Conversations at Olympia

In modern times the flames for the Olympic Games are lit by concentrating beams of sunlight reflected in a parabolic mirror in front of the Temple of Hera at Ancient Olympia. The jealous goddess of women and marriage gives fiery light to the torch held in her gaze. The flame then travels to the host city.

Olympia lies to the west of Arcadia. The summer heat can be unbearable. I have been there a few times; the first was my initiation to the ancient classical sites of Greece, which included Epidauros, Sparta, Corinth, Delphi and Athens. Each has its own special memory, but Olympia stands out for its legacy in the modern world. As a child of the Apartheid world I was entranced by the freedom and spirit of the modern Olympic Games. While outwardly I agreed that the Springbok athletes should be allowed to participate in the games, inwardly I knew my country was divided and the Springbok emblem would need to include those who were disenfranchised.

Each games, from Munich to Montreal to Atlanta, I was entranced. With the advent of television in South Africa in the seventies the Montreal games took on a new dimension. I had three scrap books filled with newspaper articles of the games. So my visits to Ancient Olympia did mean something. What I remember most is the heat and tunnel that leads to the stadium. The stadium itself has a simple track for the sprint and gentle grassed slopes for the spectators. When we first went there it must have been by taxi, probably with Aleko. I remember the taxi driver parking the car under the shade of pine trees and assuming the role of idleness until we returned hot and sweaty from our education. I remember my father being proud of his roots as a sprinter. Who knows, perhaps one of our ancient forebears did run there when the temples were tall and the agora filled with people. The trip from Tripolis to Olympia might have taken three or four days on foot. An athlete would have arrived quicker. I also stood there, on the start, and remember running down the track the way I have seen bronzed American tourists emulating their heroes.

Olympia honoured the heroes of the time. I was honoured to be able to run there, in a past life and again now.

The Modern Era Athens Olympic Stadium