The Early Days of the Olympics
Believe it or not, but the Olympics have been around for nearly 3,000 years. In fact, the first Olympic games to be recorded in history (not for playback on television) took place in 776 B.C., although many scholars believe the games have a much earlier origin than that. When the Olympics were first held in ancient Greece, they consisted of merely a foot race. People grew bored of watching athletes run naked, so they added a twist to the event – running while wearing full armor. But even in ancient Greek days, you could only watch people run for so long before wondering what’s going on in other places. As a result, more events were added to the Olympics, including wrestling (real wrestling, not WWE-style with masks and capes) and the pentathlon, which consisted of jumping, sprinting, discus tossing, javelin throwing, and wrestling. The people were excited about the new events which were one of the reasons that the Olympics survived for so many years.
The Sexism of the Olympics
When you watch the Olympics today, you will find that most of the sports are divided into a men’s and a women’s team. However, this wasn't always the case. In fact, during the early days of the Olympics, women could be killed if they even attended one of the events. If they were caught cheering on their favorite naked runner or javelin thrower, they ran the risk of the death penalty. But in 396 B.C. one woman defied what would be considered a sexist rule today. Because her husband died while training their son for the boxing event, she helped her son train. She then went to the games to watch her son pummel his opponent, but her excitement got the best of her. Even though she was disguised as a man, people recognized her elated shouting as that of a woman. In an unusual move of compassion, though, she was not killed because of her special circumstances. It also helped that her brothers and her fathers were well-known Olympians as well.
The Olympics Finds a Foe
The Olympic Games went through some twists and turns during the following several hundred years. In 67 A.D. Nero did something that probably would have made TV ratings shoot through the roof if it happened today. He brought his very own cheering section to shout for him as he participated in several of the events himself. He also “fixed” the games in his favor. In one of the chariot racing events, he was declared champion even though he fell off of his chariot during the race.
In 394 A.D., however, Emperor Theodosius I of Rome had to spoil everyone’s fun. He abolished the Olympics because he felt they were a pagan practice and he wanted to do away with anything that could be considered pagan. Eventually, all of the signs of the Olympiads had been destroyed, either by human hands or earthquakes that occurred over decades.
The Epic Return of the Olympics
The Olympics were dormant for about 1500 years following the decree by Theodosius. It wasn’t until 1829 when German archaeologists were fiddling around and they uncovered the site of Olympia, where the original games were held. All that was left were some building foundations and a barren stretch of land where the original foot races were held.
In 1894, the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, was founded which helped bring back the games as we know them today. Two years later, the Olympic Games were held once again in Athens and it included 14 nations, 43 events, and nearly 250 male athletes. The IOC decided to stick with the “male only” stipulation because, according to the officials on the committee, including females in the games would be both “uninteresting” and “incorrect.” Four years later, the second round of the modern Olympics was held in Paris. This time, 11 women were allowed to compete, but only in the golf and lawn tennis events out of the 75 events that were included that year. More than 1300 men from 26 countries competed as well.
Over the next 100 years or so, the Olympics picked up steam in terms of people who were actually interested in watching them and the number of athletes and countries that participate in the games. Today, billions of dollars are spent on making the Olympics a success each year and cities all over the world bid for the privilege to hold the event. It’s become a worldwide phenomenon that brings the people in many countries together so they can put aside their differences for a few short weeks before they get back to arguing about tax policies and political differences.
Paris Olympics- 1900