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In ancient times, the Pan-Hellenic Games were held every year in turn at Olympia, Delphi, Corinth and Nemea (then back to Olympia, with a repeat of the cycle). During the Games, all hostilities between the city states ceased and, instead, the men competed in various sporting, musical and poetry reading disciplines.

 

The ancient site of Nemea was discovered, and excavation started by Professor Stephen Miller, of the University of Berkley, California, in 1974. He, local villagers and his students made headlines around the world for unearthing important antiquities, including a stadium and track; an entrance tunnel** to the track lined with the graffiti of ancient athletes; an early Christian burial ground; a bathhouse, and what is thought to be the first ancient changing room, with a massive flagstone floor. (**To his great satisfaction, the discovery of the tunnel and the keystone technology deployed by the Greeks overturned the archaeological thinking of the time that the Romans were the first to use keystone technology; the tunnel at Nemea pre-dated the earliest such Roman tunnel by some years!)

 

Professor Miller also painstakingly reconstructed the race starting device, made of wood and rope, often stating that it took him 20-odd years to understand the mechanism, along with this challenge causing the loss of most of his hair. The nearby Temple of Zeus, where athletes made sacrifices before competing, had just three pillars when Miller arrived; it now, thanks to his and his colleagues’ long labour of love, has nine huge pillars standing.

 

The first Nemean Games, organised by Miller’s Society for the Revival of the Nemean Games, took place in 1996. Anyone could run, free of charge, and thousands of runners, from between 40 and 130 countries each year, aged between 10 and 93, have competed, running barefoot, dressed in a Greek chiton, on the 90-metre track. To his great pride, the event was totally uncommercialised, unlike today’s Olympics.

It's great fun - you take an oath to uphold the spirit of the Games and you compete against peers of a similar age. Walking through the athletes’ tunnel, used by those competitors thousands of years ago, is a thrill in itself. Sadly, Stephen Miller died on the 11th August 2021, at the age of just 79. He and his Greek wife, Effie, had been living in a house they had built nearby, overlooking the ancient site. However, in his memory, the Games live on, and give enormous pleasure to all of us who attend and compete.

Our small group always stays in Tolon, about a 40-minute drive from the ancient site. This year we stayed at the delightful Minoa Hotel, right on the beach, and - as always - ate and drank heartily at the Romvi Taverna, at a table sitting right on the narrow, sandy beach, every evening.

The Games should have been staged two years ago, in 2020, but COVID got in the way. We are not sure yet whether the next Games will be held in two years’ time, ie 2024, to coincide once more with the timing of the Olympic Games. We are hoping that they will be, and that we won't have to wait for the normal four years to pass – and also that other Greek sites of antiquity will take note of Stephen Miller’s achievements and will enact similar events in which all who care to can participate. Such far-sightedness brings history alive, brings employment and pride to locals, and gives huge pleasure to participants.

 

Noel Josephides

By Noel Josephides

29th June 2022



Noel Josephides
Noel Josephides

Noel is Sunvil’s Chairman. Born in Cyprus in 1948, he joined John der Parthog at Sunvil in 1973. Before that and following university, he spent 3 years as a trainee buyer at C&A Modes and then worked for a large Cypriot builder and property developer for whom he set up a London Office buying electrical components for the Middle East and importing lemons from orchards in Cyprus. He still researches new destinations for Sunvil and is heavily involved in matters relating to the travel industry. He is a previous chairman of ABTA, a long standing director and previous chairman of The Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) and the current chairman of The Travel Foundation - the travel industry’s sustainability charity.

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