Do You Feel Golden?

Then according to the current medal count, you must be Chinese!

The 2012 Summer Olympics kicked off last week to much pomp and circumstance. Where the opening ceremonies lacked the same raw impressiveness of the Beijing games of 2008, London still had plenty of star power: Daniel Craig, Sir Paul McCartney, Voldemort and Queen Elizabeth — to name a few famous Brits — were all involved. So in honor of the 2012 games now officially underway, we elected to share some of our favorite pieces of Ancient Olympic trivia. And don’t worry — for all you lovers of the present-day games, we’ll be back later this week with some fun facts relating to the modern Olympiad.

  • The Ancient Olympics began thousands of years ago in Greece. The earliest recorded games were held in 776BC. The games took place in Olympia (thus the competition’s name). The region is in southwest Greece and home to both natural beauty as well as several religious temples. The games were dedicated to Zeus, the Greek king of the gods whose mighty Temple was located nearby.
  • Competition and city-state pride was serious. Any free male could participate and Greeks would travel from across the country to compete. But like today, most men knew their limitations and instead rooted for their hometown hero. Infamously Astylos of Crotona was a top sprinter who initially represented Crotona but went on to switch allegiance to Syracuse. The Crotonans were so upset by the move that they destroyed their town’s statue of Astylos and converted his home into a prison. And you thought those Cleveland Cavs fans who burned a LeBron jersey were overreacting.
  • While most men could compete in the Olympics, no women could enter. And married women were barred from even watching (with a penalty of death for disobeying). The ruling was no doubt due to the most common choice of competitor wardrobe: that being none at all. Yes, most men competed nude. Gross. Still not sure a death sentence is warranted for sneaking a peek, though…
  • While the games carried honor, helped bring together the people of Greece and momentarily paused city-state conflict, the prizes for champions sure were crappy: winners were granted olive branches in place of today’s gold medals. And moreover, there were far fewer chances to win: only a dozen or so competitions existed — virtually all of them either track & field or fighting events (e.g., boxing and wrestling).
  • All good things come to an end and the Ancient Olympics were no exception. The culprit was Roman Emperor Theodosius. A Christian, Theodosius rejected the pagan traditions of the competition. In 393 AD he pulled the plug.
Alright, we hope you appreciate this background. We’ll follow up later this week with some of our favorite stories from the modern reboot of the Olympic tradition. Until then, enjoy the games!


Sources: IOC I, IOC IIIOC III, Listverse
Photo Credit: Matthew Kenwrick

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  1. History of the Modern Olympiad | HistoryPop - [...] part of our ongoing efforts to exploit honor the 2012 London Summer Olympics, we shared a brief history of the Ancient Greek ...

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