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Ancient Olympia protesters are released March 26, 2008

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Outburst prompts reactions > Three human rights demonstrators arrested for disrupting Monday’s flame-lighting ceremony at Ancient Olympia to protest China’s crackdown in Tibet were freed yesterday.

The three French journalists, members of the French media rights group Reporters Without Borders, said they had not intended to criticize Greece but to contest Beijing’s right to host this year’s Olympics.

It seemed that their outburst had some impact. Questioned by reporters after the incident, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he would consider a personal boycott of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony if China refuses to open a dialogue with the Dalai Lama on Tibet. «All options are open and I appeal to the Chinese leaders’ sense of responsibility» Sarkozy said. The White House said US President George W. Bush still intends to attend the Games.

The incident embarrassed Greek authorities, who had planned a large-scale security operation. The three protesters bypassed guards to access the ancient Olympia site. One ran up behind a Chinese Olympic official who had been delivering a speech to a large crowd of dignitaries, including Greece’s President Karolos Papoulias and Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, and unfurled a black flag depicting the Olympic rings as handcuffs.

The disruption was aired briefly on state television, which then cut away from the protester being dragged off by police and zoomed in on the Chinese spokesman. In China, state television did not broadcast the incident, cutting to prerecorded footage. Chinese Foreign Ministry officials yesterday condemned «these elements of sabotage and chaos.»

Greek government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros also criticized «actions that have nothing to do with the Olympic spirit

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge, who was also at the ceremony, said, «It is always sad to see such a ceremony disrupted.» Before the ceremony, Rogge had admitted to fearing possible hijacks of the torch relay.

The torch yesterday reached Ioannina in northwestern Greece. The flame is to be handed over to the Chinese in a ceremony at Athens’s Panathenaic Stadium on March 30.

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Security tightened for Olympic Torch Lighting Ceremony March 24, 2008

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Actresses playing the role of priestesses were performing in Ancient Olympia, near the Temple of Hera, where the Olympics were born in 776 BC, during a dress rehearsal for the Beijing Olympics flame-lighting ceremony yesterday. The ceremony took place today.

24-03-08_actresses.jpg  The final rehearsal for the Beijing 2008 Olympics torch-lighting ceremony took place in Olympia, southwestern Greece, yesterday amid concerns over possible protests in favor of an independent Tibet.

Hazy skies that persisted to the last minute prevented organizers from lighting the Games’ sacred flame through use of a polished mirror. A flame lit during a prior rehearsal on Saturday was used instead.

Actresses dressed as ancient Greek priestesses performed a choreographed ceremony, which for the first time included six young boys acting out events from the ancient pentathlon.

Actress Maria Nafpliotou then lit the Beijing Games torch carried by the first relay runner, Greek tae kwon do athlete Alexandros Nikolaidis, a silver medalist in the Athens 2004 Games. The official ceremony was held today but the forecast of heavy rain has forced organizers to schedule the ritual an hour earlier to 11 a.m.

24-03-08_olympic_flame.jpg  More photos from today’s ceremony will follow shortly.

Hundreds of police and plainclothes officers have secured the ancient site and the town for fear of Tibetan protesters who some weeks ago lit their own “Freedom torch” in Olympia to campaign for a free Tibet, angering Beijing. The government has said it will take all measures to protect the ceremony and its “international appeal.”

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is under growing criticism as the Games approach from both human rights groups and some politicians calling for the it to pressure China into improving human rights. Some have called for a Games boycott.

Olympic Flame Ceremony Rehearsal in Ancient Olympia March 23, 2008

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The final rehearsal for the Olympic Flame Lighting ritual of the Beijing Games was held today in Olympia, the Greek city where the Ancient Olympics were born in 776 BC.

23-03-08_rehearsal1.jpg  Hazy skies that persisted to the last minute prevented organisers from lighting the Games’ sacred flame through use of a polished mirror. A flame lit during a prior rehearsal yesterday was used instead.

23-03-08_rehearsal2.jpg  Actresses dressed as ancient Greek priestesses performed a choreographed ceremony which for the first time included six young boys acting out racing, wrestling, long jump, javelin and discus throw events from the ancient pentathlon.

23-03-08_rehearsal3.jpg  Head priestess Maria Nafpliotou then lit the Beijing Games torch carried by the first relay runner, Greek taekwondo athlete Alexandros Nikolaidis, a silver medallist in the Athens 2004 Games.  The official ceremony will be held tomorrow, Monday 24 March.

