The Olympic Games are arguably the biggest sporting event in the world, bringing the best athletes together to compete from countries all over the world. Over 200 nations compete in the modern Olympics, which are held every four years with separate competitions for summer and winter sports.
You might be aware that the Olympics have been around for thousands of years, since Ancient Greek times, but did they evolve into the games we know and love today? If you’d like to learn more about the evolution of this spectacular sporting event, see our brief history below.
The games are named after their birthplace, Olympia in Ancient Greece, and first took place over 2,700 years ago. Around 50,000 people from all over Greece gathered to watch the games, which have taken place every four years ever since their inception. Popular sports played included javelin, discus throw, long jump and chariot racing, and the Games were incorporated as part of a religious festival to celebrate the god Zeus. Athletes competed for sporting glory and a crown of olive leaves rather than the gold, silver and bronze medals we know today.
The Olympic Games began to fall out of favour as the Romans steadily gained power in Greece, with most scholars citing 393 AD as the end of the ancient Games.
Interest in the Olympic Games didn’t re-emerge in Greece until 1821, which coincided with the Greek War of Independence. The wealthy philanthropist Evangelos Zappas sponsored the first revival games held in Athens city square in 1859, and he also provided funds to restore the ancient Panathenaic Stadium which hosted several Games throughout the 19th century.
As the Games grew in popularity, variations were added to allow a greater range of sports and events. The first Winter Olympic Games were held in France in 1924, and both the Summer and Winter Olympics were held in the same year until 1992. Following this, the Winter Olympics were held every four years, alternating two years after the Summer Olympics.
The first Paralympic Games was held in Rome in 1960, and since then they have been held during every Olympic year.
Nowadays, 206 countries take part in the Olympic Games, a massive increase from the original 14 who took part in 1896! There are 28 officially recognised sports, with five more being added to the 2020 games in Tokyo; baseball, karate, sport climbing, surfing and skateboarding.
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