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The Olympics are about to start in their birthplace, Athens, Greece. I’ve wanted them to take place in Athens for years. As a matter of fact, I’ve felt they should always take place in Athens, thereby eliminating the national excessive hooplas that have cheapened the games for years.
The original events seem pure and proper now that everything and anything can be labeled an “athletic” event and gold medals are a dime a dozen. Oh, come on – should there be an athletes oath taken by ballroom dancers? Granted, you can work up a sweat doing the Tango – but how far can you stretch the title, “athlete”?
The original games make an interesting study. About twenty years ago, a TV network hired two great decathlon champions to go to the original site in Greece and reenact some of the contests. The one concession to modern times was the two wearing skimpy toga-like outfits. The original contestants were stark naked. No way that would have worked.
I once attended a party at Stanford University, where a professor hosted a dinner for a Russian volleyball team that was visiting. A few hours after dinner a volleyball game was organized on the back lawn. The teams were not organized nationally – it was just open to any man who wanted to play. By the time the game started, no one was sure which side was which. I didn’t see more than two minutes, at most, of the game because the players decided to play a la Greco. It was a scene worth forgetting.
Women, of course, were not allowed to be spectators at the original Olympics, although I’ll bet some could have been found hiding in bushes or up trees. Actually, women had their own events going, and there apparently was no shortage of women athletes to participate. Very few records of the events were kept. In addition, there were competitions between young boys, which must have been something akin to our modern Little Leagues.
It’s hard to imagine how this year’s games will be presented, or managed. So many countries are combatants off the field, not to mention those with ancient grudges like the Greeks and the Turks. To show you how long a grudge can last, I saw a film on Public Television, where people living in the most remote villages in Iran, have a special holiday where they celebrate by burning Alexander the Great in effigies. He is used as a local bogeyman with which to scare children. They’re still mad because he burned them out over 2000 years ago.
I’m not sure whether today’s Greece is in any shape to spend millions of drachmas, or whatever they now spend, on the Olympic venues. The cost almost wiped out Los Angeles and Atlanta. I doubt that any present day Onassis will donate very much. At last report, a few weeks ago, most buildings weren’t completed.
If the Greeks had been smart, they would have said, “Okay, so you’re all so good at what you do, we’ll find out how well you could have done 2007 years ago.” They then could have refurbished the original tracks and fields and outdoor arenas, put in some bathrooms and showers, and had a real show. The opening extravaganza could have been every country’s teams being carried into downtown Athens inside wooden horses made from scrap wood, like the original. Brad Pitt, dressed like Odysseus, could carry in the torch. Togas could have been supplied, appropriately, by Nike.
Now there’s an Olympics I’d give a lot to see. By the time you read this, the games will be ongoing and I’ll be watching track and field events I’ve always loved. I wish them all well, especially our basketball team, which, despite having professionals on the roster, were just defeated in an exhibition match by the Italian team. Too much pasta, maybe?
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