The opening ceremony of the 5th Modern Nemean Games 2012 – the fore-runner of the present-day Olympics – took place on Friday 22nd June, within the ruins of the Temple of Zeus. Grecian-style-clad maidens in cream full-length dresses and fully armoured Spartan soldiers, set against a backdrop of the ruins and the green Nemean countryside, created an unforgettable spectacle. The Games began the following morning but are, these days, restricted solely to running – wrestling and chariot races, thank goodness, were not on the agenda in June 2012.
The participants emerge from the 2,300-year-old tunnel into the sunlight of the excavated stadium and are announced individually after a herald sounds a salute before drawing lots from a Spartan helmet for their lane position. The older men ran first, from 8 am and before the heat of the day. I was in the fourth race. Standing in the original stone starting blocks and waiting for the signal to run – barefoot, and clad in a white tunic – the adrenaline really began to flow. I started well, to the cheers of my wife and sister, but unfortunately, being unfit and rather overweight, my legs gave way after about 40m and I executed a dramatic fall. I rose, tried again and fell again; I finally came in second to last, coated with yellow dust from the earth floor of the stadium.
But I’ll never forget the day and the sheer excitement of the whole event. What a wonderful way to celebrate the excavation of this superb site. The Peloponnese is where Greek civilisation began, with Mycenae, Epidavros, Corinth, Tyrins, Assini and Nemea all within a very easy drive of the former modern Greek capital of Nafplion and the welcoming fishing village of Tolon, both on the enticing coastline of the eastern Peloponnese and but a couple of easy hours’ drive from Athens.
We all forget how beautiful Greece is and it was very important that we should have made this pilgrimage because we were reminded again exactly why we feature this most wonderful of all Mediterranean destinations.