Reporting today’s Olympic games is like a technological masterpiece. The athletes compete in many events, their times and scores are tallied and sent worldwide by satellites and high-tech computers within seconds. Each event is carefully watched and recorded with a sense of history. There was no such sense of history or records when the first Games began in Ancient Greece.
The first recorded champion in Greece was a sprinter, Coroebus, he was a cook in a near by Greek city called, Elis. He ran naked on a sanded course in front of thousands of spectators. The course was about 630 feet long “or one stad-from which the word stadium was derived.” His victory won him a wreath of olive leaves.
That was in 776 BC and this year became very important to later Greek Historians. In 300 BC all time was dated by Olympiads, a time span of four years between the games. The Olympiad began with the first recorded foot race.
As far back in Greek time as anyone can remember, the human body was a very beautiful thing. “A body of a man had glory, as well as his mind, that both needed discipline, and by that such discipline men best honored Zeus.” From time to time the Greeks held ceremonies of Games in honor of their god Zeus. They held these ceremonies for the areas in which they took place. These places were, Pythian, Isthmian, Nemeam, and of course, Olympian. The Olympian games go back to the time of the first people to live in the valley of Alpheas River. There in Elis, in the western Peloponnesus was Olympia, “the fairest spot in Greece.” This land was filled with beauty and snowcapped mountains. This area was a perfect spot for the ceremonies held every four years, for Zeus.
In 1875, the most important ruins of Ancient Greece were uncovered. One important ruin that was discovered was the temple of Zeus, that was in use about 2,500 years ago. Near it was the temple for his wife, Hera that was even older. It was used about 2,900 years ago. Another important discovery was the finding of the statue of Hermes. Hermes was sculpted by the Praxiteles. This statue was found in the Hera’s Temple. Contained in the Temple of Zeus was one of the Seven Wonders of the World, it was a statue of Zeus sitting on his throne, it was larger then a two-story house. This great masterpiece was made by, Phidias, it was made of ivory and gold.
Soon everyone wanted to win the favor of their god, Zeus. By 500 BC , Sparta, Elis, Athens, and Syracuse had rivaled each other to offer their gifts to the temple.
To be entered into the Games, the candidates went into a gymnasium at Elis, and were tested for the Games. The ten-month training was the most valuable preparation the athletes could undergo. For ten months they lived in the gymnasium, they practiced all day, and all night. They were constantly watched over by the professional trainers. The officials of Elis would decide who was fit enough to compete in the Olympic Games, and receive the prizes.
The people of Elis won the first thirteen Olympic races. Soon people from all around Greece joined the games. They came from Crete, Rhodes, Sicily, Asia Minor, and Egypt. These games served as a common link to the Hellenic world.
Nothing was more important to the Greeks then the Games, not even wars. During the month of the festival, no one with weapons was allowed into Olympia. The Olympics was far more important to the Greeks then any war, there was peace throughout Greece during the month of the Olympics.
This period of time was called the Hieromenia.
The first athletes of the Olympics were sprinters. Twenty sprinters lined up on a straight track, the bugle sounded off and they ran as fast as they could to the finish line. Soon the Games began to expand in variety, longer races were added to the games. Then pentathlons were introduced and so was the three mile run.
The discus was a favorite of the Greeks. The man who threw the farthest was regarded as the greatest athlete.
Boxing was introduced in 688 BC. The boxers would wear leather straps and metal rings around their knuckles. The fight would only end when the opponent would cry for mercy or lay there unconscious. In 680 BC chariot races were part of the game. Only the ones rich enough ones who could afford chariots and horses would participate. The owner of the winning horse would receive a cotton head-band and the rider would get an olive leaf wreath.
All Olympic winners were presented with prizes and if a man had won three Olympics in a row he would have a statue made just for him. He would also receive many great gift of honor, including the privilege of not having to pay taxes. Often when the winner would return home, he would be escorted through a hole through the wall surrounding his city. The hole was made by the citizens to show the world that an Olympic champion lived there.
Among many Olympic heroes in history, Milo of Croton was one of the most famous. He won six wrestling matches in a row during 600 BC. Milo supposedly developed his brute strength by carrying a calf on his bare shoulders. He did this until the calf developed into a full grown bull. He was said to have killed a lion with his bare hands and stopped a chariot by grabbing it with one hand. Another Greek, Olympic hero was Theagenes of Thasos. He had several special skills, he competed in boxing, sprinting, and the pancration. (combination of boxing and wrestling) He won at least 1,400 times.
Women were not allowed to participate in these games. They weren’t allowed to watch the games either. There was one women from Rhodes, she dressed herself in men’s clothing and went to the games. She went to the games to watch her son in a boxing match. When he won the match, she ran up to him and kissed him. That gave her away, but she wasn’t punished. Several years earlier her father, Diagoras, won a boxing match. He was one of the most celebrated of all ancient athletes. Her penalty of death was waived.
The glory of the Games began to dim, and interest was lost among most people. Rich people began placing bets on the games. The original purpose of the Games were forgotten. Olympia began to decline. In 393 BC the games were ordered to be stopped, the were becoming a public nuisance.
The Greeks destroyed the Temple of Zeus and of Hera. Earthquakes and floods buried Olympia, so it remained lost and half-forgotten. Until 1875.