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Olympic Games 2004 in Athen


Three years before the next Olympic Games here, the thousand runners who set out from the village of Marathon, bound for Athens on Sunday morning will follow in the footsteps of Gods. Not just the legendary Philippides, whose run to Athens in 490BC to announce victory over a Persian horde ended with "Rejoice, we conquer" before he dropped dead; but also Spiridon Louis, the Greek who became a legend by winning the inaugural Olympic marathon in 1896. And there are modern examples. Rosa Mota and Bill Adcocks might be short in height but they are giants in stature. Mota from Portugal won the first ever international womens marathon title, the European Championships on the classic Marathon to Athens course in 1982. Adcocks from Britain set a course record of 2.11.07, which still stands from 1969. Despite one World and two European championships, and a World Cup since then on the course, which is reputed as one of the toughest in the world, Adcocks time has endured. That does not surprise one Greek with a long memory. At the 1997 World Championships marathon finish, the old man in the seat next door at the magnificent marble Panathenaic Stadium (built for the 1896 Games) recalled Adcocks finishing, "looking like a God". Mota, here as race starter for Sundays event, recalls feeling like a God. "Running into the old stadium was like a dream. It was dark and the stadium was full of people. Then the lights came on. I shall always have these images in my mind". But Mota had had more than the hilly course to overcome. Womens marathon was in its infancy, and the Portuguese federation didn want her to run. "They remembered Francisco Lazaro, who died in the 1912 Olympics. After that only a few Portuguese men ran the marathon, and women weren allowed. After I won, I broke the idea that the marathon can kill". Mota reinforced her point by winning the Olympic title in Seoul 1988. The race has been beefed up this year. ATHOC, the Olympic Organising Committee is investing a million dollars upgrading the start area and course, with a new sponsor, Alpha Bank injecting well over $500,000 per year as part of their impressive $62m Olympic investment. In line to collect some of that munificence are the inevitable Kenyans, Julius Rutto, winner in Paris two years ago, in 2.08.10, David Kemboi, winner in Palermo 99 in 2.10.37, and Stephen Rugut, winner in Carpi 99, in 2.10.44. Sonia Krolik-Oberem of Germany, fifth in the recent World Championships is womens favourite.

Pat Butcher

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