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The History of the Olympics

December 31st, 2012 Seasonal

Today the Olympics are the ultimate international activity. Every two years citizens from every nation join together in harmonious competition to try their hand at various sporting events. People from all points of the globe tune in to see the the best of the best from their country try to bring back medals of gold, silver and bronze. The Olympics is more than just a sporting event - it's the most vivid expression of international unity to date. It allows nearly every nation to acknowledge the presence of one another through the honor of games played for nothing more than glory.

Greek roots

The roots of the Olympics can be traced back to ancient Greece in 776 BC. The competition garnered its namesake from the region of Olympia, located in the western part of Peloponnese. According to Olympic.org, the competition was part religious ceremony - a tribute to the gods who were thought to inhabit the area. Throughout Olympia there were ornate shrines, temples and buildings dedicated to the ethereal beings, like Zeus and Hera, who struck fear and wonderment in the minds and hearts of the Greek denizens.

The source goes on to note that similarly to the present day Olympics where the games are played to help foster good relations between countries, the Greeks engaged in competition in order to establish a friendly coexistence between cities. Originally the only event in the Olympics was a foot race, which was run by men. Instead of receiving a medal, right after the race a Greek judge would hand the winner a palm tree branch and place red ribbons on his head. Olympic.org also reports that there would later be a ceremony in which the winner's name would be announced, along with his father's and the city of his origin. He would also receive an olive tree wreath, which would be placed on his head like a regal crown.

The Hellenic Information Society (HIC) reports that the Olympic games were always a priority for the Greeks and were held even when the country was at war. The Battle of Chaironeia in 338 BC saw Philip of Makedon gain power over the Greek cities and the ruler infused political gatherings with the games throughout his rule. In 146 BC the Romans took over Greece but they perpetuated the tradition, and in 80 BC they were moved to Rome.

According to the HIC, after 1170 years of Olympic games, the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I banned them because he believed they were rooted in a pagan religion.

French revival

The Olympic tradition was eventually revived by Baron Pierre de Coubertin. WorldAtlas.com reports that the French aristocrat brought up the idea in 1892 at a conference in Paris and was able to persuade delegates from nine different countries, including the United States and Greece, to support the idea. The original Olympic games were originally planned on being held in Paris in 1900, but the venue was later changed to Athens and the date was moved to 1896.

Growth and unity

The original games were hardly rigorously organized, nor did they include the whole international community. Throughout the early 20th century, however, they began to gain popularity and worldwide appeal. By 1908, according to WorldAtlas.com, the games were held in London and included 2,000 athletes from 22 different countries, and in 1912, 2,500 competitors from 25 different countries competed.

The Olympics would intermittently be suspended due to World War I and World War II, but they would still carry on, garnering greater appeal and more involvement from the worldwide community. The tradition still continues on today and each event marks another triumph of unity and cohesiveness as athletes from all over the world gather to compete.