We should have been cheering on our Olympic heroes in Tokyo right now.
But with coronavirus forcing the Olympic Games to be put on hold for another year, it’s a chance to look back at where it all started.
THE ANCIENT GAMES
The Olympic Games date back 2800 years to the Olympia region of Ancient Greece.
Also known as the Olympiad, the sporting and cultural event ran every four years for almost 1200 years, from 776BC to at least 393AD.
The Games were held for the first 250-plus years at Olympia, a sacred* site in western Greece featuring an altar* to Zeus, king of the Greek gods.
By the fifth century BC, the Games lasted five days and included running, jumping and throwing events, along with chariot racing, boxing, wrestling and pankration which was a brutal combination of wrestling and boxing with hardly any rules.
The Games were open to all free Greek males, with all athletes competing naked. Women were not allowed to compete or even attend.
At least 40,000 spectators would have packed the stadium each day at the height of the Ancient Games’ popularity.
THE MODERN GAMES
French educator Baron Pierre de Coubertin began the Olympic revival movement* in 1892, believing the Games would help nations and cultures overcome their differences and ultimately* contribute to world peace.
He presented his idea to restart the Olympic Games to an international meeting in Paris in 1894. His idea was unanimously* accepted and two years later the first modern Olympic Games were held in the Greek capital of Athens.
More than 240 athletes from 14 countries competed in 42 events at the Athens Olympics of 1896.
When the Olympic flame is finally lit at the postponed* Tokyo Games in Japan on July 23, 2021, it will be the 32nd time the modern Games have been held.
In all, 19 different countries have hosted the modern Games, including Australia.
AUSTRALIA’S OLYMPIC GAMES
Australia first hosted the Games in Melbourne in 1956, with 3314 athletes from 72 countries competing in 151 events. It was also the first time the Games had been held in our Oceania region of the world.
Equestrian events had to be held in Stockholm, Sweden, five months before the November 22 opening ceremony at the MCG. This was to avoid the problem of quarantining* horses under Australia’s strict biosecurity* rules.
The 1956 Games were the first time athletes paraded together, rather than by country, in the closing ceremony. This change was suggested by John Ian Wing, a Chinese apprentice carpenter living in Australia, who proposed it as a symbol of world unity.
The Games returned Down Under in 2000, when runner Cathy Freeman lit the flame in a spectacular opening ceremony in Sydney on September 15. Freeman went on to win gold in the 400m final, while swimmer Ian Thorpe took home three gold and two silver medals.
They were among 10,651 athletes from 199 countries to compete in 300 events at the Sydney Games.
THE OLYMPIC RINGS
Five interlocking rings make up the well-known symbol of the Olympic Games. The rings represent the bringing together of the continents — Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas and Oceania — and the meeting of athletes from around the globe.
Created by Baron de Coubertin, the blue, yellow, black, green and red Olympic ring symbol was publicly presented for the first time in 1913 and made its first Games appearance in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1920.
THE OLYMPIC FLAME
Like the Games themselves, the modern tradition of the Olympic flame began in Ancient Greece. The Greeks lit sacred fires at Olympia to honour the gods during their Games. These Olympic fires were kept burning until the Games were over.
Today, the lighting of the flame at Olympia marks the start of the countdown to the Games. It is also an important ceremony that links the ancient and modern versions of the games.
However, the flame did not become part of the modern Olympics until 1928 in Amsterdam, and it was only in the lead-up to the Berlin Games in 1936 that the flame was again lit at Olympia, where it is been lit for every summer Games since.
The Olympic Torch Relay was created at the same time as the decision to light the Berlin flame at Olympia.
Since then, the torch has been carried by hundreds of thousands of people around the globe. It even did an underwater leg at the Great Barrier Reef ahead of the Sydney Games and was taken on a space walk by a Russian cosmonaut before the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
When the flame finally arrives at its destination, the final torchbearer runs into the stadium to light the Olympic cauldron*. The cauldron is only extinguished* at the closing ceremony.
AUSSIE OLYMPIC STATS
7 — Andrew Hoy, equestrian
9 — Ian Thorpe, swimming (5 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze)
9 — Leisel Jones, swimming (3 gold, 5 silver, 1 bronze)
MOST MEDALS AT A SINGLE GAMES
5 — Shane Gould, swimming (3 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze – Munich 1972)
5 — Ian Thorpe, swimming (3 gold, 2 silver – Sydney 2000)
5 — Alicia Coutts, swimming (1 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze – London 2012)
FIRST MALE OLYMPIAN
Edwin Flack, athletics and tennis – Athens 1896
FIRST FEMALE OLYMPIANS
Sarah “Fanny” Durack and Wilhelmina Wylie, both swimming – Stockholm 1912
BEST MEDAL TALLY
58 — Sydney 2000 (16 gold; 25 silver; 17 bronze)
TOTAL MEDALS WON
512 — Summer Olympics (150 gold, 170 silver, 192 bronze)
15 — Winter Olympics (5 gold, 5 silver, 5 bronze)
- altar: a table or platform for religious ceremonies
- sacred: having great religious importance
- revival movement: group trying to bring back the Olympics
- ultimately: in the end
- unanimously: with the agreement of everyone
- postponed: going to happen later
- quarantining: keeping separate
- biosecurity: measures to protect against diseases
- cauldron: large dish where the flame burns
- extinguished: put out
- What area of Ancient Greece were the Olympic Games first held?
- Name four events that were part of the Ancient Games.
- What did competitors wear in the Ancient Games?
- How many times has Australia hosted the Olympics?
- Who lit the Olympic cauldron at the Sydney Olympics?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY