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