens. Breal pushed for the creation of a special cup for the winner of the marathon race, but this idea deviated from the position taken by Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympics and founder of the IOC, who wished for all winning athletes to be awarded medals, diplomas and olive wreaths. Nevertheless, a silver cup, financed by Breal himself, was crafted and engraved with the words: “Olympic Games, 1896, Marathon Race, Donated

by Michel Breal.” The cup’s surface was adorned with birds and aquatic plants which, according to historical sources, had lived in Marathon’s marshland since ancient times. This work of art also served as a reminder of the historic Battle of Marathon in 490 BC, and the messenger who, the story goes, covered approximately 42 kilometers to announce to Athenians the victory of the Greeks over the Persians, before he collapsed and died of exhaustion. One day before the Marathon race of the first modern Olympics, participants, locals and visitors gathered at Marathon and dined in the handful of tavernas operating in the area. As



A group of athletes and officials relax under a tree during an excursion at the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens.

for Louis, legend has it that he opted to prepare for the race by fasting and praying. He apparently spent the previous night in front of religious icons. On the day of the race, 10 April, at 2 pm, Colonel Papadiamantopoulos gave runners the starting signal. A number of renowned foreign athletes led the way early on, while Louis and other amateur Greek runners lagged behind. Among the visiting athletes were Australian Edwin Flack, who had already won the 800m and 1,500m events at this first modern Olympiad, American Thomas Blake, winner of the 400m race, Frenchman Albin Lermusiaux, and Hungary’s Gyula Kellner, who

would end the Marathon in third place. The runners were escorted during the race by cavalry officers and soldiers, while medical units, set up on carriages, were stationed at various points along the course, in case exhausted runners had to drop out. Quite a few runners ended up doing so. The visiting runners appear to have been unaccustomed to the challenges of a course featuring different altitude levels and such rugged terrain. Some were also delayed by the warm reception extended to them by a group of farmers in a celebrative mood at a village along the way. Louis, it is believed, benefited from this delay, “quenched” his thirst

“I will never forget that scene and no longer have any doubts that mental powers exist to play a far greater role in sports than what we generally believe,” Coubertin remarked on Louis’ triumph.





Complete silence fell over the Panathenaic Stadium as 60,000 spectators waited anxiously for the runners to begin arriving at the finish line... Suddenly, a voice exclaimed: “He’s a Greek!”

with a glass of wine at some point, and felt completely at home as he covered a particularly grueling uphill section of the course. By the time he reached the streets of Athens, Louis, spurred on by the locals, had taken over the lead. Complete silence fell over the Panathenaic Stadium as 60,000 spectators waited anxiously for the runners to begin arriving at the finish line. King George I and many VIPs turned their binoculars to the stadium’s entrance where Constantine, the Crown Prince, along with Prince George and Prince Nicholas, were waiting to accompany the winner into the arena. Suddenly, a voice exclaimed: “He’s a Greek!” Spyros Louis ended the race looking strong, in a time of 2:58:50. His compatriot, Harilaos Vassilakos, finished second. Wild rejoicing erupted in the stadium. Many spectators shed tears of joy. Even the normally reserved George I decided to dispense with formalities, tossing his admiral’s hat into the air and warmly embracing his wife Queen Olga. Many jubilant onlookers from the stadium’s lowest tiers spilled onto the track to carry the winning athlete during his victory lap. “I will never forget that scene and no longer have any doubts that mental

TRIVIA The Olympic Athletic Center of Athens, which hosted the 2004 Games, has been named after Spyros Louis. 80

powers exist to play a far greater role in sports than what we generally believe,” Coubertin remarked on Louis’ triumph. Chicago University Professor John MacAloon, an authority on the Olympic Games, has suggested that the marathon’s finale was the most significant moment of the 1896 Olympics. No other competitive event on the Olympiad’s agenda drew such focused attention, and, in doing so, recreated the excitement of the opening ceremony. The Marathon provided a unique spectacle and served as a potent reminder of the true spirit of the Olympics, even vindicating the efforts made for their revival. Most certainly, Louis’ epic victory added immensely to the positive

Louis’ Breal cup – kept by the athlete’s descendants for over 100 years – was bought by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation for over €600,000 in 2012, breaking the auction record for Olympic memorabilia.

impression left by the 1896 Marathon race. And this impression helped to ensure the continuation of the Olympic Games through their difficult early period. MacAloon writes: “Without Louis, the Athens Games would have no epic hero, no master symbol to condense and express so richly so many ideological, sociological, and historical themes. While it is not clear how thoroughly he recognized it, Coubertin had found his most potent ally in the peasant from Maroussi. Indeed, it may be fairly said of Louis that, more than any man but Coubertin, he created the modern Olympic Games.” Louis did not remain in Athens to celebrate his triumph, but instead chose to return to Maroussi, where an all-night celebration was staged. He lived in Maroussi for the rest of his life, serving as a local police officer and working on his small farm. After the death of his beloved Eleni, Louis ended up a very poor man, since he had sold most of his property to pay for her medical treatment when she had fallen ill. He briefly reemerged from obscurity for the Berlin Olympics in 1936, as a guest of honor in what was his last public appearance. Dressed in a traditional pleated skirt, Louis handed an olive wreath to Adolf Hitler, not realizing, like most people at the time, that this symbol of peace was being offered to the man who would soon be responsible for so much bloodshed in Europe. Greece’s most revered Olympic champion passed away in Maroussi in 1940. His prize, the Breal cup, was kept there by his descendants as a family heirloom for over 100 years. In 2012, presumably for financial reasons, the legendary runner’s grandson commissioned Christie’s to sell the cup. It was acquired by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation for over €600,000, a purchase that broke the auction record for Olympic memorabilia and ensures this precious symbol will remain in the country that gave birth to the Olympic Games.

© REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Crossing the Authentic Marathon’s finish line at the Panathenaic Stadium is a career highlight for all participating runners, as this was the venue of the first Modern Olympics. This particular photo, by the award-winning Bosnian photographer Damir Sagoli, was taken during the Athens 2004 Games. “I climbed the tribune to have a clean shot of the statues and athletes,” he remembers. “I shot using a longer shutter speed so the athlete, the marathon runner, is blurred and the white timeless statue remained in focus.”




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he real battle in the Athens Marathon begins 10 kilometers before the end. It is at this advanced stage of the race, when legs become heavy and muscles ache and twitch as a result of dehydration, that runners who have not conserved enough energy to power their way home and over the finish line may simply lose control. Competitors must persevere through many grueling kilometers of steep uphill running just to reach this point, before the gentle downhill stretch that leads all the way to the finish. In this particular event, it is prudent runners who prevail. The Athens Marathon and the Boston event are both considered to be extremely tough courses that demand not only stamina but also meticulous strategy. “The marathon runner must be able to transcend physical ability. This means one must prepare and put in personal time, but even so, one will inevitably tire, to a greater or lesser degree, at some point during the race,” explains Nikos Polias, a now-retired Athens Marathon specialist, who has won the event more times than any other Greek runner and also holds the national record of 2 hours and 17 minutes. “But this is precisely the magic and challenge of it all; each time you are confronted by some new obstacle, you need to find the strength to overcome it and achieve your goal.” In recent years, organizers have branded the Athens event as the Authentic Marathon on account of its link to ancient times and Pheidippides, who is said to have run from Marathon to Athens to deliver news of the great victory of the heavily outnumbered Greeks in the battle (490 BC) against the Persians, before dropping dead from exhaustion. Some of the world’s leading runners ran this same route for the marathon event of the Athens Olympics in 2004. The modern history of the “classic route,” as it was initially described by organizers, began in 1955 when SEGAS, the Greek athletics federation, made plans to establish an international race every two years. By the


mid-1970s, however, the International Athens Marathon had lost much of its appeal and was attracting significantly fewer runners. So, in 1983, SEGAS set out to give the event a facelift. As part of this effort, it was renamed the Peace Marathon, made an annual event and dedicated to the memory of athlete, politician and peace activist Grigoris Lambrakis, who had won several gold medals at the Balkan Games. Since 2010 – the 2,500th anniversary of the Battle of Marathon – the race has taken on a new shine, attracting many entries from Greece and abroad. This year, organizers expect some 40,000 participants to compete in the 42.195-kilometer marathon and the parallel events, namely the 5km, 10km and power walking races. Never before will so many amateur Greek runners have gathered in such numbers to take part in a sporting event. Since 2011, an increasing number of runners have sought to cover the full marathon distance. Meanwhile, the success of this event has resulted in a sevenfold rise in the number of road races staged around the country. THE EMOTION Before dawn breaks on the day of the race, 250 buses will transport the runners from various points in Athens to the start area northeast of the city. in the town of Marathon. By the time runners have passed the burial mound of the warriors who fell in the Battle of Marathon, they will have completed the first six kilometers of the route. Flanked by farmland and small shops, most of the course that follows is quite “lonely”, with only a handful of villages and settlements along the way. At some of these, live bands perform and local residents gather to cheer on the runners. The first signs of urban life begin to appear as the course nears the 30km mark. The groups of spectators begin to swell, as does the applause. However, the biggest reward for all runners, from the fastest to the slowest, comes just before the end, when the imposing white marble of the Panathenaic Stadi-

Legendary Ethiopian Abebe Bikila, 1960 Olympic champion, running barefoot, dashes past the tomb of the Marathon Warriors on his way to victory in the fourth International Marathon race. Athletes from nine other nations had competed in the race over the historic course first run in 490 B.C. by Phidippides.


