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A Gift of Peace from the Past, the Ancient Olympics

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Since 1896, the year the Olympics were resurrected from ancient

history, the Olympics have been a symbol of the camaraderie and harmony

possible on a global scale. The gathering of athletic representatives,

the pride of the pack, from participating governments, even throughout

the recent Cold War period, is proof that world unity is possible; just

as it was in Ancient Greece with the polis or city-states.

Olympic Games were held throughout Ancient Greece, but the most famous

are the games that were held in Olympia in honor of Zeus every four

years from August 6th to September 19th. The first record of these

games is of one Coroebus of Elis, a cook, winning a sprint race in 776

BC. Most historians believe the games to have been going on for

approximately 500 years before this. In the year Coroebus was made a

part of history, there was apparently only one simple event, a race

called the stade. The track was said to be one stade long or roughly

210 yards.

In subsequent games, additional events were to be added, most likely to

increase the challenge to these amazing athletes. In 724 BC, the

diaulos, a two stade race, was added, followed by a long distance race,

about 2 Ð'ј miles and called the dolichos, at the next games four years

later. Wrestling and the famous Pentathlon were introduced in 708 BC.

The Pentathlon consisted of five events; the long jump, javelin throw,

discus throw, foot race, and wrestling. The Pentathlons, especially the

successful ones, were often treated and even worshipped like gods.

Because of their exquisite physiques, they were used as the models for

statues of the Greek Gods. The superior athletic ability of these

athletes affects the games even today. The twisting and throwing method

of the discus throw, which originated in Ancient Greece, is still used

today. The original events were even more challenging than those of

today. The modern discus weighs in at just 5 pounds, one-third of the

original weight, and the long jumps were done with the contestant

carrying a five pound weight in each hand. The pit to be traversed in

this jump allowed for a 50 foot jump, compared to just over 29 feet in

our modern Olympics. Apparently, the carried weights, used correctly,

could create momentum to carry the athlete further. Legend has it that

one Olympian cleared the entire pit by approximately 5 feet, breaking

both legs as he landed.

One significant difference between the modern and ancient games; the

original Olympians competed in the nude. Because of this, the 45,000

spectators consisted of men and unwed virgin women only. The only

exception to this would be the priestess of Demeter who was also the

only spectator honored with a seat. The young unwed women were allowed

to watch to introduce them to men in all their splendor and brutality

whereas it was felt that married women should not see what they could

not have. In addition, the virgins had their own event which occurred

on the men's religious day of rest. Called the Haria, in honor of Hara

the wife of Zeus, the young women would race dressed in a short tunic

which exposed the right breast. Traditionally, Spartan women dominated

this event, being trained from birth for just this purpose.

The religious undertones of the events became extremely apparent on

the third day of the games when a herd of 100 cows were killed as a

sacrifice to Zeus. In actuality, only the most useless parts were

burned in honor of Zeus; most of the meat would be cooked and eaten

that day. The sacrifices were conducted on a huge cone-shaped alter

built up from the ashes of previously sacrificed animals. The mound was

so large, the Greeks would cut steps into the cone after discovering it

could be hardened by adding water and drying.

Another ingenious invention was a system to prevent early starts in the

foot races. It consisted of a bar in front of the runners to ensure

they all start at the same time. This most likely was viewed as a

blessing by the competitors, as previous to this, they would

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