NEMEA, Greece, June 1 -- With the shout 'Runners take your mark. Go!' the ancient Olympics were recreated Saturday at one of the four original sites, as some 650 barefoot runners raced to experience the myth-like ethos associated with the games. The participants from 30 countries ran in a 100m sprint and a 4.6 mile (7.5 km) 'Footsteps of Herecles' footrace, which started at the temple of Herecles and ended at the coliseum at Nemea, Greece, located some 75 miles (120 km) from Athens and uncovered by Steve Miller of the University of California, Berkeley. Miller and teams of graduate students started excavations in 1974, making headline-grabbing finds in the next two decades with the discovery of Nemea's ancient track, stone starting blocks, what is thought to be the world's oldest locker room and a graffiti-splashed tunnel leading to the coliseum. The Pan-Hellenic games, thought to have started in 573 B.C., were a way for the Greek city states to stop warring every two to four years and come together to peacefully compete. The games were open to all Greeks, and held in the ancient cities of Olympia, Delphi, Nemea and Isthmia. Czech Ambassador to Greece Jiri Marvan, a race participant, said it is important to revive these traditions because 'it will keep us together. It is a great way to stop war.' As a modicum to modernity, Saturday's runners -- who ranged from about age 10 to 81 -- remained clothed, but did leave shoes in the locker room to experience, as close as possible, the original conditions down to the oath of the Nemean games taken by the ancient sportsmen.
A race official gathered the racers in the tunnel lined with messages of games past, asking each: 'Do you swear to abide by the rules of the Nemean games and do nothing to bring shame to you, your family or the ancient games?' Assenting participants then ran through the tunnel, feet moving across the well-worn stones, and entered the coliseum to the sound of heralds to take their place at the starting blocks and await the dropping of the rope, the mark of race officials before the era of starting pistols. 'It was more nerve-wracking than competing in my own race,' said modern-day Olympian Karen Smith, a javelin thrower and the only Olympic athlete to compete Saturday. 'I was afraid I would fall flat on my face.' Doreen Spitzer, 81, had the honor of being the oldest participant. She credited her two hips as the means to complete her training sessions in Delphi and prepare for the big race in Nemea. 'I wouldn't have missed it for the world,' she said. 'With hundreds of cameras trained on you...it's really quite a race....You know it's for real.' For Miller, the impetus behind the event, the races were awe- inspiring and full of peaceful potential. 'It's a dream to see the stadium come back to life after so many years,' the archeologist said. 'Its a great thrill,...like giving birth. 'Our world has gotten very small, and at the same time we realize how many problems we have,' he said. 'Everyone running barefoot is the same....We are all part of one humanity,' and with the race, 'we can do something to make the world a brighter place.'