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Why are the Olympics being held in Athens THIS year -- what is the significance of 2004?
Alexander Kitroeff: There is nothing significant per se about 2004. After not being awarded the centenary Games of 1996, Athens wanted to bid again for the Games. This was the earliest Olympics they could bid for, and Athens were awarded the 2004 Games in 1997.
How would you characterize the treatment of Greece in the US press. Would the greek words hysteria, paranoia, and hyperbole, properly describe the Olympic coverage sofar?
Alexander Kitroeff: Yes, and I can think of a few other words, unprintable, however... Small countries do not usually get a fair deal from the media of the big and powerful countries anyway, and pre-Olympic hysteria is par for the course anyway. But I should add that there is a small number of U.S.-based reporters, those who really know about the Olympics who have been much more balanced than others.
I've been struck by the candor -- refreshing candor, if you ask me -- with which Greek public officials have spoken about the host of problems they've had in preparing for this year's Olympic Games. Is it typical for Greek politicians to be so forthcoming about their weaknesses?
Second, what would happen to the Greek public psyche if the upcoming Games are regarded as a failure, either because of logistical problems, bad financial outcome or terrorist attack?
Alexander Kitroeff: The candor of Greek politicians, for me is an entirely new phenomenon,it is part of a new, more public opinion-aware type of political culture that is emerging. Lets hope it stays that way.
The Greek psyche will survive - I don't want to get to maudlin here - even if there is a major problem that could have been avoided by the organizers. And remember, "failure" like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Sydney 200 had nothing else to offer aside from good organization. Athens is offering something deeper, history, ambiance, tradition, things that are central to the ways the Olympics define themselves.
Do you think the success of the Greek National soccer team in the Euro Cup has any correlation
with the return of the Olympics to Greece?
Alexander Kitroeff: No, but there is a tie in at the other end. The Euro 2004 victory was a tremendous morale booster and has energized the Greeks in many ways, at a moment in which the country was getting so much bad press abroad.
Is there any documented historical script concerning the legend of a woman who risked death and dressed as a man in order to enter the stadium at Olympia and watch her son compete?
Alexander Kitroeff: Let me do the academic thing here: as a modern historian, and since I am not sure, I'll pass on ancient history lest I step on the toes of the experts. However, this incident is widely cited in Greek accounts I have read.
New York, NY:
What is your book about? What kind of resources did you use to research ancient Greece?
Alexander Kitroeff: The book covers modern Greece's role in the Olympics from the nineteenth century to the present, specifically the preparations for Athens 2004. I did not research Ancient Greece, i examined the way modern Greeks related to Ancient Greece. I was given access to the very well organized archives of the Greek Olympic committee and those documents are the book's bedrock, along with Greek press reports. For more about the book, go to www.greekworks.com
Ex-student Misha Segal, here in India, with a question:
Are you still smiling after the Euros? Also, have you changed your name to Charisteas yet?
BTW, thanks for banging on the drums during our Haverford soccer matches.
Alexander Kitroeff: I think all Greeks are still smiling after Euro 2004 and let me go out on a limb and say they will be smiling after Athens 2004!
How are/will the Olympics be covered in Greece? I find myself watching the Olympics less, mainly because of what NBC has done to coverage of this event. It gets weighed down with sappy special interest stories and caters inexplicably to gymnastics.
Alexander Kitroeff: Now, now lets not start on the media here, but you are right about the sappy tv coverage here in the United states. It has to do with the priorities the big networks have, ie try and attract as many people as possible and that leads to a dumbing down of the Olympics. Gymanastics is there because the U.S. is strong in that sport. Greek coverage will be along the lines of European tv, ie straightforward coverage of the events, and letting the events themselves produce drama na dnarrative.
Thank you for taking my question. In researching you book, what are some of the most striking differences and similiarities you found?
Alexander Kitroeff: The one similarity i found in reserching the book, actually consistency would be a better way to express it, is Greece's dual sense of pride in the Olympics as their heritage but also a sense that the Olympics must remain international and that they aford Greece a moment in the international limelight. An incosistency that I found, no longer there, was Greece's unenthusiastic support of its own athletes - this has changed over the past decades.
How did qualifying for the Olympics work when they first began? Did they hold trials, or could anyone participate?
Alexander Kitroeff: I am taking first began as first began in the modern era, and there there was a mix of trials for track and field, choosing the persons who were acknowledged as the best and, in some cases, just getting anyone who was half good. By the 1920s things got very competitive.
We have approximately one-half hour left in this discussion. Please continue to submit your questions and comments.
Is it really worth enduring all of the security risks, etc. to hold the Olympics in Athens? It seems that they are very behind in readiness and athere will undoubtedly be many of logistical problems, at the very least. Is that a satisfactory price to pay for the sentimentalism of holding the Games in their country of origin?
Alexander Kitroeff: Can I answer this question after I experience ten days of waiting to go through the metal detectors outside the Olympic stadium and the other sports facilities in a couple of weeks time? OK, to be serious, recall that the Games were awarded to Athens before 9/11 - we will see what happens,but my guess is the allure of the Olympics is so great that people will choose sentiment over security hassles. Then again....
I've heard people say that Greece is just a shade more advanced than a third-world country. Is that true?
Alexander Kitroeff: Those people are probably Greeks. Many Greeks have a self-deprecating attitude towards their country that would make the English take notice. And the more it modernizes, they still persist in muttering and complaining.
