History Comes Alive in Ancient Greece; Shirley Sinclair Runs Back through the Ages in Ancient Greece

Article excerpt

GODDESSES: Lighting of the flame at Olympia for the start of the torch relay leading up to the Sochi Winter Games.

THE gods must be crazy. At least a little drunk. Or maybe they have just been snoozing for an aeon.

Why else would they allow tourists like us to run across consecrated ground in the birthplace of the Olympics without being struck down by lightning?

But here we are - a motley crew of sailing ship passengers ready to take on the world.

From a standing start, we explode off the line with the cheers of our adoring audience in our ears and heroic tales of ancient history in our minds.

No matter that we 50-somethings jingle jangle with the sound of coins in our pockets and thump thump with each jolting stride as daypacks bash against our backs.

We manage to awkwardly haul our unresponsive bodies towards the finish line in little more than a jog. But wait - is there a protest?

Calling "cheat" to my fellow competitor, I look around for an adjudicator or, in his absence, an emperor to delicately lay a crown of olive leaves from the tree near the Temple of Zeus on my sweaty head to claim the title.

Alas, I am only about 1600 years too late.

The original Olympic Games began here in Olympia - near the western coast of the Peloponnese peninsula of southern Greece - in classical times from 776 BC until 393 AD.

The Games - held every four years in honour of the king of their gods, Zeus - was one of the Greeks' most important festivals, bringing male athletes from distant lands and within Greece itself to compete. We have arrived in this designated UNESCO World Heritage site as part of an optional shore tour on SPV Star Clipper - an opportunity many are keen to take up.

From the little harbour of Katakolon, our coach takes the 30-minute drive through the rural landscape of Elis to the gates of Olympia.

For more than two hours, we are able to walk in the footsteps of champions - the first Olympic heroes who honoured their gods through discipline, sportsmanlike play and extreme fitness and skill.

Our local guide shows us pictorially how the temples, monuments, stadiums and gymnasiums would have looked as we stroll the tranquil site that has withstood everything from wars to earthquakes to floods and anything else Mother Nature could challenge them with.

We are in awe of the massive collection of facilities that must have once welcomed competitors and wonder how any of the colonnades and columns still stand above the stone foundations and how altars remain intact amid the ruins.

Sure, you need a little imagination as only the outlines of the once grand structures remain, surrounded by shady judas and olive trees and presided over by the conical shaped Hill of Kronos. …