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Ancient and modern Olympics

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The ancient and modern Olypics have both similarities and differences

The Olympic Games we see today bears little resemblance to the events that were first held in the year 776 B.C. in Olympia, Greece. However, the Games still foster a sense of pride, accomplishment, and kinship.


The ancient Olympic Games were originally held only in Olympia and only free men who spoke Greek were allowed in compete in the games. The ancient Games were also closely tied to the religious festivals for the cult of Zeus, but were not actually a part of the rite itself. The main purpose of the Games was to show off the physical skills of the citizens while fostering good relations among the various Greek cities.

Likewise, the modern Games hope to foster good will among the participating counties while celebrating the skills of the athletes. However, the modern Games encourage both genders to participate in the games, and the religious connotations associated with the games have dissipated.


The ancient Olympics were held every four years and began near the summer solstice, and this four year period was known as an "Olympiad." The ancient Games continued for almost 12 centuries, but the Emperor Theodosius banned the Games in 393 A.D., declaring that such "pagan cults" be banned.

The modern Olympic Games were revived, in large part, due to the efforts of Baron Pierre de Coubertin of France. When Coubertin introduced the idea of an Olympic revival there was not a lot of interest. But Coubertin continued to promote his dream and, in 1894, Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and preparations were made for the first modern Olympiad.  The first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896 in Athens, Greece. 

The Winter Games were held in the same year as the Summer Games until 1992, but as of in 1994 the Winter and Summer Games began a bifurcated schedule and are held two years apart, on separate four-year cycles.


The ancient Games may have been held in Olympia, but the modern Games are not tied to any one location. The IOC, which enforces Olympic policy and determines the location of upcoming Olympic Games, is located in Lausanne, Switzerland. The location of upcoming games is usually chosen a minimum of six years in advance, due to the need for preparations at the host site. The Olympics have been hosted by cities all over the world, and the honor and prestige associated with hosting the Olympics offsets the cost and complexities involved.


The sporting events at the ancient Olympics consisted of the following:

  •     Boxing
  •     Pankration (developed in ancient Greece and the oldest martial arts in history)
  •     Pentathlon (includes Discus, Javelin, Jumping, Running, and Wrestling)
  •     Equestrian Events (includes Chariot Racing and Horseback Riding)

The modern Olympics boast thirty-five events. Among the events retained from the ancient Games are Wrestling and Equestrian Events. The modern Games boast various events for both Winter and Summer Games.


The Olympic symbol (the five interlocking rings) was conceived by Coubertin, and was adopted by the IOC. The five rings represent the union of the five continents. The symbol has been used for nearly a century and is recognized around the world and is frequently utilized on memorabilia and commemorative items as a way of joining in on the feverish excitement that accompanies the Games.
People even purchase replica medals to honor favorite athletes or mark their favorite sporting events. 

Olympic Victors

The ancient Olympic victors would enjoy receiving a palm branch from a Hellanodikis (Greek judge), while spectators regaled him with flowers and boisterous cheers. As evidence of his victorious accomplishments, the victor would have red ribbons tied to his head and hands.

Modern victors can expect medals and public acclaim (and, quite often, lucrative endorsement deals) to commemorate his or her athletic accomplishments. Just as in ancient times, there are also some really impressive bragging rights.

The sense of unity that goes with the games also allows athletes from all countries to cheer for a great performance from any country, even if the official political status should put then at odds. That moment of connection alone is a great victory for every athlete and fan who loves the Olympics. 


Ancient and Modern Olympics

Scholastic: Go for the Gold

Olympics Home Page

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