History of the Olympics

Claudine Zap
Fourth-Place Medal

Legend has it that the events were started by either Hercules, the son of the Greek god Zeus, or Zeus himself. The games were named "Olympic" after the home of the Greek gods, Mount Olympus. The first recorded games were held in 776 BC. A naked runner (mortal, not god) won the only event: a 210-yard dash.

After that, the games hummed along for 1,200 years -- that is, until the Roman Emperor Theodosius I, a Christian, abolished the games in AD 393 due to their pagan roots. Playing sports in the buff may not have helped the argument to keep them going.

Fast-forward 1,500 years later, when French aristocrat, Pierre de Coubertin, who became known as le rénovateur, brought back the ancient tradition.

We also have de Coubertin to thank for coming up with the Olympic flag design of the five rings, back in 1920. He said at the time, "These five rings represent the five parts of the world which now are won over to Olympism and willing to accept healthy competition."

The ring colors -- blue, yellow, black, green, and red -- combined with the white background, represent the colors of the flags of all nations. The rings symbolize the five continents (the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania) and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world who compete at the Olympics.

De Coubertin's brainchild, the modern Olympics, were first held in 1896 in Athens. About 300 athletes competed from 13 countries. But unlike the games today, there was no international attention, so athletes paid their own way and wore their own team uniforms. Women weren't includedat first, but they joined the second games, in 1900, and have been competing ever since.

The first events included cycling, tennis, target shooting, the marathon, gymnastics, and swimming -- where swimmers battled 12-foot waves in the Aegean Sea.

This summer in London, the facilities may be slightly more modernized, but the spirit of the ancient games will live on.

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