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One hundred years ago, 19th century romantics revived an ancient athletic ideal, holding the first modern games in Athens. This year’s Olympics were in Georgia, but many feel the heart of the event remained in Greece.

ATHENS - Here, they still remember.

A century’s worth of Olympic moments have passed since the day Spiridon Louis ran a victorious lap through the Panathenaic Stadium, the dust of the city streets caked on his weary frame, the pride of all Greece cradled in his upraised arms.

Certainly, in that 100 years there were athletes who ran faster, reached higher and finished stronger than Louis. Yet, here, the image of the Greek peasant struggling to victory in the first Olympic marathon remains the touchstone of the Olympic ideal.

In the country that gave birth and then rebirth to the Olympics, it seems Louis would be just a twinkling, a colourful stitch in an intricate tapestry linking the ancient and modern Olympics.


Athelets from other nations came to the first modern Olympics by boat, by train, some even on foot. Italian Carlo Aroldi walked from Milan to Athens, some 1,000 miles, as part of his training. When he arrived, he couldn’t prove he was an amateur and was declared ineligible.

An American contingent of 10 athletes (12 U.S. athletes’ total competed in the 1896 Games) spent more than two weeks on a steamship, crossing the Atlantic while attempting to continue their training.

Swimming was slated for the Bay of Zea, southwest of Athens near Piraeus. The day of competition brought less-than-ideal conditions, with choppy waters and a water temperature of 55 degrees F.

Early in the day, Hungarian swimmer Alfred Hajos, won the 100 meters’ freestyle (the 1896 version of the 1500 meters).

While those around him went numb and needed to be pulled from the water, Hajos finished in 18.22.2, winning by more than two minutes. According to Olympic historian, David Wallechinsky, Hajos later said of the race, “My will to live completely over came my desire to win.”

Such seemingly imprudent planning did not bring Athens the kind of criticism it would incite today. Rather, in retrospect at least, it seemed appropriate to the spontaneous spirit of the first modern Games.

SACRIFICE Out of grit evolves a new hero, Kerri Strug

Heroism can come in unexpected packages. Not always the large and the mighty, but sometimes from a 4-foot-9teen-age girl, pounding down a runaway with the eyes of the world upon her, unafraid that she is about to hurt herself because her heart will not let her stop.

On her first vault, Kerri Strug fell on her landing and heard something snap in her ankle. She limped to her coach, Karolyi, in deep pain.

“Shake it out! Shake it out!” he shouted back. You’ve got to go one more. Can you do it?”

She looked at the score board and believed, wrongly it turned out, that she had to vault for her team to win. She had heard the pleadings of her coach an teammates and fans.

“But I knew the gold was kind of slipping away,” Strug said later.” If I didn’t do it, all the hard work and years of effort would fall apart in seconds. “Came the soft answer to her coach, without hesitation. “I will.” So, she did. Came roaring toward her vault, knowing that within seconds all of her 87 pounds would crash down on the ankle. Heaven knew what would happen then.

Her leg buckled as she landed, but she stayed put, hopping on the good right leg. She turned to the judges and still be hopping there still.

The score went up. A 9.712. An incredible vault her team did not even need. COURAGE AND COWARDICE

As Cassius Clay, he had won the light-heavy-weight gold medal in Rome, and as Muhammad Ali, he became the most famous athlete in the world. But a lifetime of blows has left him with Parkinson’s syndrome and robbed him of his quick wit and physical skills. So, when Ali bravely took the torch and, with a trembling arm, lit the wick, there was hardly a dry eye in the house. The fire then traveled up a guy wire to the cauldron atop a Olympic Stadium.

Until the ground shook and the peace was shattered, Olympic Park had been the site of a weeklong open-air party. Covering 8.5 hectares, it was the spiritual of the festival, a melting pot where many thousands of visitors daily could wander without paying for tickets or passing through metal detectors. It was the place where the kids could frolic in a misty fountain. It was also a commercial heart of the games, home to the Swatch pavilion, the Coca-Cola Olympic City, Budweiser’s Bud World, and an enormous AT $ T sound stage. And as the competition drew to a close on Friday evening, thousands of revelers had gathered here to enjoy a free concert by Jack Mack and the Heart Attack-or simply continue savoring the excitement of the day.