History of the Olympics
In 776 BC a foot race was run. The winner was the first Olympic hero ever. From that very first race to today, the Olympics have always been a way for nations to come together in friendly competition and international goodwill.
The conditions of the first Olympics were not anything like they are today. The events were held in an open space in which a track had been paced off, areas for the javelin and discus had been laid out, etc. The spectators did not have stands to sit in; instead, they occupied the sloping areas around the track; sitting on blankets and sleeping in tents if they were wealthy enough to have one.
Because the games were held during the hottest time of the year, flies were a terrible problem. The problem was so pervasive that an offering, in the form of a sacrifice, was made to Zeus, asking him to keep the flies away from Olympia.
As time went on different features and structures were added to the site. A hippodrome was built for the chariot races, a gymnasium and bathhouse for the athletes, and even a hotel for the wealthiest of spectators.
Vendors were there, selling wine that the spectators drank along with the cheese, bread and olives they ate. Sanitation was basically nonexistent. Water was always in short supply until Herodes Atticus of Athens built an aqueduct and a water system. This did not occur until the games had been taking place for 900 years.
The contests consisted of foot races, horse and chariot races, boxing, wrestling, discus, javelin, broad jump, and horse races. The horse races were unique in that the prizes were given to the owner of the horse, not the rider. The discus, javelin and broadjump were part of the pentathlon event which also included a 200-meter dash and a wrestling match. The winner had to have taken three of the five events.
On the fifth and final day of the festival, the athletes marched to the temple of Zeus to collect their winnings, the coveted victors olive wreath. The winner of an Olympic event won much more than just the olive wreath however. He was often awarded a cash bonus by his townspeople; sometimes a pension for life. Additionally, he was welcomed as a contestant at other festivals where the prizes were often large amounts of cash.
In the beginning the athletes were aristocrats, as they had the free time necessary to train for the games. Additionally, they had the finances required to travel to the competition every four years. As time went on however, the games began to open up to the less fortunate. Villages and towns began to raise money to sponsor their own athletes, much like the corporations of today who sponsor Olympic teams.
As was typical in Greek society, the games were open only to men. In addition to all of the athletes being male, the trainers were men as well. The article tells of a mother, so determined to see her son compete, that she dressed as a man to watch his competition. When her son won the event, she jumped over the barrier and revealed she was a woman. From that point on the trainers had to be naked along with the athletes.
The trainers then are quite similar to trainers today. They kept their athletes on strict diets and focused training regimes. Eventually the athletes trained for ten months before the events were to take place. The sessions were grueling; just like they are for todays athletes.
The original Olympic Games lasted for so long because they were a religious festival; in honor of Zeus. When Christianity began to spread across the ancient world, the festivals were held no more, as Zeus had lost his position.
The site of the games was abandoned by order of the Roman Emperor Theodosius I in 393. Over time the location was devastated by earthquakes, invaders, and floods. In 1766 a British traveler found the site and in 1875 the first archaeologists began excavating it. It wasnt until 1896, after a French aristocrat interested in promoting athletic events, particularly the Olympic Games, that the modern Olympic Games took place.