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Archaeologists reject plans for event at Olympia

Written by: Staff

ATHENS, Mar 23 (Reuters) Plans to construct a temporary running track at the ancient stadium of Olympia, birthplace of the Olympic Games, has upset Greek archaeologists.

The Central Archaeological Council (CAS) has vetoed proposals to install a modern track over the original one in the stadium for an international athletics event backed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The CAS said late yesterday that heavy equipment needed for television coverage of the event could also damage the spectacular site, nestled in the lush Olympia valley, where the ancient Olympics were founded in 776 BC.

A hugely popular year-round tourist attraction and site of the start of Olympic Games torch relays, Olympia has been used for competition only once before in modern times, staging the men's and women's shot put events at the Athens 2004 Olympics.

That was also the first time that women had competed in the stadium.

This year's event, organised by the Greek Olympic Committee (NOC) with the backing of the International Association of Athletics Federations and the IOC, is scheduled for mid-May.

The annual competition is aimed at giving athletes a chance to compete at the site of the ancient Olympics and boost the image of athletics worldwide.

About 170 athletes would compete in five men's and women's events -- 100 metres, long jump, triple jump, pole vault and shot.

The five-hour extravaganza would be staged in front of about 15,000 spectators sitting on the grassy slopes of the spectacular track in the western Peloponnese.

CAS believes plans to lay a 30-40 centimetre synthetic track over the 212.54 metre-long stadium to meet athletes' quality standards were unacceptable, sources said.

The CAS decision has left the the country's sports ministry and the NOC fuming. ''To be honest I don't quite understand what the problem is,'' an NOC official told Reuters.

''The plans are essentially the same as for the shot put events during the Olympics. Only this time we will have 15,000 spectators and not 30,000.'' He said there would also be less construction this time.

''This is supposed to bring athletes back to their roots. It is good to protect our antiquities but it is also good to show them to the world,'' the official said.

The two sides are due to discuss the issue next week.

Reuters PDS DB1852

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