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The Olympic Games is one of the most awaited international events. The Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger) and its creed which says “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well” (see Olympic Charter) embodies the true spirit of sportsmanship which is the mark of the true Olympic spirit.
For many sports lovers, the Olympic Games serve as a unifying event that link all athletes and sports enthusiasts from all over the world. Many countries from different parts of the globe compete for the hosting of this international event not only for its significant contribution to the world of sports but also because this event attracts millions of people and have the capacity to stimulate the economy of the host country.
The Olympic Games have a long and colorful history that goes back t the 8th century B.C. In the olden times, the games were held in the ancient city of Olympia, Greece. At that time, the Olympics belong solely to the Greeks and their allies. Over the years, the games evolved and in the 19th century, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was organized and the modern day international games started. At first, there were only a few nations which participated in the Olympic Games which were conducted once every four years. However, as the event became more popular, more and more countries sent delegates. During the 2008 Summer Olympics which was held in China, around 10,500 competitors from 204 countries participated in the different events (see Official site of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. http://en.beijing2008.cn/#).
Aside from gaining more participants, the Olympics also evolved in terms of its format and schedule. At present, the Olympic Games have evolved into two events namely the Summer Olympics and Winter Olympics. To get a clearer picture of how the International Olympic Games developed over the years, let us delve deeper into its history from the ancient times up to the present. We will also take a look at how the sports, the symbols and the ceremonies of the Olympic Games developed over the past several years.
The Ancient Olympics
History cannot pinpoint clearly as to when and how the ancient Olympics started. There are a number of theories as to how the Games initially came into being. Myths have it that the Gods of Olympus, particular Heracles and Zeus started the first Olympic Games (Young, David C. (2004). According to the legend, Heracles organised the games in honor of Zeus, his father. This made the first Olympics a form of religious event and tribute which was meant to honor Zeus and Pelops, who was the divine hero and mythical king of Olympia (Young, David C., 2004). According to the myth, the Ancient Olympic Games, which was conducted every four years, featured chariot racing and combat events that are designed to please the gods (Young, David C., 2004).
Although there are many people who accepted the mythical explanations of how the Games started, not many scholars accepted the mythical justification of when and how the Olympics started. For many historians, the inscription found at Olympia which detailed the names of the winners of a footrace which was held every four years is the proof that the Olympics did start in Olympia. Based on this inscription, historians calculated that the Ancient Olympics started around 776 BC with an interval of four years from one event to another (Swaddling, Judith, 1999). Further evidence showed that the Ancient Olympics features games such as running, wrestling, boxing, equestrian events and pentathlon which is a combination of foot race, jumping event, wresting and discus and javelin throws (Crowther, Nigel B. (2007). Traditional stories and folklores have it that a cook by the name of Coroebus from the city of Elis was the first Champion of the Ancient Olympics (Golden, Mark (2009).
The Ancient Olympic Games took place every four years which lead the Greeks to use Olympiad as a form of time measurement (Swaddling, Judith, 1999). The Games became the highlight of Greek celebrations especially around the 6th and the 5th centuries BC ((Swaddling, Judith, 1999). However, when the Romans gained power over Greece and the Olympics faded into the background and it eventually ended during the reign of Theodosius I around 393 AD (Crowther, Nigel B. (2007). It was not until the 19th century when the Games were revived.
Modern Day Olympics
There were some attempts to revive the Olympic Games during the 18th century. History tells us that a national festival called the L’Olympiade de la Républiquewas celebrated in France annually from 1796 to 1796 (see Le Pontentiel , 2008). Accordingly, the competition followed most of the events featured in the Ancient Olympics. The metric system was also introduced into the Games at this stage. However, the French version of the Olympics did not attract many participants from other parts of the world and it died out naturally after two years.
By 1821, the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire triggered a renewed sense of patriotism among the Greeks. Along with this new awakening, the Greeks took interest in reviving the Olympic Games which their forefathers started thousands of years before. However, it was not until 1859 before the first Olympic Games were conducted in Athens (Young, 1996).
Another attempt at reviving the Olympics happened in 1850 when the Olympian Class started at Much Wenlock, Shropshire, England. It was later on renamed as the Wenlock Olympian Game in 1859 and is known today as the Wenlock Olympian Society Annual Games (Wenlock Olympian Society. http://www.wenlock-olympian-society.org.uk/william-penny-brookes/index.shtml). The Olympian Society Annual Games adopted most of the tournaments and disciplines of the Ancient Olympic Games. Again, like its predecessor, the Wenlock Olympic did not attract international participants. However, unlike the French Olympic which died out after two years, the Wenlock Olympian Society Annual Games continued until the present. The year 1866 marked yet another revival of the ancient Olympic Games in the England. Dr. William Penny Brookes organized the first National Olympic Games in England and the games were held at the Crystal Palace (Wenlock Olympian Society. http://www.wenlock-olympian-society.org.uk/william-penny-brookes/index.shtml). Most of the events at the Crystal Palace were adopted from the 1859 Olympics which were held in Athens, Greece.
