We love the Olympics. Every two years, when the Summer or Winter Olympic Games come around, ordinary mortals like us get the incredible opportunity to be entertained by the best athletes in the world. Generally, somewhere around seven million Olympic fans will watch the games in person. Lucky dogs. As for the rest of us, the excitement of the Olympic Games will overtake our entertainment centers, flat screen TV’s, smart phones, radios and computer monitors for days on end. Many families even employ TV trays during the Olympics, so meals don’t get in the way of the spectacle.
Our overzealous enthusiasm for all things Olympics led us to do more than a little digging to find some fascinating facts about the Olympic Games throughout history. Here are some of the more captivating tidbits of torch burning trivia we found about our beloved Olympics. Hopefully our list will provide something relevant to talk about during commercial breaks.
#1 – The first official Olympic Games is said to have begun in 776 BC, at the city of Olympia, in Greece. Though 776 BC is the first Olympic Games on record, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the Greeks had been holding regular competitive games prior to 776 BC. It’s more likely that the 776 BC Olympic Games marked the beginning of the tradition of holding the games every four years. And in 776 BC, the participants did wear normal athletic clothing during the Olympic Games. Then things got a little crazy for a while.
#2 – In 720 BC, Olympic participants began competing in the nude. Yes, it’s true. There are several differing accounts of how the birthday suit became the official uniform of the 720 BC Olympic Games. But this is the explanation that we found the most believable: Allegedly, there was an Olympic runner named Orsippos who was competing in the 720 BC games. Orsippos showed up to the Olympic Games wearing typical athletic clothing. (Most scholars believe that athletes wore a special type of loin cloth during Olympic events at that time.) While Orsippos was running a race, during the games, his loin cloth fell off. Orsippos, being the ever-determined competitor, kept on running, without any clothing, and won the race. After his big naked victory, competing entirely nude became a thing. In fact, the word gymnasium actually comes from the Greek word for naked, which is gymos.
#3 – Olympic champions were crowned with olive wreaths. In ancient Olympic Games, the winning athletes weren’t given medals for winning. Rather, these nude sportsmen were presented and crowned with lovely olive wreaths. The wreaths were made from an olive tree that was believed to have been planted by Heracles, the god of strength, heroes and athletes. Aside from the fashionable headwear, victors were showered with gifts when they returned to their hometowns after the Olympic Games.
#4 – In 393 AD, the Olympic Games came to an end. The winds of change seemed to blow in the 4th century, when the Romans conquered Greece. Christianity became the Roman Empire’s official religion. At that time, the Olympic Games, with their focus on gods, goddesses and pagan rituals became much less popular to the masses. Attendance was low. Many of the Olympic buildings, monuments and stadiums were in disrepair. And Emperor Theodosius I banned pagan religious practices. Lack of interest, worn out venues and a ban on pagan rituals made for the perfect storm that led to the end of the ancient Olympic Games. Some evidence suggests that a subset of rebels continued to hold Olympic type events. But it was no longer the widespread, mega-event it had once been.
#5 – In the 1620’s, Richard Dover brought us the “Olympic Festival.” Tony Perrottet wrote an excellent book called, The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Olympic Games. In the book, Perrottet wrote about Dover’s Olympic Festival held in Cottswolds. According to Perrottet, “A motley range of ‘sports’ was on the schedule, including hammer throwing, bear baiting, shin kicking, and the brutally violent, ‘fighting with cudgels,’ which left the contestants bloody and toothless.” The annual event, which was eventually canceled in 1642, helped pave the way for others to rekindle the flame of the Olympic Games.
#6 – Pierre de Coubertin organized the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. French aristocrat Pierre de Coubertin was enthralled with athletics and physical education. He traveled all over the world to study physical fitness and the administration of athletic programs. His initial plan was to help develop a better physical education system for students in France. But throughout his travels, his vision for revitalizing the Olympic Games was formed.
In 1892, Coubertin mentioned his idea, of bringing back the Olympic Games, to the French Union of Athletic Sports Societies. A couple of years later, Coubertin held a meeting with leaders from several other countries and an Olympic Committee was established. They decided to hold the first modern Olympic Games in Athens, Greece on April 5, 1896 and continue with more games every four years thereafter. And in the first modern Olympic Games, all the participants wore clothing – with good, strong elastic bands.
