Ancient Olympic Stadium Threatened by Budget Cuts in Greece

Ancient Olympic Stadium Threatened by Budget Cuts in Greece

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The ancient Olympic stadium of Nemea is under threat of closure as a result of steep budget cuts in the country as Greece enters its sixth consecutive year of recession.

The Nemean Games were founded in 573 BC and were one of the four Panhellenic Games of Ancient Greece, including Delphi, Isthmia and Olympia. It was at one of these four sites that, for a brief period each year, wars and hostilities were suspended by a sacred truce, and all Greeks gathered in recognition of their common humanity.

The site of the Nemean stadium was excavated from beneath a highway and vineyard in 1974 under the direction of Stephen Miller, professor emeritus of classical archaeology at the University of California. The site includes a temple dedicated to Zeus, ruins of a locker room, a tunnel (marked with the graffiti of ancient athletes) leading into the stadium, and the stadium itself.

What is most unique about Nemea is that friendly games still take place in the stadium every four years in a tradition that began in 1996. In a statement from the Society for the Revival of the Nemean Games, it is said: "It is our belief that the modern Olympic Games, despite their obvious success in many respects, have become increasingly removed from the average person. Our goal is the participation, on the sacred ancient earth of Greece, of anyone and everyone, in games that will revive the spirit of the Olympics. We will achieve this by reliving authentic ancient athletic customs in the ancient stadium of Nemea."

However, the games and the site itself are now in danger of closing due to ongoing staff cuts and failure by authorities to find alternative sources of funding. Seven of the site’s 10-member staff at Nemea have not have their contracts renewed. If they lose their final challenge in court next month, Miller said, the site will close.

“The treasure of Greece is its antiquities and the young archaeologists trained to look after those antiquities. Instead of making the investments that would have yielded archaeology an income producing venture, it’s always been shoved off to the side,” Miller said. “There’s no hotel here, no restaurant, no shop.”

Many believe that one of Greece’s greatest hopes for its much-needed growth is its tourism, and that’s where funding some of its important treasures could play a major role.

    London 2012: Olympic pole vaulter battles Greek financial crisis

    Nicole Kyriakopoulou, Greece's record-breaking pole vaulter, is counting the days to the London Olympics. Pride is what Greeks are good at, and the athlete is determined to give the games her best.

    "Sport has given me so many experiences, it has made me a much better person in very many ways," she says sitting cross-legged in an indoor stadium after a four-hour training session. "It is a great thing to represent your country at an event like the Olympics."

    Besides, she loves England. It was there that she scored her best performance, clearing 4.71 metres at the London Diamond Link in August.

    But since then Kyriakopoulou has had to clear other hurdles – and in ways she might not have imagined.

    The economic crisis engulfing Greece has had a disastrous effect on the debt-choked country's Olympic preparations, with Kyriakopoulou among many world-class athletes hit by unprecedented cutbacks. Several coaches and suppliers have not been paid in months.

    "Expenses barely cover vitamins and food," the 26-year-old lamented. "Athletes have dietary needs. They can't eat fast food, but over the past two years all the allowances and incentives the state gave us have just disappeared."

    Massive budget cuts recently led to the national athletics federation, Segas, suspend all track and field competitions in the country.

    Kyriakopoulou, who is trying to get major sports outfitters to sponsor her, missed three major international competitions last year. "At least they weren't qualifiers," she says.

    That was not the case for the Greek gymnastics team, stopped from travelling to Tokyo for the Olympic qualifiers because of money problems. The International Olympic Committee has had to step in with emergency funding to help other squads, including the women's water polo team, the 2011 world champions, prepare for the Games.

    As a result, when the Greek delegation files into the Olympic stadium on 27 July – in honour of Greece's role in creating the Games it always leads opening and closing ceremonies – it will be noticeably smaller. Fewer than 100 Greek competitors are being sent to London, compared with the 151 dispatched to Beijing four years ago and 431 athletes who participated in the 2004 Athens games.

    "The cuts have destroyed us," said the soft-spoken vault jumper who has been training intensively since she was 16. "I'm not the only one. I'm actually lucky. The Hellenic Postbank began sponsoring me in December," she says, pointing to the logo on her shirt. "They've helped me buy new poles, which the [field and track] federation can't do."