Was your inspiration for your book primarily an interest in athletics, Greece, or both? And, has your research into some of the earliest forms of pure amateur athletic competition had any impact on your opinion of amateur/college athletics today and the problems that have arisen?
Alexander Kitroeff: The inspiration for the book was both an interest in Greece and its history and in sport and its history. And I think that by examining the cultural meaning of sport in a particular country you can ask some serious questions about its national identity and get interesting answers. And it is more fun than studying say diplomatic history.
Don't get me started on the state of College athletics, Div. I that is, because the situation is bad. Not at Haverford College which is in Div. III and where things are very different and pretty good. Sadly, the win-at-all-costs ethos is a permanent threat to sports especially on the College level.
Amateurism is a tricky issue because it ties in to nineteenth century elites, I prefer to think in terms of fair play type of sports.
Are you going to the Olympics? What events are you going to attend?
Alexander Kitroeff: Yes, I'll be there and will be going to track and field that for me is the core of the Olympics, some preliminary soccer and basketball and the women's voleyball final. I wish I had more time and money to see much more...
As the Athens games may be considered a test of the ability of nations with medium-sized economies to host the games, how is it looking so far?
Alexander Kitroeff: Athens 2004 will be the litmus test for mid-sized economies and their ability to host the Olympics. The International Olympic committee routinely complains about gigantism (their word?) and how more and sports and events are being added and all that makes the hosting of the Games much more difficult. The Olympics are supposed to be global and inclusive, but we may be looking at a future list of hosts that is a list of the biggest cities of the world. For the moment, it go either way I think.
How much of the Athens games will pay tribute to the history of the games? Are the organizers focusing on the past, the present? Do you know what we can expect for an opening ceremony?
Alexander Kitroeff: A British newspaper published what it described as the secret opening ceremony plans last Sunday. Aparantly they will involve flooding the center of the stadium with gallons of water, shooting a fireball onto to its surface and then have a paper boat carrying a child sail across the surface. The intial concept was to have an opening ceremony that evoked the Ancient past and that will be there somehow, but in a more abstarct way that having people parade in white togas around the stadium.
Your comments, please, on the church's role (negative and positive)regarding the games (post Theodosius). Also, is there a revival of interest in (ancient) Greek traditions, i.e., are the curricula in the Greek school system inclusive of the ancient heritage beyond the standard "axioi apogonoi endoxon progonon"? I have found the lack of understanding of Greek mythology among the Greek youth very troubling.
Alexander Kitroeff: Wow, a question with the church and mythology! The role of the Church is extremely interesting. Throughout modern Greece's involvement in the Olympics it has not objected to the "pagan" elements of the ceremonials, probably because Greeks have a sense of cultural continuity that begins in Ancient Greece and goes through the Byzantine and ottoman era and into modernity. As for mythology, in the schools, that is problematic because of the pressures to include other topics and there will always be issues of how to integrate ancient greece. That is why i called the book Wrestling with the Ancients by the way...
Although ancient Olympic atheletes often came from prominent families, with the exception of Alkibiades, I can't think of any who accomplished anything of note outside the athletic sphere...
What about modern competitors? Any sign that athletic virtue is a sign of virtue in general?
And on the subject of Alkibiades, are there any modern events open to the wealth as wealty, and not as athletic, in the way that the four-horse chariots could procure the honor of an Olympic victory for someone like Alkibiades, whose primary strength was the ability to spend lavishly?
Alexander Kitroeff: Sport is now more inclusive and democratic, obviously in the developing world a large part of the population has not got leisure time in which to engage in sports. Funding, however is always a difficult issue, but on the whole if you did a social origins survey of athletes you would find they come from diverse social backgrounds. Ditto with athletic virtue, I think athletes generally are virtuous and observe the rules of fair play, but there are always exceptions.
The ancient Olympics lasted 100s of years... why do we have so few epinikia, representing such a small number of festivals...
Is this a problem in production, or in transmission?
Have any modern poets made their livings off of the modern Olympics...
Alexander Kitroeff: I think the only people who have made a living off the Olympics are a few, not all top athletes and in the recent years, the corporate sponsors. No poets and no authors have profited significantly, that is not how it goes in the modern era, culture plays a dminished role compared to the situation in antiquity.
This is off-topic, but years ago I found in a university libary a 19th century book on the history of Sybaris. I found it fascinating: there was a society that believed, perhaps to simplify things, in living for the moment with little regard to future generations that was wiped out when an enemy state diverted a river's path to flood Sybaris and its supposed evil and depraved citizens. I noticed that there were no history books focusing on Sybaris listed in the university library since then, although there were several books listend from centuries before. I always thought it might be time for someone to write a modern interpretation of, to me, a fascinating city from ancient city.
Alexander Kitroeff: I would like to accept the challenge, but my publishers, greekworks.com are planning a revised edition of my book in a about a year's time, after the dust settles following Athens 2004, so I will be otherwise engaged, for better or for worse!
Alexander Kitroeff: Thanks so much to everyone who sent questions, I enjoyed doing this - fuller versions of most of the answers can be found in the book (if I may plug it, for a moment) and in some cases we will have the answers only after the end of Athens 2004. Here is to a great and memorable Olympics this summer!
Thank you for joining us today for this discussion on the 2004 Olympics. Our special thanks to Professor Kitroeff for his time.
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