Ancient Games filled with modern touches
Posted: Monday August 30, 2004 10:24PM; Updated: Monday August 30, 2004 10:24PM
ATHENS, Aug 30 (Reuters) -- From the wreaths placed on medallists' heads to a glorious return to the ruins where the Olympics started, ancient Greece was the star of the show.
The 2004 Games were an unbeatable blend of old and new: Homer the poet facing off against homer the four base hit.
Runners careened down from Marathon to race through the modern streets of Athens while others competed in sports that would have had the ancients scratching their heads, like trampolining and table tennis.
Bows and arrows they would have understood, but shot by South Korean women?
To a first-time Olympics visitor, it was this contrast that proved irresistible: the old land where athletes once anointed themselves with olive oil was awash with testing for designer drugs such as tetrahydrogestrinone.
Nowhere was the contrast between old and new more pronounced than when the Games returned to ancient Olympia where they started in 776 BC.
Seventy-seven shot-putters gathered at a playing field faced by two hillsides where spectators sit on grass surrounded by a spectacular landscape of mountains and mist. The ruins of the once great temples to Zeus and Hera are just out of sight.
The sun shines bright. There is a feeling that the gods are happy. Certainly the trinket shops of the town of Olympia are delighted. It is a boom day for places like the Zeus taverna.
Unlike ancient times, the athletes are clothed. Irina Korzhanenko of Russia wins the gold medal and bows her head to receive an olive wreath.
A few days later, she is stripped of the medal after testing positive for steroids. By the end of the Games, she is joined in her disgrace by athletes from several nations, including host country Greece.
It is not that athletes in ancient Greece did not cheat. Many did because like today, winning was paramount. Some say the idea of fair play and sportsmanship was not an ancient Greek invention but a 19th century British one.
During these Games, China's semi-official China News had to remind its readers that losers are not traitors, so seriously did some people take sport.
And some losers can leave so gracefully that they look like winners. Amid chants of "You are still the King and you know it" Sweden's table tennis champion Jan-Ove Waldner lost his last Olympics match.
He had missed his serve and the simple sound of his paddle colliding with the wood table echoed through the hall.
After playing at all the Games where table tennis was included he left proud, head held high.
Outside the hall Waldner stopped to chat. The man who beat him, Wang Liqin of China, rushed off, saying, I have to take a drug test."
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