What were the first Olympic Games like?


Spe­cial to the Whig

Dear Li­brar­ian: What were the first Olympic Games like?

Dear Reader: Do you love the Olympics as much as I do? Ev­ery four years, I get so pumped for them. I put my Amer­i­can flag shirt on, put a view­ing party to­gether, and spend two weeks glued to the TV or my phone.

My fa­vorite part is the open­ing cer­e­mony, which al­ways gives me goose bumps. It gets me to won­der­ing: what were the first Olympics like?

In 776 BC (over 2,700 years ago!), the Olympics were first cre­ated as a re­li­gious fes­ti­val in honor of Zeus, the king of the Gods. Just like the mod­ern games, the an­cient Olympic events hap­pened ev­ery four years in at the Sanc­tu­ary of Zeus at Olympia, a val­ley near the city of Elis. Olympia was named af­ter Mt. Olym­pus, the high­est moun­tain in main­land Greece, and where the great Greek gods and god­desses resided, ac­cord­ing to mythol­ogy. All city-states of Greece were to at­tend. The Olympics had a “sa­cred truce” where feud­ing was put on hold for a month to guar­an­tee safe travel for the ath­letes.

The first edition of Olympic Games wasn’t too ex­cit­ing. It had only one event: a sprint. Through­out the cen­turies, more events be­gan ap­pear­ing at the Games, in­clud­ing long jump, dis­cus, javelin throws, wrestling, box­ing, and char­iot rac­ing. Win­ners were con­sid­ered he­roes of their citys­tates, sim­i­lar to how we treat our Olympic win­ners. While they prob­a­bly didn’t get a Nike con­tract, they were idol­ized by cit­i­zens, re­ceived free food and li­ba­tions, and gained ac­cess to im­por­tant par­ties and din­ners.

Crowds up to 40,000 would flock to the Games in or­der to catch a glimpse of the ath­letes. But these spec­ta­tors con­sisted of only men and un­mar­ried women, as mar­ried women were not al­lowed to par­tic­i­pate or watch. There was, how­ever, a sep­a­rate, smaller event in honor of Hera, the wife of Zeus, where women could par­tic­i­pate.

The Olympic Games lasted for nearly 12 cen­turies. Dur­ing the mid-2nd cen­tury AD, the Ro­man Em­pire con­quered Greece and while the games con­tin­ued, they didn’t match up to the ini­tial splen­dor of the first Olympic games. Eventu- ally in 393 AD, Em­peror Theo­dosis I, a Chris­tian, banned all “pa­gan” fes­ti­vals, in­clud­ing the Games.

For 1,503 years, there were no Olympic Games, not un­til a French­man named Baron Pierre de Cou­bertin pre­sented the idea in 1894. In 1896, the Games restarted again in Athens, with 14 coun­tries par­tic­i­pat­ing. Now, over 13,000 ath­letes per­form in the Olympic Games, with a new city act­ing as host ev­ery four years.

Com­ing Event: Cigar Box Guitars with Rooster Run Work­shop. Satur­day, Au­gust 20, 2pm at the Ris­ing Sun Branch Li­brary. The own­ers of the lo­cal busi­ness Rooster Run Work­shop build cus­tom cigar box guitars for hun­dreds of clients, both am­a­teur and pro­fes­sional mu­si­cians. They will bring ex­am­ples of their in­stru­ments at dif­fer­ent stages of com­ple­tion as well as some com­pleted ones to play. Call 410-658-4025 to re­serve your spot.

What Peo­ple Are Ask­ing runs weekly in Jumpstart and is writ­ten by li­brar­i­ans at the Ce­cil County Pub­lic Li­brary. Ques­tions? Visit your lo­cal branch, email ask@cc­plnet. org, call 410-996-5600 or visit www.ce­cil.ebranch.

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