With the summer games upon us, did you know that the Olympics originated over 3,000 years ago in southwest Greece? That’s right, the games were originally held every four years in Olympia, a valley near the ancient city of Elis, giving the games the title of the Olympics. Legend has said that Hercules created the games to honor his father Zeus. When the games originated is still unknown but the first games were recorded in 776 B.C..
When the Olympics first began, it wasn’t the 16 day event it is today. It was actually only a one day, one event sprint from one end of the stadium to the other. The track at this time, was also much wider than our modern tracks, about twenty people could run at a time. The first recorded Olympic champion was a cook from the City of Elis winning the 192 meter sprint. As the Olympics became more popular, more games were added, making it a four day event. This included wrestling, boxing, long jump, javelin, discus and chariot racing. One of the toughest events for the athletes was the Hoplite race (Hoplitodromos) where the athletes wore helmets, greaves (shin armor) and shields, adding 50 pounds to their body weight and ran across the stadium.
Victors of the ancient games received a victory crown called Kotinos, made of wild olive leaves and an olive branch, it was presented to them by Hellanodikai (Judges of the Greek). This was significant because the Olive trees in Olympia were thought to have been planted by Hercules. Amongst the rewards for winning Olympic competitions were a red woolen ribbon, worn on the upper arm or the head. Champions also had the opportunity to marry prestigious women, enjoy free meals, receive invitations to parties and have the best seats in the theaters. Unfortunately, the Olympics were shut down in 393 A.D. but they were reborn in 1896 in Athens in our modern format. These games featured 280 participants from 13 nations competing in 43 events. Since then, the Olympics have grown to have 207 countries competing, with 306 events in 28 sports categories.