The Olympic Games: 2012

Olympia

Olympia, the site of the ancient Olympic Games, is in the western part of the Peloponnese which, according to Greek mythology, is the island of "Pelops", the founder of the Olympic Games. Imposing temples, votive buildings, elaborate shrines and ancient sporting facilities were combined in a site of unique natural and mystical beauty. Olympia functioned as a meeting place for worship and other religious and political practices as early as the 10th century B.C. The central part of Olympia was dominated by the majestic temple of Zeus, with the temple of Hera parallel to it.  

The Games were usually held every four years, or olympiad, as the unit of time came to be known. During a celebration of the Games, an Olympic Truce was enacted so that athletes could travel from their countries to the Games in safety. The prizes for the victors were wreaths of laurel leaves. The Games became a political tool used by city-states to assert dominance over their rivals. Politicians would announce political alliances at the Games, and in times of war, priests would offer sacrifices to the gods for victory. The Games were also used to help spread Hellenistic culture throughout the Mediterranean. The Olympics also featured religious celebrations and artistic competitions. The Statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was erected at Olympia to preside over the Games, though it no longer stands. Sculptors and poets would congregate each olympiad to display their works of art to would-be patrons.

The Games and religion

Zeus: King of the Gods
The Olympic Games were closely linked to the religious festivals of the Great God Zeus, but were not an integral part of a rite. Indeed, they had a secular character and aimed to show the physical qualities and evolution of the performances accomplished by young people, as well as encouraging good relations between the cities of Greece. According to specialists, the Olympic Games owed their purity and importance to religion.
The oldest myth which concerns the beginning of the Olympic Games is that of Idaios Daktylos Herakles. According to other myths, Zeus, the father of humanity, fought and defeated Cronus in a struggle for the throne of the gods. Finally, the well-known demigod Herakles is mentioned. He staged games in Olympia in honor of Zeus, because the latter had helped him conquer Elis when he went to war against Augeas.
Through the 12 centuries of the Olympic Games, many wonderful athletes competed in the stadium and the hippodrome of ancient Olympia's sacred area, moving the crowds with their great achievements. Although mortal, their Olympic victories immortalized them. Of the best athletes who left their mark on the sacred valley of Olympia, some surpassed all limits and became legends by winning in successive Olympic Games and remaining at the forefront of their sport for more than a decade. It is worth mentioning some of their extraordinary achievements, which, even by today's standards, would be the envy of athletes such as Nurmi, Zatopek or Lewis.
The ancient Olympic Games were initially a one-day event until 684 BC, when they were extended to three days. In the 5th century B.C., the Games were extended again to cover five days.
The ancient Games included running, long jump, shot put, javelin, boxing, pankration and equestrian events.

Participants

All free male Greek citizens were entitled to participate in the ancient Olympic Games, regardless of their social status. Orsippos, a general from Megara; Polymnistor, a shepherd; Diagoras, a member of a royal family from Rhodes; Alexander I, son of Amyndas and King of Macedonia; and Democritus, a philosopher, were all participants in the Games.
The athletes usually competed nude, not only as the weather was appropriate, but also as the festival was meant to celebrate, in part, the achievements of the human body. Olive oil was used by the competitors, not only as a substitute for soap for washing, bathing, and cleaning, but also as a natural cosmetic, to keep skin smooth, and provide an appealing look for the participants

Married women were not allowed to participate in, or to watch, the ancient Olympic Games. However, unmarried women could attend the competition, and the priestess of Demeter, goddess of fertility, was given a privileged position next to the Stadium altar.

Sporting Event


Pentathlon
The Pentathlon became an Olympic sport with the addition of wrestling in 708 B.C., and included the following: 

Running
Running contests included:
  • the stade race, which was the pre-eminent test of speed, covering the Olympia track from one end to the other (200m foot race),
  • the diaulos (two stades - 400m foot race),
  • dolichos (ranging between 7 and 24 stades).
Jumping
Athletes used stone or lead weights called halteres to increase the distance of a jump. They held onto the weights until the end of their flight, and then jettisoned them backwards.

Discus throw
The discus was originally made of stone and later of iron, lead or bronze. The technique was very similar to today's freestyle discus throw.

Wrestling
This was highly valued as a form of military exercise without weapons. It ended only when one of the contestants admitted defeat.

Boxing
Boxers wrapped straps (himantes) around their hands to strengthen their wrists and steady their fingers. Initially, these straps were soft but, as time progressed, boxers started using hard leather straps, often causing disfigurement of their opponent's face.

Pankration
This was a primitive form of martial art combining wrestling and boxing, and was considered to be one of the toughest sports. The Ancient version of MMA. Greeks believed that it was founded by Theseus when he defeated the fierce Minotaur in the labyrinth.

Equestrian events
These included horse races and chariot races and took place in the Hippodrome, a wide, flat, open space.

Victory Ceremonies

The Olympic victor received his first awards immediately after the competition. Following the announcement of the winner's name by the herald, a Hellanodikis (Greek judge) would place a palm branch in his hands, while the spectators cheered and threw flowers to him. Red ribbons were tied on his head and hands as a mark of victory.
The official award ceremony would take place on the last day of the Games, at the elevated vestibule of the temple of Zeus. In a loud voice, the herald would announce the name of the Olympic winner, his father's name, and his homeland. Then, the Hellanodikis placed the sacred olive tree wreath, or kotinos, on the winner's head.
Nike: Goddess of Victory 
Good Luck to ALL Athletes. Win for the honor of your country and the glory of immortal and fame. May Nike shine on you. 

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