Τhe biggest reward for all runners, from the fastest to the slowest, comes just before the end, when the imposing white marble of the Panathenaic Stadium emerges like a giant gleaming sculpture carved in the heart of the city.





um, popularly known as the Kallimarmaro, emerges like a giant gleaming sculpture carved in the heart of the city. This is where the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896 and where the Greek runner Spyros Louis, a humble water-carrier, won the first modern Olympic marathon on that historic occasion. For first-time Athens Marathon runners, the sight of the stadium alone is enough to stir the emotions and make the eyes water. “I too felt the emotion. I had made it. From as early as that afternoon, I had already begun thinking about my next marathon race. That’s how my passionate bond with running started,” says amateur runner Marios Kritikos, who completed his first Athens Marathon in 2011. COURSE SECRETS The first 10 kilometers of the course, by far the easiest, are flat. Spurred on by legs that are still fresh and desires for personal records, the runner may be tempted to overdo it at this early stage. “I started every race conservatively, without taking risks,” notes Polias, who capped his sporting career by running in the Athens Olympics in 2004. “I didn’t care what the others were doing. My objective was to do battle with, overcome and transcend myself.” The course’s degree of difficulty gradually increases as the kilometers pile up. The route begins to hint at its harsher aspects at the 16km mark, where the first serious uphill challenges start testing the stamina of participants. Polias recommends that runners should slow down or, at most, maintain their pace at this stage, as many more kilometers of uphill running lie ahead. The course’s main uphill stretch begins, with a slight incline, at the 19km mark. The degree of difficulty increases further at the 20km mark, where the incline averages 2.3%. Remaining focused is important at this stage, while it is also essential to set short-distance targets and make full use of the drink stations along the way. The 25km point, where the average incline reaches 3%, 86

The annual Authentic Marathon and its parallel races are an athletic feast of great importance for the City of Athens, attracting runners of all ages, both professional and amateur. Last year’s events broke participation records, with more than 16,000 athletes from 100 countries.

marks the beginning of the most grueling stage. The next water and energy drink station is just a few hundred meters ahead, a vitally important step closer towards successful completion. Over the next few kilometers, those athletes who have run a carefully paced race and have oxygen to spare may enjoy some city scenery before turning to hit the final stretch. The Athens Concert Hall, the glass-sheet layered sculpture of a runner opposite the Athens Hilton and the War Museum are all located along this section. Once past the Presidential Mansion at the rear of the National Garden, the Kallimarmaro will come into view. Thousands of spectators gather here to cheer the arrival of the runners. Unlike many other marathons in Europe, the route of the Athens event does not unfold along endless straight stretches. Instead, it winds and curves to break the monotony and intensify the emotions felt by participants. Upon crossing the finish line, runners feel richly rewarded by the experience, regardless of position and time. “In running, nothing is handed to you on a plate,” Polias says. “Whatever you accomplish is the result of enormous personal effort.”

INFO For more information on this year’s Athens Authentic Marathon, visit



Beauty, Greatness, Truth Historic highlights from the modern Games that illustrate that the Olympic is very much alive.


BY At h o s D i m o u l a s


anadian sailor Lawrence Lemieux was racing at full speed towards an Olympic medal in the Finn class, off the coast of Busan, South Korea, in September 1988. Although he was in second place near the halfway point of his race, he never placed. Spotting two athletes from Singapore whose boat had capsized, Lemieux changed course and pulled them out of the water; one of them, in fact, had been injured. He waited with them until a rescue boat arrived and only then did he rejoin the race, finishing in 11th place. By responding the way he did, Lemieux demonstrated that he fully embodies the Olympic ideal, as summed up by the International Olympic Academy (IOA), which aims to study, enrich and promote Olympism: “Olympism is a way of life based on respect for human dignity and fundamental universal ethical principles, on the joy of effort and participation, on the educational role of good example, a way of life based on mutual understanding.” Lemieux’s is not the only example. Recall the North and South Korean athletes at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics, who marched under a common flag, briefly setting aside the differences that had separated their countries for decades. Recall the romantic story of Olga Fikotova, a discus thrower from Czechoslovakia who, at the Melbourne

Carving the name of Jesse Owens into the champions’ plinth at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.


The American sprinter Jesse Owens at the start of his recordbreaking 200m race in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Photo from Die Olympischen Spiele, 1936.


1956 Games, met, fell in love with and eventually married US hammer thrower Hal Connolly – a happy side story in the prevailing Cold War climate. Recall Ethiopian Abebe Bikila, the barefoot marathon runner who competed in the Rome Olympics, embodying the “joy of effort” and winning the gold medal despite numerous adversities. The value of participation As Pierre de Coubertin, the man who revived the modern Olympics, said: “The most important thing is not winning, but taking part.” Marathon runner Abdul Baser Wasiqi could have given up when he suffered a serious muscle injury in his leg just before the start of the race in 1996 in Atlanta. Instead, the Afghan runner limped for 42 kilometers and finished last after 4 hours 24 minutes, about an hour and a half after his fellow athletes had completed the race. He knew there was no chance of winning and he risked a possible relapse of his injury. But he 90

will always be able to say that he took part in the Olympics; that he ran and finished. A similar story is that of Britain’s Derek Redmond, a talented but unlucky sprinter who had won gold in many world championships, but whose injuries prevented him from adding an Olympic medal to his collection. In 1992 in Barcelona, he suffered a torn right hamstring about halfway through the 400m semifinal. Writhing in agony and unable to believe his misfortune, Redmond found the strength to continue the race at a limp, though his opponents had already finished. A few seconds later, a man emerged from the crowd and ran to this side, putting his arm around the athlete and helping him to continue. It was his father. Holding each other and with tears in their eyes, the two men finished the race together while thousands of spectators hailed them with a standing ovation. The joy of participation is obvious every four years during the opening ceremony, in which thousands of athletes,

Czechoslovak discus thrower Olga Fikotova kissing her husband, American hammer thrower Hal Connolly at the Rome Games, August 1960.

some famous and others not, walk beside one another with their eyes reflecting one thing they share: the awe of the supreme honor of continuing an ancient tradition as ambassadors of the highest ideals. The Olympic goal, quoting again from the IOA, “is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind, and in the Olympic spirit which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” Recall African Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos, in Mexico in 1968, who made a plea for a world free of discrimination with their bowed heads and raised fists, as the US national anthem was being played at the medal ceremony for the 200m race. Remember



American sprinters Tommie Smith (center) and John Carlos (right), and Australian Peter Norman (left), during the awards ceremony after the 200m race in the1968 Mexico City Games. Smith and Carlos protested against racial discrimination by going barefoot onto the podium and listening to their national anthem as they bowed their heads and raised a blackgloved fist.


1. 1960 Rome Games: Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila on his way to winning the gold medal in the Marathon. 2. Cuban world amateur heavyweight champion, Teofilo Stevenson, declined multi-million-dollar offers to turn pro and fight in the US rings. 1






As Pierre de Coubertin, the man who revived the modern Olympic Games, said: “The most important thing is not winning, but taking part.”

