Have you heard of the Olympics?
What a silly question! Of course you have! Everyone has!
The Olympics are the games that are held every four years in a different place every time and most of the countries of the world participate in it. But how did this worldwide sporting event begin? How was anyone able to get so many countries together to participate in competitions of so many sports? Let’s go back to the beginning of the Olympic Games.
The Olympic Games began as a religious festival to honour the Greek god Zeus in 776 BC. That’s quite far back! 776 BC was much almost 3000 years ago! That’s a very long time. At this time, Greece was one of the most advanced countries in the world.
You must be wondering where the games got its name from. That’s all in the story of where it all began.
The very first Olympic Games began in Ancient Greece at the foot of the highest mountain in Greece, Mount Olympus. Thus, the name Olympic comes from Mount Olympus.
The Greeks believed that the 12 Greek gods lived at the top of the mountain. So every year they would gather at the foot of the mountain to ask for special favours and say thank you for all that the Gods had given them and to give presents to the gods which were in the form of sacrifices. To lighten the mood after the praying and sacrificing of animals, they put on contests and competitions which came to be known as the Olympic Games.
But, they decided to have the games after a four year period. This period was called an Olympiad. As they counted this four year period in wait for the next games, this period formed the basis for the earliest calendar.
The Greeks believed that competition fosters excellence and so in addition to sports; competitions were held for music, singing and poetry. For the first 13 games the ancient Greek Olympics featured just one sport: the 200 yard dash; but over the years new and more exciting contests were added, like boxing, chariot and mule racing, the Pankration, which is a primitive or rough form of the modern Martial Arts and also a foot race in which the competitors wore a full suit of armour.
The Pentathlon which comprises of 5 events that were running, jumping, wrestling, javelin throwing and hurling the discus was also introduced. This great mixture of 5 sports into one inspired world class competition.
Have you heard of the Marathon? Well, this race too has a story behind its name- Marathon. Marathon was a town in Greece, around 26 miles or 41 kilometres from Athens. In 490 BC, many, many years after the games had begun, there was a huge battle called ‘the Battle of Marathon’. The messenger boy called Pheidippides was given the task of running all the way to Athens to give the message to everyone that the Greeks had won the battle. He made it all the way to Athens and managed to give the news “the Greeks have won!” before he dropped dead. That’s why the 41 kilometre race is still called the Marathon.
However, there was one drawback or problem with these games: not everyone was allowed to participate on these games. Only free men who could speak Greek could participate in the games. Women and even slaves could not participate.
In the year 393 AD the Christian Roman emperor Theodosius who was now ruling in Greece, banned Pagan practices because they weren’t Christian and he wanted to make Christianity the main religion and so the world bid farewell to the Olympics.
But don’t worry. Even though the Olympics had a sad demise, it came back stronger than ever!
1500 years later in Paris, France, Baron Pierre de Coubertin a rich French nobleman very interested in education, as a young man went to Rugby, a boys’ school in England where he saw how sports made the boys strong and healthy and keeps them disciplined.
He had always idolized the ancient Greek games. He wanted to put on a competition, just like the one in Greece between different countries. But first of course, he had to persuade, or convince, everyone to agree to his idea. When he told people of his great idea, they said it was crazy and that it would never work. But he did not give up. He kept trying. Finally, after a lot of convincing, Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympics Committee in 1894 and in 1896 the modern Olympic Games were revived in Athens, Greece. 241 participants from 14 nations participated in the games. In the year 1900 women too were allowed to participate.
Today Baron de Coubertin is known as the father of the modern Olympic Games.
The Olympic Motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius which means faster, higher, stronger!
The 5 Olympic rings that you see in the logo of the Olympic Games were developed by Coubertin in 1912 and were approved in 1914. The symbol made its debut in the year 1920 in Belgium. The 5 rings symbolize the 5 parts of the world that had agreed to accept healthy competition and participate in the games. The colours or the rings were chosen because at least one of these colours is present on the flag of any country, giving the message that any athlete from any country can participate in the Olympic Games.
The main purpose of these games is to maintain peace and improve relations between all the countries of the world. So, one can consider the Olympic rings a symbol of peace throughout the world.