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The Warsaw Voice » Other » March 20, 2003
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The Spirit of the Games
March 20, 2003   
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The ancient Olympic Games were significantly different from its "modern form"-the multinational show that most of us are familiar with.

First of all there were fewer events. As for the participants, only free men who spoke Greek could compete at that times, instead of athletes from any country. Also, the games were always held at Olympia instead of moving every time to different sites in different countries.

The origin of the Olympic Games is (even today) a matter of great speculation. Traditionally, it is attributed to many different myths referred to in various ancient sources, but the most common and popular ones are perhaps "the epic of Pelops" and "the epic of Hercules."

According to the former, Pelops was a suitor seeking Hippodamia's hand in marriage. King Oeomaus, Hippodamia's father, challenged anyone who wished to marry his daughter to ride off with Hippodamia in a chariot faster than the King could catch them. Thirteen brave suitors tried this feat, and they all failed, resulting in death by King Oeomaus' spear. The wily Pelops, however, managed to bribe King Oeomaus' servant to rig the king's chariot with a faulty axle. As Pelops and Hippodamia were driving off, the King's chariot axle gave way and he fell to his death. Pelops then had a wedding celebration, including athletic contests, with his fellow Olympians. Supposedly, those contests were the first Olympics.

The other tale of the games' origin refers to Hercules, the son of Zeus, who was forced by Hera to kill his children. In order to redeem his honor, he had to serve King Eurestheus, his cousin, who commanded him to complete 12 labors. Hercules supposedly organized the Olympic Games to celebrate his completion of the fifth labor, cleaning all of Augeas' horse stalls in one day. By holding the festivities, he was thanking Zeus for his help in completing the labor.

The Olympics were held, every four years during the month of July or August. The time in between the games was called an Olympiad. In the beginning the games lasted only one day and comprised of only one event, the running of one Stadion, but gradually more events were added resulting, towards the 5th century B.C., in the games lasting for five days. In total, the Olympic Games consisted of 10 events: running, the pentathlon, jumping, discus, "ekebolon" javelin, wrestling, boxing, the pancration, chariot racing, and horse racing.
The great historical events that took place in the passing of centuries within the Hellenic lands, took their toll even on the athletic ideals of the Olympic Games, resulting in the gradual fall of the moral values, that was especially felt from 146 A.D. when most of Greece fell under the Romans and the Eleans lost their independence. The institution of the Olympic Games lasted for 12 continuous centuries and was abolished in 393 A.D. (the 293rd Olympiad) by order of Theodosios I when the functioning of all idol worshipping was forbidden, and in 426 A.D., during the reign of Theodosios II, the destruction of the Altian monuments followed.

Efforts for the revival of the Olympic Games in modern times reached a peak at the end of the 19th century with the instrumental contribution of the French Baron Pierre De Coubertin and the Greek Dimitrios Vikelas. The first modern Olympic Games took place with great glamour in 1896 in Athens, in the Panathenaic Stadium. The headquarters of the International Olympic Academy are in Olympia now.

Also in Olympia is the altar of the Olympic flame, which is transferred every four years to the city that hosts the Olympic Games. The lighting of the flame takes place at the altar of the Temple of Hera and it is done with the convergence of sunlight onto a metal reflector. This process is part of a ritual combination that includes the prayer and a hymn to Apollo. The high priestess enters the stadium holding the lit torch which she then hands over to the first runner in order for it to start its long journey to the ends of the earth.
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