#7 – No one actually wins a gold medal in the Olympics anymore. The last solid gold medal was awarded during the Olympic Games of 1912 in Stockholm, Sweden. After that, the National Olympic Committee decided to make the “gold” medals from sterling silver and plate them with 6 grams of pure gold. Though each hosting city can design the medals as they wish, the medals have to be 3 millimeters thick.
#8 – Tug of war was an Olympic sport from 1900 to 1920. Yes, you read that correctly. Tug of war, the favorite game of eleven-year-old summer campers everywhere, was previously an Olympic event. When it first premiered at the Paris Olympic Games, in 1900, many of the tug of war teams were made up of athletes who were competing in other events as well. Initially, teams were made up of five or six people pulling on each side. Later, up to eight people competed on each team.
1920 was the last year for tug of war, as an Olympic event. Sadly, tug of war has gone the way of a few other Olympic sports, like dueling pistol, croquet and motor boating. Big fans of the sport have been hopeful to see it return. The Tug of War Association (TOWA) has been petitioning for a re-introduction of the event for years. They had high hopes when Olympic organizers were considering tug of war as an added event for the Tokyo Games in 2020. But it was eventually bumped in favor of other new additions, like surfing, karate and skateboarding.
#9 – The motto of the Olympic Games is “Citius, Altius, Fortius.” The motto is Latin and means, “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” Pierre de Coubertin designated the motto in 1894 when the International Olympic Committee was established. Coubertin gave credit for creating the motto to his friend, Henri Didon, a priest who was also very interested in sports. The motto wasn’t commonly linked with the Olympics until the 1924 Paris Olympic Games, when it was officially announced.
#10 – In 1924, the Winter Olympic Games were added to the mix. On January 25, 1924, in Chamonix, France, the first Winter Olympic Games began. Sports like figure skating, ski jumping, ice hockey and bobsleigh took center stage. The Winter Olympics was first called “International Winter Sports Week.” And these games occurred in the same year as the Summer Olympic Games. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that the International Olympic Committee decided the Winter Olympic Games would occur 2 years after the Summer Olympic Games and continue every four years after that. Winter Games would begin again in 1994 and Summer Games, would be in 1996. This designation, of course, was music to the ears of Olympic aficionados everywhere who would – never again – have to wait four long years between Olympic Games.
#11 – Some Olympic Games are very special. In the 1950’s, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister to President John F. Kennedy, was saddened by the way that young people with intellectual disabilities were treated. She saw that many such children weren’t included in team sports and weren’t encouraged to play.
Determined to make a difference for these special children, Eunice Kennedy Shriver decided to hold a summer day camp for intellectually disabled youth in her backyard. The camp was opened in June of 1962. According to the Special Olympics website, Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s goal was to learn what these children could do in sports and other activities – and not dwell on what they could not do.
The camps for special children were a huge success and a door of opportunity for young people with intellectual disabilities. In March of 1968, Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the Chicago Park District announced plans for the first “Olympic” games for intellectually disabled youth. In July of that year, the first International Special Olympics Summer Games were held in Chicago’s Soldier Field. Around 1,000 athletes from USA and Canada competed that day. With the event’s success, Eunice Kennedy Shriver declared the Special Olympic Games would continue and be held every two years. Today, the Special Olympics is endorsed and recognized by the International Olympic Committee and remains one of the only organizations that has been granted permission to use the Olympic name.
Throughout history, the Olympic Games have provided people all over the world with a common ground. When the Olympics take place, people from Beijing, China to Little Rock, Arkansas are watching the same incredible athletes participate in the games. And the Special Olympics helps create a level playing ground for all kinds of athletes. Over the years, the Olympic Games have offered an inspiring and unifying worldwide event for everyone to enjoy.
So the next time you’re gathered around the television with a few other Olympic junkies, feel free to share these riveting facts about sprinting naked athletes, sterling silver “gold” medals and the short-lived shin kicking event. You’re well informed to be the master of Olympic trivia during the coming Olympic Games.
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