The Olympics: older than dirt
Published: Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012
Come Friday, July 27, NBC and its sister networks will be filled with nothing but swimming, track and field, gymnastics and awards. Yes, it is that time again: time for the Summer Olympics.
The 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England, mark the Games of the XXX Olympiad, where an estimated 10,500 athletes from over 200 countries will compete in 302 events in 26 sports.
While the Games as we know them are only in their 30th year, the history of the Olympics has been recorded as far back as 776 B.C., although it is believed people have participated in the Games years before. While there were nowhere near 302 events in the original Olympic Games, many of the sports practiced then are still in existence today, such as the foot races — our pentathlon and other track events — and hand to hand combat matches — wrestling events, boxing, judo and taekwondo — and equestrian. The ancient Games also hosted chariot races as a sport.
Just as they are now, the Games occurred every four years, better known as an Olympiad, a measurement the Greeks used. Despite whatever struggle was going on between cities-states, the fighting ceased for those few days during the Games so everyone could enjoy them.
While the origin of the Games is unknown, the Greek legend is that Hercules and Zeus created the Games to test and showcase their strength. Only men could compete in these Games and they often competed nude. There were, however, a couple of cases where women posed as men in an effort to compete. Their punishment was usually death by being thrown over a cliff — a little extreme, if you ask me.
In addition to a test of strength and ability, the ancient Olympic games served as a religious symbol. Competitors would make sacrifices to Zeus and other Greek deities, with winners later becoming immortalized in poem, statues and artwork. However, when Rome gained power in Greece, the Games lost their importance and meaning and ended in 393 A.D. when the emperor Theodosius I declared the Games as pagan. In 426 A.D., his successor had all of the Olympic stadiums, temples, art and statues destroyed.
The modern Games, as we know them, began in 1859 after Evangelis Zappas, a wealthy Greek-Roman philanthropist, wrote a letter to King Otto of Greece asking for a revival. The first Games were held in Athens and allowed Greek and Ottoman Empire athletes to compete. Over the next few years, Greek stadiums were restored and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was formed to look over the Olympic Games. The first Games held under the newly formed IOC was in Athens in 1896. Fourteen nations, including 241 athletes, competed in 43 events. Twenty-eight years later, the first Winter Olympics were held in Chamonix, France.
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