Background Information To navigate your way through the presentation please use your mouse or space bar to move through the information. © contents Ancient Olympic Games Modern Olympic Movement The British Olympic Association The International Olympic Committee
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Please find enclosed further supplementary background information about the
Olympic Movement that you may find useful.
The ceremonies, traditions and spirit of the Olympic Games have developed over thousands of years. The Games of Olympia were held in honour of Zeus. They were held every four years. This time span has become known as an Olympiad.
Only Greek citizens were allowed to compete. For centuries Greece was divided into independent states. These states were often at war with one another. However, during the Olympic festival there was a guaranteed official truce, called the Ekecheiria. This allowed athletes to travel safely from their cities, across the Greek Empire, to take part in the Games. A violation of this truce was punishable by death.
Up to 50,000 spectators came to watch the athletes in the stadium and engage in religious ceremonies. The Games were held in a sacred area of Olympia. Within this area, known as the “Altis”, there were temples, alters and hundreds of statues. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was in the Temple of Zeus, in Olympia - a statue of Zeus, larger than a two storey house, made of ivory and gold.
The athletes would arrive 10 months before the Games for serious training. During the events they wore no clothing and covered their bodies in oil for protection from the sun. Women were not allowed to watch nor take part in any of the events.
724BC a race the length of two stades, known as the diaulos
720BC a race the length of 24 stades, known as the dolichos
708BC the pentathlon, consisting of a five event knock-out competition. They competed in broad jump, spear throwing, sprint and discus throwing. Two men met in the final event - wrestling.
680BC chariot races with two or four horse chariots. They raced around a 530 meter hippodrome course.
648BC a combination of wrestling and boxing, known as pancratium
The first recorded Olympic champion was Coroebus of Elis, who was a cook. He won the only event of the Games in 776BC, the stade (stadium) race. Competitors had to sprint the length of the stadium which was approximately 200 meters. The length of this race was based on the legend that Hercules, the god of physical strength, ran this distance in one breath. Other events were gradually added to the programme
The number of events continued to increase over time. As they increased in number so did the length of the sporting festival. From 632BC the Games lasted five days. The first day the athletes registered and oaths were taken. The last day was set aside for sacrifices to the gods and presentations to the winners.
The modern marathon is one event which finds its origins in Greek legend. In 490BC Miltiades, a Greek General with an Athenian army, fought and won a battle against the Persians. He called for an Athenian runner and asked him to carry the victorious news back to the waiting elders of Athens. The runner’s journey was 24 miles but he entered the streets of Athens and shouted “Rejoice! We conquer!”. He then dropped dead. Although the accuracy of this tale is questionable, the first Modern Olympic Games in 1896, included the marathon to commemorate this legend.
The prize for victors was a simple crown made of olivetree branches. These branches were cut with a gold handled knife, from a wild olive tree. It was believed that the vitality of the sacred tree was transmitted to the recipient through the branch. The winning athlete gave public thanks to Zeus. In addition, the victorious athlete’s home town or territory was then considered to be in favour with the gods. Only winners received a prize. Rewards for second and third places did not exist.
‘Revivalist Games’ - Robert Dover’s ‘Olympik Games’
Signs of interest in the Ancient Games came in early 17th Century Britain. The country was enjoying growing interest in classical Greek and Roman studies. Robert Dover, an Englishman from Norfolk, was one of the leaders of this movement. He decided to revive the idea of the Ancient Olympic Games and every Whitsun, from 1612, he encouraged people to take part in his own “Olympik Games”. These games were held in Chipping Camden, Gloucestershire.
People of all classes took part in the events on Dover’s Hill. The events consisted of running, horse riding, jumping, wrestling, fencing, hunting, coursing and throwing. In addition to the sporting events there was a cultural festival, including games such as chess, dancing, poetry and music. Local authorities prevented the games from continuing in 1852 due to “rowdiness and dangerous activities”. However, in 1980 they were revived by local people and today are celebrated in June each year.
The Wenlock Games - Britain’s Olympic Contribution
The revival of the Olympic tradition was the brain-child of the French nobleman, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. One of the major influencing factors on Coubertin’s thinking was the work of a Shropshire doctor, William Penny Brookes.
In 1850, Brookes started the Wenlock Games. He had a keen interest in the values of antiquity and felt that a healthy body was as important as a healthy mind. The Games were held annually at Linden Fields, Much Wenlock and consisted of traditional English rural sports.
Coubertin travelled extensively during the 1880s and 1890s researching for a programme to reform French education. He believed that the French were physically degenerating and wanted to revitalise the youth of the nation through physical activity. It was during these travels that he was invited by Brookes to the Wenlock Games. Coubertin’s enthusiasm and appreciation of the Games were evident by his statement:
“Much Wenlock is a town in Shropshire, a county on the border of Wales and if the Olympic Games that modern Greece has not yet been able to revive still survive today, it is due not to a Greek but to Dr W.P. Brookes. It is he who inaugurated them 40 years ago, and it is still he, now 82 years old but still alert and vigorous, who continues to organise and inspire them”.
“To contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”
International Olympic Committee, ‘Fundamental Principles’ in Olympic Charter
modern olympic movement
The Olympic Movement
Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the Modern Olympic Games, was born in Paris in 1863. An active sportsman himself, he was interested in reforming the French education system to include a more sports oriented curriculum. Much of his influence came from his visits to British public schools.
In 1894 Coubertin held an international conference in Paris to discuss the idea of a modern Olympic Games. Twelve countries attended and 21 others sent a letter supporting the idea. At the conference on 23 June, 1894, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was formed. It was agreed that there would be an international sports competition held every four years - the Olympic Games. Coubertin believed that international competitions between amateur athletes would help promote friendly relationships between people from different countries.
The Olympic Movement
The IOC was entrusted with the development and control of the Games. On 5 April, 1896, the first Olympic Games of the modern era were officially opened by King George I of Greece, in Athens.
The Olympic Games are known as the Games of the Olympiad. An Olympiad is a period of four successive years. The Olympic Games cannot, under any circumstances, be postponed to another year.
“Why did I restore the Olympic Games? To ennoble and strengthen sports, to ensure their independence and duration, and thus to enable them better to fulfill the educational roll incumbent upon them in the modern world. For the glorification of the individual athlete, whose muscular activity is necessary for the community, and whose prowess is necessary for the maintenance of the general spirit of competition.”
(1894) Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the Olympic Movement
The Olympic Winter Games began in 1924 and have been held every four years since then. They are numbered independently from the Olympic Games. In 1986, the IOC decided that, after 1992, the Olympic Winter Games would take place during the second year following that in which the Olympic Games are held. The first Winter Games to be held in this new cycle was the XVII Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway in 1994.
“Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the quality of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.”
modern olympic movement
For Pierre de Coubertin, the Games were more than an athletic event. They were to enhance human development and make the world a better place to live in. To this end, Coubertin tied the staging of the Games and his work with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to a set of ideals. These ideals have become known as “Olympism”.
These ideals can be summarised in the following six goals:
The fundamental rules of the Olympic Movement are contained in the Olympic Charter. This governs the operation and organisation of the Movement and stipulates the rules and guidelines for the celebration of the actual Olympic Games.
Click here to download the Charter in full:
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