Greece’s shot to revive the Games’ spirit

A leaked plan by Olympics organizing officials to shift the 2004 shot put contest from Athens to the birthplace of the ancient Games was officially confirmed by the government yesterday. Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos – after Premier Costas Simitis, the Cabinet’s top Olympics planner – said the initial idea, made public just 10 months before the Games are due to start, belonged to Athens 2004 Organizing Committee president Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki. «Each country can have a great Olympic stadium… a swimming center, roads, a tram and metro network,» he told journalists. «But only we have ancient Olympia to show. And we are obliged to show this to billions of spectators worldwide.» The proposal has to be approved by the International Olympics Committee – which is currently more concerned about progress on key Athens public transport projects and work to build a roof for the main Olympic Stadium. Venizelos took care to stress that the event would not cause any damage to the 2,400-year old stadium of Olympia, dismissing warnings to the contrary by Greek archaeologists. «We did not choose this event by chance,» he said. «It can be carried out without any intervention to the stadium and with full respect to the archaeological site, as very few stands for the athletes are effectively needed, and the measuring equipment is the same as that used by topographers. The television coverage will be exactly the same as in important cultural events that have repeatedly been hosted in the ancient stadium.» «We will organize the shot put under conditions almost identical to those of the ancient event,» he said. «The result will be catalytic, sensational.» The shot put was not part of the ancient Games, in which all participants were male and competed naked. It was adopted in the first modern Olympics, held in Athens in 1896. The event involves throwing a cast-iron ball that weighs 16 pounds in the men’s contest and 8.8 pounds in the women’s event. The stadium at Olympia was built in the fourth century BC, replacing a smaller predecessor. It could take up to 40,000 spectators who stood on earthen banks.