5 October 1964: Yoshinori Sakai, born in Hiroshima on the day the first atomic bomb was dropped on the city, holding the Olympic torch beside Greek actress Aleka Katseli during a rehearsal for the opening of the Tokyo Olympic Games.

the legendary Jesse Owens, who, without necessarily trying to, challenged Hitler and his theory of Aryan supremacy by winning four gold medals before the Nazi dictator’s eyes in Berlin in 1936 (100m, 200m, 4 x 100m relay and the long jump). Recall the Croatian sailors in Beijing who, having been eliminated, lent their boat to their Danish fellow athletes when theirs was damaged just before the start of the final. The Danes subsequently went on to win gold. The value of symbols The spirit of the original Games at Olympia is also transmitted to the pres92

ent through the symbols of the modern-day events. Recall the sacred truce that allowed athletes from near and far to travel and take part in the Games without trouble along the way. At the same time, allies and enemies competed in honor of the unity of the people and of human beings, just as many centuries later, the same unity was reflected through the five intertwined circles on the Olympic flag. All of the symbols have their own meaning. Recall the kotinos, the olive wreath used to crown the ancient Olympic champions. The reward is purely moral and cannot be measured. Cuban boxers Teofilo Ste-

venson and Felix Savon proved it when they refused – the former in the 1970s and the latter 20 years later – multimillion-dollar offers to turn professional and fight in the American rings against the boxing stars of their time. They chose instead to compete for their country and for the ideals of the Olympic Games. Along with a Hungarian, the two Cubans are the only boxers to have won three Olympic gold medals in the sport – Stevenson in 1972, 1976 and 1980, and Savon in 1992, 1996 and 2000. “O Ancient immortal Spirit, pure father of beauty, of greatness and of truth,” wrote Greek poet Kostis Palamas in the Olympic Hymn. And, of course, there is the Olympic flame. Have you ever wondered why it burns throughout the Games, just as it did at the Olympian Prytaneion in ancient Greece? According to the myth, Prometheus gave fire to humans to teach them about civilization. The Games remind us of that gift; they remind us that civilization is our responsibility and our duty. Recall what happened in Tokyo in 1964, when the last torchbearer entered the stadium to signal the start of the Games. He was a young amateur runner named Yoshinori Sakai, who had been born in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the day the atomic bomb fell on his city. Sakai carried more than just the Olympic flame that day. He carried the message of the high priestess’ call during the flame lighting ceremony: “And you, Zeus, give peace to all peoples on Earth.” He carried the message of life.

August 1992: Derek Redmond of Great Britain is helped towards the finish line by his father Jim Redmond after suffering an injury in the 400m semifinal in the Barcelona Olympics.

SHOOTING SPORTS A tribute to sports photographers, the unsung heroes of any major athletic event.



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When Seconds Didn’t Matter The ancient Olympics were all about effort, courage and strength, not milliseconds and world records. BY Ta s S o s Pa pa c h r i s t o u


here are two important and extremely interesting facts that we still don’t know about the Olympic Games of ancient times. The first is when exactly they began and the second is the performance of the winners in the various events. The former may possibly be answered with the discovery of some ancient papyrus scroll or marble tablet engraved with the information we need to solve the mystery. The latter, however, will never be answered for the simple reason that there is no evidence to be found regarding athletes’ records. The process of recording time and performance was of no interest back then – not to the judges, the coaches or even to the athletes themselves – as a means of gauging their improvement. The science of sport was not even of interest to the fans who flooded the stadium at ancient Olympia to admire the winners, the great Olympians from different city-states, and to enjoy the exciting competition. No one cared. A comparison with today’s necessary and compulsory recording of performance – a demand that comes mainly from the sponsors and the dictates of the Games’ massive commercialization – highlights the greatness of the men who created the Games back in those days. The answer to the first question, which holds true so far, is 776 BC, though it is almost certain that the Olympics had begun much earlier. In terms of history and sport, the first event was a race along the road of a stadium that was 192.27m in length. It is said, in fact, that the distance equaled the length of the foot of the demi-god Heracles, multiplied by 600. Interest, however, lay exclusively in who would cross the finish line first, rather than in how much time they did it. The same was later the case with the long jump, for example, where who won was more important than the distance they covered. Our ancestors believed that putting emphasis on the performance of an athlete was not in tune with the ideals of athleticism and, therefore, they never kept such a record, even

though there was a system for assessing the athletes. What the judges were looking for was an honest, courageous and persistent effort at improvement, with the ultimate goal being only to outdo oneself. The term “record” did not exist in their vocabulary and this indifference may be directly associated with the changes observed in the regulations or even in the supervisory bodies from competition to competition. In contrast, as everyone in the world knows, the ancient Greeks loved their legends. So it was that our ancestors often tried to present reality with descriptive myths that usually diverged significantly from the truth. They said, for example that an athlete named Polymus Nestor – and this information has been recorded – could run fast enough to catch a hare, thus proving his speed. Nowadays – starting with the modern Olympics of 1896 – performance records, and subsequently statistics, have become an inextricable part of athleticism and of the institution of the Games. Athletes and nations are judged almost exclusively by the numbers. When, for example, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt – the fastest man ever to have run – crosses the 100m finish line first, our eyes automatically turn to the numbers on the electronic scoreboard, looking for just one thing: has a world record just been broken, before our very eyes? Have we at least just witnessed the second-best performance of all times? Victory alone is not as important today, particularly when it is achieved by the event’s favorite, as has been the case throughout Bolt’s reign from 2008 to the present. Indeed, on consideration, there is something incredibly sad about how a victory, a personal achievement, becomes so downplayed when it is judged against the numbers produced by an electronic timer. In short, a Bolt victory alone impresses no one unless it comes with an impressive number after it – as though the fastest runner didn’t really break the ribbon first.

* Tassos Papachristou, spokesman of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, is a sports journalist and an authority on the Olympic Games.



An athlete’s movement captured frame-by-frame by a chronophotographic gun.

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When Cynicism Rules Honorable competition is one side of the Games, performance-enhancing drugs is the other.






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1. Sprinter Κelli White (USA), was stripped of two 2003 World Championship golds in 2004. 2. Cycling legend Lance Armstrong was stripped of multiple titles due to doping. 3. Kostas Kenteris triumphed in Sydney in 2000, but never ran in Athens in 2004. 4. Shot putter Adam Nelson left Ancient Olympia a silver medallist, but was upgraded to gold when the original winner tested positive. 5. Russian track and field athletes such as London 800m champion Maria Savinova were disqualified from Rio. 6. Aftershocks of the Ben Johnson doping scandal are still felt 28 years after his disqualification. 7. Katerina Thanou took silver in 2000, but did not compete in Athens 2004. 8. The anguish and intensity of an Olympic final: Ukraine’s Lyudmila Blonska. 9. 2004 100m Olympic gold medallist Justin Gatlin later incurred a four-year ban. 10. Yelena Isinbayeva shedding tears over the recent ban of doped Russians. 11. Tim Montgomery, a central figure of the infamous BALCO doping scandal. 12. Jamaican Asafa Powell, 100m worldrecord breaker, tested positive in 2013. 13. Marion Jones publicly confessed to doping and tearfully apologized, but was sentenced to six months in prison. 12






ickets for the 200m final at the 2004 Athens Olympics were the first to sell out. “Let’s go and watch Kenteris win, and hear the national anthem,” said Greek sports fans, eager to celebrate their national pride. Kostas Kenteris was an Olympic medalist, a world champion and a paragon of Greek sport in the five years preceding the Games. But when the finalists of the big race stood on the podium, he was not among them. The 31-year-old champion had fallen from grace on the eve of the opening ceremony, when – together with the equally popular sprinter Katerina Thanou – he had been forced to hand in his credentials after falling off his motorcycle in an accident that, as suggested by International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials in off-the-record talks, might have been staged by the pair to avoid a doping test. Kenteris had been chosen to light the Olympic Flame (the greatest of honors), but was replaced when the scandal broke out. Back at the Olympic Stadium, the Greek fans that had paid a small fortune for their tickets to the final reacted to his ouster in a manner that made the guardians of sports ethics blush: The spectators applauded the absent Kenteris and derided the eight ‘clean’ athletes vying for the top spots with a chorus of boos. The message behind their disapprobation was loud and clear: “Everyone does it, everyone takes performance-enhancing drugs, but poor little Greece is alone in paying the price.” Other Greek sports heroes of the time were subsequently knocked off their pedestals as more and more cases of doping came to light in the years that followed, but this was a drop in the ocean compared to the massive crackdown on foreign Olympians by international and national oversight bodies in the US, Great Britain, Russia, Spain, China and elsewhere. Arguably the world’s greatest female sprinter, Marion Jones, was tried and jailed, while cycling legend Lance Armstrong was humiliated and


driven to bankruptcy. Dozens of other world-famous athletes were punished with lengthy or even lifetime bans for doping violations or for refusing to cooperate with authorities, and sportswear companies were forced to cancel sponsorship contracts worth millions of dollars. But Kenteris’ compatriots continued to believe that “poor little Greece” had been unfairly punished by the big bad foreigners. Greeks rarely let the truth spoil their romantic patriotic narratives. Yet the problem is much bigger and more far-reaching than the selective voluntary blindness of the public in any given country. The race for records and medals has grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry so formidable that any talk of sports ethics pales into insignificance. Hidden between the lines of the regulations laid down by the IOC and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), there appears to be an unwritten yet inviolable law that demands leniency towards Games organizers – so long as they keep up appearances. Britain’s medal tally jumped from 47 in Beijing to 65 in London. The Chinese won 100 medals when they held the Olympics, compared to 63 at the previous event. South Korea nearly doubled its harvest when the Games went to Seoul, and Australia could never in its wildest dreams have hoped for the 58 medals it earned in Sydney in 2000. Brazil’s seven golds in its own Games in Rio de Janeiro is another host-nation personal best. On the other hand, Greece dropped from 16 medals at the much-praised Athens Games to just four in Beijing and two in London. Previously, it had taken a full 80 years (1912-1992) for the country to garner a mere 16 medals in total. Its improved performance in the 2016 Games, where it walked away with six medals, was attributed more to the progress made by the particular athletes – such as gymnast Lefteris Petrounias and shooter Anna Korakaki – than the systematic efforts of the Greek sports federations.