    But Kyriakopoulou, like other top athletes, trains in facilities that, once the pride of Greece, have sunk into decay and disrepair. Olympic swimmers were forced to use unheated pools last winter athletes training in one of the capital's indoor Olympic facilities, purpose-built for the Athens games, had to contend with a leaky roof.

    "Because there is no money for maintenance costs, in the winter you freeze and in the summer you boil. Athletes have strained tendons as a result," she says, pointing to the broken mat in the landing area beneath the high jump she uses herself. "We haven't got a water dispenser or hot water in the showers, and our housing is, well, pretty basic. There are no cleaners. We have to do that ourselves. I spent time painting mine recently."

    Although the stadium in which elite athletes train is supposed to be guarded, it is not. "There have been times when I'm training and someone just crosses the track in front of me," she says. "I've had to serve to stop bumping into them. It's terrifying. I can't afford to be injured."

    But that is almost secondary, she says. What really riles Kyriakopoulou, and dozens like her, is that in the financial storm that has hit Greece the government has failed to act on promises to help athletes prepare for the Games.

    Less than three months before the London Olympics, Kyriakopoulou is still pushing papers at the local municipality where she works as an administrator in the low-income neighbourhood of Egaleo.

    "I shouldn't be going to work but focusing on training up to seven to eight hours a day," she says. "I miss out on morning sessions because I still have to show up at the office, even though the government voted in a law back in February that said athletes preparing for the Olympics wouldn't have to work."

    There were, she said, about 40 top-flight athletes in her position. "If we take time off it has to be unpaid leave – and none of us can afford that. Apparently it's a matter of bureaucracy, but it's shocking when you think that we're representing our country," she says.

    Vasilios Sevastis, a former Balkan decathlon champion who presides over Segas, says the cuts have had a terrible effect, not just on facilities but also on the mindset of athletes. "Psychologically, it's been very hard on athletes. How can they prepare for the games when every day they face such problems?" he asks, surrounded by portraits of Olympic champions including Spyros Louis, who won the marathon when the modern Games were reintroduced in Athens in 1896.

    "Our budget has been slashed by 40% since 2010. This year we have €6.5m to cover operating costs and basic needs. It's absolutely catastrophic and makes no sense at all when our country's debt is hundreds of billion of euro."

    The London Olympics is likely to be a watershed. "Nicole Kyriakopoulou should not be facing such obstacles but she is one of many," Sevastis says. "They are incredible people who are doing what they do because they want to excel.

    "I worry that the younger generation of athletes who see how they are being treated will give up when they understand that even if you are the best there are no rewards."

    How much does it cost to build an Olympic stadium?

    Preparing for the Olympics is a massive financial burden on host cities, who are expected to foot the bill not only for the construction of sports facilities, but also for the improvement of infrastructure, from public transportation to new hotels that can accommodate millions of visitors. All in, a city can expect to spend at least several billion dollars on the Olympics—Rio de Janeiro spent $13.1 billion on the 2016 Summer Olympics, while Sochi, Russia, reportedly spent $51 billion on the 2014 Winter Olympics. Of the total cost of the Games, a hefty portion is dedicated to the construction of sports facilities, particularly in cities that can’t repurpose existing stadiums for the event.

    The price tag for a brand-new main Olympic stadium varies greatly per venue. For the 2016 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium cost $109 million to build, whereas London Stadium, built for the 2012 Summer Olympics, cost roughly $780 million.

    The modern Olympic Games emerged from a long and bizarre encounter between European modernity and an ancient religious festival.

    By David Goldblatt | August 11th, 2016

    “It is clear that the telegraph, railways, the telephone, the passionate research in science, congresses and exhibitions have done more for peace than any treaty or diplomatic convention. Well, I hope that athletics will do even more…

    Let us export rowers, runners and fencers: there is the free trade of the future, and on the day it is introduced within the walls of old Europe the cause of peace will have received a new and mighty stay…

    This is enough to encourage your servant to dream now… to continue and complete, on a basis suited to the conditions of modern life, this grandiose and salutary task, namely the restoration of the Olympic Games.”

    Thus, in 1892, Pierre de Coubertin, a French aristocrat, delivered a speech that may have been the most significant public call for the creation of the modern Olympic Games. “International competitions” was its theme. But it was not the first. More than half a century before, in his poem Dialogues of the Dead, the Greek poet Panagiotis Soutsos imagined the ghost of Plato speaking to the newly independent but devastated Greek nation: “Where are all your theaters and marble statues? Where are your Olympic Games?” Now, finally free of Ottoman suzerainty, where were its great spectacles, arts and athletics? Soutsos was sufficiently fired by this thought that he made a proposal to the Greek state that it should revive the ancient Olympics.

