What Is the History of the Olympic Games?

Olympic rings

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The Olympic Games is the world’s premier sports competition and currently features 306 events in 28 sports with thousands of athletes competing. Originating in ancient Greece around 3,000 years ago, the games were later revived in the late 1800s.

In ancient times, the games were held in Olympia, in the western Peloponnese region in Greece, and were completed every four years.

In their modern incarnation, the games are also held every four years but in different locations around the world. Since 1994, the summer and winter Olympics have been held separately, alternating every two years.

The Ancient Greek Olympics

The first records we have of the Olympic Games date from 776 BC when a competitor named Coroebus won the games’ only event called 'the stade' – a running race over 192m. However, it’s generally believed that the games had been going on for a long time before this. The ancient Olympics were always held in August/September time during a religious festival that honoured the ruler of the gods Zeus and occurred every four years.

Over time, more and more events became part of the Olympics, including various running races and the pentathlon, which consisted of a running race, discus, javelin, long jump, and a wrestling match. In ancient times, however, women were not allowed to compete and married women were even barred from watching the events.

Unfortunately, after Greece was conquered by the Roman Empire, despite the games continuing regularly, the quality greatly declined. Then, with the Roman adoption of Christianity, Emperor Theodosius I banned all ‘pagan’ events, which included the Olympics, and ended the tradition that had lasted over 11 centuries.

The Modern Olympic Games

The world was without an Olympics for 1500 years until a gentleman called Baron Pierre de Coubertin of France re-established them. He was inspired to bring them back to promote physical education and, after visiting the ancient site of the Olympics in Greece, he decided to go ahead with the idea. At a meeting of the Union des Sports Athletiques in France, he proposed his idea of reviving the Olympic games.

After two years of hard work and negotiation, he helped found the IOC (the International Olympic Committee), which continues to oversee the games to this day.

The first modern Olympic Games was held in 1896 in Athens Greece and was watched by a crowd of 60,000. A total number of 280 people competed from 13 different countries in 43 events. The competitors were all male, however this was to begin changing from the 1900 games onwards. The Olympics have been held every four years except for three occasions (1916, 1940 and 1944) when the world was at war.

Today the Olympic games remains the world’s leading sporting event in which nearly every nation is represented. Despite numerous controversies, boycotts, drug scandals, and even a terrorist attack, the Olympic brand is as strong as ever, reflecting its own motto Citius – Altius – Fortius, meaning Faster – Higher – Stronger.