The race for records and medals has grown into a multibillion-dollar industry so formidable that any talk of sports ethics pales into insignificance.

After all, Olympic pole-vaulter Katerina Stefanidi, a graduate of Stanford University, has been living and training in the USA for several years now. The explanation for this striking success of the host clearly has nothing to do with home advantage. Distinction on the sports field translates into enhanced status of the host nation, making it more attractive to investors, businessmen, even tourists. China and South Korea were compensated with fresh western currency for the money they spent. Barcelona shed years of reclusiveness to become a global tourism metropolis after the success of the 1992 Games. Sydney advertised itself as a humane city which could organize an Olympiad without bringing chaos to everyday life. In other cities, of course, the Games had a negative impact. No one, for example, was impressed by the blatant commercialization introduced by the Americans in Los Angeles in 1984 and Atlanta in 1996, and few showed tolerance for the fact that the Greeks had succumbed to the sirens of doping. In Greece’s case, there was never any irrefutable evidence of official involvement in doping, just very strong indications. Twelve years after the Athens Games, meanwhile, a scandal has erupted in the east of Europe that is reminding the world that the ignominious drug-tainted reign of the East Germans and the Soviets is not that far behind us. Russian middle-distance champion

Yuliya Stepanova turned whistleblower and helped prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the complicity of her country’s authorities in the systematic doping of thousands of Russian champions. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) disqualified the Russian track and field athletes from the Rio Games, but the IOC rejected the blanket ban and, in a tawdry display of petty politics, hit the ball back into the court of the less powerful federations representing each individual sport. By banning approximately one third of the Russian athletes, and not all of them, the Olympic movement ultimately chose not to butt heads with the Russian establishment. Though stigmatized, Russia was represented in all the events in Rio except for weightlifting and track and field. It also garnered 56 medals. However, the authorities banned all of its athletes, without exception, from September’s Paralympics. “Rio Olympics was like a cold war,” commented Yuliya Efimova, double Olympic medalist in swimming. In any case, moral victories carry little weight in a world ruled by the dollar sign. After all, “everyone’s doing it, but only the weak pay the price,” right? And the Muscovite bear wears very expensive running shoes and is by no means small fry. Surprisingly, perhaps, the Olympics are but a footnote to the world of classical athletics, at least in terms of their commercial value. As far as the wealthy markets of Europe and America are concerned, an event held once every four years in an often ‘inconvenient’ time zone is nothing to get excited about. In contrast, the attention – and budgets – of sponsors and sportswear firms is firmly focused on the Diamond League, where no one even pretends to be a so-called amateur. Winners of the “Diamond Race” (such as Stefanidi, a clear favorite for the big prize) are rewarded with $40,000 at the end of the season. In addition, at each of the 14 meetings, and for each of the 16 “Diamond Race” disciplines per meeting, athletes receive varying amounts of

prize money depending on their position ($10,000 for first place, $6,000 for second, $4,000 for third, and so on.) Each world record is rewarded not just with a cash prize, but also with sundry gifts of smaller or greater value from both local and international sponsors. Even the IAAF, which used to turn up its nose at professional competition, advertised at the start of this season that it would distribute “profits of $8 million” among athletes. In contrast, world records achieved in the Olympics, such as those set in Rio by 400-meters champion Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa and Ethiopian long-distance runner Almaz Ayana, were generously applauded but not rewarded with cash prizes. The IOC and WADA continue to assert their steadfast commitment to the war against illegal performance-enhancing substances. But who would compensate investors if – by some act of chance – the sprinting super-champion and nine-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt had tested positive in Rio? In high-profile cases that rock the entire structure – as, for example, when Olympic champion Ben Johnson tested positive in 1988 – moral victories mean little if anything at all. There are no winners or losers in this particular war, simply because the more winners you have, the greater the profits you reap. On the flipside of all this sordidness, however, the Olympiad of the romantics does live on; cynicism does not always prevail. Beside the race for procurements, you will see honest competition from the shooter from Namibia, the race walker from Paraguay, the Palestinian wrestler, the swimmer from Vanuatu, the Nepalese archer and the rower from Iceland. For every Ben Johnson, there’s an incident that reignites the Olympic spirit, such as the show of solidarity between the two runners who collided and fell during a 5,000-meter heat in Rio. The IOC granted Nikki Hamblin and Abbey D’Agostino the Olympic Fair Play Award. The Rio flame was lit – as an

Moral victories against doping carry little weight in a world ruled by the dollar sign. After all, “everyone’s doing it, but only the weak pay the price,” right?

honor – by marathoner Vanderlei de Lima, who lost the gold in 2004 because a troublemaker in Athens pushed him just as he was about the reach the finish line first. In the meantime, the great Pele was conspicuously absent from Brazil’s opening and closing ceremonies. The legendary soccer player has for some decades been advertising a credit card, but not the one that paid a fortune to appear as the Games’ chief sponsor. Obscure among the famous and virtually shunned by the druggedup brotherhood and sisterhood, you will find athletes who steadfastly reject doping and remain focused only on their personal performance, for there certainly appears to be one performance for “dirty” athletes and another for “clean” ones. Honorable competition is one side of the Games, performance-enhancing drugs is the other. It is the incorruptible athletes who continue to keep the aura of the Olympics pure and fresh, and the beleaguered flag of rings clean of mud.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Nikos Papadojannis has been a sports journalist since 1987 and specializes in basketball and the Olympic Games, having covered four Olympics in his career.





PASSING ON THE TORCH The International Olympic Academy in ancient Olympia is keeping the flame alive and arming future sports officials with know-how and age-old values. BY Spyridoul a Spane a

The International Olympic Academy brings together people from all over the world in a spirit of friendship and cooperation. Countless “class pictures� such as this, full of youthful energy and positive spirit, have been taken on its premises.



ocated at the foot of the Kronos Hill in ancient Olympia, where Greek mythology meets modern sports history, the International Olympic Academy has been propagating the ideals of the Olympic movement since 1961, through training courses, international conferences and seminars organized at its spacious, 90,000m2 facilities on a verdant hillside close to the ancient stadium. For, as stressed by the visionary Baron Pierre de Coubertin – whose heart rests in the commemorative stele erected at ancient Olympia – the Olympic ideal is based on two pillars: sports and education. The history of the International Olympic Academy began in 1927 when Coubertin held a meeting with his associate Ioannis Chrysafis – one of Greece’s first gymnasts and a pioneer of school athleticism – and elaborated his vision for the creation of an academic study center for the Olympic movement. The sudden deaths of both men meant the plan was never implemented, but the task was subsequently undertaken by a student of Chrysafis, Ioannis Ketseas, a

track and tennis champion and secretary of the Hellenic Olympic Committee (HOC), together with the German Karl Diem, a close friend of Coubertin and a high-ranking sporting official, who later organized the controversial Berlin Games in 1936. The initial plan of operation for the IOA was drafted in 1938 and the new organization was placed under the aegis of the IOC during its 39th session. A major obstacle was raised by World War II, however, and not until 1949 was establishment of the Academy approved by the 44th session of the IOC, which tasked the Hellenic Olympic Committee with its organization and operation. It took another 12 years of intense efforts to inaugurate the Academy, an event that coincided with the opening ceremony for Olympia’s ancient stadium – excavated on Diem’s initiative. In its early years, times were hard and the Academy’s activities were confined to the International Session for Young Participants, whose attendees stayed in tents and went to sessions held under pine trees at the foot of Kronos Hill. The first buildings were con-

The IOA campus, owned by the Hellenic Olympic Committee, is situated a few hundred yards from the sacred site of ancient Olympia. The grounds sprawl over 90,000m2 of beautiful, green, hilly countryside.




