Diving into The Olympics

5 min read

By Tara Blair

Zeus prepares to hurl his trademark thunderbolts.

More than 70% of the world’s population tune in to the Olympics, it’s no surprise that the event is ranked as the most common shared experience on Earth. We know the world is well informed of the quadrennial event held and are patiently waiting for August 5th. I backtracked nearly 3,000 years on Gale resources to uncover some knowledge and history most fans are unaware of.

Read what I found!

Originating in 776 BCE, the Olympics began as a festival to honor the mythological Greek god, Zeus. As the son to the supreme god of time, Cronus, and goddess of fertility, Rhea,  Zeus was the leader of the heavens and earth. After overthrowing his father through a tremendous war with a few devoted Titans and his destructive thunderbolts, Zeus proceeded to take control of the universe. Ruling from their court on Mt. Olympus, Zeus, as well as the other Titans, became known as Olympian gods. As the story goes, religious festivals developed on the foot of the mountain to worship Zeus and approach his strength. In order to commemorate the greatest of all gods, the Greeks believed they should offer him the best of everything , which included dexterous athleticism. Thus, the Olympics were born.

In the beginning, the Olympics were confined to residents of Greece; women, slaves, and dishonored citizens were also forbidden to compete.  Greek women, who were not only prohibited to compete but also watch the events entirely, held games of their own, called Heraea, also at Olympia. The sole event was running—which was completed nude, but over time more were added—boxing and chariot racing were among the first to evolve. Winning was a superior honor to both male and female competitors. Victors were crowned with chaplets of wild olive, and their home city-states champions were awarded numerous honors, valuable gifts, and privileges. The first recorded champion was a cook named Coroebus, dominating the only event—a 192-meter footrace called the stade (origin of the word “stadium”). The length of the race was based on a legend that Hercules, Greek mythological hero known for his strength and son of Zeus, ran this distance in one breath.

This arched entryway leads to the original Olympic stadium in Greece.


Women competing in the 1948 hurdle race.

In 1896, the first modern Olympics took place in Athens, and featured 280 participants from 13 nations—all male—with 43 events and 60,000 spectators. Also featured in the 1896 games was the first Olympic marathon, which followed the 25-mile route run by the Greek solider, Pheidippides*, who brought news of a victory over the Persians from Marathon to Athens in 490 B.C. He ran to Athens shouting “Rejoice! We conquer!” and then died of exhaustion. The official symbol of the modern games is five interlocking colored rings, representing the continents of North and South America, Asia, Africa, Europe, and Australia. The Olympic flag**, featuring this symbol on white background, flew for the first time at the Antwerp Games in 1920. The Olympics truly took off as an international sporting event when the VIII Games were held in Paris. Around 3,000 athletes—including over 100 women—from 44 nations competed that year. For the first time the games featured a closing ceremony and the Winter Olympics also debuted. Eighty years later, in 2004, the Summer Olympics returned to Athens for the first time with a record-breaking 11,000 athletes from 201 countries. Currently, the Olympics has grown to offer other games such as: Special Olympics, Paralympics, and Deaflympics. They include traditional events of track and field athletics, but have added several more over the decades accumulating a total of 28 sports with 300 events for the Summer 2016 Olympics. The next Olympic event is scheduled to take place on Friday, August 5 and end on Sunday, August 21 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazail**. Be sure to tune in and let your friends in on all of your newfound Olympic knowledge.


All factual content was pulled using the save to PDF feature on Gale Virtual Reference Library. Learn about more features and content of Gale Virtual Reference Library today!

*Information was gathered thanks to Gale’s General Reference Center GOLD, discover more about the periodicals!  

**Facts were found using Gale’s Global Issues In Context, request a free trial today!


About the Author

Tara is a current student at Eastern Michigan University and intern for Gale. In her (very rare) free time, she enjoys the finer things in life like relaxing and taking long walks on the beach. One day she hopes to graduate, move from intern to career, and enjoy not going to class for hours after work. Until then, she relishes writing blogs for all of Gale’s fine followers.

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