The COVID-19 pandemic has in many ways been like enduring a type of war. One casualty of this war was the 2020 Olympics which have been delayed until this year, and which are currently taking place in Japan from July 23 to August 8. The modern Olympics have only been postponed or cancelled four times due to the First World War in 1916, the Second World War in 1940 and 1944 and now the pandemic in 2020.
There have been a number of challenges the organizers have had to deal with during these games, along with a lot of debate about the wisdom of proceeding with the delayed Olympics at all while the threat of COVID-19 remains. In fact, infection, and the threat of contracting the coronavirus has affected some athletes who have had to withdraw from the games, and has also resulted in the strict limiting of audience sizes or even complete closure of some venues across Japan. I am not going to enter into that heated debate here, other than to say I do support and respect the commitment to and core values of the Olympics: Excellence, Friendship and Respect.
The history of the Olympic games date back thousands of years to ancient Greece when in 776 BC thousands of people gathered at Olympia, a sacred location in southern Greece. The ancient Olympics were held every four years between August 6 and September 19 during a religious festival honoring Zeus – the god of sky and thunder. The ancient Greeks believed in a community of gods who looked down on and interfered in the human world from their home on Mount Olympus, and Zeus was the king of these gods. In these original ancient Olympic games, women were not allowed to compete, the winners were given a crown of olive leaves, oxen were sacrificed to honor Zeus and feed the spectators, and the male athletes all competed in the nude! During the first fifty years or so of the ancient Olympics the only event was a running race but slowly the games expanded to include wrestling and boxing, sometimes to the death. For the wealthy, chariot racing was added.
The ancient Olympic tradition lasted over a thousand years, but came to an end in AD 393 when Christian Roman Emperor, Theodosius I, banned all pagan festivals. Theodosius The Great, as he was known, aggressively suppressed all forms of paganism, and he considered these games to be just that. Ancient Greece had become part of the vast Roman Empire by this time so had to adhere to the dictates of its conquering nation.
1,500 years later, a French aristocrat and educator was inspired by the idea of creating a modern Olympic Games after visiting the ancient Olympic site in Greece. Born in Paris in 1863, Baron Pierre de Coubertin was dedicated to the benefits of physical education and was an active and vocal proponent of building it into the curriculum of French schools. At a November 1892 meeting of the Union des Sports Athlétiques in Paris, Coubertin proposed the idea of reviving the Olympics as an international athletic competition held every four years. Two years later, he got the approval he needed to establish the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which would become the governing body of the modern Olympic Games. The games were revived in 1896 in Athens, Greece, and have been celebrated every four years since. In 1924, the Winter Olympics were added to showcase cold weather sports such as cross-country skiing, speed skating, and ice hockey. This is how Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who died in 1937, became known as the founder of the modern Olympic Games. There is a lot more information at www.history.com
I am not a sporty person, but I do admire both the Olympian ideals and the dedication of the athletes who train so hard for the honor of the gold, silver, and bronze medals. From a personal perspective, two particular Olympic games resonate with me. The first is the 1996 Atlanta Olympic games, when I was living in London and just began dating the man who became my American husband a few years later. Little did I know that I would end up living in beautiful Coastal Georgia near where some of the boating competitions that I watched on British TV took place. The second is the 2012 Olympic Games in London, three years after I had emigrated to the USA. I did feel a sense of national pride for ‘Team Great Britain’ and felt a bit homesick for not being there in person to witness the land of my birth hosting the traditions of the Olympic games.
I say goodbye this week with a quote from Pierre de Coubertin himself: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.”
God Bless America and our Olympic champions!
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