The Olympic Torch Stops at Nemea

A torch carrying the Olympic Flame bound for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta stopped in the small Greek village of Nemea April 1 to light the Altar of Zeus at Berkeley's archaeological site.

On June 1, the site--where an ancient athletic stadium has been unearthed--will host the Nemean Games, a revival of foot races held there more than 2,300 years ago. The lighting of the altar began preparation for the event, which will draw some 500 competitors from 15 countries.

Stephen Miller, professor of classical archaeology, and his team have been unearthing antiquities at the site for decades.

"When I began excavations here in 1974, I never thought that I would see the antiquities actually live again," said Miller. "But to see the Olympic torch here means that...the Nemean Games will form a link between our past and our present."

Unlike the Olympics, the Nemean Games will feature foot races for anyone who wants to run.

"Many of us believe in the idea of the modern Olympics--to bring together the people of the world in friendly competition," said Thomas Niles, U.S. ambassador to Greece, at the ceremony. "But most of us cannot participate because we are not so talented physically, or because of our age.

"Now we, too, have a way to be a part of the Olympic movement. I will not miss this opportunity to run where the ancients ran."

Chancellor Tien, State Senator Nick Petris (D-Oakland) and former Olympic sports figures Rafer Johnson and Payton Jordan also have signed up to compete.

Runners--ranging in age from 12 to 91--will compete barefoot and in tunics.

Each winner will be given a traditional crown of wild celery. Anyone who false starts will receive the ancient punishment -- a flogging by the judges.

"Perhaps barefoot at Nemea," said Miller, "we will recognize our common humanity with those who came before us, and with all those who are here today."

Excavation and research will recommence in 1997. That work will be possible through a new $196,000 grant from the Thomas J. Long Foundation.

Long, an alumnus, had regularly provided funding for excavations there. Since his death in 1993, his foundation has continued that interest. n


Copyright 1996, The Regents of the University of California.
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