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story image 1 [Mark Stehle/The Associated Press] University President Judith Rodin, left, looks on as the 2004 Olympic Games postage stamp debuts at the University Museum. The stamp was based on an artifact in the Museum collection.
Newly unveiled stamp pays homage to 2004 Olympics

By James Schneider
June 10, 2004

Two runners sprint. Left arm forward, right leg forward. Right arm forward, left leg forward. Churning and churning; it's muscular perfection embodied. They approach a finish line, marked by a judge. All are in black. Muscles bulge with exertion, though their frames are caricatured. Every ounce of energy pours into their final strides, before, at last, a winner is crowned.

An ancient Greek vase, which sits in the Mediterranean collection at the University of Pennsylvania Museum depicts a footrace just like that one. Men and women have been competing like this for centuries. The vase, created in 550 B.C., is very reminiscent of the first recorded Olympic games of 777 B.C.

Since the first modern Olympics, in 1896, countries have been issuing stamps to commemorate and celebrate the ceremonies. Since 1932, every time they have been held, the United States has issued a stamp for the games. This year, both the spirit of the Olympics and the rich history displayed on Penn's vase came together in a 37 cent stamp.

At 10:30 a.m. on June 9, Penn's Museum hosted a 50 minute opening ceremony in order to unveil the new stamp. It was available only in Philadelphia on that day, and beginning today it will be available throughout the United States. Seventy-one million self-adhesive stamps will be printed and distributed in the coming weeks and months.

The stamp shows the sprinting frame, caricatured and black, with identical figures leading and trailing in red. The stamp is set on an orange backdrop, with a classical key pattern on the borders.

Dr. Paul Makler, Olympic fencer in 1952 and captain in 1964, emceed the event. Alan C. Kessler and S. David Fineman, members of the Board of Governors of the US Postal Service, presented the official dedication. Dr. David Gilman Romano -- the senior research scientist and expert of the Mediterranean vase in question -- and University President Judith Rodin offered remarks.

Several Olympic athletes and Penn alumni were honored early on in the ceremony. Among the athletes were Olympians Brenda Bartlett (swimmer, 1976), Elliott Denman (racewalker, 1952), Barbara Kirch Grudt (rowing 1984, 1988), Stephen Kirk (handball, 1984, 1988) and David Micahnik (fencing 1960, 1964).

One speaker suggested that it was fitting that the event would take place in the Penn Museum across from Franklin Field. This stamp will pay tribute to both the men and women of the past, but also those of the present.

All the featured guests spoke very highly of the athletes gathered there, and also paid tribute to their dedication. Some compared the original marathon runners to the U.S. Postal workers. They travel a great distance to deliver messages. Chairman Fineman said that the Postal service, if measured on speed, would be running a 9.5 or 9.6 (in the 100 meters).

Rodin compared the Olympics' ability to stand the test of time to that of Penn and of the Postal service. She also reminded the audience of Ben Franklin's role in both Penn and the Postal service. The 173 past Penn Olympic athletes are among those honored through this stamp.