Hi folks! I know, in my last article I said I would talk about an important character in The Retreat to Avalon. It’s coming, but today is opening ceremonies day for the Olympics in Tokyo, and my interest in Greek history, not to mention the Olympics, is making me take a side road for a moment.
Talk about history! The first Olympics were held at the Sanctuary of Zeus, ruler of the Olympian Gods, in Olympia, Greece. The first recorded date was in 776 B.C, but it is thought that the games originated as much as a thousand years earlier.
Legend says that the Greek hero Heracles (later stolen by the Romans and renamed Hercules), established the games in honor of his father, Zeus, for the completion of his Twelve Labors, and decreed they should occur every four years. Heracles built the first stadium, pacing off two hundred steps and calling it a “stadion“.
The Greek games were fundamentally religious, with ritual sacrifices as well. The Greek city-states warred often with each other, and though the idea that all Greeks ceased hostilities during the games is a stretch, the custom did allow pilgrims attending the games to travel unmolested, even through enemy territories, in order to reach the games.
The original games included foot, horse and chariot races, jumping, the discus and javelin, wrestling and Pankration (not unlike modern UFC fighting, though the only rules were no biting or eye-gouging), all competed in the buff! There were some other notable differences. For instance, the long jump involved carrying a heavy stone and launching it backwards during the jump to increase distance. Wrestlers and boxers were oiled up and urged not to attack the opponent’s genitals.
Women did engage in athletic training but were smart enough not to participate in the games… They could, however, own horses entered in equestrian events and their names are recorded as winners in such cases.
With the rise of the Roman Empire, the Greek Olympics died out between the late fourth and early fifth centuries, AD. In the 17th century, the revival of interest in Classical Greece led many European towns and countries to institute their own “Olympic” games on limited bases. Following Greece’s war of independence from the Ottoman Empire, they began new Olympic games in 1870. These games inspired the Olympics that we know today. The International Olympic Committee was created and the first Olympics of the modern era was held in Athens, Greece, in 1896. The aim of the IOC was to hold the games every four years, moving the location around to various cities around the world. The Olympics have been held every four years since, except for during both World Wars. The 2020 Olympics are the first that have been delayed a year, due of course, to Covid-19.
The first Olympic games that I watched with any real understanding were the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Like many, I was enthralled by Carl Lewis and Mary Lou Retton. To this day, John Williams’ “Olympic Fanfare and Theme” is the music I associate with the Olympics.
In 2002, I had my own, very, very, small part to play in the Olympics. The Winter Olympics, a tradition that started in 1924, were held in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was a member of a US Army Reserve Military Police detachment out of Colorado as a military police investigator and member of that unit’s Special Response Team (I had joined to put my civilian police experience as a member of a SWAT team to use). Our unit provided security at some federal facilities used by the Olympics before and through the games. It was a lot of work and we didn’t get to see much of the games, but it was cool to be a part of it, and Salt Lake City is a beautiful place.
With the opening ceremonies today in Tokyo, I hope it’s an example of the world getting back to normal. It’s been too long. Thanks for stopping by and as always, we love to hear from you!