Info At h e n s O f f i c e s : International Olympic Academy, 52 Dimitrios Vikelas Avenue, Halandri • tel (+30) 210.687.88.09-13, (+30) 210.687.88.88 •


structed in 1967, while the conference center was not completed until 1994. In recent years, IOA authorities have been serving the vision of Coubertin, with the help of the IOC, and are keeping the flame “alive.” “The Academy is a unique beacon of the Olympic Movement for education and culture around the world,” says IOA President Isidoros Kouvelos. “As Greeks, we are fortunate to host it in our country. We must all unite our forces to keep it [the beacon] alight and strong.” Despite a devastating fire in 2007, the area where the IOA facilities are located is green. Nestled among the trees that keep the noise of modern life at bay, there are grounds, classrooms and hostels for the accommodation of guests and athletes. Apart from the educational work it has undertaken, the Academy also supervises the 150 Olympic National Academies. The training program at the Academy aims to raise awareness about Olympic values among young people through international conferences and seminars – some held annually, others every two years. Since 2009, an Olympic post-graduate program comprising at least three six-month semesters has been offered in collaboration with the University of the Peloponnese and private sponsors. Indeed, the program’s subject matter makes it unique in the world at a Mas102

ter’s Degree level. After a rigorous selection process, the IOA accepts 30 students from around the world. Courses, examinations and other work are conducted in English. The program’s aim is to nurture tomorrow’s sports scientists, who will undertake the task of organizing and managing the Olympic Games and other major sporting events, as well as to promote Olympic Education. “The first year we were 36 students and only six of them were from Greece. We became a multicultural group. Even today, I remain in contact with some of the students,” says Spyros Trikaliotis, one of the first graduates. The International Session for Young Participants also plays an important role. More than 150 children from 90 countries are hosted on the IOA premises for 15 days, attending lectures by distinguished academics on contemporary issues relating to the Olympic Movement. The symposium Sports, Society and Culture is also hosted in collaboration with Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies. “Young people who come to Olympia feel closer to the Olympic ideal because they are in the area where it all started,” says IOA director Dionyssis Gangas. “It is a beacon of knowledge that Greece has, essentially, yet to exploit. For our country it is a comparative cultural-educational advantage.”



1. The state-of-the-art amphitheater, named after Dimitrios Vikelas, can host 450 persons while providing simultaneous translation in eight languages. 2. Postgraduate students participating in the 22nd International Seminar on Olympic Studies in ancient Olympia, 2015. 3. Sports facilities offer opportunities for some fun and games between lessons.

In 2013, the IOA took action to retain Greco-Roman wrestling on the Games’ program: 150 athletes from 15 countries came together to compete under the light of the full moon, sending a message about the ancient ties that bind wrestling with the Olympic Games.

rio 2016 GREECE IS


adeus e obrigado! Despite all the criticism, the “imperfectly perfect” Games, as dubbed by the BBC, gave us not only historic athletic achievements, but also moments of great effort, drama, passion and joy. After all, that is the essence of the Olympics. «O Estadio Olympico», naif painting by Fabio Sombra - Photo by Renata Dupré © Museu Internacional de Arte Naif,



© AP Photo/Lee Jin-man


ICONIC MOMENTS Strength, grace, joy and drama... There was no shortage at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.



Jamaican Usain Bolt had just won his third gold medal with an insanely fast last leg in the men’s 4x100 relay race and was having his photo taken. Greek pole vaulter Ekaterini Stefanidi, in the meantime, had won the third gold medal for Greece a few minutes earlier and was finishing her victory lap around Rio’s Olympic Stadium. “I wanted to photobomb Usain Bolt,” said Stefanidi. “Instead, he turned around and embraced me.” And click, one of the most talked-about snapshots of the 2016 Games was captured for posterity.






FAIR PLAY VICTORY Nikki Hamblin & Abbey D’Agostino | NEW ZEALAND - USA

When New Zealander Nikki Hamblin and American Abbey D’Agostino woke up on August 16th, they were only looking forward to qualifying for the finals of the Women’s 5000m race. Little did they know they would be making Olympic history – but not with their running. After stumbling and falling eight laps into the race, they set any aspirations of victory aside and focused on helping and encouraging each other towards the finish line. Their selfless and exemplary sportsmanship captured hearts everywhere and earned them recognition and an award from the International Fair Play Committee.





TEN FOR 65 MILLION The Refugee Team

Under the bright lights of the world’s greatest sporting event, 10 athletes with no place to call home were welcomed into the arms of the Olympic family, with a standing ovation from the crowd attending the opening ceremony. With 65 million displaced people around the world according to the UNHCR (4.9 million from Syria alone), there has never been a more timely moment than Rio 2016 for the inclusion of such a team. None of the athletes could have realistically expected to win a medal – life disrupted by war and oppression is not exactly conducive to sporting greatness. But, as nations shut their borders and politicians use refugees as scapegoats for political pointscoring, their inclusion was a chance to show the world a face of the crisis which we rarely see. It was a resounding message that, just as in the Maracana Stadium, these people walk among us; they smile, laugh and have dreams, hopes and aspirations like the rest of us. This powerfully humanizing Olympic moment reminded an increasingly disaffected public that refugees are more than a crisis, more than anonymous numbers adrift in the Mediterranean Sea. Alas, as Roger Cohen pointed out in an article for the New York Times: “Yes, the world is moved by Team Refugees. Yet, it is unmoved by refugees.” Now that the spotlight of the Olympics no longer shines on them, these athletes must go back to the reality of trying to rebuild their shattered lives. It’s up the rest of us to decide if ignoring the plight of refugees is a reality that we are comfortable returning to. Quoting Roger Cohen once again, “Let’s cheer the refugee team in Rio, the first of its kind, but not with empty words. They walk now under an Olympic flag. They want the flag of a homeland.”







WONDER TEEN Katie Ledecky | USA

After her phenomenal performance during the Games, America’s 19-year-old Olympic darling made headlines again, this time for turning down an estimated $5 million per year in endorsements in order to attend Stanford University and swim collegiately, a decision many consider foolish. Only time will tell if she should have gone pro now, taking advantage of her five Rio medals, four gold and one silver, and the two world freestyle records she set, one at 400m (3:56.46) and one at 800m (8:04.79). In 2016, Ledecky was the youngest person to make Time Magazine’s Time 100 Most Influential People list.




Life hasn’t always been rosy for the most decorated Olympian of all times who, either despite or because of the fame and fortune he achieved over the years, also had his bouts of alcohol addiction, leading him into a downward spiral in recent years. And yet, Phelps got himself back in shape just in time for his farewell Olympics at Rio, making a Hollywood-like comeback and retiring “fulfilled,” as he said, with six new medals – five gold and one silver. The final tally of a legendary and inspiring career: 28 medals, 23 of which are gold, in five Olympiads.

© REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler



By completing the first 100m and 200m sprint double since Florence Griffith Joyner at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, 24-year-old Jamaican Elaine Thompson – who had famously failed to make her high school’s athletics team – confirmed triumphantly that she’s the world’s fastest woman. In the 100m final, she spoiled fellow Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce’s bid for a third straight Olympic title, while in the 200m she beat pre-race favorite Dafne Schippers, taking revenge for her narrow loss at last year’s World Championships in Beijing. “My school motto was ‘let the light shine’, and I let my light shine tonight,” said the sprinter, who had been battling a hamstring injury earlier this year. “You must overcome these things... I am a warrior.”





“I have shown the world that I am the greatest,” said the fastest human ever timed, after completing the unprecedented – and most possibly unrepeatable – “three-peat”, i.e., winning Gold medals at the 100m, 200m and 4X100 relay finals in three consecutive Olympics. With his combination of charisma and unparalleled showmanship, his exuberant pre-game routines and after-game chest-slapping and wild partying, the 30-year-old legend of this most demanding form of athletic competition bowed out of Olympic competition at the top of his game, without ever failing a drug test. As was pointed out in a Guardian newspaper article about him, “Take Bolt away and the top 26 fastest times run for the 100m all belong to athletes who have failed a drug test”. Now that’s a legacy.





An otherwise normal bubbly 19-year-old, Biles is a powerhouse when competing, despite her petite size. When they likened her to US swimmer Michael Phelps, she retorted that she was not the next Phelps or Bolt, but “the first Simone Biles.” With unprecedented gravitydefying moves, like her signature floor-routine move “the Biles,” she has indeed redefined the sport. A three-times world all-around champion with four brand new gold medals from Rio, including the individual all-around that she won with 62,198 points, Biles is the best female gymnast in the world today and already ranks among history’s greatest.





© AP Photo/Patrick Semansky


POWER COUPLE Jason Kenny and Laura Trott | UK

Bradley Wiggins may be the most decorated British Olympian, and even a “Sir” after being knighted in 2013 for services to cycling, but it was Jason Kenny and fiancée Laura Trott who captured the headlines during the Games with their victories and their embraces. Kenny now has six Olympic gold medals from three Games, more golds than Wiggins, and Trott has four from two Olympiads, more than any other British woman.


© AP Photo/David J. Phillip



Even though he gave his compatriots a fright by stumbling and falling during the 10,000m race, Somalia-born Londoner Mo Farah delivered yet again, winning both that contest and the 5,000m event, becoming only the second man to have done so twice in the history of the Olympic Games. Farah said he knew he had to get back up and win because he had promised a medal to his stepdaughter Rhianna. Asked about the prospect of being knighted, Farah replied: “It would be amazing if I could get the word ‘Sir’ on my passport. It might get me through passport control quicker.” Thanks in part to Farah’s contribution, Britain took home 27 gold medals (and 67 medals in total), an excellent tally for a country which, after its very poor showing in the 1996 Olympic Games, has steadily invested hundreds of millions of pounds in lottery money to improve its podium success rate.





