The Olympic Games: A bit of history

We’ve all been glued to our TV sets to watch the Olympics in London since the opening ceremony; but did you know the games today have evolved and are quite different from how they started out? Here are some fast facts about the Olympics.

The Ancient Olympics

  • Historical records reckon the games first began in 776 BC in honour of the Greek mythological god Zeus. It began as just a foot race in Olympia, Greece, but later the ancient Olympics consisted mainly of athletic events with some combat and chariot racing as well.
  • The games were – and still are – held once every four years (also called an Olympiad). There are a lot of myths surrounding the beginning of the Olympics.
  • When the Olympics were on a temporary truce would take place, postponing any conflicts so that all athletes participating would be able to travel and compete in safety.
  • The games stopped when the Romans became more powerful in Greece. As the Romans were heavily Christian, their emperor ordered all pagan practices to end, which included the Olympics with their Greek mythology origins.

The Olympics today

  • The Olympics picked up again in the late 19th century, with the first modern games being held in Greece with 43 events and 241 athletes from 14 countries.
  • The 2008 Beijing Olympics saw around 10,500 athletes from 204 countries. My how they’ve grown!
  • The Winter Olympics (also held every four years, two years after each Summer Olympics) and Paralympics (held the same year as the Summer Olympics) were later introduced, and more recently the Youth Olympics.

The Olympic symbols

  • The Olympic logo of the five intertwined rings symbolise the unity of the five main continents: America, Asia, Europe, Australia and Africa. The colours of the rings: Blue, Black, Yellow, Green and Red on a white background were chosen because every nation has at least one of the colours on its national flag.
  • The Olympic flame is lit in Olympia several months prior to the games’ opening ceremony and relay torch bearers pass it on to each other to transport the flame from Greece to the host country. The torch relay is part of the modern Olympics and is a tradition that started in 1936 – originally, it was just a fire that was started at the beginning, kept lit throughout the whole of the games and was extinguished at the closing ceremony.
  • The flame has been transported in a variety of creative ways, including underwater, on a camel, via radio signal and laser beam, and on the Concorde jet.
  • The flame does go out by mistake sometimes! Multiple ‘copies’ of the flame are taken along with the ‘proper’ as part of the relay, or backups are kept elsewhere. This way, if the main light goes out, there’s always an emergency backup to keep the fire burning.

Image / FreeDigitalPhotos.net – Salvatore Vuono

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