Olympic Origins – Facts about the Games you Might Not Know!

Olympic Flag by shirokazan | Flickr

The Olympic Games in Rio are only about a day away, and going by all the News reports about robberies, muggings, filthy conditions, bridge collapses etc., one can’t help but feel that these Olympics are going to be a Bit of a shambles.

It’s gonna be interesting to say the least!

So with that in mind, I thought I’d concentrate on some of the more interesting and beautiful aspects of the Olympics Games, starting with a little rundown of its history.

An artist's impression of ancient Olympia
An artist’s impression of ancient Olympia

The Olympic Games originated in ancient Greece around 3,000 years ago, having been traced back to 776BC, and were held every 4 years between August 6 and September 19, during a religious festival honoring Zeus. This period was know as an ‘olympiad’, which became a unit of time in historical chronologies.

The Games were named for their location at Olympia, a sacred site located near the western coast of the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece.

The palaestra of Olympia.
The palaestra of Olympia.

They continued for nearly 12 centuries, but after the Roman Empire conquered Greece in the mid-2nd century BC., their standards and quality declined, until Emperor Theodosius decreed in 393 A.D. that all such “pagan cults” be banned.

The "Discobolus" is a copy of a Greek statue c. 5th century BC. It represents an ancient Olympic discus thrower
The “Discobolus” is a copy of a Greek statue c. 5th century BC, representing an ancient Olympic discus thrower. Everyone competed in the nude back then!!

It was to be another 1500 years before they were revived in the late 19th century, thanks largely to the efforts of Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937) of France, and have become the world’s preeminent sporting competition.

Since 1994, the Summer and Winter Olympic Games have been held separately and have alternated every two years.

The first modern Olympics were held in Athens, Greece, in 1896.

In the opening ceremony, King Georgios I and a crowd of 60,000 spectators welcomed 280 participants from 13 nations (all male), who would compete in 43 events, including track and field, gymnastics, swimming, wrestling, cycling, tennis, weightlifting, shooting and fencing.

These Games featured the first Olympic marathon, which followed the 25-mile route run by the Greek soldier who brought news of a victory over the Persians from Marathon to Athens in 490 B.C.

Fittingly, Greece’s Spyridon Louis won the first gold medal in the event. In 1924, the distance would be standardized to 26 miles and 385 yards.

All subsequent Olympiads have been numbered even when no Games take place (as in 1916, during World War I, and in 1940 and 1944, during World War II).

The official symbol of the modern Games is five interlocking colored rings, representing the continents of North and South America, Asia, Africa, Europe and Australia. The Olympic flag, featuring this symbol on a white background, flew for the first time at the Antwerp Games in 1920.

Olympic flag entering the stadium
Olympic flag entering the stadium

The Olympics truly took off as an international sporting event after 1924, when the VIII Games were held in Paris.

Some 3,000 athletes (with more than 100 women among them) from 44 nations competed that year, and for the first time the Games featured a closing ceremony.

London 2012 - Olympic Closing Ceremony
London 2012 – Olympic Closing Ceremony

The Winter Olympics debuted that year as well, including such events as figure skating, ice hockey, bobsledding and the biathlon.

Eighty years later, when the 2004 Summer Olympics returned to Athens for the first time in more than a century, nearly 11,000 athletes from a record 201 countries competed.

In a gesture that joined both ancient and modern Olympic traditions, the shot-put competition that year was held at the site of the classical Games in Olympia.

Some more interesting facts about the Olympics:

#1. The first drug disqualification at the Olympics took place in 1968 in Mexico City, when Sweden’s Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall was banned from the modern pentathlon for drinking too much beer before the competition.

#2. In running, and winning, the first ever Olympic marathon in Athens, Greek farmer Spyridon Louis was said to have stopped at a taverna in the middle of the race for some wine, drank a beer and ate a red-dyed, hard-boiled egg (which is traditional for Greeks at Easter).

#3. Oscar Swahn is the oldest medallist in Olympic history. He won a silver in shooting at the 1920 Games at the age of 72, which is five years younger than John Howard.

#4. The story of the Olympic torch relay suggests it’s an ancient tradition, started by the Greeks in 776 B.C. and resumed when the modern Olympics took place. However, it had less noble origins, starting as a propagandist tool by Hitler before the 1936 Olympics.

Olympic Torch
Olympic Torch

#5. The 1908 Games were moved from Rome to London because of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.

#6. After Athens in 1896, and up until the 1932 Olympics, the shortest Summer Games lasted 79 days. There will be 16 days of competition in Rio.

1976 Montreal Olympic Games, Gold Medal
1976 Montreal Olympic Games, Gold Medal

#7. Two horses have tested positive for PEDs at the Olympics, which is why you might be confused if you ever see Waterford Crystal on a list of Olympic drug cheats.

#8. Australia has strict quarantine rules, so when the Games were held in Melbourne in 1956, the equestrian events were held in Stockholm.

#9. Olympic gold medals aren’t made of real gold. They merely have a gold wrapping, like a chocolate ‘gold’ coin but thicker. If they were pure gold, the 14-ounce medals would have a value close to $25,000. The last Olympics to have a solid gold medal were the 1912 Olympics in Sweden.

#10. Every single flag in the world has at least one of the colours on the Olympic flag (black, blue, green, red, yellow), which is to say there’s not a country that has an all-white flag.

Let’s all hope that the Rio Olympic Games are a huge success and everything runs smoothly for them, after what can only be described as a horror lead-up!


My sources for this story included: Herald Sun, Wikipedia and History.com
My Featured pic is by shirokazan