    In the 60 years between Soutsos’ poem and Coubertin’s address, there would be dozens more Olympic events, recreations and spectacles, now shaped by the emergence and globalization of modern sports and the archaeological excavation of Olympia itself. Soutsos was the first to call for a revival of the Games Coubertin was the first to bind that notion to some form of internationalism and make it happen but both ideas emerged from a long and bizarre encounter between European modernity and an ancient religious festival about which only fragments are known.

    As the dominant world power of the 19th century, Victorian Britain might have seemed an obvious Games-revival catalyst. However, it was not Britain’s public schools or Oxford and Cambridge universities, thick with aristocratic sportsmen and classicists, that took on the Olympic idea, but Dr William Penny Brookes, a doctor from the small Shropshire market town of Much Wenlock. In 1850, he inspired the first Much Wenlock Olympian Games, deemed a forerunner of the modern Olympics. Eclectic in every way, the games were part rural fair, part school sports day. As they grew more popular, Brookes added processions and pageantry, poetry competitions, shooting, cycling and an ever-changing pentathlon. The odd classical reference aside, Much Wenlock’s Olympian credentials were always rather thin.

    Brookes was among those English proto-Olympians who met in London in 1865 with a view to forming a National Olympian Association (NOA).They envisaged an organization that could “bring into focus the many physical, athletic and gymnastic clubs that were spreading all over the country,” and could stage national games open to “all comers” – a proposal that did not include women or professionals, but at least on the matter of class origins, it was neutral. London was the group’s natural choice as the venue for the inaugural NOA games in 1866. However, rivalries with other groups ultimately thwarted its efforts.

    “This is enough to encourage your servant to dream now… to continue and complete, on a basis suited to the conditions of modern life, this grandiose and salutary task, namely the restoration of the Olympic Games.”

    Excavation site with workmen and archeologists at the temple of Zeus, Olympia, 1875­-1876. (German Archaeological Institute)

    © German Archaeological Institute

    Excavation site with workmen and archeologists at the temple of Zeus, Olympia, 1875­-1876. (German Archaeological Institute)

    © German Archaeological Institute

    Back to Greece

    Hellenic pretensions carried a lot more weight in modern Greece, where Soutsos issued the first call for the revival of the games just a few years after independence. Soutsos’ most important convert to the cause was the shipping magnate Evangelos Zappas. In 1856, seeking a legacy for his fortune, Zappas wrote to King Otto proposing a revived Olympic Games to be held in a renovated Panathenaic Stadium, with prizes for the winners, all paid for by a very considerable financial bequest. The government replied that money might be better spent on a building that could house a quadrennial exhibition of Greek agricultural, industrial and educational advances, with a single day reserved in the program for athletic games and amusements. A deal was reached in 1858, and the first Zappas Olympic Games were held in 1859.

    Staged in a cobbled city square in Athens over three Sundays, there were running, horse and chariot races, discus and javelin competitions modeled on the testimony of ancient sources, as well as the climbing of a greasy pole. The games were opened by the king and queen, medals bearing the words First Olympic Crown were issued and prizes were plentiful. The crowds appear to have been large, athletes came from across the Greek-speaking world to attend, but the organization was poor.

    In 1865, Zappas died, leaving much of his huge fortune to the continuing task of reviving the games. Otto was now in exile he had been replaced in 1863 by George I, a teenage Danish prince. An enthusiast for sports, and conscious of his limited Hellenic credentials, George readily backed the staging of a second games in 1870, once again as part of a bigger agro-industrial festival. Using just a portion of the Zappas bequest, the Panathenaic Stadium was partly rebuilt, a small grandstand was erected and considerable travel expenses and prizes were offered to athletes traveling from all over the Greek-speaking world. The games were deemed a great success and attracted a crowd of 30,000, but some were appalled by the presence of athletes from the working class. At the next games, in 1875, only athletes from the “higher social orders” would be allowed to compete. Despite the glee in the press that the games would be “much more respectable,” they were a disaster.

