The world’s most renowned sporting event has its roots in ancient history but there is much more to it than what we hear these days. It was also a gathering of the region’s best athletes to celebrate the triumph of the human spirit but its history too provides some eye raising facts:
1. The first recorded evidence of the Olympic Games was in 776 BC, although the games are expected to have begun even earlier. Held in honour of Zeus, the ruler of the Greek gods, it was named after Mt Olympos: the home of the pantheon of Greek gods and goddesses.
2. The Olympic Games had only one event: a 183 metre foot race. This was won by a cook named Koroibos. So celebrated were the games that starting with Koroibos, every victor’s name was recorded and every Olympiad named after them giving rise to the first accurate chronology of the ancient Greek world. By 396 BC, 12 more events had been added to the proceedings.
3. Women were not allowed to attend the Olympics nor participate. There was a separate women’s festival called Heraia dedicated to Hera, the wife of Zeus.
4. By the time Greece was taken over by the Roman Empire in 27 BC, the games were open to Roman citizens and even emperors. Roman Emperor Nero participated at the games in 67AD in the chariot race. He violated the rules by bringing 10 horses rather than having 4 as prescribed. During the race, he also lost control of his chariot and injured himself so severely it was almost fatal. Despite this, he proclaimed himself the winner thus making a mockery of the games.
5. The ancient games were brought to a halt by Roman Emperor Theodosius I in 393 AD because they had pagan traditions as opposed to the then Christian traditions adopted by the Roman empire. These games were the last after a run of 293 Olympics held over a period spanning more than a millennium. It would not be until 1896 that they were resurrected by Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin in what would become the modern form of the ancient event.