Annual marathon to serve as Olympic test event next month

Roadwork to widen Athens’s classic marathon route will still be ongoing during an Olympic test event on November 2 but will not hinder the race, organizers promised yesterday. «The work will be cordoned off so it will not interfere with the competition,» said Marton Simitsek, an executive director on the Athens organizing committee. «It is difficult to build the Berlin Wall but we have done what we can,» he said, but cautioned that possible rainfall could make part of the course muddy. Some 3,500 runners are due to participate in the annual Greek race, being used this year to test the readiness of 2004 preparations. The marathon race traces the legendary route taken in 490 BC by Pheidippides, who ran from the ancient town of Marathon to Athens and announced the Greek victory over Persian invaders. The race starts in Marathon and ends at the all-marble Panathenaic Stadium, where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896. Test event checks include placing tracking chips in the shoes of 150 runners to test timings, and the operation of four of the 16 drink-and-water stations along the route, Simitsek said. Road closures, a wireless communications system over the 42.2-kilometer (26.1-mile) route, and coordination with local authorities for road cleaning and other services will also be put to the test for the August 13-29 Athens Games. Simitsek said the test will be on a much larger scale than the actual Olympic marathon when only 80 men and 60 women will compete. On November 2, roads will be closed for six hours, compared to three-and-a-half hour closures during the Olympics. Medical services will also be under scrutiny in treating cases of exhaustion, Simitsek said. The Panathenaic Stadium where the race will finish is being partially dismantled with marble slabs and blocks being removed for cleaning. Repairs began in March and are set to end in January. The marathon is one of four test events planned before the end of the year. A test event for the triathlon will take place on Saturday with organizer plans including tests on technology, doping and road safety, Simitsek said. Weightlifting and the modern pentathlon tests are scheduled for December. Organizers also announced that judo, wrestling and table tennis will be contested in January. More than 30 tests events will be held before June.