Be the ul­ti­mate sports fan — at the orig­i­nal Olympics.

Seabourn Club Herald - - FEATURES - BY RAFE KLINGER

Step­ping off a cruise ship, Katakolon ap­pears to be a typ­i­cal Greek sea­side town — color­ful old build­ings with red tile roofs, moored fish­ing boats and leisurely side­walk cafés lin­ing the shim­mer­ing wa­ters of the har­bor.

But while this sleepy Io­nian Sea port at the south­ern end of Greece has its eth­nic charm, myr­iad tourist spots and tempt­ing eater­ies, its real fame is as the gate­way to An­cient Olympia — site of the orig­i­nal Olympic Games.


Just 23 miles east, in a tree­lined val­ley at the foot of Kronos Hill and bor­dered by two rivers, sits the ru­ins of ath­letic fa­cil­i­ties, tem­ples, hous­ing, al­tars and shrines that served the games.

To­day’s games were re­vived in 1896 and will have only been run­ning for 120 years when the Olympics sur­face in Rio de Janeiro for 2016. But the orig­i­nal, an­cient games were es­tab­lished in 776 B.C. and con­tin­ued on pretty much ev­ery four years for nearly 1,200 years un­til A.D. 393. That’s when Em­peror Theo­do­sius of Rome, who had taken over the Olympics af­ter con­quer­ing Greece, ended the event.

A pi­ous Chris­tian, he wanted to ban all forms of pa­gan wor­ship. And the games were ded­i­cated to the Greek god Zeus and lo­cated in Olympia — named for Mount Olym­pus where Zeus ruled with the other gods. Ac­cord­ing to lore, the games were founded by Her­cules, the strong­man hero of Greek le­gend who was the son of Zeus and Al­cmene, a mor­tal princess. The com­pe­ti­tions were con­sid­ered a re­li­gious event and the priest­esses of Deme­ter, god­dess of fer­til­ity, were prom­i­nent at the fes­ti­val.



At the Olympia ru­ins, you’ll pass un­der an arch into the stonewall-lined en­trance, as did the thou­sands flock­ing to the an­cient games. You’ll even see still-stand­ing col­umns mark­ing the tem­ples of Zeus and his wife, Hera.

Walk­ing through the palestra, a huge build­ing 66 me­ters square (710 square feet), you’ll see dress­ing rooms, train­ing ar­eas and the are­nas where com­pe­ti­tions for box­ing and wrestling took place. There are also an­cient lux­ury houses where judges and wealthy guests stayed. But the key spot is the sta­dia, a long rec­tan­gu­lar field sur­rounded by grassy slopes.

Sit down on the green, close your eyes and imag­ine be­ing one of the 40,000 fans cheer­ing the main events — the foot races.

If you at­tended around 340 B.C., you might find that the teen cheer­ing be­side you is named Alexan­der. A few years later, he would be her­alded as “the Great,” for con­quer­ing the known world. Around A.D. 65, the in­suf­fer­ably ar­ro­gant guy next to you would be Nero, em­peror of Rome. He wants to bet, but don’t do it. Nero was a big cheater. Dur­ing the A.D. 67 games, he en­tered the char­iot races and while his com­peti­tors had teams of four horses, Nero bul­lied judges into al­low­ing him a team of 10. Still, he was un­able to fin­ish, but he shame­fully in­tim­i­dated the judges into declar­ing him the win­ner. Later, af­ter his death, his name was stricken from the list of vic­tors.


The first games only fea­tured a 200me­ter sprint called the stade race, which ran once across the sta­dium. Longer races and other events were added as the games ex­panded from one day to three days and fi­nally to five days. In ad­di­tion to the stade came a 400-me­ter or two-stade sprint and a dis­tance race, the dolichos, of any­where from 1,400 to 4,800 me­ters. Later would come an ar­mor race where the ath­letes ran car­ry­ing a shield and wear­ing hel­mets and greaves on their lower legs.

Like run­ning, all of the other events were linked to the skills a war­rior needed on the bat­tle­field. Ath­letes threw the javelin, hurled the dis­cus, boxed and wres­tled. They also com­peted in a long jump in which the con­tes­tants leaped hold­ing a stone that they tossed be­hind them at the last in­stant to pro­pel them­selves far­ther.

The wrestling was gru­el­ing. Matches ended when one con­tes­tant gave up. Box­ers bat­tered each other with fists wrapped with hard leather straps. Pankra­tion, a ver­sion of to­day’s mixed martial arts, fea­tured box­ing and wrestling to­gether. A pen­tathlon of five events in­cluded three foot races along with a long jump and dis­cus throw. Com­peti­tors raced horses and char­i­ots in the long, wide hip­po­drome. At the end of an event, the win­ner was given a palm branch, and red rib­bons were tied in his hair while spec­ta­tors tossed flow­ers. Later, an olive wreath was placed on his head at the tem­ple of Zeus.

Tem­ple of Hera

Rites held at the site of the first Olympic games

Statue of Zeus at Olympia

Ionic Col­umn

An­cient Olympic sta­dium en­trance

1896 open­ing cer­e­mony, Panathi­naiko Sta­dium

Ru­ins of an­cient Olympia

An­cient Olympic wrestling

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.