    Not surprisingly, the Zappas Olympic committee kept a rather low profile for the next decade. They proposed a fourth Zappas Games, but the committee never really had its heart in it. Revivalism survived in the form of the newly formed Panhellenic Gymnastic Society – the center of aristocratic sport in Athens – which held its own small Panhellenic Games in 1891 and 1893, attracting both King George and Crown Prince Constantine as spectators and patrons. In 1890, Constantine went so far as to sign a royal decree announcing that a four-year cycle of Greek Olympics would begin again in 1892. However, if the Greek monarchy and its allies wanted to revive the Games, they were going to need support from somewhere else.

    “In 1856, seeking a legacy for his fortune, Zappas wrote to King Otto proposing a revived Olympic Games to be held in a renovated Panathenaic Stadium, with prizes for the winners, all paid for by a very considerable financial bequest.”

    Portraits of Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863­1937), from his childhood years

    © The Olympic Museum, Getty Images/Ideal Image

    Portraits of Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863­1937), from his childhood years

    © The Olympic Museum, Getty Images/Ideal Image

    . to 1896, when he realized his dream of reviving the Olympic Games

    Ancient Olympia

    This is where the Olympic Games took place every four years for over 1100 years, until their abolition by Emperor Theodosius I in AD 393. The Olympic flame is still lit here for the modern Games. Thanks to the destruction ordered by Theodosius II in AD 420 and various subsequent earthquakes, little remains of the magnificent temples and athletic facilities, but enough exists to give you a hint of the sanctuary's former glory. It is one of Greece's most evocative ancient sites.

    Wandering amid the tree-shaded ruins, you can almost picture the blood and smoke of oxen sacrificed to Zeus and Hera, the sweaty, oiled-up athletes waiting inside the original stadium, the jostling crowds, and the women and slaves watching the proceedings from a nearby hill. It's worth remembering that some structures precede others by centuries a visit to the archaeological museum before or after will provide context and help with visualising the ancient buildings.

    On your right as you descend, the first ruin encountered is the gymnasium, which dates from the 2nd century BC. South of here are the columns of the partly restored palaestra (wrestling school), where contestants practised and trained. Beyond is Pheidias’ workshop, where the gargantuan ivory-and-gold Statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was sculpted by the Athenian master. The workshop was identified by archaeologists after the discovery of tools and moulds in the 5th century AD it was converted into an early-Christian church. Next is the leonidaion, an elaborate structure that accommodated dignitaries, built around 330 BC.

    The Altis, or Sacred Precinct of Zeus, lies on the left of the path you came down. Its most important building was the immense 5th-century-BC Doric Temple of Zeus, which enshrined Pheidias’ statue, later removed to Constantinople by Theodosius II (where it was destroyed by fire in AD 475). One column of the temple has been restored and re-erected, and helps put into perspective the sheer size of the structure. To the east of the temple is the base for the Nike (Victory statue) that you can admire in the archaeological museum.

    South of the Temple of Zeus is the bouleuterion (council house), which contains the altar of oaths, where competitors swore to abide by the rules decreed by the Olympic Senate and not to commit foul play. Here were kept the official records of the Games and its champions.

    East of the temple is the echo stoa, with a Doric colonnade leading towards the stadium. Its remarkable acoustics meant that a sound uttered within was repeated seven times. Just east of the portico are the remains of a lavish villa used by Emperor Nero during his participation in the Games in AD 67 it replaced the original Sanctuary of Hestia.

    The stadium lies to the east of the Altis and is entered through a stone archway. It is rectangular, with a track measuring 192.27m the stone start and finish lines of the sprint track and the judges’ seats still survive. The stadium could seat at least 45,000 spectators slaves and women, however, had to be content to watch from outside on the Hill of Kronos. The stadium was used again in 2004, when it was the venue for the shot put at the Athens Olympics.

    To the north of the Temple of Zeus was the pelopion, a small, wooded hillock with an altar to Pelops, the first mythical hero of the Olympic Games. It was surrounded by a wall containing the remains of its later Classical-period Doric portico. Many artefacts now displayed in the museum were found on the hillock. There's also a large 3rd-millennium-BC burial site here.

    Further north is the late 7th-century-BC Doric Temple of Hera, the site’s oldest temple. An altar in front of the temple would have maintained a continuous fire during the Games, symbolising the fire stolen from the gods by Prometheus today, the Olympic flame is lit here.

