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Games return to Olympia after 1,611 years
August 13, 2004 12:12 IST
For the first time since the last of the ancient Olympics in 393 AD, Olympia will resound to the buzz of competition and the cheers of spectators as the Games return home to Greece.
On Friday the 28th modern Olympics open with the lighting of the flame via a torch kindled by the sun at the shrine to Zeus.
Five days later the men's and women's shot put finals will be staged in Olympia, the venue where competitive athletics traditionally began with Corobeus streaking naked to win the first foot race over 192 metres in 776 BC.
Since Roman emperor Theodosius abolished the Games, Olympia has been a protected site.
Accordingly, although the shot put was not an event in Olympia, the world governing athletics body decided it is the competition which will cause the minimum damage and disruption.
Since Athens staged the first modern Olympics in 1896, athletics has remained the central sport of the Games with the shortest and longest races holding a special allure.
In order to maximise the attraction of the 100 metres, the two finals will be held on consecutive days for the first time at a Games with the women's race first on August 21 and the men's the following day.
Three-times world champion and former world record holder Maurice Greene defends the title after two indifferent years marred by persistent injuries.
Greene won his first world title at the 1997 Athens world championships, the year the Greek capital was awarded the Games.
Two years later he set his world mark of 9.79 seconds, subsequently bettered by 0.01 of a second by fellow-American Tim Montgomery.
Montgomery did not qualify for the Olympics and faces a possible life ban after receiving a letter from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) alleging serious doping violations.
His partner Marion Jones, the triple Olympic champion who is being investigated by USADA, finished fifth in the U.S. trials and will not defend her 100 title.
Jones, who won five medals at the 2000 Sydney Games, has qualified for the long jump only in Athens.
The women's marathon, raced on same day as the men's 100 metres, is held over the course supposedly covered by Phidippides when he ran from Marathon to Athens in 490 BC to announce victory over the Persians.
Britain's world record holder Paula Radcliffe starts favourite for the 42.195 kms race on a demanding course made more difficult by the oppressive August heat.
Swimming, held in a pool close to the Olympic stadium, will be the primary sport before the athletics begins with Michael Phelps attempting a record eight gold medals.
Phelps will swim all four strokes in a bid to go one better than his compatriot Mark Spitz at the 1972 Munich Games. He has entered the 100 and 200 metres butterfly, the 200 and 400 individual medley, the 200 freestyle and is a candidate for the three relays.
Weightlifting, like athletics a sport scarred by frequent doping scandals, has been one arena where big men from small countries traditionally flourish.
This year it has a special appeal for the Greek nation as Khaki Kakiasvilis (born in Georgia) and Pyrros Dimas (a native of Albania) both seek fourth consecutive gold medals.
In the gymnastics, the United States mount a serious challenge to the supremacy of the Russians, who are not ranked among the top three favourites in either the men's or women's team events.
Unusually the premier U.S. gymnast is a man, world all-round champion Paul Hamm, who may become the first American to win the title at an Olympics which has not been weakened by boycotts.
Beach volleyball, a sport made for television, will be staged on the coast near the port of Piraeus with Brazil again the favourites although neither men's or women's teams won in Sydney.
As in Sydney the top three in the medals table look likely to be the United States, Russia and China.
The loudest cheers, though, will inevitably be reserved for the Greeks, who must believe the gods are with them after their unexpected win at the European soccer championships in Portugal this year.