The Ancient Olympiad
“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.” ̶ Pierre de Coubertin (founder of modern Olympic Games)
The Ancient Olympiad
Commencing in 776 BC, the Ancient Olympic Games were part of a religious festival held in honour of Zeus and were staged every four years at Olympia, a valley near a city called Elis.
Only Greek men and boys who were free citizens, not criminals, and whose city states agreed to participate in the Olympic truce of the games, were allowed to compete.
Ancient Greek athletes were naked when they competed, to display their physical prowess and also to pay homage to Zeus by showing him how they had trained their bodies to their physical peak.
Only men, boys and unmarried girls were allowed to attend the Olympic Games. One of the ancient wonders was a 42 feet gold and ivory statue of Zeus at Olympia, sculptured by Pheidias.
Initially, the event ran for only one day; at the first Olympics, the only event was a short sprint from one end of the stadium to the other. Gradually more events were added to make four days of competitions.
They included wrestling, boxing, long jump, throwing the javelin and discus, and chariot racing. In the pentathlon, there were five events: running, wrestling, javelin, discus and long jump. The victors were awarded a wreath of olive leaves cut from the sacred tree at Olympia.
The city-states of Greece were often at war. To the ancient Greeks, the Games were more important than warfare because of their religious significance.
Each Olympic year, messengers sent out from Elis announced a ‘sacred truce’ lasting one month before the Games began, ensuring safe passage for athletes and spectators alike.
Although women were not allowed to compete in the Olympic Games, they could be declared winners in equestrian events as owners of the horses or the chariots. Kyniska, a daughter of king of Sparta, won great fame as the first woman to train horses that won in the Games. Unmarried women had their own festival at Olympia every four years. This was the Heraia, held in honour of Hera, wife of Zeus.
Women could compete in running races, though only unmarried girls (generally from Sparta) took part.
The last Olympiad was recorded in 393 AD, when Roman Emperor Theodosius outlawed the games at Olympia as a pagan event.
The modern Olympiad is a period of four consecutive calendar years, beginning on the first of January of the first year and ending on the thirty-first of December of the fourth year. The Olympiads are numbered consecutively from the first Games of the Olympiad celebrated in Athens in 1896.
The founder of the modern Olympic Games , Baron Pierre de Coubertin sought to promote international understanding through sporting competition. He designed the Olympic symbol, the five interlocking rings, which represents the union of the five continents and the meeting of the athletes of the world at the Games.
The 1896 Athens Games attracted just 245 competitors, of whom over 200 were Greek, with only 14 countries represented. Female athletes were not allowed to compete, though one Greek woman, Stamata Revithi, ran the marathon course alone two days later in 5½ hours. The cost of the 1896 Games was about $448,000.
The Games of 1896, 1900 and 1904 were loosely organised and did not feature national teams produced by rigorous selection. The 1908 Games, held in London in a newly built 66,000 seat stadium, were the first where the events were organised by the relevant authorities in each athletic discipline.
More than 2,000 athletes from 22 nations competed in 100 events. The 1908 Games also saw the first running of the marathon over its now-standard distance of 42.2km which was chosen to ensure that the race finished in front of the box occupied by the Royal Family.
The 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm drew more then 2,500 competitors from 28 countries and featured the first women’s swimming events. No Games were held in 1916 due to World War I, but by the 1928 Games in Amsterdam there were over 3,000 athletes, more than double the number that took part in 1924. The Olympic Games were suspended again for 12 years because of World War II, resuming in 1948 in London. The postwar era saw steady growth in the number of countries and athletes competing and a dramatic increase in women’s events.
Australia has hosted the Games twice – in Melbourne (1956) and Sydney (2000).
The Games of the thirtieth Olympiad will see London as host city for the third time; the games were previously held in England’s capital in 1908 and 1948.
An estimated global audience of 4 billion people are expected to watch theopening ceremony on July 27, 2012.
Costs for London Games are in the order of £11.3bn and the Olympic stadium will seat 80,000-seat spectators.
Lloyds estimate that the Games will generate £10bn in revenue for the British economy as a whole.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Paralympics. The wheelchair games, involving injured World War II soldiers, were staged on the opening day of the London 1948 Olympics.
2012 London Olympic Tally – some fast facts
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