Athenapallas's Blog

April 7, 2011

THE LEGACY OF OLYMPIA AND HOW TO SURVIVE THE OLYMPIC DREAM

 

'Ancient Olympia

The start of the first official OLYMPIC GAMES was declared in 776 BC by King Ephitus at a time when there were many Hellenic states.    The games were held   what is now the prefecture of Elia in Greece 24ks from the modern  town of Pyrgos at the site of Ancient Olympia.

The Games were  to honour of Zeus the King of the Olympian Gods, father of Athena, whose gigantic temple at Olympia was one of the wonders of the ancient world. Little remains of the temple but it might have looked something like this:

The Ancient Games took place around the first full moon in August and consisted of merely a foot race of about 500 metres. Gradually longer races were introduced as well as the pentathlon (a contest of running, leaping, wrestling, discus and spear-throwing), with chariot races as well as the pancration, a vicious combination of boxing and wrestling.

The early competitors were naked and were required to undergo a training of ten months, to make sacrifices to the Gods and to vow that they would compete fairly. There were official trainers as well as the judges who awarded the prizes─wreaths cut with a golden knife from the sacred olive tree in honour of Heracles, the mighty but disgraced son of Zeus who defeated monsters and man-eating animals in his famous 12 labours.

Marvellous stories were told of the feats of the victors at these ancient games. In a single leap they would cover a distance of nearly 17 metres, and one year the winner of the nine mile race kept running past the finishing line before he stopped at Argos, fifty miles away, the same evening.                    

The Games were held every four years and vast crowds camped

on the slopes of Mount Cronos or in the dry river beds.

Dense throngs stood around the racecourse and

must have suffered in the heat as water was scarce and often polluted.

A holy truce was declared for a whole month during which

all warfare was forbidden and the land of Ellas was considered sacred.

These ancient games were exclusive to male athletes and spectators

and the story goes that if any women were caught within the precincts

they would be thrown from a nearby rock!

There is one story however, of a Spartan woman being detected in male attire

but as her son was the victor of the Games she was forgiven.

Writers, poets and historians also read their works to large audiences,

and the citizens of the various city states of the ancient world got together in a way that happened nowhere else.

 The Modern Olympic Games were instituted in 1896 and except during the first and second world wars were held every four years in various cities around the world including Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004 where thousands of athletes compete in hundreds of events and sporting activities.

                                                                                                                                

The Olympic Flame is lit at the ancient site in Greece and

carried by runners to the city where the games are held.

In modern times the good will and good fortune

generated by the games rivals the work of the United Nations

in trying to bring the nations of the world together.

So into this rich history comes the story of one of our own Olympians,

Nadine Neumann, a young woman who would not even have  even

a spectator let alone competitor in the ancient games.

Wobbles an Olympic Story written by Nadine is her story,

the story of a young girl who became one of the fastest and

most versatile swimmers of her generation in the world,

who was part of the world of elite sport in Australia in the 1990’s,

and who by the time she was 20 had experienced more physical and

mental suffering than most of us ever have.

This book was written during her painful journey of finding a new life

after the cruel, triumphant, gloriously crazy Olympic dream.

Frighteningly real, insightful and compassionate,

 Nadine reveals what it was like inside the Olympic swimming family in Australia.

Nadine’s story will make you angry and sad and affect you so deeply you will start to question things about your own life, your obsessions and the culture that carries them.

 A beautifully constructed book, showing all the skills Nadine learnt in her University English teaching degree.

 Cleverly she starts the story at the end of her Olympic dream, about to dive into the water at the 2000 Olympics Sydney Trials and then takes you back to where it all began for her at her local swimming pool in Ryde.

She tells her story through her own child’s voice and as the story progresses we see her change, but once she has decided that she will go to the Olympics there is no way she can be diverted, and her family become her ally in this dream. She is Herculean in the pursuit of her dream.

Nothing will stop her: not the punishing training regimes and internal politics of the day,

the undiagnosed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome triggered by glandular fever,

the broken neck and major depression,

the social isolation and fractured relationships

and the family hardships related to supporting her and her quest.

There is some wonderful writing in this book which make you realise what a multi-talented woman she has become. She uses short sentences, sometimes even single words like Euphoria, to great effect, showing the ability of a novelist to build tension, suspense and the desire to keep reading.

Even though sometimes you want to shake her and say, please stop, no more, she carries you on her journey, willing you to be on her side and to understand what it was like for her, and she succeeds.

There are many extracts which I have noted but this is one of my favourites.

To me the sound of water is the sound of heaven the tinkle of bubbles as the surface breaks and swirls around your ears, the rhythmic bass-drum of your breath, the roaring cymbals of your feet agitating the waves of your body curves, the melodious movement of an element that supports you, surrounds you, becomes part of you completely. And the symphony plays through a silence that makes you feel the song is yours alone….’

If you have ever marvelled at the Olympic swimming,

or swum yourself and felt the water element embracing you,

had an extraordinary dream in your ordinary life, overcome suffering with not too much grace,

felt like curling up and dying when it all gets too much,

you will find much in this book to illuminate your way.

