From Olympia to Sydney
MANY consider the Olympic Games to be the world’s most important athletic competition. “No other sports event attracts so much attention,” says The World Book Encyclopedia. “Several million people attend the games, and hundreds of millions throughout the world watch them on television.”
A Brief History
The Olympic Games originated thousands of years ago. Believing that athletics pleased the spirits of the dead, the ancient Greeks held national festivals that mixed religion with sport. These included the Isthmian, Nemean, Olympic, and Pythian games. Of these, the Olympics were held in highest esteem, for they honored Zeus, whom the Greeks considered the king of the gods.
Evidently the early Olympics featured only one event, a footrace. But in time they came to include other contests, such as chariot races and rigorous tests of endurance. Visitors streamed in for the occasion from far and wide. To ensure their safety, a truce forbidding warfare was put into effect for a period both before and after the games.
When Rome came into power, the Olympics began to decline. Indeed, many Romans viewed athletics with a measure of contempt. One exception was Emperor Nero. He entered the games in 67 C.E. and won every event in which he participated. It seems that the other contestants knew what was good for them! In any case, by 394 C.E., the Olympics had been discontinued.
The Revival of the Olympics
Some 15 centuries later, what the spades of German archaeologists unearthed on the plain of ancient Olympia brought renewed interest in the games. Then, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a 29-year-old Frenchman, proposed reviving the event. Thus, in 1896 the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens. Since that year, the Olympics have been held, with rare exceptions, every four years.
Today many eagerly anticipate the games. This year, they are to take place in Sydney, Australia, from September 15 to October 1. Included will be 28 sports, 292 events, and 635 sessions, with more than 10,300 athletes participating.
In recent years, however, the Olympics have become steeped in controversy. Many people even say that the Olympic ideals are in crisis. A look behind the scenes will prove to be both revealing and disturbing.
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Scala/Art Resource, NY