Culture and Recreation


When were the first Olympic Games?

The Olympics date to about 900 B.C., when, in Ancient Greece, tens of thousands of sandal-wearing spectators descended on Olympia to cheer the runners, wrestlers, and bare-skinned boxers competing there. The games at Olympia were one of four athletic festivals in Greece, the others being the Isthmian games at Corinth, the Nemean games, and the Pythian games at Delphi, all of which alternated to form the periodos, or circuits, which guaranteed sports fans the opportunity to attend an athletic festival every year.

Winning was everything then: Athletes were required to register in order to compete, and rumors of Herculean opponents sometimes prompted competitors to withdraw. Victors were awarded crowns of olive leaves, and the second-and third-place finishers returned home undecorated.

The modern Olympic Games, begun by diminutive Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1862–1937) possess a decidedly different spirit than did their ancient counterpart where the only rules were that participants were not allowed to gouge, bite, put a knee to the groin, strangle, or throw sand at their opponent. The modern Olympic Games, publicly proposed by Coubertin on November 25, 1892, in Paris, and first held in Athens, Greece, in 1896, are based on their initiator’s vision of the Olympic competition as an occasion to promote peace, harmony, and internationalism.

In April 1896 some 40,000 spectators pressed into the Panathenean Stadium, which had been constructed on the site of an ancient stadium in Athens, to witness the athletic feats of the first modern Olympic heroes. Thirteen nations participated; only male athletes (just more than 300 of them) competed; and Greece received the most medals (47). The second Olympic Games were held in 1900 in Paris.


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