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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 August, 2004, 18:23 GMT 19:23 UK
Olympics return to ancient home
By Matthew Davis
BBC News Online, Olympia

Stadium at Olympia
Olympia stadium audiences saw sport - and sometimes bloodshed
The Olympic Games truly return to their spiritual home on Wednesday, when the shot-put competition takes place in the ancient stadium at Olympia.

Legend has it that the first Olympics - a single 192-metre race - were held at the sanctuary of Zeus in Olympia in 776BC. The competitors were Greek heroes and Gods.

Today, athletes and spectators alike will walk in their footsteps in a spectacle Greece says will be a "symbolic link" to the ancient Games and the revival of the modern Olympics in 1896.

To preserve the historical integrity, no banners of corporate logos will be displayed during the competition and electronic devices will be kept to a minimum.

Men and women will gather to watch - unlike at the early Games, where the spectators were exclusively men.

Mixed feelings

In a nod to the ancient Games - and as a sop to Greek archaeologists who raised concerns over damage to the site - no grandstands have been put up for the event.

Up to 15,000 spectators are expected to descend onto the grass slopes of the old stadium.

The symbolism of the Games "returning home" has fuelled the imagination of competitors in an event that was not even included in the first 1,100 years of the Olympics.

US shot-put prospect Reese Hoffa said: "I'm extremely excited. It was kind of an awe thing, getting here yesterday and seeing the configuration and where they were going to actually hold the shot. It was amazing. I can't wait."

Click here to learn about the events of the ancient Olympics

The village of Olympia - on the west Peloponnese about 200 miles (321.8 km) from Athens - was where the Olympic flame was lit in March.

Plans for the use of Olympia were signed off by the Greek culture ministry's archaeological council in May and approved by the International Olympic Committee.

Archaeologist Gillian Shepherd, of Birmingham University, said she had mixed feelings about the return of the Olympics to a site she visited last Easter.

"If they are really getting that many people, then it is potentially a serious problem for the site," Ms Shepherd told BBC News Online.

But she added: "I think there is something quite magical about the Games returning home.

"If the event is well-marshalled, then I am all for it. It is the perfect setting - the atmosphere will be amazing. In its heyday, this stadium used to hold tens of thousands of people."

Restrictions

Greece is used to safeguarding its monuments from the hordes of tourists who visit each year.

Dotted around the country are many ancient theatres that are used for live performances today, some holding audiences of up to 14,000.

Entrance to stadium at Olympia

Deputy Minister of Culture Petros Tatoulis told BBC News Online the administration was "very concerned" about the potential damage to the site.

"Spectators and competitors will be restricted only to the place in the stadium where the event will take place - it will be strictly forbidden for them to approach the archaeological site of Olympia during the Games," he said.

After the birth of the ancient Olympics, the Games grew into one of the wonders of the world, finally being abolished in 393AD when the Emperor Theodosius declared them too pagan.

In its heyday, more than 40,000 spectators gathered in the stadium at Olympia to watch the often bloody, violent precursors to the modern Games revived by Pierre de Coubertin in 1896.

Unlike their modern day counterparts, the ancient Olympians competed naked.


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