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Olympics: Then And Now

We just finished watching a riveting Winter Olympics season from PyeongChang this year. From curling to skiing to bobsledding, the sports of the Winter Olympics generally are vastly different than the Summer variety. Frankly, I tried to learn the rules of half the sports (I’m looking at you curling) while watching them.

The first Winter Olympic games were held in Chamonix, France in 1924, prior to the Summer Olympics that were held later that year in Paris. The International Olympic Committee first permitted an “international week of winter sport” in 1921. There were nine original events at the games, bobsleigh, cross country skiing, curling, figure skating, ice hockey, military patrol, nordic combined, ski jumping, and speed skating.

Owing to the success of the games, which attracted over ten thousand paying spectators, in May 1925, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to not only rename this week the “the first Olympic Winter Games,” but they also established a four-year cycle of both the Summer and Winter Games. As recently as 1992, the Winter and Summer Games used to be held in the same year, but the IOC decided to move the games in two separate four year cycles on alternating even-numbered years.

The first modern Summer Games were hosted in Athens in 1896 to pay homage to the Ancient Greek pan-Hellenic competition of the same name. The Ancient Olympic games like the modern games took place every four years from 776 BCE to 393 CE, when the first Christian Roman Emperor Theodosius sought to end these pagan games.

The Olympics were the oldest of four pan-Hellenic competitions, each honoring a different deity. The Olympics were held in honor of Zeus, the Pythian Games at Delphi honored Apollo, the Nemean Games honored Zeus and Heracles, and the Isthmian Games honored Poseidon. Victors did not win any money for these games, only garlands. Any and all Greek males were allowed to participate in, but one women found a way to win victory wreaths. Kyniska, daughter of a Spartan king, owned a chariot that was raced and chariot racings prizes were given to the owner of the chariot and not the racer, so she won in 396 BCE and 392 BCE.

The four sites labeled in red hosted their respective games. Athens and Corinth were major city states that have been demarcated with Greek dots, but did not host pan-Hellenic games.

Clearly the Ancient Greeks did not compete in curling or any of the winter sports. Instead, they competed in various different challenges, like boxing, chariot racing, long jump, javelin, discus, pankration, running, and wrestling. Pankration was a combination of wrestling and boxing with no restrictions, save ‘no biting and gouging,’ supposedly rooted in Theseus’s defeat of the Minotaur in the Labyrinth. Participants in both pankration and wrestling were doused in oil and participants in all events, save chariot racing, fought in the nude.

Our modern Olympic Games have diverged greatly from their ancient predecessors, but even today, many diverse participants from around the world come together in peaceful competition.

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