This Sunday morning was a beautiful day for an outdoor event in Athens,
so I decided to participate in a widely publicized road race beginning
at the old Stadium (a horseshoe shaped marble landmark apparently
built for the first modern Olympiad in the 1890s).
A crowd of about 500 people assembled, many of them tourists,
around an obnoxious but apparently obligatory sound system that
undoubtedly rocked parishioners south of the Acropolis with unorthodox
A free road race in a comparably sized American city would certainly
have drawn more runners, especially given that sponsors ponied up cash
for free T-shirts, candy, water, and soda. But you must recall that this
is Athens, where runners are seldom seen. With the 2004 Olympics
just around the corner, Athenians are trying to be interested in public
displays of athleticism.
Many children participated and all but three of the adult
non-smokers in Athens turned out for the race. The rest took
their last drags as the brass band began to play send-off tunes.
Ten people wearing green airline captain and stewardess outfits prepared
the starting line. The band, dressed in red outfits reminiscent of the
costumes in the Music Man, played a rousing rendition of something that sounded
like "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow", finishing with the theme song from
Hogan's Heroes. As it turned out, music from a prison camp comedy
was a suitable theme for the race's start -- a seemingly interminable
uphill march towards the Church of St. Giorgos. The casualties in this
first mile were sizable.
Having jogged only once since arriving in Greece nine weeks ago, urged
on by a visiting friend and running fanatic, Mark Gallagher, I knew this
would be a test of will to rival the historic run that gave us the word
"Marathon." Those of you familiar with my meteoric career in Greco
limbo competition will be pleased to learn that I completed this 8.5 kilometer
road race in front of what seemed like lots of people. I was a little
disappointed that the race concluded in the Zapheo, since I had been
expecting to punctuate the event with a lap around the Stadium carrying
a flaming American flag, but to be honest I didn't feel much like running
another 400 yards when I got to the Zapheo.
That's all for now. Rest assured that despite what you may see on CNN,
I am not the one who has sprayed anti-American graffiti all around Athens.