It should be compulsory reading for all young would-be athletes and their families

 but it is much more than that– it speaks to all of us and

we should thank Nadine for her courage in telling it so well and using her natural writing talent to such great effect.

Photos of Ancient Olympia courtesy of T.Palimperis

Other Photos courtesy of Nadine Neumann

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April 12, 2010

Warrior Goddess ready to do battle

Last night after watching 4Corners on the ABC I went over to the Bronte Surf club to retrieve my helmet, spear, and shield (aegis) because I’m going to to need them. I’m going to have leave my musings behind for a while and get dirty. Dirt is what the ABC  program was all about. Dirt from the 14 Open cut coal mines in the Upper Hunter Valley that make the lives of its 40,000 inhabitents like living in  Hades.

A truck driver encounters an orange cloud of toxic  gas and is so overcome with its poison he nearly  loses control of his truck;  families have all their children suffering from coughs,  asthma, bronchitis, hideous skin allergies which all disappear within days of holidaying on the coast.

In one small town 100 of the 150 people who have lived through this enormous expansion of King Coal in the area, have left to protect their families’ health. For some interviewed it’s already too late as they have inoperable cancers which they attribute to living so close to the  toxic dust and gases from the area’s mines and two power stations, and there is mounting research, overseas and here ,to support this claim.  

some stats:

14 mines in the Upper Hunter pump out 99 million tonnes of coal a year for the furnaces of Japan, India and China.

100 kilometres to the south the port of Newcastle has become the biggest black coal exporter in the world and the mines are going to get bigger in the next 6 years maybe doubling their output. 

At any one time 20 to 30 coal ships are lined up all the way to the central coast waiting to swallow their loads of black gold.

For the 40,000 people who live in the Upper Hunter, some of whom have been there for 5  or 6 generations,

there is no escape.

Latest yearly stats show a total of 108 tonnes of toxic metals including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt and lead soaking the air of the upper Hunter along with 122,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide.

If Mt Olympus was an active volcano and if  my father Zeus got really angry and ignited it,  it could not produce a cloud of poison as bad as this.

You may ask why this makes me so angry. I’m the narrator in a  factional fantastical story Digging Up the Dead  being written  about  the effects of coal mining on a  town and its people in Queensland in 1972 and 1992.

The local mine is  small compared the ones of the Hunter and the Bowen Basin in 2010. But even back then people who lived near or worked in the mines were dying from underground explosions, fire, blasting accidents, toxic dust and gas.  In my story, when the coal company decided to go underground again and mine the area in which 12 men were entombed in 1972, the town calls on me in my mortal manifestation as an unusual sort  of diviner to help… more  about this later

I was  so moved by what  the local GP  in Singleton is doing

 to try to get the government to even acknowledge there could be a problem

that I wondered if I should be going there to help him.

This man, who has been living and working there for years, is one helluva god.

After no response to a well written and researched submission from the town

for some sort of study into what might be happening,

with the help of volunteers he started a study of his own, 

 testing the lung capacity of 900  local children  to see if they had asthma related problems.

 One in six had significantly lowered lung function compared to the national average of one in nine. 

 He would like to test the lung capacities of a  matched group  on the coast

or in some other rural community away from mines. 

But this surely is  a job for the government.

I’m going to let him have the last word on this post.

Dr Tuan An said ,’ I’ve been here for 14 years, I have a good family and wonderful community and friends.

I can’t just pack up and leave. I hope every body working together, we can change the community.

 I think the community’s not against the mining company or power station, they just want change.

The would like the goverment to listen to their…what they request

and because it’s their life and their family

and if we do not do anything else, the one we lose is our family…..’

Sorry, he can’t have the last word.

 Unlike him I’m angry and

when Athena the Warrior Goddess is angry the whole universe shakes

I don’t want to have to use the full strength of my powers, not yet anyway,

but I’m aiming my spear of Pallas and woe betide if it’s aimed at you: 

 irresponsible mining moguls, greedy consumers,

dumb governments, and dumber media

who think all we want to know about is Britney’s latest disaster.

What about a disaster that’s happening to  40,000 people

who live in what was once the most beautiful valley in the world.

and one more stat:

the  NSW government earns 1.5 billion from coal royalties

and earnings from power stations and coal transport,

that’s a lot of reasons to ignore the people of the Upper Hunter.

Much of what I’ve written is based on the transcript of the  excellent 4corners program of last night.

Any errors of stats, facts etc are my own as are the opinions expressed.

April 11, 2010

Sunset

Filed under: Athena's musings — athenapallas @ 10:10 pm
Tags: , , ,

Just when I thought I might let my dear old Dad  Zeus re-name the TV program Sunrise it seems they have realised  how silly they’ve been about the their book club.

 Good idea to have one.

Bad idea to start it off with a  Swedish book hat’s already been read by 26 million people and is now also a movie.

Hey the  author is a already a shade in Hades ….

he just doesn’t need our help here on earth.

 His estate is doing very very well as are his publishers.

Blogging guru and  emerging young writer and media commentator William Kostakis  has highlighted this issue and now it seems channel 7 has taken note. Well done.

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