    Near the altar is the nymphaeum (AD 156–60), erected by the wealthy Roman banker Herodes Atticus. Typical of buildings financed by Roman benefactors, it was grandiose, consisting of a semicircular building with Doric columns flanked at each side by a circular temple. The building contained statues of Herodes Atticus and his family, though Zeus took centre stage. Despite its elaborate appearance, the nymphaeum had a practical purpose it was a fountain house supplying Olympia with fresh spring water.

    Beyond the nymphaeum and up a flight of stone steps, a row of 12 treasuries stretched to the stadium, each erected by a city-state for use as a storehouse for offerings to the gods these were mainly used to advertise the city-state's prestige and wealth.

    At the bottom of these steps are the scant remains of the 4th-century-BC Metroön, a temple dedicated to Rhea, the mother of the gods. Apparently the ancients worshipped Rhea in this temple with orgies.

    The foundations of the philippeion, west of the Temple of Hera, are the remains of a circular construction with Ionic columns built by Philip of Macedon to commemorate the Battle of Chaironeia (338 BC), where he defeated a combined army of Athenians and Thebans. The building contained gold-and-ivory-covered statues of Philip and his family, including his son, Alexander the Great.

    North of the philippeion was the 5th-century-BC prytaneum, the magistrate’s residence. Here, winning athletes feasted and were entertained. This was also where the fire of Hestia burned eternally, symbolising the common hearth of all Greeks.

    It is worth visiting first thing in the morning or in the late afternoon it's a magical experience to be there without the crowds. Information panels are in Greek, English and German. The entrance ticket also gives access to the superb archaeological museum and excellent museum of the ancient Games.

    Photo Gallery

    It was erected in 153 CE by Herodus Atticus to be the terminal of a newly constructed aqueduct.

    Ruins of the Temple of Zeus.

    The stadium's course is about 200 yards long, which is equivalent to 600 Olympic feet (Andronicos, 41), or 191.78 meters long (Mee & Spawforth, 291). The capacity of the stadium is estimated at 40,000 spectators.

    The present restoration emulates a 4th c. BCE version with later additions, which was built on an earlier, smaller stadium.

    2: The Parthenon

    Athens&rsquo Most Famous Landmark

    While part of the Acropolis complex, the Parthenon deserves a specific mention. Built in 447 BCE on the hill of the Acropolis, with Doric marble columns that thinned towards to top &mdash showcasing the architectural marvels of ancient Greece.

    Dedicated to goddess Athena, these ruins are a must-visit during the day and seen from across the city the magnificent columns look spectacular lit up at night at night.

    It can get crowded up there, so I recommend going first thing in the morning when the Acropolis opens, or during the last few hours before they close!

    Ancient Olympic Stadium Threatened by Budget Cuts in Greece - History

    Wonder how the modern games relate to the ancient ones? You've come to the right place. Dr. David Gilman Romano, an internationally renowned expert on the ancient Olympic games, and Senior Research Scientist at Penn Museum, attended the 2004 Athens Olympic Games with his family. During his trip, Dr. Romano shared his thoughts in an online journal, looking at the festivities through the lens of an anthropologist. Below is an archived version of the journal.

    August 10, 2004
    11:00 pm

    From this Ionian island, to the west of ancient Olympia, all eyes are focused on the fast approaching Olympic Games in Athens. Television news reports continuously, all day long, Olympics-related stories. The tourist shops are filled with official Olympic items (see photograph) and visitors to this island wear colorful Olympic hats and shirts. The opening ceremony will take place on Friday night in Athens.

    The Olympic flame and relay is closing in on the Olympic Stadium. Live reports covered this relay as it inaugurated, last Saturday, the new 2556 m. cable span bridge that links the Peloponnesos with northwestern Greece, the Rion-Antirion Bridge. The bridge opened 6 months ahead of schedule and within budget according to newspaper reports!

    There was no such torch relay as a part of the ancient Olympic Games, although torch relays were known at other religious festivals, for instance at Athens. The modern torch relay was begun as a part of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, although the idea of the Olympic flame was introduced at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam and was also a part of the Los Angeles Olympic Games of 1932.

    Kephalonia is one of the islands that may have been home to the mythological hero Odysseus. There is a hot debate among scholars regarding whether the adjacent island of Ithaki or Kephalonia is the home of Odysseus, the hero of Homer&rsquos epic poem the Odyssey. Odysseus was one of the first Greek athletes in western literature. According to the story, following the Trojan War (ca. 1200 B.C.) he wandered the Greek islands trying to find his way home. On his journey he was hosted by the Phaeacians who welcomed him and showed him athletic contests after dinner and eventually asked him to compete as an athlete. The contests held were boxing, wrestling, a footrace, long jump and discus. Odysseus took part only in the discus event and beat his opposition.

