The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, September 17, 2000

Faster, higher, stronger
By Purva

THE mere name ‘Olympics’ brings to our mind colourful ceremonies, contestants marching down with their flags (representing their nations), doves, balloons and most of all the lighting of the Olympic flame. The feeling of excitement that suffuses each person and team is contagious.

The first recorded Olympic contest took place in the stadium of Olympia in 776 B.C. This stadium stood in the valley of Olympia in western Greece and could seat 40,000 spectators. For many years the Olympics were meant only for male contestants and spectators. Athletics played an important part in the religious festivals of the ancient Greeks. It was believed that such competitions pleased the spirits of the dead. The religious festivals honoured the gods and were held once every four years which probably began before 1400 B.C.

Over a period of time, four national festivals developed — the Isthmian, Nemean, Olympic, and Pythian games. The Olympics games, which ranked as the most important, honoured Zeus, the king of gods. The Olympics were held every four years. The only event in the first 13 Olympiads was a footrace of about 180m. Wrestling and the pentathlon — which originally consisted of the discus throw; javelin throw, long jump, a sprint and wrestling — were added to the competition in 708 B.C. Boxing was added in 688 B.C and the four-horse chariot race in 680 B.C, respectively. A savage and sometime a deadly sport called pancratium, which combined boxing and wrestling, was introduced in 648 B.C.


When the Roman Empire conquered Greece in 1005 B.C., the games soon lost their religious meaning and the contestants only became interested in winning money. But in 393 A.D Emperor Theodsius ordered the end of the Olympics because of the decline in quality. Thus, no Olympics were held for more than 1,500 years. An earthquake destroyed the stadium of Olympia in 500 A.D. and later a landslide buried the ruins of the structure. A group of German archaeologists discovered the ruins in 1875.

The discovery of the early Olympic site gave Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a French educator, the idea of organising a modern, international Olympics. He believed and thought that international sports competitions would promote world peace. So, in 1894, he presented this idea to an international meeting on amateur sports. The group voted to organise the games, and formed the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The first modern Olympic Games took place in 1896 in Athens, Greece. Women first competed in these modern games in 1900. Since then the Olympics have been the scene of numerous exciting achievements. Now the Olympic Games bring together thousands of the worlds’ finest athletes. No other sports event attracts as much attention. Several million people attend the games, and millions throughout the world watch them live on television.

Colourful ceremonies combine with athletic competition to create a magical moment in the world of sports event. The opening ceremony is particularly impressive. The athletes of Greece march into the stadium first, in honour of the original Olympics held in ancient Greece. The other athletes follow, according to the alphabetical order of the country. The host country enters last.

The most dramatic moment of the opening ceremony is the lighting of the Olympic flame. Cross-country runners bring a lighted torch from the valley of Olympia, Greece. Thousands of runners take part in the journey, which starts four weeks before the opening of the games. Planes and ships transport the torch across mountains and seas. The final runner carries the torch into the stadium, circles the track and lights the Olympic flame. the flame is kept burning until the end of the games. This custom started in 1936.

The modern Olympics were organised to encourage world peace and friendship and to promote amateur athletics. The Olympic symbol consists of five interlocking rings that represent the continents of Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and North and South America. The rings are black, blue, green, red and yellow. The flag of every nation competing in the games has at least one of these colours. The Olympic motto is citius, altius, fortius which means faster, higher, stronger, respectively. Despite the high ideals behind the Olympics, the games have often been a centre of controversy and criticism.

What to watch in Sydney

September 17: The NBA stars of the undersized U.S. men's basketball team take on China, with 7-footer Wang Zhi-Zhi, 7-feet-4-inches Yao Ming and 6-feet-11-inches Menk Bater.

September 18: Ukraine-born American Lenny Krayzelburg, the world-recordholder, swims in the 100-meters backstroke.

September 19: Bela Karolyi might be the star of the show during the women's gymnastics team finals.

September 20: Swimmers in action include Susie O'Neill, an Australian who broke the 19-year-old world record for the 200-meters butterfly in May.

September 21: There's beach volleyball in the morning and more Bela at night, with the women's individual all-around final in gymnastics.

September 22: The Hunter-Jones family opens its bid for six golds. Shot putter C.J. Hunter competes in his event's final, while wife Marion Jones runs heats of the 100 meters.

September 23: The 100-meters dash finals, which should include Maurice Greene, the world's fastest man, and Jones. Also in prime time: men's synchronised diving.

September 24: Duet competition in synchronised swimming.

September 25: Michael Johnson could break his own world record in the 400-meters dash, one of nine track and field finals.

September 26: Who's the world's strongest man? The men's super heavy-weightlifting final will determine that honour.

September 27: Probably Jones' toughest test — she runs the 200-meters quarter final and tries to qualify in the long jump.

Septrmber 28: The decathlon wraps up. Also, the equestrian team jumping final gets underway.

September 29: Jones hopes to be in the long jump final.

September 30: Lance Armstrong, who came back from cancer to win the Tour deFrance twice, is a medal favorite for the cycling time trial, if he recovers from a recent neck injury. Also the men's basketball gold-medal game.

October 1: The men's marathon precedes the closing ceremony.

Site of ancient Olympics

OLYMPIA was a national shrine of the Greeks and contained many treasures of Greek art, such as temples, monuments, altars, theatres, statues, and offerings of brass and marble. The Altis, or sacred precinct, enclosed a level space about 200 m (about 660 ft) long by nearly 177 m (nearly 580 ft) broad. In this were the chief centers of religious worship, the votive buildings, and buildings associated with the administration of the games.

Temple of Zeus,was dedicated to the father of the gods. In this temple was a statue of Zeus made of ivory and gold, the masterpiece of the Athenian sculptor Phidias’ Seven Wonders of the World. Next to the Temple of Zeus ranked the Heraeum, dedicated to Hera, the wife of Zeus. In this temple, probably the oldest Doric building known, stood the table on which were placed the garlands prepared for the victors in the games. The votive buildings included a row of 12 treasure houses and the Philippeum, a circular Ionic building dedicated by Philip II, king of Macedonia, to himself. Outside the Altis, to the east, were the Stadium and the Hippodrome, where the contests took place; on the west were the Palaestra, or wrestling school, and the Gymnasium, where all competitors were obliged to train for at least one month. The French began excavations here in 1829. German explorations of 1875-81 threw much light upon the plans of the buildings; they were resumed in 1936, 1952, and 1960-61. Many valuable objects were discovered, the most important of which was a statue of Hermes, the messenger of the gods, by Praxiteles.