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Published: Tuesday, 8/17/2004

Ode to a Grecian yearn

SPORTS of all sorts have been rocked by instances or alleged instances of performance-enhancing drug usage, whether it is in the Olympic Games which began Friday, college football, or major league baseball in the United States, now dubbed the new East Germany, as The Economist of London comments in its current issue.

The world is sadder but wiser than it was in 1896 when Olympic idealists revived the modern games in Greece, where the games of antiquity originated. The 19th-century romantics envisioned a competition among young men (who else?) unsullied by the crassness of professionalism and inspired by the performance of the best that sport had to offer.

We ve come a long way, baby.

The Olympic Games have been marred by disputes over doping, chauvinistic audiences, the well-founded fear of terrorist acts, the effect of television revenue (which is the real Olympic gold), bribery of Olympic officials, dishonest judging in events where style as well as performance is evaluated, and the like.

The greatest threat is drugs (hardly a new issue, by the way), which tarnish and cast into doubt the exploits of athletes everywhere and pose a health threat to those who use such substances.

Even so, the games go on, and finally the Greek nation, which has endured a steady drumbeat of criticism and complaints about cost overruns and the endless delays in getting the venues ready, will have an opportunity to show that they have pulled off what seems increasingly to be impossible a successful Olympiad with finite resources for such purposes, in a new age of chaos and terror.

U.S. security personnel outnumber the American athletes competing, an interesting sign of the times.

Many of the 202 nations participating must surely hope the Greeks succeed, because otherwise the games, if they survive the bloat of events and the incredible costs, will have to be staged only in wealthy First World countries or those, like China, who want to show that they are capable of matching the know-how and deep pockets of the industrial West.

There s even a religious dimension to these games. The Greek Orthodox Church has butted heads several times with Olympic organizers as they keep a watchful eye over the games for any undue glorification of Greek mythology.

The games of ancient Greece were banned in A.D. 393 by the Christianized Byzantine empire because of strong opposition to an event anchored in pagan beliefs. Religious fundamentalism, obviously, goes back a long way.

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