Today, millions are spent, thousands compete and billions watch the modern Olympic games. The 2000 Olympics will be held in Sydney, Australia. The 2004 Olympics will be held in Athens, Greece. Athletes have been preparing for years to compete in the Olympics, knowing that it could well be the highlight of a life time.
The modern Olympic games are rooted in Ancient Greece. These games took place in Athens, where the Free men of each village competed against each other. The athletes , who were all men, competed not in the light weight fabric of the modern athlete, but in the nude. The idea of the games was to have the athletes compete not for money but for glory and a crown of olives. Much to the disbelief of some in attendance: ‘When the Persian military officer Tigranes "heard that the prize was not money but a crown [of olive], he could not hold his peace, but cried, "Good heavens, Mardonius, what kind of men are these that you have pitted us against? It is not for money they contend but for glory of achievement!"'
As is the case in the Modern games, there was a tendency for some athletes to try and win by cheating: The earliest recorded cheater was Eupolus of Thessaly, who bribed boxers in the 98th Olympiad. Callippus of Athens bought off his competitors in the pentathlon during the 112th festival. Two Egyptian boxers, Didas and Sarapammon, were fined for fixing the outcome of their match at the 226th Olympics. All these men were immortalized as cheaters in the writer Pausanias' 2nd century A.D. guidebook to Greece, in which he described the statues at Olympia and recounts the men's misdeeds. Sports like boxing and wrestling, equestrian events, discus, javelin, jump and running began at the ancient games and have survived into the modern Olympics.
As a tribute to the Olympic Games of Ancient Greece, the modern games came into being. Strongly promoted by French educator Pierre De Comberlin, who proposed the games at the 1889 International Congress held in Paris. The impetus for the games was the renewed interest in physical sport. There was interest in cycling with cycle tracks being built in Europe, United States and Britain. Countries challenged each other to informal contests. Inventions such as the railway and telegraph had shrunk the world.
It was thought a fitting tribute that the first games should be held in Athens in 1896. The Greek government was not happy with this proposal, fearing the estimated cost of 500,000 drachma to host the games would bankrupt them. The new stadium built in Athens was erected on the original site of the first games. When the excavation was taking place, they found four pillars which were part of the first stadium. These pillars were placed at the four corners of the track, silent sentries standing at the edges of memory for the first Olympics. The stadium could hold 75,000 people with room for 50,000 more in the surrounding hills. 250 athletes from 14 countries competed in 43 events and 9 different sports.
Greek King George oversaw the first modern Olympics. The opening speeches were a series of toasts. The athletes were all given great glasses of wine to drink, and raised their glasses in tribute to one another.7 To not drink the wine would have been an insult. The athletes stayed in Athens' small hotels and had to compete the following day, hung over or not. Clearly, there was not the concern over diet or drug testing that would plague later Olympics.
Canadians did not compete in the 1876 Olympics. It wasn't until the second Olympics held in Paris in 1900, as a side show to the World's Fair, that a Canadian, George Orton, who was studying in the United States, joined the American team and competed. His performance was impressive - he won a gold medal in the 3000m steeplechase, a bronze in the 400m hurdles and finished 5th in the 4000m steeplechase. The 1900 Olympics were the first games in which women competed - in lawn tennis and golf.
Canada sent its first official team to the 1904 Olympics, which were held in St. Louis. The games were attached to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Like the 1900 Olympic games, these games were plagued by poor attendance. Canada won 4 gold medals. One of the gold medalists was a Montréal Police Officer, Étenne Desmarteau. He won his gold medal in the 50 pound weight throw. When word reached Canada and the ears of his superiors that he had taken the absence from his job to participate in the Olympics, they fired him. Fate would not be kind to Étenne, as the following year he would die from typhoid.
At the first modern Olympics of 1896, traditions were created that have spanned a century. The Olympic torch was part of the opening ceremonies, as was the release of doves of peace and the word Nike. Today, Nike is associated with running shoes, while in the first Olympics ‘Nike' was chanted by the Greeks to urge their team on. It means ‘Victory'.
One hundred years after the 1896 Olympics, the games were held in Atlanta, Georgia. Many things have changed over the century - television has replaced the telegraph. Athletes no longer are billeted in people's homes. Countries now compete to hold the Olympics which have now become big business. In the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, 10,000 athletes completed from 190 countries, in 271 events and 29 different sports. These Olympics were marred, however, by a bombing which killed one person and wounded 100. Canada's glory was led by Donovan Bailey, who won gold in the 100m. Bailey and his team mates Robert Esmie, Glenroy Gilbert and Bruny Surin, also won gold in the 4 x 100m relay. Canada came away with 3 Gold; 11 Silver and 8 Bronze medals.
In the Fall of 2000, much of the world's eyes will once again be upon the Olympic Games, this time in Sydney, Australia. As we settle down to watch the world's athletes compete, we should remember the spirit of these games, which was perhaps best illustrated in the 1896 Olympics: