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Olympic History

As the world celebrates the 2004 Summer Games, it continues a legacy several millennia old. Read about the history of the ancient and modern Olympic Games, the meaning behind familiar Olympic symbols, and the traditions of the Games with excerpts from texts published by Griffin Publishing Group. Along the way, find lots of links to help you learn and test your knowledge with quick quizzes.

The Olympic Games in Ancient Greece
For many years, the ancient Greeks gathered in the beautiful Valley of Olympia to offer sacrifices to their gods. In time, the practice came to include games and contests. These games and contests came be known as the Olympic Games, with their first recorded date being 776 B.C. The Games were held every four years until A.D. 394.

The first Olympic Games featured only one event–a foot race. As time passed additional events were added. Eventually, the Olympic Games became a five-day festival that was deeply rooted in the religion of the people.

When the Roman Empire conquered Greece, the Olympic Games became less important. They ended in A.D. 394 by order of Emperor Theodosius. A little over 30 years later, in 426 A.D., the Temple of Zeus burned. In time, earthquakes, floods, and landslides buried the site of the ancient festival.

There is a lot more to learn about ancient Greece and Olympic history! Click on the links below.

Olympic Games

Ancient Greece

  • Enjoy an Ancient Greek World online presentation of artifacts that reveal hints about aspects such as the land, economy, daily life, and religion of the time.
  • Let Odyssey Online explain how modern-day movies, buildings, and more are influenced by ancient Greece.
  • Curious about Greek gods? Use Encyclopedia Mythica to look up figures of Greek mythology.

Quick Quiz

Find answers to these trivia questions about the Olympic Games in ancient Greece.

The Olympic Games in Modern Times
The site of the ancient Olympic Games lay buried until an archaeologist named Richard Chandler unearthed it in 1766. A French nobleman, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, became interested in their findings and visited the site. Coubertin believed that an international sports competition could promote world peace, and his efforts led to the formation of the International Olympic Committee.

The first modern Games were held in 1896 in Athens, Greece. Starting in 1900, women began to compete in a few sports. Today women medal in almost all phases of competition.

Since 1896, with only three exceptions, the Games have been held in cities around the world. The exceptions have been 1916, 1940, and 1944. No Olympic Games took place in those years because of World Wars I and II. There have been some rocky moments in the history of the Games. At times countries have boycotted the Games because of opposing political views.

In 1992, it was decided that the Olympic Winter Games would be held again in 1994 and again every four years thereafter. The Summer Games would continue in years divisible by four.

The growth of technology has also touched the Games. In 1912 the judging of race results was aided by electrical times. In 1936, the Olympic Games were broadcast by radio for the first time and broadcast to televised theaters in Berlin. Televised coverage began with the 1960 Games in Rome.

In spite of all the changes, the ideals of the Olympic Games are the same. They are held in the hope of promoting world peace, understanding, and fair and friendly athletic competition.

There is a lot more to learn about the modern Olympic Games! For example, you can:

About the 1896 Athens Games

Symbols and Traditions
Among the many traditions of the Olympic Games are the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, which have their modern roots in ancient times.

In ancient Greece the first day of the Olympic competition opened with judges in royal purple robes, a heralder, and a trumpeter entering the Hippodrome, an oval track used for races. The judges took their stands and the competitors paraded past them. The herald called out each competitor's name, the name of his father, and his city. Then the herald declared the Games officially open.

More than 2,500 years later, 258 athletes from 13 different countries paraded into the stadium in Athens, Greece. Along with 70,000 spectators in the stands, they heard the King of Greece declare the Games of the first modern Olympiad officially open. The Opening Ceremonies have continued as a grand highlight of the Games. Athletes from Greece are always given the honor of entering the stadium first. They are followed in alphabetical order by athletes of the other countries. The host team's country enters last.

A national leader of the host country welcomes the athletes and declares the Games officially open. An athlete and one official then recite the Olympic oath. A flock of doves–the birds symbolic of peace–are usually released, and the Olympic flame is lit. The ceremonies usually conclude with an explosion of breathtaking fireworks.

After 16 days of intense athletic competition, the Olympic athletes gather together for a ceremonial goodbye. The spectacular event is the Closing Ceremony of the Olympic Games. The flag from the country hosting the next Olympic Games is raised. Finally, the Games are declared officially closed, and the Olympic flag is lowered. Following this emotional ceremony, there is a variety of entertainment, and once again the night sky explodes with fireworks.


Quick Quiz

Learn about other traditions and symbols of the Games by testing your skill on this quick trivia quiz

  • What five colors are in the Olympic Rings, and what do they stand for?
  • In what year was the torch lit for the first time in the modern games?
  • What is the Olympic Creed?
  • Humans were selected for the first time as mascots of the Olympic Games during the competition in which country?
For help, visit the following Web sites:

No Girls Allowed?

Women were barred from the early Games, both as spectators and competitors, because the Olympics was regarded as primarily religious ceremonies. Those women who let curiosity get the better of them were put to death if they were caught! In time, separate races were set up for women and girls in a neighboring city. These games were known as the Herannic Games in honor of Hera, the wife of Zeus.

Although there were no events for women in 1896 at the first modern Olympic Games, women did participate at the Paris Olympic Games of 1900.  Today the number of women's and men's events at the Olympic Games is almost equal. In fact, it is hard to imagine the Olympic Games without women because so many of the most memorable moments in Olympic history have been provided by female athletes.

Quick Quiz

Find answers to these trivia questions about women in the Olympic Games.

  • Which women's soccer player led her team to win the gold medal in 1996 and the silver medal in 2000? Think you know? Check your answer at U.S. Soccer.com.
  • Who was the athletic contest reserved for women in ancient Greece honoring? What event did they participate in during this competition? For help, visit The Real Story of the Ancient Olympic Games.
  • At the age of 14, Nadia Comaneci was the first Olympic Gymnast to do what? Check your answer and find out about the gymnastic moves named after her at CBS News.com.

Click here, to visit Girl Power, and read about other cool women, do activities and puzzles and play games just for girls.

Portions of the above text were excerpted from Share the Olympic Dream--Volume II.
© 2001 by Griffin Publishing Group/United States Olympic Committee.

For information on purchasing Griffin materials, please visit the Griffin Publishing Group Web site at http://www.griffinpublishing.com.


Griffin Publishing

Coaches Notes

International Paralympic Committee
International Paralympic Committee

US Paralympics
US Paralympics

Canadian Paralympic Committee
Canadian Paralympic Committee



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