Adventure Vacations Greece Have a Go Olympics

Nemean Games, an alternative Olympics

Written by Kirstie Pelling

While Olympic excitement builds in London and the UK with the procession of the torch, our family have signed up for the ‘Original Olympics.’ The revived Nemean Games is one of the four games of Ancient Greece. And once every four years athletes (or non athletes like us) from over a hundred countries gather to compete in front of 10,000 people, in an event that’s all about participation….

Running in the footsteps of Herakles

I am woman number FST104. I am booked in to sprint 100m in Race 49, before running in the ‘Footsteps of Herakles’ – a 7.5 km run through Greek hillside and villages.

But there’s loads to be done before the race starts. This is a revival of the original Nemean Games in Greece and certain traditions must be upheld. By e mail, I am instructed to assemble at the ancient apodyterion (locker room) at 12.32 on Saturday 23rd June, where I will be greeted by its doulos; a slave in a yellow chiton (tunic) and expected to take off my shoes and socks. I will be supplied with my own chiton (The ancient Greeks ran in the nude – but this practice isn’t insisted upon in the modern games. They also rubbed their bodies with olive oil which will be available in copies of ancient aryballoi (oil jars) if I want to be totally authentic.)

My slave will then be on hand to take me to a krypte esodos (hidden entrance tunnel) where a Hellanodikes (judge), dressed in a black himation (long robe) will be holding a switch from the chaste tree with which he will flog anyone who commits a foul or does not obey his orders. He will administer the oath of the Nemean Games based on that used at Olympia in the form of a question and an answer.

His question will go like this:

“Do you swear to abide by the rules of the Nemean Games and to do nothing that would bring shame to you, your family, or the spirit of the ancient Games?”

I’d like to be able to say yes. I hate bringing shame to my family and I shudder at the thought of letting down the ancient games. Crikes even Zeus himself perhaps!

Stuart won’t bring shame on the family as he’s spent hours preparing for his race. He has braved the sun and the rain to run up the footpath at the side of our house and around the block past the village shop. He has even tried doing it in bare feet to toughen up his skin. (If you ask me his skin is thick enough.)

I will start the same way as did ancient athletes  

When it’s time for us to enter the stadium, my slave will guide me through the ancient tunnel (constructed about 2,330 years ago). I am to avoid touching the walls for fear of wiping out graffiti scratched by the ancient athletes. At the far end of the tunnel, I will wait for the signal from the salpinktes (trumpeter, dressed in a dark red chlamys) and for the keryx (herald, in a blue himation) to call my name. When all of my group is there, another hellanodikes will ask me to draw a kleros (marble lot) from a bronze helmet to establish my lane. I will then line up with the others at the balbis (stone starting line), and put the toes of one foot in the front groove and of the other foot in the other groove just as my ancient predecessors did. I will lean forward with arms outstretched like a diver. They will be over the top of two cords stretched in front of all the runners. These cords are attached to a post at either end of the balbis that is a part of the hysplex (starting machine, based on the technology of the catapult)

And then, on the starting machine, I will run. For England.

The Stadium at Nemea. Image credit:

Except I won’t. This year there will be a gap where woman number FST104 should be. Like any family we only have a certain amount of budget for travel. We’ve been away a lot this year, and still have to cover expenses for our two month expedition to Iceland and the Faroe Islands. We just can’t justify a family trip to Athens.

At least three sessions of hardship and dedication from Stuart will now go to waste. He’ll never have the chance to wear a celery crown or drink a cup of joy in the winner’s banquet. He is gutted.

And here I have a confession to make. I haven’t trained at all. I thought about it a lot, but the weather was always too hot or too cold, and the ground too hard or too soft for my delicate soles. So although I was very excited about going to Greece and taking part in the revival of the Nemean Games, I am also a little bit relieved that I can’t do it this year. And I think the kids might be too. While I get puffed out running to post a letter, and they always feature in the egg and spoon race at sports day as a consolation prize for being rubbish at sport. There’s also the added humiliation of how big my bum would have looked in a chiton.  (Although probably smaller than without one).

If not this time then next time 

The boys race for glory in the Nemean Games. Image credit:

But Stuart and I have made a pact. We will enter the Nemean games 2016. We will train for it, in bare feet if we can. We will save for it. And perhaps, just perhaps we might win. Yes, Woman number FST104 could wear that celery crown. Celery, after all, is the best thing for beating cellulite. Perhaps I will eat a celery diet in the run up to the games. Maybe it will be the next Atkins plan! I once knew a woman who lost half a stone by eating only satsumas and asparagus in the run up to her engagement party. (However she did put it all back after the ring went on on her finger by gorging all night on quiche and sausage rolls.)

Anyway, there’s a space for Woman number FST104 on the starting block in the 2012 Nemean Games, if any other mum with a reasonably sized bottom has an hour or two to spare, is thinking of having a family holiday in Athens and would like to take my place. You can run naked and cover yourself in olive oil if you like, but bringing shame on the games will get you hit with a switch. You have been warned!

Could you be a Nemean Olympic winner? Image credit:


Woud you like to participate in an event like this? 

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.


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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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