Dozens of past gold medalists will compete in Athens, and each has earned a place in the Olympic pantheon. French photographer G�rard Rancinan chose six for a series of portraits that pay tribute to not only the athletes but also to two members of his profession's pantheon: Etienne-Jules Marey of France and Eadweard James Muybridge of England, who in the late 19th century became the first to photograph movement. (Muybridge used several cameras triggered by a trip wire; Marey used a camera that recorded multiple images on one photographic plate.) Rancinan created backdrops using lines and ghosted silhouettes inspired by the work of Marey and Muybridge. The resulting images resemble period photographs that Baron de Coubertin might have gazed at while sitting at his inaugural 1896 Games.
He grew up in Chimara, Albania, but emigrated to Greece in 1991 and became a national hero. The 187-pound Lion of Chimara has won three gold medals, and in Athens he will try to become the first weightlifter to win four. So popular is Dimas, 32, that the Greeks built a stadium in his honor; fittingly, it sits in the shadow of Mount Olympus.
As a boy he ran six miles to school each day with books under his left arm, and he still races with that elbow distinctively bent. Now 31, Gebrselassie [geb-ruh-suh-LAH-see] has set more than 15 world records, won two 10,000-meter golds and been the subject of a Disney documentary, Endurance. After Athens he'll likely become a marathoner.
Holding an �p�e, she is la Gu�pe-the Wasp, quick-stinging and pitiless—and a 1996 gold medalist. Without it, the 32-year-old from the island of Guadeloupe is a chic French celebrity, married to a French journalist. A three-month suspension in 2002 for using a banned glucose supplement (because of a pharmacy mix-up, she says) has fueled her drive for another gold.
He is the most accomplished javelin thrower ever (three straight golds after a silver in 1988), and his strong arm earned him a pitching tryout with the Atlanta Braves in 1996. (His throwing technique didn't translate to baseball.) Small for his event at 5'11" and 160 pounds, the 38-year-old has held the world record for the last 11 years.
At 5'5" and 25 she seems too tall and too ancient to be an elite gymnast, but she is the reigning world all-around champion. "My body is getting old, and my soul is getting young," says Khorkina, a two-time gold medalist from Belgorod known for her long-limbed grace, innovative moves and love of the spotlight. (She once posed nude for Playboy and has talked of becoming an actress.) Asked how she would like to be remembered in her sport, she replies in direct fashion, "As the unique Svetlana Khorkina."
He is 32, a dozen years removed from the first of his four gold medals, and he still races in a skimpy Speedo instead of a bodysuit. He is long recovered from the 1996 street stabbing in Moscow that nearly took his life and is old enough to have become an IOC member and lived in Australia for more than a decade. Yet the Russian Rocket still lives up to his nickname: He won the 50-meter freestyle at the 2003 worlds and at May's European championships. Popov is eager to return to the city where, at a meet 13 years ago, he launched a seven-year unbeaten streak in sprints. "I started my career in Athens in 1991," he says, "and it will be a complete circle to finish it there."