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Reconstructed final venue breathes history

Written by: Staff

BERLIN, July 7: When Italy and France take to the field for Sunday's World Cup final in Berlin they will be stepping into a venue that resonates with history.

The Olympiastadion was built on a monumental scale to stage the 1936 Summer Games and it has been expensively modernised for this World Cup.

Dug out of the earth in the leafy western suburb of Grunewald, the stadium bore witness to one of the greatest of all Olympic achievements when Jesse Owens won four gold medals at those Games.

From the inside, it now looks a thoroughly modern stadium, from the spectacular oval roof to the blue running track and a 5,000 piece lighting system known as the ring of fire.

Outside, the rebuilding project retained the strict symmetry of the original design and it remains eerily familiar from the ''Olympia'' documentary made by Leni Riefenstahl to celebrate the 1936 Games.

It took an investment of 242 million euros (8.1 million) to bring it up to standard for the July 9 final.

Werner March, son of the man who designed the original stadium on the site for the cancelled 1916 Olympics, carried out the first reconstruction from 1934 to 36, under the supervision of the Imperial Ministry of the Interior.

Hitler viewed the Games as a stage to prove his theory of Aryan racial superiority but the spectacular achievement of the Games was from the black American athlete Owens, who won gold medals in the 100m, 200m, long jump and 4 x 100m relay.

Now, one of the avenues around the stadium bears his name.

The Olympiastadion staged just three group matches at the 1974 World Cup, when the final was held in Munich.

This time, thanks to the huge investment, Berlin got the honour and the rebuilt stadium, with the pitch sunk still lower, was opened in 2004.

''The Olympiastadion is representative of the change in Germany,'' Otto Schily, then Germany's interior minister, said at the opening. ''At the same time, the stadium contains remainders of the dark side of its origin.'' It remains a spectacular venue, particularly as the architects left the oval roof unclosed to give unrestricted views to the rebuilt Bell Tower.

Five matches have already been played there at this World Cup, including Germany's tense quarter-final victory over Argentina on penalties.

The atmosphere generated by the partisan German crowd was excellent but it may be difficult for the 72,000 crowd at the final to match that.

The running track means the fans are quite a way from the pitch and it will need the many neutrals to give full-voiced support to the players if the final is to be memorable for the atmosphere as well as the football.


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