You most certainly are aware that the Summer Olympic Games will commence in less than a hundred days from today in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, four years after the last one in London. But have you ever wondered about how it began, why the games were held, and what sporting activities athletes competed in?

Rest your back, put your feet up, and drink from the cup of history, a serving of the wine called The Olympic Games!

How It All Started

The Olympic Games began over 2,700 years ago in Olympia, South West Greece. Every four years, around 50,000 people came from all over the Greek world to watch and take part. The Greeks loved sports and the Olympic Games were the biggest sporting event in the ancient calendar.

There were no gold, no silver, neither were there bronze medals. Winners were given a wreath of leaves and a hero’s welcome when they got back home. Athletes competed for the glory of their city, and winners were seen as being touched by the gods. Yet, that was not all.

A Sacred Event

ruins of temple of zeus

Ruins of the temple of Zeus in Olympia

The main event at the Olympics was not a sporting event, but a sacrifice. On the third day of the games, 100 oxen were sacrificed and burnt on the Altar of Zeus. This altar was not made from stone, instead, it was made from the leftover ash of all the sacrificed oxen from previous gatherings. It became so high that by around 200CE, the mound of ash stood six meters high!

What Events Were at the Olympic Games?

1. Running

Running was the first event to be included in the Olympic Games. Athletes ran up and down a 192 metre track in the stadium. Before the race, the competitors lined up along a stone starting block. If anyone tried to get a head start, they were disqualified and beaten for cheating.

The toughest running race was called the Hoplitodromos. In this event, runners competed wearing armour and carrying a shield. These could weigh up to 25kg!

2. Discus

 In this event, athletes would compete to throw a stone or metal discus as far as they could. The discus was much larger and flatter than the ones we use today and probably weighed almost twice as much.

3. Javelin

Ancient javelins were sharpened wooden sticks, sometimes with a metal point on the end. Athletes could make them fly further by winding a leather band around the javelin. This would unravel as the javelin was thrown, making it spin in the air.

4. Long Jump

The ancient long jump was very different from the one we have today. There was no run-up and jumpers propelled themselves by swinging weights called halteres in their arms. The athletes would be accompanied by a man playing the flute, using the rhythm of the music to time their jump and the swinging of the weights.

5. Wrestling and boxing

Like today’s games, the ancient Olympics included boxing and wrestling. However, they were a lot more violent! The toughest event was the pankration. This was a wrestling match with hardly any rules. The only things competitors couldn’t do were bite or poke people in the eye. Some wrestlers were even killed!

6. Horse racing

There were horse races and chariot races in the ancient Olympic Games. These events took place on a race track called a hippodrome. There were no seats, so spectators watched from the sides of the surrounding hills.

Competitors raced around 12 laps of the track. The most dangerous places were the turning posts at either end, because riders wanted to get the best line for the corner. However, it was the owners of the horses that were considered the winners, not the riders.

Who Could Attend?