The soon-to-begin Athens 2004 Summer Olympic Games disproves the cliche stating one 'can never go home again.'
After hosting the first modern-day version of the multi-sport athletic competition in 1896, Greek sports fans have watched the country's source-of-pride event globetrot from continent to continent nearly every four years (SEE Olympic posters in PDF, from Xerox.com), never returning to its sacred home turf. Until now.
After losing a bid to host the 1996 Olympics (won by Atlanta and the United States), Greece finally got the nod to welcome the athletes of the world again this summer. The Opening Ceremonies this Friday will kick off the XXVIII Olympiad, which runs from August 13-29.
While 1896 marks the beginning of the so-called "Modern Olympic Games," the true origin goes back to ancient times -- some 3,000 years ago when Greek-only (and male-only) sports competitions were initially organized in Olympia, which led to the development of a series of regional contests known as the Panhellenic Games. Some variation lasted a thousand years or so, finally being abolished in 393 AD. It was not until the 18th and 19th centuries that the ruins of Olympia were re-discovered by archaeologists. When the modern era began anew with the 1896 Olympics in Athens, the competition went international.
Oddly enough, despite the long wait, the big question until very recently was whether Greece would be ready to host the Olympics in 2004. Construction of the various venues reportedly lagged far off schedule until very recently, but news reports this week suggest that with an Olympian effort, the Greek hosts have completed the tasks and are set to turn the stadiums, pools, courts and other settings over to the athletes from around the world -- even a small team from Iraq that managed to safely make its way out of the war zone.
That's not to say there aren't still some challenges for the Athens 2004 hosts and organizers, not the least of which is providing security against potential terrorist attacks during the two-week sports festival. While the ancient Panhellenic Games were able to be played out under a sacred truce -- all wars were halted for the duration of the events -- organizers are no longer able to rely on faith in Zeus and the other Greek Gods. The array of anti-terror forces in Athens in 2004, and the costs associated with maintaining them, will set a new Olympic record.
The visibility of the Summer Games will also achieve an all-time mark, with more of the events broadcast than ever before. A comprehensive schedule [PDF: 1.3 MB] of the events is available for download from the Athens 2004 site. Other newsworthy PDFs include a daily online newspaper called the "Olympic Village Pulse" and a series of educational materials aimed at students of various ages, designed to build on the educational mission of the original games.
One thing that will definitely be different in Athens from its Olympia beginnings is the athletic attire -- or historic lack of. In the ancient male-only Games, it was reportedly "easy to identify the athlete by his nakedness. Indeed, for both training and competitions, athletes were always nude." According to another source, in a separate festival, "female athletes raced in short tunics, with the right breast exposed."
Had she not suffered a globally witnessed "wardrobe malfunction" at another major sports event earlier this tear, singer Janet Jackson might well have qualified to go for the gold in Athens.
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