The Olympic Games
(mostly Middle Eastern)
The ancient Games had only a few events. Foot racing was in every game and each race had a variety of lengths - the longest being the marathon named after the Greek city and famous battle. The pentathlon, supposedly developed by Jason of Golden Fleece fame, had five events (running, jumping, wrestling, discus throwing and javelin throwing) which were all scored together. Three pentathlon events were important and popular enough to have their own events. Wrestling, discus throwing and the javelin were all recorded in the Homeric poems and were seen as vital for all men to be skilled in. The javelin throw was separated into two categories: length and accuracy (aimed at a specific target). Boxing was one of the oldest events and was written about by Homer. Finally there was the pancration, a combination of boxing and wrestling and various events with horse racing.
Today, of course, there are many more events. The chart below lists the most popular modern events in the Summer and Winter Olympics.
|kayaking||boxing||down hill skiing||snowboarding|
|gymnastics||track & field||figure skating||luge|
|tennis||wrestling||skeleton||cross country skiing|
NB. The following summer sports have been recently recognized and are now legitimate events: air sports; automobile; bandy; billiards; boules; bowling; bridge; chess; dancesport; golf; karate; korfball; life saving; motorcycle racing; mountaineering and climbing; netball; orienteering; pelote basque; polo; racquetball; roller sports; rugby; squash; surfing; tug of war; underwater sports; water skiing; wushu.
Athletes compete or play against each other in hopes of winning. That might mean crossing the finish line first or putting on a perfect performance. Throughout the Games, the contestants are supposed to play with a spirit of sportsmanship, which can be defined as the character and conduct worthy of a sportsman. This means that they are to play with honour, seeking only to do their very best in their sport, and not specifically to defeat the other players.
When the playing begins, the events have preliminaries, or official trials or contests, in which athletes have to meet specified minimum requirements. This is for the setting of standards and for athletes to gain the right to compete in the final contest.
Sometimes it seems that the spirit and the joy of the Games have been lost to commercialism and the overpowering desire to focus only on victory. When controversy and partisanship take over, it's good to remember what a churchman once said during the 1908 London Games, which is still true today:
"The important thing is not so much winning as taking part."
Unfortunately, some athletes and coaches have taken to cheating or doping, in an attempt to gain an unfair advantage. Steroids, drugs that encourage muscle strength and stamina, are one of the banned substances that give athletes an extra, and illegal, advantage.
In spite of the problems of cheating and doping, and nationalism which can be divisive, the Games carry on and remain popular. This is possibly because the Games show us what we as humans are capable of and that humanity is capable of engaging in friendly competition. We should keep in mind what the father of the modern Games, Baron Pierre de Courbertin, once said:
"Olympism is not a system, it is a state of mind."
© 2004 Keith Landry. Originally from New Orleans, Louisiana in the USA, Keith Landry has a Master's in Liberal Arts and has taught widely in the USA, Middle East and Asia.