Organizers present the event program for 2004 Olympics

For the first time in the modern history of the Olympics, Athens will kick off the 2004 Games with cycling instead of archery to show off the Greek capital’s charms to television viewers, officials said yesterday. Unveiling a preliminary events schedule, Athens 2004, the Games organizers, said they had dropped archery as the Games first event in favor of the cycling road race so that billions of viewers would get a feel of the city hosting the Games. «We want to show off the host city and its beauties,» Athens 2004’s general manager for sports, Makis Assimakopoulos, told reporters. He said coverage of the race, which will last three to four hours, would introduce Athens, currently undergoing a facelift for the Games, to television viewers around the globe. Assimakopoulos said the Games’ final event, the men’s marathon race, would be run on the original course used by an Athenian soldier in 490 BC to announce a Greek victory over the Persians. «We will use the classic course. It is one of the highlights of the Games,» he said. The runners will not finish at the Olympic Stadium, the central sports venue, but at the central Athens marble Panatheniac Stadium, where the Games were revived in 1896. «The medal ceremony will be held later at the Olympic Stadium,» he said. Some 10,500 athletes, a record 40 percent of whom will be women, will compete for 301 gold medals from August 12 to 29 in the Athens 2004 Olympics. While the opening ceremony of the 2004 Olympics will take place on August 14, the preliminary round of the soccer competition will begin two days earlier in Athens as well as in four other Greek cities. The soccer competition will be the only athletic event that will be held outside the Athens area, as preliminary contests are scheduled for Patras, Thessaloniki, Iraklion and Volos. Spyros Kapralos, an Athens 2004 executive board member, said that Saturday, August 21, 2004 will be the busiest day in the Olympics as there will be 27 events in progress with 36 gold medals at stake. He said the first gold medal of the Games would be awarded at 11.45 a.m. on August 14 to the shooting champion. Kapralos added that there would be a limit of 2,000 participants for the track and field events and 800 for swimming contests. The final Games plan is scheduled to be ready by mid-2003. The International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF), the athletics world governing body, has not yet approved the start time of the marathon race, organizers said. Organizers have recommended to the IAAF that the men’s and women’s races start at 5.00 p.m., mainly to avoid high midday temperatures. «The start (time) of the marathon has not been determined yet. .. but we believe, in the end, our proposal will be accepted,» said Kapralos. The race could also be held in the early morning, although «the evening is the better time,» said Assimakopoulos. The IAAF said it will make a final decision within about three months. Yesterday, Athens 2004 also signed an agreement with officials of the eastern suburb of Ano Liosia, allowing them to use four athletic facilities for training purposes during the Olympics. The wrestling venue is being built in the suburb, close to the Olympic Village being constructed in Menidi, about 15 miles north of Athens. (Combined reports)

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