Marathon runners cover ‘Mountain of the Gods’

Greek athlete Alexis Gugo, 32, won the men’s division of yesterday’s Skai-Olympus Marathon, a 44-kilometer race on the spectacular slopes of Mount Olympus in Greece’s north, with a time of five hours, 18 minutes and 43 seconds. Natalia Papounidou, also of Greece, won the women’s event in six hours, 43 minutes and 14 seconds. A total of 386 athletes competed in yesterday’s contest. Of those, 35 failed to go the full distance on the route which reaches an altitude of 2,780 meters. The event, sponsored by Skai Radio as part of its ongoing campaign to raise awareness about environmental issues, is the country’s only international mountain track race. The mountain, apart from being a national park, is listed as a World Natural Heritage Monument by UNESCO. The retired weightlifter Pyrros Dimas, a triple Olympic gold medalist, was the contest’s official starter. Another champion Greek athlete, Athanassia Tsoumeleka, who won the gold medal in the women’s 20-kilometer walk at the 2004 Athens Olympics, presented the medals to the winners. The marathon route revives the sacred trail followed by ancient Greeks to Olympus, which they ascended every year in order to honor and make sacrifices to Zeus. At its very beginning, the race’s track lies on the ancient route, starting from the remains of the sacred city of Dion, one of the country’s most significant archaeological sites.

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