The attempts at reviving the Olympic Games gave the organisers an insight that a large scale international sports affair is possible. Pierre Frédy, Baron de Coubertin, a French historian, pedagogue and considered as the father of the modern Olympic Games, proposed to Dr. Brookes and to Evangelis Zappas, the wealthy philanthropist who sponsored the first Olympic Games in Athens in 1859, that they spearhead the organisation of an International Olympic Games which will be held in rotation from one country to another (Coubertin, Philemon, Politis & Anninos, 1897). The idea of Coubertin was eagerly accepted by the Brookes and Zappas. During the meeting of the newly constituted International Olympic Committee (IOC) held in June 16-23, 1894, the idea of Coubertin was adopted by the Committee. The Committee decided to conduct the first International Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens, Greece and elected Demetrius Vikelas as the first president of the International Olympic Games.
The first International Olympic Games in Athens was not well attended. In fact, there were only 250 athletes who came to the event (Darling (2004). The poor attendance to event was attributed to the failure in communication and the fact that the Greek government was not able to refurbish properly the Panathenian Stadium where the Games were held. Due to space limitations and the limited number of athletes who came for the event, the first International Olympics only featured nine sporting events (Coubertin, Philemon, Politis & Anninos (1897). These sporting events were cycling, athletics, tennis, weightlifting, wrestling, fencing, shooting, swimming and gymnastics (Coubertin, Philemon, Politis & Anninos (1897). The tenth event which was rowing was cancelled due to unfavorable weather conditions at that time (Coubertin, Philemon, Politis & Anninos (1897).
Despite the less than stellar attendance to the first International Olympic Games, athletes, organisers and sports enthusiasts from different countries were very enthusiastic about it. Many people suggested that Athens should host all the future Olympics but the committee rejected this idea saying that the Olympics is supposed to be an international event and all countries should have equal right to host the event in their territories (Olympiad (Young, David C. (1996).
With much enthusiasm from different sectors, the second Olympic Games were organised and were held in Paris in 1900. This was followed by another Olympic Games in 1904 at St Louis, Missouri in the United States (see ESP Olympics Fan Guide http://proxy.espn.go.com/oly/summer08/fanguide/history?year=1904). Unfortunately, both events were not very successful. The International Olympic Games in Paris and St. Louis coincided with the World’s Fair exhibit and since both events were held at the same time and at the same place, attendance to the Olympic Games suffered. According to ESP’s Olympic Fan Guide, there were only 650 athletes who attended the affair and St. Louis and 580 of these athletes came from the host country which was the United States.
The less than successful conduct of the second and third Olympic Games prompted the organisers to host another Olympics in 1906 in Athens, Greece (Young, David C. (1996). This event was dubbed as the 1906 Intercalated Games because it was held on the third Olympiad instead of the traditional fourth Olympiad (Young, David C. (1996). The 1906 event helped revive the flagging spirits of the Olympic movement. By 1908, the London Games gathered a huge crowd which fueled the enthusiasm of the organisers and athletes alike Olympiad (Young, David C. (1996).
Birth of the Winter Olympics
As the International Olympic Games became more popular around the world, more and more countries sent representatives to the Games. Eventually, several sports events were added to the traditional games. Some of the new events feature snow and ice sports. Since snow and ice sports are weather sensitive and are impossible to hold during the summer, the IOC came up with an idea of holding the Olympics in two sets namely the Summer Olympics and the Winter Olympics. During the 1921 Olympic Congress in Lausanne, the IOC presented the idea of the Winter Olympics and it was officially adopted by the assembly (see International Olympic Committee http://www.olympic.org/uk/games/past/index_uk.asp?OLGT=2&OLGY=1924).
Almost three years after the IOC approved the conduct of the Winter Olympics, the first Winter Olympic Games took place in Chamonix, France in 1924. The Summer Olympics and the Winter Olympics were originally held in the same year. This schedule was followed until the 1992 Winter Olympics which took place in Alberta, France (Utah Athletic Foundation. http://www.utah.com/olympics/history.htm). This changed during the 1994 Games when the organizers decided to hold the Winter Olympics during the 3rd year of the Olympiad. At present, the Winter Games are held two years after the Summer Olympics. As a whole, this new schedule is more favorable to the organizers and athletes who need more time to prepare for the games.
The Paralympics was organized to support outstanding athletes with physical disability or vision impairment (Peterson, Cynthia and Robert D. Steadward, 1998). These athletes are accepted to this event not because of their existing disabilities but because of their superior athletic skills. The Paralympics is not officially part of the International Olympic Games but it is closely associated to it as it was organized on the opening of the 1948 Summer Olympics in London (Peterson, Cynthia and Robert D. Steadward, 1998) but the first Paralympic Games were held in Rome in 1960 (see Sports for the disabled http://sport.si21.com/sport-invalidov/english/paralympiads/history.htm).
