Olympics touch base in Olympia

ANCIENT OLYMPIA – The Olympic Games came home yesterday, to the pine-scented grove where it all began in 776 BC. The shot put may not have been an event in the ancient Games but this did not lessen the significance of yesterday’s events, where the stadium which last saw official competition in AD 393 resounded to the grunts and efforts of athletes and the cheers of spectators sitting on the grassy slopes. The original idea of the Athens 2004 Olympic organizers met with enthusiasm from all present – athletes, spectators, journalists and officials. Whatever their placing in the competition, men and women athletes exclaimed their joy at having taken part in the event. This was also the first time women competed in this stadium – they were banned in ancient times. «It is fantastic, wonderful, unbelievable,» said Astrid Kumbernuss, the 34-year-old German who won gold at the 1996 Olympics and bronze in 2000 but did not make the finals yesterday. Irina Korzhanenko, who became the first woman winner in Olympia with a gold-medal put of 21.06 meters yesterday, said, «The stadium inspires us.» No other thrower crossed the 20-meter mark. (Korzhanenko is a former doping offender and was stripped of the 1999 World Indoor title.) Second was Cuba’s Yumileidi Cuma, with a throw of 19.59 and third, Nadine Kleinert of Germany, with 19.55. The men’s winner was Ukraine’s Yuriy Bilonog, with 21.16, followed by Adam Nelson of the United States (also with 21.16 but with a worse second effort) and Joachim Olsen of Denmark with 21.07. «There is something special about this place,» Nelson said as he walked through the arch leading to the stadium. «As an athlete taking part in the Olympic Games it moves me. It is a beautiful, strong feeling,» he said.

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