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Panhellenic Games to be revived again this June at UC Berkeley excavation site in Nemea, Greece
08 Mar 2000

By Gretchen Kell, Public Affairs

BERKELEY-- International foot races held in 1996 in a reconstructed ancient Greek stadium where athletes competed more than 2,300 years ago were so successful they'll be held again this June, according to the University of California, Berkeley, professor who excavated the site.

On June 1, 1996, the Nemean Games, held in Ancient Nemea, a tiny agricultural town 80 miles southwest of Athens, drew more than 650 participants from 29 countries. The mainly untrained runners competed barefoot, as was the rule in the ancient Panhellenic Games. Unlike the ancient games, women participated, as did people young and old, from ages 12 to 89.

This June 3 and 4, hundreds of participants from dozens of countries again expected to race down the sandy clay track in the 100-yard sprint or in the longer, 7.5 kilometer race through the countryside.

"The experience of running through the entrance tunnel, past graffiti scratched on its walls in the 4th century B.C., and of feeling the ancient stone starting line beneath one's toes was thrilling to all of us," said Stephen Miller, the UC Berkeley professor of classics who has led archaeological digs at Nemea since the early 1970s.

"We want to give everyone the opportunity to share in the experience of the Olympic idea every four years," he said.

During the original Panhellenic Games, which began at Nemea in 573 B.C., wars and hostilities between Greeks were suspended for a week or two - the first evidence in history, according to Miller, of an organized, regular and international event that promoted peace.

This June, Miller hopes to see Greeks running peacefully alongside Turks.

"Relations between the two groups are better than ever before," he said, " and that's why we're encouraged to make a special effort to have Turks with us. I think that our historical research can provide a basis for recognizing our single human race."

In a letter to Miller, Turkish Ambassador to Greece Ali Tuygan agreed, saying that the contributions Miller has made to the Greek cultural heritage through his excavations, "which rightly makes the Greeks proud of their past, also belongs to all of us, in other words, to mankind."

Of the 63 ambassadors to Greece formally invited to race, the ambassadors from Canada, South Africa, Morocco, Colombia, Armenia and the United States already have said they'll come. UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl also plans to attend the event.

At the 1996 games, runners included U.S. Ambassador to Greece Thomas Niles, then-UC Berkeley Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien and 1968 U.S. Olympic coach Payton Jordan.

Those games featured judges, heralds and trumpeters wearing ancient costumes, a reconstructed starting device that launched foot races in Ancient Nemea as early as 330 B.C., and crowns of wild celery for the winners.

The Nemean Games are organized by the Society for the Revival of the Nemean Games, a group formed in 1995 by residents of Ancient Nemea and New Nemea, a nearby city of 6,500 people. The organization includes members of the UC Berkeley community.

The society believes, said Miller, that "the Olympic movement is increasingly removed from those who are not extraordinarily gifted. That's why there is scope and, perhaps, even need for the average person - regardless of ethnicity, language, religion, gender or age - to participate in an international athletic festival."

The campus hired Miller in 1971 to lead UC Berkeley's excavation of the 45-acre site. Since then, he has made headlines uncovering the race track, what may be the world's oldest remaining athletic locker room, an entrance tunnel to the track, an early Christian burial ground, a great basilica, a hero shrine, a bathhouse, and more.

Miller currently is rebuilding a 2,400-year-old temple to Zeus on the site and hopes to have erected by June 3 two of the 34 columns that once were part of the structure. Another six of the 42-foot columns are scheduled for completion by the time of the summer Olympic Games in Athens in 2004. The 2004 Nemean Games are to be held that summer as well.


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