Kristin Heaston made history even before the shot put left her hand Wednesday, becoming the first woman to compete at this historic site that gave
birth to the Olympics 2,780 years ago.
With thousands of spectators watching from a grassy knoll, some waving flags and others napping on blankets in the morning sun, Heaston was the first
competitor in the qualifying round at Ancient Olympia. Women were not allowed to compete in the games of antiquity.
The shot put is being held at this former religious sanctuary, about 200 miles southwest of Athens, two days before the rest of the track and field
competition begins Friday at the Olympic stadium back in the nation's capital.
Heaston, who along with U.S. teammate Laura Gerraughty failed to advance to the final later Wednesday, said she might have been focused too much on
the unique setting and not on her performance.
"It was awesome, I just wish I had done better,'' said Heaston, a strength coach at Stanford. "As you can see, I probably needed to think about what I
was doing more in the ring than to think about the history.
"It's a bit overwhelming. I was just trying to think of it as a backyard track meet.''
The women's preliminaries were the first competition at the site since 393 A.D., when the ancient Olympics were abolished by the Roman emperor
Theodosius as a pagan practice. The first Olympics were held here in 776 B.C.
Twelve women advanced to the final. The best throw of the morning was 19.69 meters (64 feet, 7 1/4 inches) by Nadezhda Ostapchuk of Belarus.
The men's prelims began later in the morning.
An announcer reminded spectators they were sitting in the same spots from which the ancient Greeks watched their athletic heroes nearly 28 centuries
ago, and encouraged the fans before the start of competition to "sit in silence and feel the mystical powers of this sacred place.''
If they closed their eyes and ears for a moment, the spectators could imagine the priestess of Hera sitting on her stone throne -- that is, if they
could block out the dozens of TV cameras, incessantly ringing cell phones and canned music during breaks.
Still, there were some nice touches at the site, a large dirt oval not far from centuries-old columns and ruins. The scoreboards were operated by
hand. Writers sat cross-legged on the grass, working without electricity or phone lines. Competitors' screams and grunts filled the morning air.
Men competed in the nude at the ancient games, which did not include the shot put but did have similar tests of strength. The men wore clothes this
"I think most of the fans are thankful about that,'' U.S. shot putter John Godina joked in a conference call two days before the competition. "There
are not a lot of people with shot put fetishes.''