Diving into the Olympic past

The Olympiad goes back centuries, once had stopped being celebrated altogether, then resurfaced years later

By Victor, Ortiz, Jr., Writer

The Olympic Games or Olympiad is a highly anticipated global multi-sporting event that draws in huge crowds from around the world and dates back centuries.  

Born in ancient Greece about 2,800 years ago, the first Olympic Games invited male athletes from all over Greece every four years to compete in various sports and was considered a religious event hosted in Olympia, a sacred sanctuary used to worship the Greek god Zeus starting in 776AD until its ban in 393AD, which halted the games until its rebirth in 1896. 

“At its heart the ancient Olympic Games was a religious festival held in a religious sanctuary. It was not just a matter of playing sports,” said Paul Christesen, who is a professor of Ancient Greek History, to olympics.com.

Landing during a time of religious gathering in worship to Zeus and other pagan gods, the ancient Olympics were included in the festivals and considered part of the celebration. Both Olympians and spectators would make animal sacrifices to one of several gods, supported prostitution and drunkenness. 

“The Greeks were aggressively polytheistic, so while Olympia was a sanctuary to Zeus we know that he wasn’t the only deity worshipped. There were over 70 different altars and you could sacrifice to pretty much anyone you wanted to,” said Mr. Christesen. 

Olympia was also host to a wide array of arts display

The games have changed since its beginnings, but a few aspects remain the same. The event still draws in large crowds and international athletic competition—although in ancient Greece the games were mostly open to Greek male athletes and few exceptions made for Greek female participation.  

Women for the most part were prohibited from attending. 

The most notable differences between the ancient Olympics and those of today are:

  • All individuals regardless of background are invited to compete.
  • Cruelty and violence are prohibited in events. 
  • Animal sacrifice to the gods are non-existent. Religion is no longer part of the event.
  • Appropriate uniform is required. Athletes of the ancient games were required to compete naked, while covered in oil. 
  • Olive wreaths were awarded to winners during the ancient times instead of medals.
  • Multiple winners for a single event were unheard of in the ancient games, just one first place winner.  
  • More than one Olympian takes a medal home for a single event in modern games.  

Cheating during the ancient times was punished with disqualification and public humiliation via whipping and shaming. Today, participants would be disqualified and face banning.

Rigorous athletic training, preparation and focus to compete in the games continue as they did in the past. A few sporting events that have survived include:  

  • Running
  • Wrestling 
  • Boxing
  • Equestrian or horse riding

The games would not be revived until 1894 when Pierre de Coubertin’s—the man responsible for bringing back the Olympics in its modern form—proposal was accepted by delegates attending an international sports conference. During this meeting it was decided that the first modern Olympics would be held in Athens in 1896 and that it would be managed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).  

Coubertin, being introduced to war at an early age believed in diversity, unity, and peace for the world. His dream of reviving the Olympics was set on this mindset of inclusion regardless of background. 

“The games are global. All people must be allowed in, without debate,” said Coubertin about reawakening the games.

“For every man, woman and child, it offers an opportunity for self-improvement.” 

Today, the Olympics are an iconic symbol of unity throughout the world boasting representation from each continent. 

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