© Alexander Hassenstein/GETTY IMAGES/IDEAL IMAGE


The 22-year-old Bahamian runner literally dived across the finish line of the women’s 400-meter race, beating the American global sprinting queen, Allyson Felix, by .07 seconds, with a time of 49.44 seconds. “The only thing going through my mind,” said Shaunae, “was that I had to get the gold medal.” Despite the controversy she caused on social media with her unorthodox move, her desperate dive was completely legal and her medal well-deserved.






“Football is a religion, volleyball is our number one sport,” said Ary Graca, the Brazilian-born head of the International Volleyball Federation. Brazilians love volleyball, spending endless hours digging, setting and spiking on Copacabana Beach. At Rio, they triumphed at beach volleyball, with a gold in the men’s event and a silver for the women, as well as a gold medal for the men’s indoor volleyball event, beating Italy, the other superpower of the sport on the men’s side, by a resounding 3-0. Here, the men’s indoor volleyball team captain, Bruno Rezende, son of head coach Bernardinho, celebrates Brazil’s victory, which added another gold to the final medal tally for the country of 7 golds and 19 medals in total.


Neymar’s private rivalry with the Germans may date back to 2014 with Brazil’s humiliating 7-1 defeat by Germany in the semifinals of the World Cup; the Brazilian footballer was injured and had to watch the match from the sidelines, unable to help. This year, after a deal was reached with his club, he agreed to forego the prestigious Copa América tournament in order to take part in the Olympics, and the team was glad to have him. In the penalty shootout that decided the final, he scored the winning penalty against Germany to give his nation a gold medal victory that was celebrated more than any other Brazilian success at these Games.




The City of God, Rio’s most infamous favela, lies only a few kilometers from the Olympic Park; it was this short but very difficult distance that Brazilian judoka Rafaela Silva (above) had to find a way to cross in order to escape from the poverty and violence of her neighborhood. She did it by discovering an outlet in sports, and it was she who won the first gold medal for her country in the Games. The girls of the City of God (left) celebrated Rafaela’s success, rejoicing in their neighbor’s triumph and perhaps seeing in Silva a role model for their own athletic aspirations.





Gymnasts Hong Un-jong (left) of North Korea and Lee Eun-ju (right) of South Korea pose for a selfie together in an act of unity. Relations between the two countries have been extremely hostile since the split into Soviet-administered North and US-administered South in the aftermath of World War II. The border between the nations is the most heavily armed in the world.



Weightlifter David Katoatau, from the Pacific island of Kiribati, danced off stage after his event to highlight climate change and its devastating effects on low-lying nations. Climate change was a central theme at the Rio 2016 opening ceremony. Kiribati’s government said the island nation is suffering severe coastal erosion, because of global warming. Katoatau himself lost his family home to a cyclone. His dance routine received much applause from the public.





Islam El Shehaby | EGYPT

Marjorie Enya & Isadora Cerullo | BRAZIL

Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby was sent home by his own team from Rio 2016 after refusing to shake the hand of his Israeli opponent Or Sasson at the end of their first round match (Sasson went on to win bronze). His behavior was also condemned by the International Olympic Committee, who said that his stance was “contrary to the rules of fair play and against the spirit of friendship embodied in the Olympic Values.”

While there were several controversial moments at these year’s Games, in the end, it was an image of love that remains one of the most memorable. This moment, captured by the lenses at Rio 2016, was when Marjorie Enya, a volunteer manager at the Deodoro Stadium, proposed to her partner, Brazilian rugby player Isadora Cerullo, at the end of the women’s rugby sevens tournament. Their kiss became a symbol of the spirit of unity, acceptance and inclusion for which Rio 2016 wants to be remembered.


As he approached the finish line for the men’s marathon, 26-year-old Ethiopian Feyisa Lilesa was faced with a choice. Should he abide by the Olympic rules which ban political statements, or should he make a gesture which would shine a global spotlight on his people’s plight but potentially cost him not just the silver medal he was about win, but possibly his freedom upon his return to his country? He chose the latter, raising his arms in a crossed symbol that represented support for his Oromo tribe, who are suffering under a bloody crackdown by the Ethiopian government. At the time of publication, this athlete is still in Rio, preparing to seek asylum in a foreign country, while his wife and two children remain in Ethiopia.

NO COMMENT Doaa El Ghobashy | EGYPT & Kira Walkenhorst | GERMANY

Beach volleyball outfits always grab attention at the summer Olympics, and it was no different at Rio 2016, albeit for a slightly unusual reason. When Egypt’s women’s beach volleyball team made its debut at these Games, Lucy Nicholson’s photograph of Egypt’s Doaa El Ghobashy and Germany’s Kira Walkenhorst as they competed gathered many column inches for the striking contrast it portrayed. While some saw it as a clash of cultures, others applauded it for showing the unifying power of the Olympics.





THE LIONESS OF IRAN Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin | IRAN

Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin celebrates becoming Iran’s first female medal winner. Zenoorin took bronze in her taekwondo match against Sweden’s Nikita Glasnostic. Even conservatives in the country expressed their praise by dubbing her the “lioness of Iran”. There was another highlight for female Iranian athletes at Rio 2016 when archer Zahra Nemati was chosen as the country’s flag bearer for the Parade of Nations.


Who knows what’s more impressive - winning the first ever Olympic gold for your country, or defeating the most celebrated swimmer of all time? 21-yearold Joseph Schooling did both, becoming Singapore’s first gold champion, with a new Olympic record (50.39) in the Men’s 100m Butterfly, dethroning Michael Phelps. The American swimmer was looking to win his fourth consecutive Olympic gold at the event, but ended up sharing a silver with fellow swimmers from Hungary and South Africa. The photo of Schooling at age 13 posing with his hero Michael Phelps was bound to go viral; an inspiration, no doubt, for kids everywhere to never give up on their dreams.



The world loves a story of the “little guys” beating the odds to rise to the top and, at the men’s rugby seven’s final, we got just such a moment when the former British colony of Fiji soared to a spectacular victory over England and bagged their country’s first-ever Olympic medal. Already adored by spectators for both their cheerful attitudes and the traditional Cibi war dance performed before matches, the island nation’s team were tipped for gold by pundits who noticed their finesse on the playing field. Training without an official pitch and sometimes using bottles filled with sand rather than rugby balls, led to a colorful and creative style of playing not often seen in rugby. The team have become national heroes at home, where rugby is as much a religion as it is a national sport, and their coach, Ben Ryan, who incidentally happens to be English, has been honored with a Fijian chief’s name, Ratu Peni Raiyani Latianara, and a gift of three acres of land.


Kosovo’s Majlinda Kelmendi won her country’s first ever Olympic medal, taking gold in the women’s 52-kilogram judo division final after defeating Italy’s Odette Giuffrida. This was the first Olympic games in which Kosovo participated after gaining membership from the International Olympic Committee in 2014. Their participation was protested by Serbia, which says that Kosovo is an autonomous province of the country. Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence is recognized by 109 UN member states.





At just 22 years old, Monica Puig, the world’s 34th-ranked women’s tennis player – who had never made it past the round of 16 at a major tournament – gave her homeland much more than its first - ever Olympic gold medal. For an island devastated by economic crisis, her stunning run of upset victories leading to the final match against Australian Open champ Angelique Kerber was not just an athletic victory, but a much-needed boost of confidence, a message of hope that reverberates far beyond sports, announcing that, indeed, things can get better.




The 10k Open-Water Marathon at Rio was the fifth and final Olympic appearance for this legendary Greek open-water swimmer, who managed to go out with a bang. At age 36, Gianniotis made a Herculian effort towards the finish line, arriving there simultaneously with his Dutch competitor at 1:52:59 (though coming in second after failing to touch the timing board first). He will be remembered as an inspiring athlete who accepted both his victories and defeats with grace.



A PERSEVERING PAIR Panagiotis Mantis - Pavlos Kagialis | GREECE

Fourth in the ISAF World Rankings before the Rio 2016 Olympics, Panagiotis Mantis and Pavlos Kagialis lived up to their reputation as tough competitors by taking bronze in the men’s 470 class in Brazil. The medal was Greece’s first in Sailing since the Beijing 2008 Olympics. Athens-born Mantis and Thessalonikiborn Kagialis both started sailing at a very young age and had already won a number of individual medals before joining forces in 2008. Hard-working and committed, their success in Rio has spurred their aspirations. “Our appetite has been sharpened. We now want more medals. We thought of quitting after failing to qualify for the London Olympics. But it only made us stronger and we managed to win a medal here,” Mantis told reporters after the race.




