The First Olympic Games

The Olympic Games are wrapped in numerous myths and legends and have a long history. The ancient Greek Olympics used to take place once per four years at Olympia, a district of Elis. The first games were held in 776 B.C. and took source from regular religious festivals and celebrations of the power of Zeus, the dominant King of the Pantheon of Gods. The Greeks from all the Empire used to gather next to the Sanctuary of Zeus located at Olympia Mountain to discuss their religious ideas. As an entertaining event of such meetings, the ancient Olympic Games became a competition of men in strength and power. Only male “free born Greeks” who lived anywhere in the Empire and its colonies, were allowed to participate in the competitions of the ancient Olympics. There were special separated athletic competitions for women, which were held in honor of the goddess Hera.

Before the Olympics, all the athletes had to train for about ten months. Athletics in general had a big influence on peoples’ minds: improving the body was supposed to be not less important than studying. According to the works of Plato, athletics helped to strengthen military powers of the Greeks very much. Professional athletes used to get ready for the Olympics under the supervision of special athletic trainers, who could arrange individual program of physical exercises, correct some faults of body positions and even offer some sorts of diet for better fitness. The most attention used to be paid on the harmony of movements and the athletes used to practice with flute music. All the participants of the games had to arrive to Olympia in 30 days before the games time and to train together with the other competitors. For this time they were under control of special instructors and had to obey many rules, like eating only cheese and water.

The first Olympics started as a big festival with the sacrifice of rams and lambs, rituals and carnivals. The stadium of the first games, the Hippodrome, was located in a valley next to the temple of Hera, surrounded with a garden of olive trees. That is why an olive branch became a sacred symbol of the games. Besides, there was a circle of fires near the temple, which used to be kept burning year round. Those fires gave source to the tradition of keeping the Olympic flame burning. At the games from 776 B.C. till 724 B.C., the first and only athletic event was the single foot race called stade. The legend about Hercules, the God of Physical Power, was taken as a base for the length of the race (about 200 meters). The legend says that Hercules could run that far with one breath.

Starting from the 13th Olympics, the races like “dioluss” (400 yards) and then the “dolichos” (3.3 miles) were added. The competitors had to run circles around the stadium. Other type of races was hoptile, a race with armor. Each race used to have preliminary competitions for the best runners to qualify to the finals. In 708 B.C., pentathlon and wrestling were added to the Olympics. In Iliad of Homer the references to pentathlon elements like javelin, discus, jumping, and running could be found. The fifth element of this contest is unknown. The athletes were competing in distance and targeting when throwing  javelin, and the winner in throwing discus could receive the discus as a prize, because it was made from bronze. Wrestling and took origins from the legend about the fight of Zeus and his father Kronos for reigning on the Earth. Wrestling competitors were categorized by age and weigh. Before the fight, the athletes used to places oil on their bodies. The aim of the fight was to hit the opponent’s shoulders to the ground, and after 3 falls a winner was announced. In boxing the opponents used to fight till one of them would give up. In later Olympics, a combination of wrestling and boxing called pankration was included to the games.

The chariot racing, originated from the myth about King Cenomaus and his daughter, appeared as one of the later events. Rich owners of the chariots used to hire professionals for the races and receive prizes as winners. But chariot races were not too important for the games as this competition did not really demonstrate the strength and power of a human. Therefore, in the early Olympisc 23 Olympic sports were introduced, but all of them together have never been held at the same Olympics. Each event had a special value to the games and used to evoke interest of numerous spectators.The winners of the first Olympics received a sacred olive tree branch: according to the belief, the energy and strength for life of the olives could pass to the athlete from the branch. But also there were prizes like money or meals. There were also unofficial prizes for winners like an allowance to live free of charge or without paying taxes. At later Olympics, the winners used to appreciate not the material side of the awards, but honor and glory.

The fall of the culture of sports and the Olympics has started when the Romans occupied Greece. The rise of various arts and literature in the country began distracting public attention from athletics. Instead of physical training programs, various philosophical schools and teachings started gaining popularity. In the 2nd century A.B. the Romans conquered Greece, and the Olympics lost its importance, honor and spirit. In times of the Emperor Nero, Roman soldiers transformed stadiums into amphitheatres, where the slaves were fighting against wild animals. Nothing was left from sacred traditions and grace, from noble spirit of competition at the Olympics. Finally, after more of one thousand years of glorious history, the ancient Olympic Games were abolished by the Christian Emperor, until the legend was reborn and received triumphant continuation in our times as modern Olympic Competitions.

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