Five multicoloured rings on a white background. To a majority of us, this is synonymous with what is considered to be one of the most coveted sporting events, the Olympics. This mega sporting event is one that every sportsperson aspires to represent his country in, training meticulously as the event approaches every four years.
The Olympics have a lesser-known yet fascinating history. The origins of these games go back to the Greek Civilisation. As long back as 3000 years ago, in 776 B.C., the first known set of Olympic games were held in ancient Greece. Greek Legend has it that, “Heracles, the son of the god of lightning, Zeus and the mortal woman Alcmene, founded the Olympic games, which garnered fame all over Ancient Greece, every 4 years, making the event and its the thousands of gatherers a sight to behold.” The games were held in a sacred place known as “Olympia”, “located in the western Peloponnese peninsula, in honour of the god Zeus.”
Over the course of the Olympics’ rise to fame, several intriguing games debuted in Ancient Greece, a lot of them influencing the sports we play today, ranging from the “diaulos (approximately a 400-meter race), the dolichos (comparable to the 1,500-meter or 5,000-meter event), the pentathlon, boxing, chariot racing, and pankration (a combination of boxing and wrestling with virtually no rules)”. These games, however, had their limitations; the games were restricted to only male participants and regulations at the time ensured that married women were prohibited from viewing the grand spectacle as were younger women from participating.
In the mid-second century, however, the popularity of the games began to decline. Post the invasion of Greece by the Roman Empire, the games were manipulated greatly and its quality deteriorated. On one particular instance, legend has it that the Roman ruler Nero participated in a game of Chariot racing, only to “declare himself winner” despite falling off the chariot early in the game.
Over the next 1000 years, little was said about the Olympic games, a tradition which had died over time. For a long time after its decline, it was simply considered an ancestral practice that could not be revived. 1500 years later, however, in the year, 1863, when a French historian named Baron Pierre de Coubertin visited the historic site of Olympia, he became increasingly convinced of the idea of reviving the grand spectacle from Ancient Greece. It was not long before the games were approved and the preparations to conduct the first Modern Olympics in the year 1896, in Athens, Greece, was arranged as a tribute to its origins.
Ever since, these games have continued to be held consistently barring the exception of the two World Wars and the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 (moved temporarily to 2021). Today, these games have risen to its former glory and are considered one of the most competitive and admired sporting events. They are, as Coubertin once said to describe its magnificence, “The elevation of the mind and soul, overcoming differences between nationalities and cultures, embracing friendship, a sense of solidarity, and fair play; ultimately leading to the contribution towards world peace and the betterment of the world”. The Olympics, today, is considered the epitome of sportsmanship, resilience, hard work and self-discipline.
Did you know: “The five rings of the Olympic flag represent the five continents and the 6 colours blue, yellow, black, green, red and white represent at least one of the colours that appear on national flags around the world”