By highlighting the country’s historic roots and heritage, the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens transformed Greece, sports columnist George Vecsey and historian Alexander Kitroeff said before about 35 students at a Trumbull College Master’s Tea on Monday.
In the talk, titled “Beyond the Finish Line: Athens Olympics 2004,” Vecsey and Kitroeff said the Games uniquely united Greece, the historic birthplace of the Olympics, by showcasing Athens, a city that has recently assumed a modern character.
Vecsey, an award-winning New York Times columnist, said he felt transported to an ancient era when he visited a stadium in Delphi during a trip to Greece in 1981 with his wife.
“I put my foot down in this old stadium,” Vecsey said. “You felt the crowds; you go back 2,000 years in time.”
Delving into his personal philosophy on sports writing, Vecsey said he is less concerned with winning and losing games and more interested in the contexts surrounding the events, particularly the impact on the host cities and their local cultures.
Vecsey extended his comments on Athens to New York’s bid for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, saying that holding the event in New York would not advance the city as much as the Olympics boosted Athens because New York is already a city in the international spotlight.
“Greece needed to get on the map,” Vecsey said. “New York has much greater needs, more defined needs. It doesn’t need to be put on the map. It’s my hometown. We’re there.”
Kitroeff, a Haverford College history professor who attended the Athens Olympics, said his role there was that of a sports fan. He recently published a book analyzing Greece’s role in the Olympics since the 19th century. The book, “Wrestling With the Ancients: Modern Greek Identity and the Olympics,” is a historical analysis of the intersecting interests of ancient Greek history and modern sports, Kitroeff said.
Kitroeff said he thinks the formation of a new Greece and a modern identity is a dynamic force in the country which at the same time retains vestiges of cultural tradition.
“The extent to which the modern face was there surprised me,” Kitroeff said. “It’s a new Greece, but it’s not a completely new Greece.”
Kitroeff said Greece’s continual efforts to integrate its culture into Western Europe represent the country’s modern identity.
“It is a medium-sized country that hasn’t been accepted as a mainstream European country,” Kitroeff said. “The metaphor for excellence to the Greeks is European.”
Kitroeff said modern sports are vehicles for societies to come together to celebrate.
Eleni Benson ’06, who took last year off to train as a member of Greece’s women’s soccer team, lent her perspective as an Olympic athlete. She said she thinks the team, which is composed not only of Greek natives but also of women with Greek heritage, has played an integral role in the shaping of modern athletics in Greece.
“[We] showed the Greek people that women can play sports,” Benson said. “We opened a lot of eyes.”
Joe Kopchick ’06 said he was excited to hear Vecsey and Kitroeff speak, particularly since he is familiar with Vecsey’s columns.
“I read the New York Times sort of regularly and I’ve read a lot of Vecsey’s columns,” Kopchick said. “I thought it would be interesting to come here and to see what he has to say.”