As a child, I thought the Olympics was a sports event for the gods in heaven, done so as not to get bored doing nothing in the skies. I still remember my dad’s creative story when there was a strong rumbling of thunder.
He would just smile at me reassuringly: “Oh they’re just bowling up there, son!” History tells us the Olympic Games were originally religious and athletic festivals held every four years at the Sanctuary of Zeus in Olympia, Greece. Representatives from city-states and kingdoms of Greece were summoned to the Games.
These Games were mainly athletic and combative sports such as wrestling, the pankration, and horse and chariot-racing events, like that in the film epic, Ben Hur. Throughout these Games, all city-states and kingdoms of Greece that had been at war with one another would cease any form of violence and keep peace with one another.
This interruption of hostilities was known as the Olympic Peace or Truce. Suspending hostilities is a myth. Greeks never really stopped fighting. But Olympic peace permitted religious pilgrims traveling to Olympia to pass through warring territories unmolested as they were protected by Zeus. Myths enshroud the origin of the Olympics.
Legend identifies Hercules and Zeus as the forerunners of the Games, telling it was Hercules who first dubbed the Games “Olympic,” establishing the tradition of holding them every four years. After his twelve tasks, one myth says that Hercules built the Olympic Stadium as a tribute to Zeus.
Upon completion, he walked in a straight line for 200 steps and called this a “stadion” in Greek, or stadium in Latin, which later became a unit for measuring distance. Based on several findings at Olympia, the date of origin of the Ancient Olympics dates back to 776 BC.
These inscriptions showed a list of winners of a footrace held every four years starting in 776 BC. These Games featured races, a pentathlon, which consisted of a jumping event, discus, javelin throws, a foot race, wrestling, boxing, pankration, and equestrian events.
The Olympics had great religious status, and sporting events were combined with ritual sacrifices dedicated to Zeus and Pelops, divine hero and king of Olympia. Winners of the events received prizes and became immortalized in poems and statues.
The Games’ occurrence every four years became known as an Olympiad, a term adopted by Greeks as one of their units of time measurement. The Olympic Games reached their peak in the 6th and 5th centuries BC, but gradually waned in importance when the Romans gained power and influence in Greece. In 393 AD, the Games were officially ended when Emperor Theodosius I declared that all pagan practices had to stop.
Another date mentioned without scholarly consensus is 426 AD, when his successor, Theodosius II, ordered the destruction of Greek temples. The Ancient Games have evolved, but their basic foundation always remains the call to Universal Brotherhood. Though all the Games were competitive, representatives developed a certain camaraderie through mutual admiration.
By getting to know each other well, especially if they had to form different teams, they learned to appreciate each other better.
There was a common unity within the kingdoms and city-states of Greece. The Olympics, as inspired by Ancient Games, is now one of the top international sporting events. Thousands of athletes around the world participate in various Summer and Winter Sport Olympics.
These Games are considered the world’s top sports competition, with more than 200 countries involved. Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1894.
The IOC is the governing body of the Olympic Movement, with the Olympic Charter defining its structure and authority. The evolution of the Olympics during the 20th and 21st centuries has resulted in several changes to the Games.
Some adjustments include the creation of the Winter Games for ice and winter sports, the Paralympic Games for athletes with disability, and the Youth Olympic Games for teenage athletes. The IOC had to adapt to a variety of economic, political, and technological advances allowing the participation of professional athletes. As the Olympics grew with media coverage, the need for corporate sponsorships came.
Several Olympic rituals and symbols developed like the Olympic flag and torch, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies. Over 13,000 athletes compete at the Summer and Winter Olympics in 33 different sports and nearly 400 events.
The first, second, and third-place winners in each event receive Olympic medals: gold, silver, and bronze, respectively. Every nation is represented at the Olympics.
This growth experienced challenges and controversies of all sorts: corruption, boycotts, doping, violence… Notwithstanding all this, the Olympics is a great opportunity for the host city and country to showcase themselves to the world.
Above all these, the Olympics can show everybody what the world can be like when we are all united as brothers and sisters.