The Ancient Olympics.
     The Olympic idea was born in ancient Greece nearly 3,000 years ago. Sporting contests took place during the great festivals that the Greeks held in honour of their gods. The most important of these contests was the Olympic Games, dedicated to Zeus, the Father of the Gods. Every four years, free men from all over the Greek world gathered at the Games to demonstrate their sporting spirit in the sacred their sporting spirit in the sacred surroundings of Olympia, situated in the state of Elis.
     Athletes came to Olympia and trained full-time for ten months. They had to undergo an examination by a ten-member panel, who assessed them on their parentage, character and physical endowments. As the games approached, thousands of spectators gathered in Olympia, transforming the little village into a thriving metropolis.
   At the first games in 776 BC, until 724 BC, the only event held was the stadium-length foot race (stade). The length of the race was based on the legend that Hercules, the god of Physical Strength, ran this distance in one breath. The earliest recorded winner at the Olympics was Coroebus of Elis, who won the 776 BC stade race. At later Olympiads, the "diaulos" (400 yards) and then the "dolichos" (3.3 miles) were added.
    In 680 BC, chariot racing appeared. The charioteers were professionals who raced over nine miles in the hippodrome. The winners, who lined up to receive the trophy, were the wealthy owners. Although women were barred from competing at the Games, they were sometimes declared winners because they owned the horses and chariots.
    The prize for victors at the Olympics was a simple olive tree branch, which was cut with a gold-handled knife, from a wild olive tree. The Greeks believed that the vitality of the sacred tree was transmitted to the recipient through the branch. The winning athlete gave public thanks to Zeus, and his home town or territory was considered in favour with the gods.
     Over the centuries, new events were introduced, such as wrestling, the long jump, the discus throw and chariot racing. the period of competition expanded to five days, and the festivals lasted a month.
During this time, a truce was declared throughout the Greek world and all wars had to stop. No one was allowed to carry weapons into Olympia.
No women were allowed to compete in or even watch the Olympic Games, on pain of death. They had their own festival, in honour of the goddess Hera. it was held every five years, and the chief event was a race for young girls over about 30 metres.
    The Ancient Olympics lasted for more than a thousand years, but they started to lose their importance as the Romans began to take over Greece in the second century BC. When the Emperor Nero began his rule over the Greeks, the Games started to become a farce. The Romans, who were soldiers, converted the stadia into ampitheatres. Slaves competed in the place of free athletes. Their competitors were no longer noble opponents, but wild animals.
Although the Romans kept up the Games, they destroyed the Games' spirit and the sacred traditions that had grown up around them. In AD 394, Emperor Theodosius of Rome officially abolished the Games. He was a Christian, and wanted to put an end to pagan festivals.

 The renaissance of the Olympic Games


 

    The revival of the Modern Olympics was the concept of the Frenchman, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. He believed that international competitions between amateur athletes would help promote friendly relationships between people from different countries. Despite strong opposition, in 1894 de Coubertin assembled 79 delegates from 12 countries to attend the international congress for the re-establishment of the Olympic Games. It was decided to hold the first modern Olympics in Athens two years later.

   Athens 1896

    The 1896 Athens Games returned the Olympic Games to the land of their birth. King George of Greece opened the Games on April 5, in front of a crowd of 60,000. The original Olympic medals were silver and were only awarded to the winner of an event. 13 countries came to Athens to compete for the silver medals. The first Olympiad challenged athletes in 43 events, falling under nine sports: cycling, fencing, gymnastics, lawn tennis, shooting, swimming, track and field, weight lifting and wrestling. The events were open to anyone wanting to participate. Most entrants were college students or athletic club members, and the concept of national teams had not yet emerged.

     The most impressive story of the Games was one involving a marathon-winning shepherd from the Athens area: Spiridon Louys. Emulating the journey in 490 BC of the soldier Philippides, who ran 40km between the village of marathon and the olympic stadium in Athens to announce the victory of Greece over Persia, Louys ran the distance in 2 hours, 58 minutes and 50 seconds. Louys' triumph sent the country wild. It was just one of many eventual victories for the host country, who finished with 50 places of honor (given for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places).

The modern Olympic Games

    Since 1896, the Olympic Games have grown in leaps and bounds, and survived two World Wars and a Cold War, not to mention mismanagement.

Modern Olympic Games

1896 - Athens
1900 - Paris
1904 - St. Louis
1906 - Athens ("Unofficial")
1908 - London
1912 - Stockholm
1916 - Not held
1920 - Anverse
1924 - Paris
1928 - Amsterdam
1932 - Los Angeles
1936 - Berlin
1940 - Not held
1944 - Not held

 

1948 - London
1952 - Helsinki
1956 - Melbourne
1960 - Rome
1964 - Tokyo
1968 - Mexico City
1972 - Munich
1976 - Montreal
1980 - Moscow
1984 - Los Angeles
1988 - Seoul
1992 - Barcelona
1996 - Atlanta
2000 - Sydney                   
2004 - Athens

 

 

 

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