In 776 B.C. the early Olympic Games began in ancient Greece. They were held from 776 B.C. to A.D. 393. There are many different stories about the beginning of the Olympics. The ancient Olympic Games were primarily a part of a religious festival in honor of Zeus, the father of the Greek gods and goddesses.
The festival and the games were held in Olympia, a rural sanctuary site in the western Peloponnesos. Another tradition states that after the Greek hero Pelops won a chariot race against King Oenomaus to marry Oenomaus’s daughter Hippodamia, he established the Games.
In ancient times, four great game festivals were held on Greek land: The Isthmians, The Nemeans, The Pythians, and The Olympic Games. The Games were so important to the Greek people, that they used periods in between the Games as a method of dating important historical events. Famous Greeks attended or even participated in the ancient Olympic Games: the philosopher Socrates, Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, and even the father of medicine, Hippocrates. The philosopher Plato (427-347) was a double winner of the pankration.
The Olympics were open to any free-born Greek in the world. There were separate men’s and boys’ divisions for the events. Women were not allowed to compete in the Games. Not only were women not permitted to compete personally, but married women were also barred from attending the games, under the penalty of death. A victor received a crown made from olive leaves and was entitled to have a statue of himself set up at Olympia. In Olympia, the wild olive tree grew, and from these came the infamous olive wreath, called the Crown Olive. The Crown Olive was the most coveted, and only, prize won at Olympia.
Olympia was one of the oldest religious centers in the ancient Greek world. Since athletic contests were one way that the ancient Greeks honored their gods, it was logical to hold a recurring athletic competition at the site of a major temple. Part of a religious festival, the Olympic Games were held every four years during the month of July or August. The time between two Olympic Games was called an Olympiad and was the system upon which time in ancient Greek history was calculated. The games were so important that even wars were stopped at the time they were held.
In the beginning, the games lasted only one day and comprised of only one event, the running of one stadium, but gradually more events were added resulting, towards the 5th century B.C., in the games lasting for 5 days. In total, the Olympic Games consisted of 10 events: running, the pentathlon, jumping, discus throw, javelin, wrestling, boxing, the pancration, chariot racing, and horse racing. The revival of the Olympic Games in modern times reached a peak at the end of the 19th century with the contribution of the French Baron Pierre De Coubertin and the Greek Dimitrios Vikelas. They revived it to encourage world peace and friendship and to promote healthy sporting competition for the youth of the world.
The first modern Games were held in Athens in 1896 in Athens, in the Panathenaic Stadium. About 250 athletes from 14 countries participated in it. There were 43 events in 9 different sports. Winter Games originated in 1924. Beginning in 1994, the Winter and Summer Games were divided and scheduled on four-year cycles, two years apart. In contrast, the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, included more than 10 000 athletes from more than 190 countries competing in 271 events in 29 different sports. The famous marathon race did not exist in the ancient Games. The first Olympic marathon was held on 14 April 1896 at 2 p.m. and the distance was 40 kilometers. The headquarters of the International Olympic Academy is in Olympia now.
In 1913, Baron Pierre de Coubertin came up with the idea for the symbol for the Olympics, the Olympic Rings. Every ring stands for one of the five continents. Although there are seven continents, Antarctica is excluded and North America and South America are considered one. The connection of the rings symbolizes the connection of the continents during the Games and the ideal of peace and brotherhood of the whole planet. The flag was first flown at the 1920 Olympic Games in Belgium. After each Olympics, the flag is passed on to the new host city, where it is kept safe until it is flown, during the Olympics. The original Olympic flag was used until 1984 when Seoul presented a new flag to the IOC, made of Korean silk.
Beginning in 1934, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) introduced the Olympic flame with the idea that it would enrich the games. In Olympia is the altar of the Olympic flame, which is transferred every four years to the city that hosts the Olympic Games. The lighting of the flame takes place at the altar of the Temple of Hera and it is done with the convergence of sunlight onto a metal reflector. This process is part of a ritual combination that includes the prayer and the hymn to Apollo. The high priestess enters the stadium holding the lit torch which she then hands over to the first runner in order for it to start its long journey to the ends of the earth. The flame symbolizes purity. The universal symbol of the flame teaches us that it is necessary to work toward the lasting unity of mankind.
The Olympic Games are organized and governed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). It sets the general program, chooses the city where the games are to be held and determines the standards of amateurism. Each participating country has a National Olympic Committee that is responsible for arranging the participation of the nation’s athletes in the games.
The opening ceremony of each Olympic Games is held in a major stadium. The president of the host nation usually officiates. Led by athletes from Greece, all athletes march around the stadium in the parade of Nations. Then, facing the Olympic Flag, the athletes take the Olympic Oath. The Olympic Flame is lit with a torch that is brought by a relay of athletes from the ruins of ancient Olympia in Greece. When the Games are completed, the flag is lowered and the flame extinguished.