Since its inception, the Paralympic Games had been held in the same year as the Olympic Games and starting in 1988, the Paralympics have been held in the same city and in the same venue as the Olympic Games. This arrangement came after the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) signed an agreement that the Host Cities of the Olympic Games will also host the Paralympics (Thomas and Smith, 2008). Over the years, the popularity of the Paralympics grew and during the 2008 Paralympics in China, 400 athletes from 23 countries and took part in the different sporting events (see Sports for the disabled http://sport.si21.com/sport-invalidov/english/paralympiads/history.htm).
The Youth Games
Another innovation to the traditional Olympic Games is the participation of the youth. Before, athletes of different ages are lump together as a single group but starting in 2010, athletes between the ages of 14 and 18 will now participate in the Youth Games. The Youth Games were conceptualized as early as 2001 and was approved during the 119th Congress of the IOC but its integration into the Olympic Games was delayed due to several factors including preparations and the formulation of new guidelines for the games (Rice, John, 2007). The Youth Games are shorter compared to its senior counterpart. The Summer Youth Games will only last twelve days while the Winter Youth Games is set to last for 9 days (see http://english.cri.cn/2886/2007/04/25/[email protected]).
The Olympic Movement and the International Olympic Committee
The Olympic Movement is a very important component of the International Olympic Games. Without this Movement, it will be difficult for the organizers to gather the best athletes from different parts of the world to take part in the sporting events. The Movement is composed of different organizations and federations, sports officials, athletes, judges and media partners who agree to abide by the Olympic Charter. These groups are governed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC is responsible for all the major preparations for the Games. It responsibilities include the picking out the host cities for the Games, negotiating sponsorship and broadcasting rights, updating of the sporting events.
The Evolution of the Olympic Symbol
The celebration of the International Olympic Games would not be complete without the symbols that represent it. These symbols represent the ideals of the Olympics and are considered part and parcel of the event. The Olympic symbol which is best known around the world as the Olympic rings is composed of five rings representing the five inhabited continents of the world (International Olympic Committee http://multimedia.olympic.org/pdf/en_report_1303.pdf). The Olympic rings form part of the Olympic flag. The flag was adopted in 1914 but it was not used until the 1920 Summer Olympics which was held in Antwerp, Belgium.
Aside from the Olympic rings and the flag, the Olympic flame is one of the most notable symbols of the event. The flame is traditionally lit in Olympia months before the event. As part of tradition, a woman, acting as a priestess, lights the torch in Olympia by placing it inside a parabolic mirror. Once the torch is lit, it is passed on to the first relay bearer and the official torch relay for the Olympics starts. The torch is passed from one bearer to another until it reaches the host city where it will be used to light the torch during the opening ceremony. The tradition of lighting the torch in Olympia has been part of the Olympic Games rituals since 1928 but the torch relay was only introduced during the 1936 Summer Games.
Another symbol that is connected with the conduct of the Olympic Games is the Olympic Mascot which was introduced in 1968. The mascot usually represents the cultural heritage of the host country. Each host country is free to choose its own Olympic Mascot.
The Olympic Ceremonies
The Olympic Games would not be complete without its ceremonies grand opening and closing ceremonies. These ceremonies are specifically described in the Olympic Charter and various elements in these ceremonies are mandated by the Charter itself. For the opening ceremony, the rituals established during the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium dominate the activity (see IOC, The Modern Olympic Games). The opening ceremony usually starts with the raising of the national flag of the host country followed by a cultural presentation in the form of music and dances (see IOC, The Modern Olympic Games). After the cultural presentation, the parade of athletes from different countries follows. In every presentation of athletes during the opening ceremonies, Greece always comes first. This arrangement is done in honor of the origins of the Olympic Games. After Greece, countries are introduced in alphabetical order.
After the presentation of the athletes, the torch which originated from the City Olympia is brought into the stadium. The torched is passed from one athlete to another until it reaches the final bearer who then puts it in the cauldron of the stadium. The lighting of the Olympic fire marks the official opening of the Games (see Olympic Charter).
The closing ceremony of the Olympics is just as colorful and full of traditional rituals as the opening ceremony. The highlights of the closing ceremony includes the hoisting of the national flags of the host country, the flag of Greece and the flag of the country that will host the next Olympic Games (see Olympic Charter). Following the Antwerp Ceremony, the mayor of the host city gives the Olympic Flag to the president of the IOC. The president of the IOC then passes the flag to the mayor of the city that will host the next Olympic Games (see Olympic Charter). The Games officially ends when the Olympic flame has been put out.
Throughout the ceremonies, three languages may be used namely; English and French which are the official language of the Olympics and the language of the host country (see Olympic Charter).
The Olympic Games have come a long way since it was first introduced in Greece in the ancient times. The modern Games have brought together thousands of athletes from different countries and have set the standards of true sportsmanship. Introduction of Summer Olympics, the Winter Olympics and the Youth Games as well as the cooperation between the IOC and the IPC to promote the Paralympics are major milestones that helped make the Olympic Games more responsive to the needs of time. The Olympics have evolved in certain ways; however, there are certain things that remain unchanged through time. The motto of the Olympics “Citius, Altius, Fortius” still remains as the primary goal of every athlete that joins the Olympics.
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