While watching the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City this year I became interested in how the games started and what they were like in previous years. The Olympic Games as we know them have only been around since the first modern Olympiad, which was held in Athens in 1896. However, the tradition of athletic competition has been around longer than history itself.
Athletics in Ancient Civilization
Athletic competition was always an integral part of life for the members of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece. Physical fitness was extremely important, and children would start being trained to compete at a young age. Kings, pharaohs, and nobles spent much of their time training and preparing to compete in their athletic contests. These competitions took place as early as 3,000 BC in Egypt and Mesopotamia, but were only attended by the kings, pharaohs, and nobles of the time.
Archeologists found evidence of early athletics on the tombs of the Egyptian pharaohs Ptahotep, Akhethotep, and Ramses III. Each of them included a carved depiction of two men in a wrestling scene grappling one another and trying to throw each other to the ground. Some of these scenes show the presence of an official, while others show the defeated athlete on the ground with one hand raised into the air, indicating a submission. The Egyptians were also known for playing all types of ball games and participating in boxing, equestrian, gymnastic, boating, and stick fighting competitions.
Ancient Minoans had their own original sport they enjoyed participating in. Unlike modern day cowboys that ride bulls, Minoans would gather for a celebration and watch their athletes spring off the ground and jump the backs of the bulls. This "bull leaping" is depicted on all types of Minoan art, and was considered an important part of Minoan culture and their religious festivals.
The Origin of the Olympics
During the colonization period of 750 to 550 BC, warrior life began to decline in Greece, and the emphasis turned to physical fitness. Gymnasiums, stadiums, and training facilities were built by each of Greek's city-states. Athletic competitions began, and any one with the money to train themselves could participate. Even those without money, could sometimes acquire a sponsor from their city-state in hopes that the athlete may
bring glory to their hometown. The events the athletes participated in were all related to war tactics, such as boxing, wrestling, etc. These small tournaments were the beginning of what would become the ancient Olympics.
The Ancient Olympics
Long before Nike was a sponsor and NBC had the television rights, the Olympics were very different. The ancient Greek Olympics were religious festivals designed to celebrate the gods. The competitors trained rigorously not for their own personal glory,...