Every four years, athletes from around the world come together to compete in the Olympic Games. Do you know why this event is called the Olympics? The games were first held at Olympia in ancient Greece. The ancient Olympic Games honored the Greek god Zeus. Today, the Olympic Games are held in different cities around the world.
THE ANCIENT GAMES
We know that the ancient Olympics began as far back as 776 bc. That’s when the Greeks began keeping records of the winners. The ancient Games continued until about ad 392, more than 1,000 years!
Athletes came from cities throughout Greece to compete in races, boxing and wrestling matches, gymnastics, and weightlifting. They also threw spears, hurled a discus (bronze disk), and jumped for distance. Wealthy Greeks raced their horses. Winners were crowned with wreaths of olive or palm leaves.
The ancient Olympic Games were not just a sporting event, however. There were competitions in poetry, music, speechmaking, and other arts as well.
At the beginning and end of the Games, animals were sacrificed (killed and offered) to Zeus. A splendid temple was built at Olympia in Zeus’s honor. When people stopped worshiping the Greek gods, the Olympic Games were canceled.
THE MODERN GAMES
The Olympic Games were brought back in 1896. The first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens, the capital of Greece. Only nine countries participated in the first Games, and all the athletes were male. The modern Olympic Games or Olympics are leading international sporting events featuring summer and winter sports competitions in which thousands of athletes from around the world participate in a variety of competitions.
Today, some 10,000 athletes compete in the Olympic Games, and nearly half of them are female. They represent about 200 nations.
At first, the modern Olympics included only summer sports, such as swimming, rowing, and track and field. Figure skating was added in 1908, and ice hockey in 1920.
The first winter Olympic Games were held in 1924. More winter sports were later added to the Winter Games, including downhill skiing, bobsledding, and ski jumping. Snowboarding and freestyle skiing followed in the 1990s.
From 1924 through 1992, the Winter Games and the Summer Games took place in the same year. After 1992, the next Winter Games were moved up two years, to 1994. Winter Games and Summer Games now occur two years apart. Each of these Games takes place every four years.
GOING FOR THE GOLD
After each Olympic event, medals are awarded to the competitors who finish in first, second, and third place. First-place winners receive a gold medal. Those who finish in second place receive a silver medal, and those in third place, a bronze medal.
Olympic athletes often dazzle the world. In 1912, Jim Thorpe of the United States won the gold medal for two of the most difficult contests in track and field: the pentathlon, which consists of five different events, and the decathlon, which consists of ten events. Thorpe is still the only athlete to have won the pentathlon and decathlon at the same Olympics.
In 1932, Babe Didrikson of the United States became the only Olympic athlete ever to win medals in separate running, jumping, and throwing events. Four years later, African American track star Jesse Owens won four gold medals.
During the 1970s, the thrilling performances of Olga Korbut of the Soviet Union and Nadia Comaneci of Romania inspired a generation of girls to take up gymnastics. Also in the 1970s, American Mark Spitz amazed the world by winning a total of seven gold medals in swimming. In the 1980s and 1990s, Carl Lewis of the United States won a total of nine Olympic gold medals in track-and-field events. Sarah Hughes charmed audiences as she skated her way to a gold medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics. The star of the Summer Olympics in 2004 was American swimmer Michael Phelps, who won a total of eight medals.