The Olympic Games were staged, every four years, from 776 BCE until 393ACE. They were canceled by Emperor Theodosius 1, a Christian emperor, who mandated the ending of all pagan sporting events. The ancient Games had lasted one thousand years.
The first event held was the stade, a long sprint of 192.7 meters. The runners would place their feet into grooved stones, with up to 20 contesting the event at one time. If one false started and it was deemed a purposeful false start, the judges would flog the offending sprinter with a whip ! The dialos, or two stades, (384 meters), came into the Games in 724 BCE, with a distance race in 720 BCE of 24 stades or 4,600 meters, called a dolichos. In 708 BCE, the pentathlon, the discus, standing long jump ( one would have weights in one’s hands up to 4.6 kilograms) and a stade sprint. It was only if there was not a clear leader that the fifth event, wrestling, would take place.
In 2004, my son, Adam and I, visited the temples and stadiums of Olympia, which had been under mud and debris for over 1,000 years. In ancient times, the stadium sat 60,000 ( no women were allowed). I was able to jog the stadia, and start in the grooved rocks for the sprinters. Sprinters at the time would have a standing start, bent at the knees.
The Olympics as we know, were revived by Baron Pierre de Coubertin in 1894, with Athens holding the first modern Olympics in 1896. The Olympics has mirrored
the politics of the age since the ancient times.
Remember the 1916 Games were canceled due to World War 1. The 1940 and 1944 Games were canceled courtesy of World War 2.
Victory took on another role in 1936. The US won the largest number of medals, followed by Germany and Great Britain. Jesse Owens, the winner of four gold medals, was supposedly snubbed by Hilter. That was not true. Hitler had not greeted any medalists after Cornelius Johnson, the American high jumper had beat a German in the final. ( Jesse Owens, in fact was never congratulated by the U.S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, upon his return). In 1936, nationalism was rearing is problematic head.
The 1952 Olympic Games were the first games where the team of the Soviet Union competed. The battle between Horace Ashenfelter, the American steeplechaser ( and FBI agent) and Vladamir Kazantsev, was one of the classic races of the Helsinki Olympics. The cold war was upon the world and sports took on an ever grander position-a win was now a sign of the supremacy of the political system as well.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, actually by 1988, the role of the Olympic Games was changing. The Olympic Games, a time in which most of the world’s countries sent some athletes, were the focal point for television viewership around the world. Seoul, Korea, Barcelona, Spain, Athen, Greece and now Beijing, China.
Face it. The modern Olympics is a coming out party for the country involved. It also shows that the coming out party puts the country in a spot light for several months that the host country may not completely appreciate.
This is my fourth Olympics as a credentialed media ( I had been approved for Sydney, but was unable to attend). Each Olympics gives one a different set of memories. I am fascinated by China and its peoples. I am looking forward to taking walks around Beijing and checking out the Olympic stadium and experiencing the Olympic experience. It will be quite different from any of my other experiences.
The reality is that the Olympics mirror our world and our problematic society. Good and bad. What needs to be remembered, that at the end of the day, it is about athletes from around the world, finding their grooved rock at the start of the race (we now have starting blocks), and running with all of their heart and soul, challenging themselves and others to perform.
The sad thing is that people have not changed. There was cheating in the ancient Games. I recall a wrestler accused of cheating being executed. Pretty strong punishment. At the end of the day, we have to hope that most of the athletes in Beijing will do their best, unenhanced by banned substances, and believing in the Olympic experience and the Olympic challenge, ” Citius, Altius, Fortius.”
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