2010-02-18 / Sam Bari

In the best interests of Olympic history and tradition

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

Myth, controversy and opposing views riddle Olympic history. However, several important truths have survived since the first games were established in 776 BC in Olympia, Greece.

In modern society, where image most often wins over substance, and the size of bank accounts measure success, Olympic athletes base their worth on accomplishment – a refreshing concept.

People I have met who have had the privilege of spending time in the various Olympic villages where the athletes reside during the events all marvel at the camaraderie enjoyed by the contestants and the harmony in which they live.

Although they are fierce competitors, athletes from countries often politically divided become lifelong friends. The athletes have genuine concern for the well being of their fellow Olympians. The peace and harmony so exemplified by the athletes dispels the myth that the contests were originally created as war games. Quite the opposite is true.

The original ancient Olympics lasted only one day and staged one event, the “stadion” or “stade” race – a short sprint. Other events were added later and included discus throwing, javelin throwing, wrestling, boxing, fencing and chariot races. There was one very bloody event called the “pankration” that was similar to today’s mixed martial arts.

The Olympics were originally introduced to promote peace. During the celebration of the games, all wars were stopped by an Olympic truce enacted so that athletes could travel from their countries to Olympia in safety.

The ancient Olympic games came to an abrupt end in 393 AD, when an earthquake destroyed Olympia. They were not resurrected for 1,500 years as the Olympics, although similar games existed for short periods.

A young French Baron named Pierre de Coubertin initiated the revival of the games in 1890. He allegedly attributed the German defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 to the French soldiers’ lack of conditioning. He wanted to promote exercise and athleticism to improve the health of his nation and its allies. He eventually arranged to introduce his idea to 79 delegates representing nine countries, and aroused interest.

The meeting resulted in Coubertin forming the first International Olympic Committee and organizing the games. The first modern Olympic games were held in 1896 in Athens.

Coubertin is also credited with designing the Olympic symbol of five linked rings and the Olympic flag. The five linked rings represent the colors of the flags of the countries that participated in the first games.

The point is, the games were revived by a Frenchman who took four years to interest enough countries to hold the games in Greece. His efforts resulted in 10,500 athletes competing in 302 events in 28 sports in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

In keeping with the practice of the ancient Olympic games in Greece, the modern Olympics are held every four years, although in different countries. The only difference is that the games are divided into summer and winter events.

Actually, there is another difference between the ancient and the modern games. In the ancient Olympic games, the athletes performed naked. In the modern games, they are clothed.

Although many of the athletes have gone on to earn enormous sums of money as professionals, most Olympic athletes do not. They lead average lives of everyday people. Some make tremendous sacrifices to be in a position to train and dedicate their lives to their sport. They strive to be at the top of their game when they represent their countries.

Many are not funded, or have limited funds. Some have had to beg for money to live and buy the necessary equipment to participate in their various events. The winners are celebrated. They gain notoriety, sometimes endorsements and certainly, fame.

Nonetheless, there are only three medals for every event, and those who did not win are not lesser heroes. Every Olympic athlete has a story to tell, and I wish I had the resources to bring some of those stories to the forefront.

The hardships and dedication that it took for all of the athletes who participate in the worldwide events are exemplary. The many who have made the journey, endured the hardships and given their all, only to return to a life of obscurity, deserve to be recognized. They too must be remembered and respected for their contribution to international relations, peace and the pursuit of accomplishment.

If the world had the mindset of the average Olympic athlete, we would not be living in a system we can’t understand.

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