THE RINGMASTER Eleftherios (Lefteris) Petrounias | GREECE


Reigning World and European champion in the men’s still rings, Petrounias won the gold medal in the event at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics, earning the apt sobriquet “Lord of the Rings.” Petrounias performed an almost flawless routine to beat his main rival, Brazilian idol Arthur Zanetti, who took silver. Having won three major gold medals on the rings last year, he enjoys celebrity status in Greece and was given the honor of being the first torchbearer for the Olympic relay. Shortly before leaving Brazil, Petrounias wrote on Facebook: “Farewell Rio and thanks for the incredible memories. My beloved Greece, here we come.”


© REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach



With renewed confidence thanks to her gold at the 2016 European championships, a personal indoor record of 4.90m and the training she put in with American husbandcoach Mitchell Krier, Athens-born and US-based pole vaulter Ekaterini Stefanidi was determined to reach new heights at Rio, despite setbacks earlier in her career. With bated breath, Greek TV spectators watched the head-to-head battle with American Sandi Morris, culminating in Stefanidi’s successful second attempt over the 4.85m barrier which, due to fewer misses earlier in the competition, gave her the gold. In a crisis-ridden country desperate for inspiring stories, her success (Stanford scholar and graduate, PhD Student at Arizona State University and Gold Olympian) served as a bittersweet reminder of what Greeks can achieve outside their country.





Natural Born Sharpshooter Anna Korakaki | GREECE

In Greece, pistol shooting is among the so-called “minor” sports, those that are always overlooked in terms of funding, training infrastructure and media exposure. Because of this, it requires greater resilience, patience and passion from its practitioners. 20-year-old shooter Anna Korakaki had to train in a make-shift shooting range and overcome obstacles unheard of in other countries and yet, through sheer commitment and with the support and guidance of her father/coach, she became the first female Greek athlete to win two Olympic medals in the same Games, a bronze in the Women’s 10m Air Pistol event and a gold in the Women’s 25m Pistol event.



TRANS-ATLANTIC PRIDE Helen Louise Maroulis | USA

Not only did Helen Maroulis win the first-ever Olympic gold medal for the USA in women’s freestyle wrestling, but she did so by defeating 4-1 Japan’s Saori Yoshida, the most decorated freestyle wrestler of all time. This extraordinary feat brought pride to Americans and Greeks alike, since the 24-year-old is of Greek descent – her grandparents emigrated to the USA from Lefkada in the ‘60s. A few days later, another Greek name would pop up among the winners of a foreign team: that of Thessalonikiborn Artemis Gavezou, representing Spain, who, along with her teammates, won silver in the Rhythmic Gymnastics Group All-around event.







here were many extraordinary gold medal performances at the Rio Games – Usain Bolt, Mo Farah and, of course, Simone Biles – but really nothing quite tops Thomas Bach’s sensational debut as IOC President at his first Summer Olympics. At a breakfast meeting the day after the closing ceremony, he took the gold medal for disingenuousness, saying: “These were marvelous Olympic Games in the cidade maravilhosa. The Olympic Games Rio 2016 have shown the best of the Cariocas and Brazilians to the world.” Really? Let’s put aside for a moment the idea that the games were already a disaster before they began. Let us ignore the notion that preparations for the games exemplified the very worst of Brazilian clientelistic politics, its widespread corruption and its voracious property developers. Let us pass over the fact that most of the infrastructure 132

that has been built will benefit the already wealthy at the cost of tens of thousands of forced relocations. Let us pretend that the bankruptcy of the state of Rio de Janeiro and its public services on the eve of the games had nothing to do with the show. If we are to just take the games as we saw them, then my most abiding memory of the Rio Olympics are the acres of seats – cool atlantic blue, tropical yellow, rainforest green – all empty; no amount to bluster from the organisers about how many tickets they had sold or given away could disguise this. While a few sports and a few sessions approached full houses, many others – like much of the rugby sevens, handball and weightlifting – looked desperate and forlorn. The fate of the Paralympics, whose budget has been slashed to cover the overruns of the Olympics, looks even more dismal.

Even the crowds for free events, like the road racing and the triathlon, were underwhelming. The last minute giveaway of tickets, notionally to schools, failed entirely to plug the holes left by ticket prices that excluded the majority of the city. Poor transport and slow security made a small contribution, but I read the empty stands as indifference on the part of the wealthy minority to much of the programme and as a shameful waste of the generous ticket allocations given to sponsors and other members of the “Olympic family”. What made these tableaux all the more unpleasant was the arrest of the Irish IOC member Pat Hickey on charges of shameless ticket touting. A large crowd was no guarantee of an Olympian atmosphere. The booing meted out to President Temer at the opening ceremony was crude, but a great improvement on the inane clown-

ing of the crowd that went on during the taking of the Olympic oaths at the opening ceremony. Both were preferable to the treatment visited upon the French pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie, who was viciously booed by the crowd both during the competition he lost to the Brazilian athlete Thiago Braz da Silva and again during the medal ceremony. As the head of Globo TV is reported to have said: “Brazilians don’t like sport, they like winning.”   Successful as the Olympics were in confining our attention to the main show,  the backstage stories that did emerge were illuminating. It is a shame that the Olympic broadcast consortium did not train its cameras on the IOC’s buffets or on its counting room, where $900 per diems were handed out to every IOC member. It would have made a great double bill alongside the volunteers working without being fed and the

cleaners who were working fifteen hour shifts but were banned from the public areas of the Olympic village. Much the same could be said for much of the rest of the city. Outside the Olympic bubble, there was a pervasive sense – even in mainstream sports coverage – that Rio was hosting a party to which the vast majority were not invited, a point made with stark clarity by the photographs of residents of the city’s favelas watching the fireworks of an opening ceremony – a ceremony that depicted a cartoon version of their neighborhoods – for which tickets would have cost many weeks’ wages. That Thomas Bach could offer such oleaginous praise to his hosts in the face of all this is a triumph indeed. Tokyo 2020 will present its own challenges, but I would say he is a shoo-in for the double. G R E E C E IS




Successful as the Rio Olympics were in confining our attention to the main show, there was a pervasive sense that the city was hosting a party to which the vast majority were not invited. B Y D a v i d G o l d b l a t t

Maria Kordali, Nikolaos Pananos and Grigorios Polychronidis of Greece celebrate winning gold in the Mixed Pairs Boccia - BC3 of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.



For Greek Paralympic athletes, battling against all odds is a way of life. At the Rio Olympics, OPAP will be at their side.







rom Anthi Liagkou, who last July broke the world record in the F33 class women’s discus, to outstanding powerlifter Pavlos Mamalos, who is hoping to add a gold medal to a collection that already includes silver and bronze from Beijing and London respectively, the members of Greece’s national Paralympic team are already quite familiar with achieving the impossible. In the case of the Greek delegation’s flag bearer in Rio, Grigorios Polychronidis, whose disability is spinal muscular atrophy, this means training five hours a day, every day. His chosen sport is boccia, in which he won

the gold medal at the 2012 Paralympics in London, in the BC3 mixed pairs along with teammates Maria-Eleni Kordali and Nikolaos Pananos. “Everything is possible,” is the personal motto of an athlete who in Greece has become a symbol of perseverance and competitiveness. Javelin thrower and shot putter Manolis Stefanoudakis, who took up athletics to “help” his body after a serious accident left him paraplegic, draws inspiration from his daughter and from the ancient saying that “Good things can be achieved only with great effort,” finishing his daily training exhausted. Manolis hopes to add another medal

Paralympian and world champion swimmer Antonis Tsapatakis has won numerous medals at both national and international competitions.

to a collection that already includes a bronze from the London Paralympics, a silver from the 2014 IPC Athletics European Championships in Swansea and gold from the 2015 IPC Athletics World Championships in Qatar. Che Jon Ferdandes agrees that effort is everything. “You must always give 110%,” says this year’s European champion in the men’s shot put F53. When asked which Paralympic moment will remain unforgettable for him, Che replies: “Still to come.” “The country is in the midst of a crisis, funding has been slashed, but we are managing,” says Georgios Fountoulakis, President of the Hellenic Paralympic Committee and head of a Greek delegation to the Paralympic Games in Rio which includes 54 athletes. “We have a very good team. They have all trained properly and we are optimistic that we shall see our flag fluttering in Rio,” he adds. Four years ago in London, Greece won 12 medals, increasing the country’s total medal tally to 79. Greece has participated in Paralympic Games with individual athletes since 1960 and with an official national delegation since 1976. Following the 2004 games in Athens, the Paralympic Movement was given considerable im-

OPAP is proud to support an undertaking that offers equal opportunities to Paralympic athletes and raises public awareness of the participation of people with special abilities in top class sports.




