NEWS

An Attic tour is unveiled

Plans for a history-rich lead-up to the Paralympic Games, Greece’s other global sporting event set for this summer, were unveiled yesterday at the headquarters of the Athens 2004 organizing committee, which is also organizing the Paralympics, by notables, including International Paralympics Committee (IPC) head Phil Craven and top Greek Olympic officials. These Games for disabled athletes «parallel» the Olympic Games, although they are an increasingly established institution in their own right, now gearing up for their 12th installment after having debuted at Rome in 1960. In fact, the Paralympics have become the second-largest sporting event in the world, with around 4,000 athletes participating in some 19 sports. Yesterday, Athens 2004 added to this growing tradition in announcing the Paralympics torch relay, called «Sharing the Light,» at a well-attended and enthusiastic ceremony at the committee’s headquarters. This relay, the ninth dating back to Seoul in 1988, will begin on September 9 in an old quarter of Athens itself, the Thiseion area just west of the Acropolis. Thiseion has rich historical associations and specifically had a fifth-century BC temple to the ancient god of fire and metalwork, Hephaestus, who was born lame and given fire by Prometheus, and who is thus a singularly appropriate symbol of Greece’s Paralympics. Around Attica From there the flame – to be carried aloft in the same magnesium-and-olive wood receptacles as the Olympic torch relay – will embark on a nine-day tour, taking in all of Attica. It will culminate at the Paralympics opening ceremonies on September 17. The relay will pass through some 54 municipalities over nine days, and 414 kilometers (257 miles), carried by some 687 torchbearers, aiming, as Athens 2004 chief Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said, at «illuminating historical areas and monuments.» «We will all be sharing the light,» she added. To underscore this focus on ancient ties, the flame’s first overnight stop will be the Herod Atticus Theater under the Acropolis, while other nightly stops will include Lavrion, Marathon, Megara, Acharnes, and Piraeus. It will also pass by the Temple of Artemis at Vravrona and the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, and will even be carried by swimmers outside Nea Makri, near Marathon – Paralympic athletes having already completed a major group swim from Attica to the island of Milos last year. Unlike the Olympic Games, the Paralympics have no set flame-lighting ceremony at Ancient Olympia, and thus are freer to experiment, as with this year. For the Seoul Games, it was lit on an island in Korea; in 1996, at the Martin Luther King monument in Atlanta; and in 1992, at Barcelona City Hall. The Sydney 2000 Paralympic relay was slightly longer, looping around Australia, whereas the Athens relay is more compact and can boast unmatchable stopping and pass-through points. Yet arranging for this local tour through time has involved a multitude of fire, police and other municipal officials. It presents a significant logistical challenge, in terms of blocking off roads and the like, given that Athens will be getting back to its daily life, and heavy traffic, following the end of the Olympics. Hopes for Games The officials launching the flame relay were hopeful that the Paralympics experience could rub off on a society in which the disabled have not always been catered for sufficiently. Fanni Palli-Petralia, the alternate culture minister, insisted that the Paralympics were «of equal stature» to the Games of August, and which «will leave a valuable legacy for our country» – not just through new technical facilities (for venues and, it is said, through wheelchair access to the Acropolis itself via a lift) but through the «sensitization of citizens.» And they will be a way to show that Greece can respond as a modern country to modern needs. Craven, the IPC chief, typified the upbeat atmosphere in his Scottish accent and cheerful admissions of relative ignorance about Greece’s timeless monuments. Yet he professed that the week in Athens and Olympia has «charged my batteries» as he soaked in the ancient lessons about sport as beautiful and good, as well as a noble enterprise, producing «this special spirit, this unique spirit» that infuses the growing enterprise he heads up. And as «athletes are my No. 1 job,» he seemed hopeful that Athens’s Paralympics, long feared as a problematic rather than positive addition to the summer, were «going to be great.» And the special challenges of Parathletes were, he noted, bound up in the words of Democritus: «To win oneself is the first and best of all victories.»