Sport events like rowing, shooting, cycling, badminton and athletics kept us all inside watching television in the heat of the summer. It has long been an ambition of the Chinese people to host the games, being more to them than just a sports event. Last year’s theme of One World One Dream reflects how they want everyone to see China’s vision to strive for a brighter future for everyone. According to legend, the ancient Olympic Games were founded by Hercules (the Roman son of Zeus.) However, the first recorded games were held in Greece in 776 BC about the time that Homer was born. For the first 13 Olympics there was only one event, the stadium race, which was a running event for one length of the stadium (approximately 192 meters). A naked runner Coroebus (a cook) won the event making him the very first Olympic champion. He was presented with a token of his victory, or what we now know as a medal and crowned with a wreath from the sacred olive tree that grew behind the temple of Zeus.
The Ancient Olympics was a way of showing how fit a man was which was reflected in the basic requirements needed to be a good soldier. The games grew and from the very start were played every four years, based on the Greek calendar. A longer race was introduced called a there and back or ‘diaulos’ race and four years after that, a long distance or ‘dolichos’ race was added with about 12 laps of the stadium.
Soon power events were introduced combining all types of physical strength, like boxing and wrestling. Horse and chariot racing followed, along with the pentathlon, which was a five-event match consisting of running, wrestling, leaping, throwing the discus and hurling the javelin. A race when the competitors wore armour and a mule race were also introduced, but these were generally not popular and were later dropped. The ancient games were banned in 394 AD by Roman Emperor Theodosius 1 because of their pagan influences.
Approximately 1500 years later, a young Frenchman named Pierre de Coubertin, began The Olympic revival. He attempted to get France interested in sport, believing that exercise made a more rounded and vigorous person. In 1890, Coubertin founded a sports organization USFSA in France and two years later, pitched his idea to revive the Olympic Games. In 1894, he organized a meeting of 79 delegates who represented nine countries. The conference was a huge success and the delegates voted unanimously for the Olympic Games and decided to have Coubertin construct an international committee to organise them. Planning began and Athens was chosen as the first venue with a Greek named Demetrious Vikelas selected as the first president of the Olympic committee.
The very first modern Olympic Games opened in April 1896. Since the Greek government had been unable to fund the construction of a stadium, a wealthy Architect, also from Greece named Georgios Averoff, donated one million drachmas to restore the Panathenaic Stadium, originally built in 330 BC, with white marble for the Olympic Games. Since the games were not well publicized internationally, contestants came individually and at their own expense. They were not nationally chosen and wore their own club colours rather than their national colours. Some contestants were even tourists who happened to be in the area during the games.
Pole vaulting, sprints, shot put, weight lifting, swimming, cycling, target shooting, tennis, marathon and gymnastics were all the events in that first Olympics with 300 participated from 13 countries taking part. The event was deemed a success and so began the modern day Olympics.
The Winter Olympics were added in 1924 and held for the first time at Chamonix. The Olympics was cancelled because of World War 1 in 1916 and World War 11 in 1940 and 1944, but they resumed in 1948. They are held every four years with the winter games in the same year until the 90’s. In 1992 it was decided to alternate the games, so in 1994 the winter games took place after only a two year’s interval and have been held every four years since then.
The pentathlon was discontinued after 1924, but restored in the 1948 games as the modern pentathlon based on five military skills – fencing, riding, running, shooting and swimming. In 1912 Jim Thorpe, a Native American, became the only man to win both the decathlon and pentathlon in one year. Officials cancelled his record and took back his medals when they learned that he had played professional baseball. His medal was restored posthumously in 1982.
In track and field events, Jesse Owens, a black American, won 4 gold medals including a team medal in 1936. The first woman to win 3 gold medals was Fanny Blankers-Koen of the Netherlands. The first perfect 10 in Olympic gymnastics was awarded to Nadia Comaneci of Romania, who received 7 perfect scores and 3 gold medals.
Tragedy struck at the summer games of the Munich when Palestinian terrorists murdered 11 Olympic team members from Israel. Protests saw countries boycotting games in 1976, 1980 and 1984 but the biggest scandal was in 1988 in Seoul when 10 athletes were disqualified after drug testing revealed steroid abuse.
Many records have been broken and many tales to tell; too many for this article. We will hold our breath and look forward to 2012 and the next Olympic Games – In London!