23-03-08_rehearsal4.jpg  In case of heavy rain at the scheduled time, there are contingencies for the ceremony to take place indoors at the site’s Archeological Museum. Only once have we had rain for the summer Olympics, in 1956 ahead of the Games in Melbourne. 

23-03-08_rehearsal5.jpg  Concern over protests in Olympia against the 57-year occupation of Tibet by China, and last week’s crackdown in the Himalayan province by Chinese forces, has also introduced unprecedented security to this year’s ceremony. Hotels in Olympia are opening their guest lists to police inspection, officers are patrolling the hills around the ancient stadium where the ritual is held and there are plans to prevent spectators from lining the relay route.

23-03-08_rehearsal6.jpg  Thousands of people are expected to attend tomorrow’s ceremony, including 2500 accredited journalists and dignitaries, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge, Beijing Olympic organising committee chairman Liu Qi, and the President and Prime Minister of Greece. 

23-03-08_rehearsal7.jpg  A number of Chinese athletes are scheduled to run the early relay leg out of Olympia, including Chinese swimmer Luo Xuejuan, a gold medalist in the 2004 Olympics, who will be the second relay runner.

23-03-08_rehearsal8.jpg  The flame will be handed over to the Chinese Olympic Committee on March 30 in another ceremony at the all-marble Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896.

Marion Jones’s medals only to ‘clean’ athletes November 8, 2007

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Only “clean” athletes will be upgraded to get the Olympic medals relinquished by Marion Jones after her confession of doping, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said yesterday.

Rogge’s statement means that Greek sprinter Katerina Thanou, at the center of her own drug scandal on the eve of the 2004 Athens Games, may not receive the 100-meter gold medal that Jones won at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

“This is not going to be an automatic upgrade… Every potential upgraded athlete will be scrutinized on his or her merits,” Rogge said in a conference call. “We want to upgrade athletes if we are absolutely sure that they are clean. Every case will be examined.”

The IOC stores Olympic drug samples for eight years. Rogge said the IOC always carries out doping tests on the fourth- and fifth-place finishers, as well as on the three medal winners and three others at random.

IAAF ruling needed on Thanou October 16, 2007

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The doping admission by five-time Olympic medalist Marion Jones is good for sport because it shows that drug cheats eventually get caught, IOC President Jacques Rogge told France’s Le Monde newspaper.

Jones recently admitted using performance-enhancing drugs and returned the three gold medals and two bronzes she won at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

Greece’s Katerina Thanou, who finished second behind Jones in the 100, stands to move up to the gold medal, even though she was suspended for two years after missing doping tests before the 2004 Athens Olympics. “For Katerina Thanou, we will… wait for the advice of the IAAF and we will examine the case of each athlete individually. There have been lots of indignant comments.”

Greece’s Thanou possible 2000 Olympics 100m champion October 8, 2007

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Greek sprinter Ekaterini Thanou, involved in a doping controversy ahead of the 2004 Olympics, could retrospectively take the 100m gold medal for the Sydney 2000 Olympics after the winner, American sprinter Marion Jones, admitted to doping, AFP reports.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said Monday it is awaiting the decision of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) before deciding on whether to strip Jones of her five Sydney 2000 Olympic medals.

“If the disciplinary body of the IAAF finds that she was not eligible for Sydney then the disciplinary commission of the IOC will take up the case,” said an IOC spokesman, adding the American could lose her gold medals for the 100m, 200m and 4x400m and bronze in both the 4x100m and the long jump.

If Jones is stripped of her 100m gold medal then logically the runner up Thanou should take the medal. However Thanou and her compatriot sprinter Kostas Kenteris were at the centre of doping controversy just before the Athens Olympics which resulted in a two-year suspension after they missed three doping tests. A Greek court on September 24 deferred until next June the perjury trial of Thanou and Kenteris over the mysterious motorcycle accident which led them to miss doping tests.

On Friday after months of denials, Jones pleaded guilty in court to lying to a federal agent about her use of banned steroids between September 2000 and July 2001. The Sydney Olympics were held on September 15. US Olympic Committee chairman Peter Ueberroth on Friday welcomed Jones’s “overdue” confession, and called on her to return her Olympic medals without waiting for sports officials to take them away.

Jones also faces being stripped by IAAF of her world championship medals comprising the 200m gold and the 100m silver in 2001. For this last event it is again Thanou who will benefit. The anti-doping regulations prescribe an eight-year limit after an offence for disciplinary proceeding to be launched which would be September 2008 for the Sydney Olympics.