1. At the 2012 Paralympics in London, Manolis Stefanoudakis (shown here in the shot put event) grabbed a bronze medal by finishing third in the javelin F54/55/56 final with his best shot at 27.37 meters. 2. Powerlifter Pavlos Mamalos’ extraordinary performances, spanning more than a decade, have established him as one of Greece’s most recognizable Paralympians.

petus in Greece. In the space of just 12 years, the number of Paralympic sports taking place in the country has risen from three to 17. In Rio, Greece will be represented in 11 events: wheelchair tennis, powerlifting bench press, sailing, swimming, boccia, wheelchair fencing, cycling, shooting, athletics, judo and archery. The Paralympics do not have the glitter of the Olympic Games and the everyday reality for the athletes is quite different. Some of the Greek athletes who will be competing in Rio have jobs in the public or private sector and will travel to the games after being granted time off work. Others are unemployed and may have to dig deep into their own pockets, especially if they need an escort. In addition, the bonuses given by the Greek state to athletes who perform well are expected to be significantly reduced this year. But this will in no way undermine their effort, as the message they wish to send, according to Fountoulakis, is “equal treatment in society, nothing else.”

At the side of the Greek athletes in their effort this year will be the country’s lottery and sports betting organization OPAP, Grand Sponsor of the Hellenic Paralympic Committee for the fifth consecutive year, which provides the necessary material and technical resources that enable the athletes to compete and achieve their targets. “We are proud to support an undertaking that offers equal opportunities to Paralympic athletes and raises public awareness of the participation of people with special abilities in top class sports,” say OPAP representatives. “Our motivation stems from the athletes themselves, who provide us with a constant stream of inspiration through their belief in their abilities and in themselves, and through their persistent efforts to overcome all obstacles with the sole aim of achieving success.” It is no coincidence that the moving TV spot featuring the Greek athletes at the Rio Paralympics has as its title the only word that does not exist in their vocabulary: Impossible.






Spirit in Motion* In 1948, from the ashes of war and at the dawn of a new era, a German doctor came up with an idea that would evolve into what we know today as the Paralympic Games. BY AT H O S D I M O U L A S


Š Scott Barbour/Getty Images/Ideal Image

The long jump for athletes of visual impairement is one of the most remarkable Paralympics events, as the crowd fall silent to allow the athletes to listen to their guides give them the signal to take off. At the 2012 London Games, Ukranian Ruslan Katyshev leapt 6.46 meters to win gold.

* official motto of the Paralympic Games since 2004



ondon hosted the first post-war Olympic Games, an occasion that served as an example of concord and friendship, turning a new page in world history. At an impressive ceremony on 29 July 1948, attended by 85,000 spectators and the British royal family, the Olympic flame was lit at Wembley Stadium in a positive, upbeat atmosphere. On the same day, not far from London, in the county town of Aylesbury at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, another ceremony was being held, with no pomp and no publicity. It was a very humble affair, but one which marked the birth of the Paralympic Games. There were just 16 competitors, 14 men and two women, all British veterans of World War II and all confined to wheelchairs. At these games, there was just one event, archery. The image of the amputees was a vivid testament to the horrors of war and, with memories still fresh all over the world, an institution was established which represented hopes for a better tomorrow. The idea for the sporting competition, which became known as the Stoke Mandeville Games for the Paralyzed, is credited to Ludwig Guttmann, a German doctor of Jewish origin who had fled to England just before the start of the Second World War. Guttmann, it could be said, was to the Paralympic Games what Pierre de Coubertin was to the Olympics: their father and founder. Four years later, the games were repeated, again at Aylesbury, this time with the participation of Dutch war veterans as well, making it the first international competition of its kind. As time passed, Guttmann’s initial idea was further developed and received growing support. The games became open not only to war veterans, but also to other athletes with different types of physical disabilities. In 1960, the first official Paralympic Games were held in Rome. By 1976, some 1,600 competitors from 40 countries took part. In 1988, it was decided that the Paralympics would thereafter be held in the


As the performance levels in Paralympic Games began to rise, some Paralympic athletes earned the right to participate also in the Olympics. So far, 14 athletes have made this “leap”.

A game of netball between a Dutch team from Aardenburg and the British team, at the Ministry of Pensions Spinal Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Buckinghamshire, UK, 6th August 1953.

same city that hosted the Olympic Games; one year later, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) was founded, with an operating framework that has changed very little since. As the Paralympic Games became more structured, performance levels began to rise and some Paralympic athletes earned the right to participate in the Olympics as well. So far, 14 athletes have made this “leap”, beginning with Neroli Fairhall, a Paralympic archer from New Zealand, who finished in 35th place in her event at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. But perhaps the bestknown case is that of South African Oscar Pistorius. Dubbed “the fastest man in the world on no legs”, in 2012 in London he became the first runner without legs to compete in the Olympics. His subsequent conviction for the murder of his girlfriend brought the downfall of a legend, of a symbol of willpower and hope. But hope itself continues to characterize these athletes. One of the main aims of the Paralympic Games is “to inspire and excite the world”, according to the official vision statement of their organizers, the IPC.





German neurologist Dr Ludwig Guttmann (1899 - 1980), founder and director of the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Buckinghamshire, UK, 1949. He organised the first Stoke Mandeville Games for disabled athletes in 1948, a forerunner of the Paralympic Games.


Legends Six amazing competitors who stood out for their at h l e t i c p e r f o r m a n c e , p a ss i o n f o r l i f e AND i n c r e d i b l e s t o r i e s .

Trischa Zorn The ultimate record-woman

Trischa Zorn is usually described as the greatest athlete ever to have participated in the Paralympic Games. There is no doubt that she is the most successful. Zorn began competing at the age of 16, in 1980, and took part in all the Games since then up to and including the 2004 Paralympics in Athens. During this time, the United States swimmer, legally blind from birth, won a total of 55 medals, 41 of which were gold. This tally is higher than any other athlete (even the Olympic haul of the great Michael Phelps is 27 less). “People ask me how I do it,” she once told the Los Angeles Times, “they ask if I hit the walls or the lane lines. But it’s not really that hard. When I first started swimming, I bumped into the wall a few times, but I usually can see the black line on the bottom of the pool, or on backstroke I look for the flags and count my strokes.”

Esther Vergeer Queen of the Court


Esther Vergeer had endured serious health problems from an early age, including dizziness, fainting and neck pains. At the age of 8 she suffered a stroke and was finally diagnosed as having vascular myelopathy around her spinal cord. After two lengthy operations, her life was no longer in danger but both her legs were paralyzed. Nevertheless, the young Dutch girl showed incredible determination and willpower to become the greatest wheelchair tennis player of all time. What did she win? Seven Paralympic medals and 42 Grand Slam tournaments. When Vergeer retired in 2013, she ended on a winning streak of 470 matches. During the course of her career, she won 700 matches and lost only 25. The “Queen of the Court” is widely considered to have been the most dominant player ever in any sport.


Dominique Bizimana – Jean Rukundo From enemies to teammates

In the Sitting Volleyball event of London 2012, Rwanda lost each of its four games. This, however, in no way detracts from one of the most astonishing stories we have ever witnessed. Team captain Dominique Bizimana, had fought in his country’s civil war on the side of the Tutsi, losing a leg in battle. Vice-captain Jean Rukundo, an ethnic Hutu, had fought on the opposite side. He too had lost a leg after stepping on a landmine. Bizimana and Rukundo met as members of the national team, when both were trying to heal the scars left by the horrors they had experienced. Once enemies, they are now teammates and friends.

Chantal Petitclerc Wheelchair lightning

From 1992 in Barcelona to the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, there was one athlete who dominated the 100, 200, 400 and 800 meter wheelchair races; her name: Chantal Petitclerc. During this period, the Canadian athlete won 14 gold, 5 silver and 2 bronze medals. It was a career she had not expected. Growing up in Quebec, Petitclerc had distinguished herself more through her academic accomplishments. But Petitclerc’s life changed forever at the age of 13 when a heavy door fell on her and fractured her spine. Since then, she has been confined to a wheelchair. A physical education teacher suggested that she learn to swim, and it was in the pool that she discovered her competitive drive, which she later used to become a world-class wheelchair racer. Today, Petitclerc is married to music composer James Duhamel, with whom she has one son. And since March 2016, she has taken on a new challenge after being named to the Senate of Canada on the initiative of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Lee Pearson A natural in the saddle

In 1980, during an event at 10 Downing Street, then-British prime minister Margaret Thatcher carried him up some stairs after awarding him a “Children of Courage” medal. Lee Pearson was born with arthrogryposis (congenital joint contractures). No one could have imagined at the time that he would go on to become one of Britain’s most successful athletes. Pearson, however, learned to ride horses and soon realized that it was something he could do well. “I feel lucky that I found my talent, not unlucky that I was born with a disability,” he explained to The Telegraph a few years ago. He participated in four Paralympic Games (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012), winning 12 medals, 10 of which were gold. G R E E C E IS


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