    Watch for references to Odysseus and the Trojan War at the Opening Ceremony on Friday night!

    August 13, 2004
    Ancient Olympia
    6:30 pm

    Caption: Standing in front of the vaulted entrance to the stadium at Olympia are, left to right, Lizzie Romano, Anne-Marie Boucher, Patrice Boucher, Sarah Romano and in back row, David Romano. Photo by Irene Romano.

    The XXVIII Modern Olympic Games begin in Athens this evening with the gala opening ceremony. The Greek press is calling the Athens Olympics 2004 &ldquothe festival of all festivals.&rdquo The Sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia, some 5 hours west of Athens, hosted almost 1200 years of festivals, one every four years. Theirs was of course a religious festival and ours a secular one the Olympic festival became the most famous one in the ancient world. In antiquity, most athletes, coaches, dignitaries and visitors came by sea, as we have done today from the island of Kephalonia.

    The Sanctuary of Zeus is filled with tourists on this Friday, a national holiday in honor of the opening of the Olympic Games. The archaeological site is well manicured and new signs guide the visitor. The Temple of Zeus, built in the middle of the fifth century B.C., is experiencing a new look with a reconstructed column just completed. The colossal gold and ivory statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was once situated inside this building. The Olympic Stadium, clean and spare, with its vaulted entrance greets tourists today, just as it welcomed the athletes and judges in antiquity (see photograph). The shot put event of the Athens 2004 games will be held here on August 18.

    The archaeological museum in Olympia has recently reopened after major refurbishment. It is air conditioned and its displays are among the best I have seen in Greece. There is also a new Ancient Olympic Games Museum nearby with exhibits relating to the ancient athletic contests themselves. The little town of Olympia is bustling with tourist shops, cafes and restaurants. You can buy reproductions of ancient vases, sculpture, as well as all kinds of clothing and knick knacks.

    The Greek Post Office has announced recently that it would reward every Greek athlete who wins a medal at the games with up to 100,000 Euros, while at the same time printing their image on a new stamp (within 3 days of their victory. ). The prize values are the following: 100,000 Euros for a gold medal 50,000 Euros for a silver medal and 25,000 for a bronze medal. Just yesterday in the news was the report that the Russian government will reward Russian Olympic medal victors with tax free payments of $50,000 for gold medalists $20,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze. These recent developments have parallels in antiquity since ancient Olympic victors routinely received cash payments from their home towns. From the 6th century B.C. Athenian Olympic victors received a payment of 500 drachmai, a fortune, as well as a free meal everyday for the rest of their lives and front seats at the theater. Olympic victors could also erect an image of themselves usually in the form of a statue in the sacred &lsquoaltis&rsquo at Olympia. They would have liked the idea of the stamp, no doubt about it!

    Finally, a cloud has hung over the Greek coverage of the Athens Olympic Games since yesterday after two of Greece&rsquos finest athletes missed their IOC drug tests, and then were tragically involved in a motorcycle accident. The athletes involved are Konstantinos Kenteris, the 200 m. gold medalist from Sydney and Katerina Thanou, the 100 m. silver medalist. Headline news on Greek TV today translates to &ldquoGreece is frozen (waiting for news.)&rdquo The IOC plans to hold hearings on this matter. There was no drug testing in antiquity, and to our knowledge no evidence for performance enhancing substances from the ancient Olympic Games. Ancient athletes may have tried to enhance their performances, but I can find no hard evidence to document it.

    Did 2004 Olympics Spark Greek Financial Crisis?

    When it comes to overspending, Greece gets the gold medal.

    Governments in the Greek capital of Athens haven't balanced a budget in nearly 40 years, and the country narrowly averted bankruptcy in May before panicky European partners grudgingly put up massive rescue loans.

    While many factors are behind the crippling debt crisis, the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens has drawn particular attention.

    If not the sole reason for this nation's financial mess, some point to the games as at least an illustration of what's gone wrong in Greece.

    Their argument starts with more than a dozen Olympic venues — now vacant, fenced off and patrolled by private security guards.

