Olympic flag

A little bit of history on the Olympic Games

I read a nice little analogy the other day: if the five rings on the Olympic Games’ flag represented a length of time – like the growth rings on a tree – then they would have to represent more than 500 years each… so, is that what the 5 rings mean?

The Olympic Games stretch back thousand of years and their origin is shrouded in myth. What is not a myth is that the original site was certainly Olympia, in Greece . The games were first recorded in 776 BC. However, it is believed that they had already been held for several years before this. Who originally started them? Was it Prince Pelops – or Heracles? Some myths say that Prince Pelops started the games after winning a chariot race – rumour has it that that victory was acquired by somewhat devious means… very much NOT what the Olympic Games are meant to be about! Heracles, on the other hand, is said to have built the Olympic stadium in honor of his father, Zeus. His ‘stadion’ was approximately 200 yards and this became the distance of the first Olympic foot race.

What is not disputed is the fact that the games have always been held every 4 years – a period known as ‘The Olympiad’. Athletes from all over Greece could compete and the point of winning in the games was not for material wealth but for honour.

So important were the games that, in ancient times, months before and after the games, a Sacred Truce was decreed, halting all hostilities between Greek states to allow athletes to travel to and from Olympia in safety.

O, if that were only the case in more recent times – imagine the wars that might have foundered purely because the Games were about to be held…

Initially, the only event at the Games was Heracles’ original stadium foot race, but over  the following 300-odd years more events were added in the same way as the IOC (International Olympic Committee) adds new ones today – which is how kitesurfing has been voted a new sport for the 2016 Olympics.

There was one break in the Olympic Games history which lasted for a period of more than 150 years. In this time the Games were not held at all. The reason? After a thousand years of Greek domination, the Romans ascended to power and in 393 AD, the Byzantine Emperor ,Theodosius I, banned all ‘pagan’ practices – and the Olympic Games fell under this ban.

And that… in a very small nutshell, is the history of the Olympic Games.

However, we can thank Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin for the format of the Games as we know them today. Coubertin believed passionately that participation in sport created well-rounded individuals. He also believed that outdoor sports fostered international co-operation and peace.

We can also thank him for the Olympic flag. The flag is, of course, not representative of a length of time as suggested in our opening lines, but of the 5 inhabited continents of the world. The colours of the flag were chosen because every nation in the world has at least one of the colours within their national flag. The flag was invented in 1914, but first flown at an Olympic Games in 1920. The two official Olympic languages are English and French and all Olympic Games announcements are made in those two languages as well as the host country’s language.

The Olympic oath can also be credited to Pierre de Coubertin. What he wrote back in 1920 is repeated by one athlete on behalf of all the others at the opening of every Olympic ceremony: “In the name of all competitors, I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules that govern them, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams.” He got the idea for this phrase from a speech given by Bishop Ethelbert Talbot at a service for Olympic champions during the 1908 Olympic Games.  It became known as the Olympic Creed and it reads as follows: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

… a motto we could all use.

It is the Olympic flame which is the one true remaining practice continued from the ancient Olympic Games. In Olympia a flame was ignited by the sun and then kept burning until the closing of the Olympic Games. The flame first appeared in the modern Olympics at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam. The flame itself represents a number of things including purity and the endeavour for perfection. The Olympic Torch Relay dates to a much later date. It was first suggested by Carl Diem in the 1936 Olympics and ever since then the Olympic flame is lit at the ancient site of Olympia by women wearing ancient-style robes and using a curved mirror and the sun. It is then passed from runner to runner from the ancient site of Olympia to the Olympic stadium in the hosting city, in the hosting country. The flame is always kept alight until the Games have concluded. The Olympic Torch relay represents a continuation from the ancient Olympic Games to the modern Olympics.

The Olympic Games span many centuries and some of its traditions are as old as the Games themselves and its truest sense it is a worthy inheritance.

This will be the third time that London has hosted the Games. The first was in 1908 and the second in 1948. No other city has held the Games 3 times. In 1948 the world was just getting used to the fact that the Second World War was over. However, England still had severe rationing in place and would have for a good many more years. Germany and Japan were not invited to the 1948 Games.

The London 2012 Olympic Games will take place between 27 July 2012 and 12 August 2012… the world might be enduring a financial crisis, but London will be determined to ensure that this is a Games like no other. It is the dream of every host to b remembered as the best ever Olympic venue. It will be followed by the 2012 Paralympic Games between the 29 August 2012 and 9 September 2012 …


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