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Last Updated: Saturday, 31 July, 2004, 22:05 GMT 23:05 UK
'True Olympics' held in Greece
By Richard Galpin
BBC correspondent in Nemea

Barefoot runners wearing tunics take part in a footrace in the ancient stadium of Nemea
Prizes were ribbons, palm fronds and laurels made of celery leaves
For most people around the world, the Olympics begin in the Greek capital Athens in just under two weeks time.

But on Saturday, thousands of people - including many foreigners - gathered in an ancient stadium in western Greece for what they say are the true Games.

Anyone could take part regardless of age or talent - as long as they ran barefooted and in traditional tunics.

From early morning, athletes and spectators came to re-live history in the ancient Greek stadium of Nemea.

Built more than 2,300 years ago and excavated in the 1970s, the stadium nestles in the foothills of the Arcadian Mountains.

Throughout the day, the track - made of dried earth - felt the pounding of the feet of hundreds of runners of all ages, shapes and sizes.

Rituals

The oldest was 99, the youngest seven. They were here more to take part than to win.

Their prizes were ribbons, palm fronds and laurels made of celery leaves.

The ritual of the ancient games was closely followed.

Although the athletes did not run naked, they did wear the traditional tunics of the ancient Greeks and smeared themselves in olive oil before running.

All this is a far cry from the commercialisation and elite nature of the modern Olympics.

But Professor Stephen Miller, a US archaeologist and main organiser of the Nemean Games, says they are not trying to create an alternative to the Olympics.

"It is to help people learn about antiquity, about their own heritage and, by having the very immediate contact with ancient Greece through the soles of their feet, they really do feel like they're a part of the 4th Century BC for five minutes. That's a valuable experience, one they'll never forget," he said.

But the simplicity and purity of these games, compared with the modern Olympics, is clearly very appealing.

It is an idea whose time may have come again. The next Nemean Games will take place in 2008.


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