    Stella Alfieri, an outspoken anti-Games campaigner, says they marked the start of Greece's irresponsible spending binge.

    "I feel vindicated, but it's tragic for the country . They exploited feelings of pride in the Greek people, and people profited from that," said Alfieri, a former member of parliament from a small left-wing party. "Money was totally squandered in a thoughtless way."

    The 2004 Athens Olympics cost nearly $11 billion by current exchange rates, double the initial budget.

    And that figure that does not include major infrastructure projects rushed to completion at inflated costs.

    In the months before the games, construction crews worked around the clock, using floodlights to keep the work going at night.

    In addition, the tab for security alone was more than $1.2 billion.

    Six years later, more than half of Athens' Olympic sites are barely used or empty.

    The long list of mothballed facilities includes a baseball diamond, a massive man-made canoe and kayak course, and arenas built for unglamorous sports such as table tennis, field hockey and judo.

    Deals to convert several venues into recreation sites — such as turning the canoe-kayak venue into a water park — have been stalled by legal challenges from residents' groups and Byzantine planning regulations.

    Criticism of the Olympic spending has sharpened in recent weeks, after parliament launched an investigation into allegations that German industrial giant Siemens AG paid bribes to secure contracts before the 2004 Games.

    A former Greek transport minister has been charged with money laundering after he told the inquiry that he had received more than $123,000 from Siemens in 1998 as a campaign donation.

    International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said linking the debt crisis to the games is "unfair." He argues that Athens is still reaping the benefits from its pre-games overhaul of the city's transport systems and infrastructure.

    "These are things that really leave a very good legacy for the city . There have been expenses, of course. You don't build an airport for free," Rogge told The Associated Press in Lausanne, Switzerland. "Had Athens still been outmoded, the economy would have been much worse probably than it is today."

    Greek Olympic officials insist the scale of the country's dire financial problems - and its staggering national debt of $382 billion - are simply too big to be blamed on the 2004 Games budget.

    Some financial experts agree.

    "Put in proper perspective, it is hard to argue that the Olympic Games were an important factor behind the Greek financial crisis. It is, however, likely that they contributed modestly to the problem," Andrew Zimbalist, a U.S. economist who studies the financial impact of major sporting events, said in an email.

    "The empty or underused facilities are a problem and the maintenance and operating costs continue to impose a burden. That said, Athens also benefited from infrastructure development and the Greek public debt is $400 billion," he said.

    Before the games, Greece's densely populated capital got a new metro system, a new airport, and a tram and light railway network, along with a bypass highway, while ancient sites in Athens' city center were linked up with a cobblestone walkway.

    It's those advantages that organizers of the 2012 London Games are quick to point out, as Britain now also faces high public debt levels.

    "I think the underlying issues in the Greek economy were far greater than a snapshot of the Olympic Games," Sebastian Coe, chairman of London's organizing committee, told the AP.

    London's main Olympic budget now stands at $13.3 billion.

    Last week, Britain's new coalition government announced $38 million in Olympic budget cuts as part of efforts to slash the nation's budget deficit.

    Over the last decade, Greece's budget deficit remained well above the limit set by the European Union of 3 percent of gross domestic product, but rose abruptly last year to reach an estimated 13.6 percent — the highest level since Greece was previously in recession in 1993.

    Greece will get up to about $135 billion in bailout loans through 2012 from the International Monetary Fund and European governments worried the Greek crisis could damage the euro.

    Prime Minister George Papandreou blames the debt crisis on decades of poor management, putting off unpopular reforms, and vast clientele networks set up by political parties, promising government jobs, social security perks and loss-making regional projects to win votes.

    Nassos Alevras, the lead government official for Olympic projects, insists that, overall, the games carried a net gain including a tourism boost.

    "The issue of venue use is a sad story. Plans for post-Olympic use were later ignored," Alevras told the AP.

    But he added: "The money spent on the Olympics is equivalent to one quarter of last year's budget deficit. So how can the amount spent over seven years of preparation for the Olympic Games end up being considered responsible for the crisis? That's irrational."

    Greece fails to muster enthusiasm for 2012 Olympics despite ties

    F ew events trigger greater national pride than the sight of Greece's Olympians striding into the stadium at the start of the biggest show on earth. By dint of their contribution to the Games – as birthplace of the ancient Olympics and cradle of their modern reincarnation – the Greeks always enter the arena first. And so it was on Friday. But this time, as the delegation kicked off the parade, there was no hiding the truth.

    The smiles and laughter that are part of the enthusiasm of the moment could not conceal the dark mood that appears to have taken hold of the team – and the nation at large.

    A litany of incidents, many improbable, account for the gloom. The assertion by Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Games, that the Games "are coming home tonight" – made during his speech to assembled spectators at the opening ceremony – immediately triggered howls of protest.

    Leading the voices of outrage, the nationalist politician, Georgios Karatzaferis, felt compelled to quip: "The Olympic Games were born in Greece in the 8th century BC, when in Rogge's country they were eating acorns, if they weren't eating one another."

    Greeks readily accept they are prickly when it comes to matters of history. The Belgian's hasty attempt at clarification has done little to assuage popular anger. On Monday, the media were still riveted by the "gaffe" and the "rage and revulsion" it had triggered.

    But, in truth, before the Olympics kicked off, Greek morale was at an all‑time low – and not only because the chronically indebted country has been brought to its knees by its worst crisis since the second world war.

    Eight years after Athens hosted its own unexpectedly spectacular Games, there is almost no sign of the crackling optimism ignited by the event.

    Before the elite athletes even got to London, Greeks were reeling from the news that their Olympic team would be one of the smallest ever – indeed smaller than at any time since the Barcelona Games in 1992. A total of 105 athletes are participating in London compared to 431 who participated in Athens in 2004. In an unprecedented development, the national basketball team – widely seen as the soul of any Greek Olympics delegation – failed to make it.

    "When our country is facing such problems it is important to show we exist," Isidoros Kouvelos, who heads the Hellenic Olympic Committee (HOC), exhorted at a reception hosted at the British embassy days before the squad's departure.

    In the embassy's leafy gardens he declared that he was immensely proud of athletes who, against the odds, had qualified to participate in the sporting showpiece – draconian budget cuts have left facilities in a state of disrepair that has made training more difficult than ever before.

    Less than a week later, the official was forced to dismiss two contestants, including Dimitris Chondrokoukis, the world record-breaking high jumper and the team's greatest hope.

    Chondrokoukis's expulsion, after testing positive for a banned performance enhancer – a steroid more usually associated with horses – followed that of Voula Papachristou, the triple jumper forced to exit after posting a racist remark on her Twitter account.

    The blonde athlete apologised for the offending tweet but said her overriding emotion was one of bitterness at the "excessive" punishment meted out to her. With debate continuing to rage over the double blow it is an emotion that a growing number of Greeks have also come to feel.

    Even if most Greeks accept that the over-budgeted Athens Olympics played a huge role in leaving their country bankrupt and bereft, the London Games was meant to be a pleasant diversion from the quotidian worries that have left many in a state of despondency and despair.

    Far from austerity and the prospect of yet more belt-tightening measures, they could bask, if only for a brief moment, in the nostalgia and glory of an event whose countdown begins with the lighting of the Olympic flame in an olive orchard outside far-flung ancient Olympia in the Peloponnese.

    But this time it is different. And not because of any schadenfreude at the security hiccups and empty seats that London may have suffered – the media have made very little of such shortcomings.

    "I can't remember a climate to be so negative," says Dr Ioanna Mastora, one of the country's leading experts on Olympism. "Greeks love the Games and feel them to be part of their identity. But they are also worn down and for the first time aren't interested. Half are on holiday and the other half are trying to survive economically. It's very sad," said the academic who almost single-handed has ensured that the teaching of Olympism and Olympic ideals has become part of the national curriculum.

    The near total failure of authorities to exploit the legacy of the Athens Olympics – scores of venues purpose-built for the Games now lie derelict and abandoned – has undoubtedly exacerbated the malaise.

    "Many Greeks are appalled and outraged that they are not being properly exploited to attract tourism, host cultural activities and boost economic development," she says. "With the country in such financial crisis they could be used to support the homeless and other vulnerable social groups."

    But as the centre of the Olympic movement – with the International Olympic Academy permanently based in ancient Olympia – Greece is still home to people "with passion and enthusiasm", Dr Mastora says, who are determined not to let the Olympic flame that has kept the Games going, go out.

    "The Olympic Games are not a show," she says. "We are determined to try and ensure that they return to the Olympic ideals that guided the ancients when they held them."

    Watch the video: Abandoned After the Olympics: Greeces $11 Billion Mistake


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