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The Olympic Games, past and present - find out more!

The Olympic Games, which originated in ancient Greece as many as 3,000 years ago, were revived in the late 19th century and have become the world’s preeminent sporting competition. From the 8th century B.C. to the 4th century A.D., the Games were held every four years in Olympia, located in the western Peloponnese peninsula, in honour of the god Zeus. The first modern Olympics took place in 1896 in Athens, and featured 280 participants from 13 nations, competing in 43 events. Since 1994, the Summer and Winter Olympic Games have been held separately and have alternated every two years.

The Olympics in ancient Greece

The first written records of the ancient Olympic Games date to 776 B.C., when a cook named Coroebus won the only event–a 192-meter footrace called the stade (the origin of the modern “stadium”)–to become the first Olympic champion. However, it is generally believed that the Games had been going on for many years by that time.

The ancient Olympic Games were for men only 

Decline and Revival of the Olympic Tradition

After the Roman Empire conquered Greece in the mid-2nd century B.C., the Games continued, but their standards and quality declined.
In A.D. 393, Emperor Theodosius I, a Christian, called for a ban on all “pagan” festivals, ending the ancient Olympic tradition after nearly 12 centuries.

It would be another 1,500 years before the Games would rise again, largely thanks to the efforts of Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937) of France. Dedicated to the promotion of physical education, the young baron became inspired by the idea of creating a modern Olympic Games after visiting the ancient Olympic site. In November 1892, at a meeting of the Union des Sports Athl├ętiques in Paris, Coubertin proposed the idea of reviving the Olympics as an international athletic competition held every four years. Two years later, he got the approval he needed to found the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which would become the governing body of the modern Olympic Games.

The Modern Olympic Games

The first modern Olympics were held in Athens, Greece, in 1896. In the opening ceremony, King Georgios I and a crowd of 60,000 spectators welcomed 280 participants from 13 nations (all male), who would compete in 43 events, including track and field, gymnastics, swimming, wrestling, cycling, tennis, weightlifting, shooting and fencing. All subsequent Olympiads have been numbered even when no Games take place (as in 1916, during World War I, and in 1940 and 1944, during World War II). The official symbol of the modern Games is five interlocking colored rings, representing the continents of North and South America, Asia, Africa, Europe and Australia. The Olympic flag, featuring this symbol on a white background, flew for the first time at the Antwerp Games in 1920.

The official symbol of the modern Games, representing the continents of North and South America,
Asia, Africa, Europe and Australia.

The Olympics truly took off as an international sporting event after 1924, when the VIII Games were held in Paris. Some 3,000 athletes (with more than 100 women among them) from 44 nations competed that year, and for the first time the Games featured a closing ceremony. The Winter Olympics debuted that year, including such events as figure skating, ice hockey, bobsledding and the biathlon. Eighty years later, when the 2004 Summer Olympics returned to Athens for the first time in more than a century, nearly 11,000 athletes from a record 201 countries competed.

Olympic Games in Rio 2016

Athletes from 206 nations and a refugee team are in Brazil to compete in 28 sports and be watched by a global audience of billions.
The Games - held in South America for the first time - officially take place between 5 and 21 August, but they have actually already started.

The official torch of the Rio Olympic Games

Defending Olympic men's tennis champion Andy Murray will be Great Britain's flag bearer inside Rio's Maracana stadium on Friday.

An estimated three billion people will watch the ceremony, which has taken five years to produce and includes 300 dancers, 5,000 volunteers and 12,000 costumes.

There will be 10,500 athletes from a record 207 teams competing in Rio, including the Refugee Olympic Team, while it will be the first time Kosovo and South Sudan have taken part in the Games. The Refugee Olympic Team will compete under the Olympic flag and has 10 members - five from South Sudan, two from Syria, two from DR Congo and one from Ethiopia.

With 554 athletes, the United States has the largest Olympic team, but 100m runner Etimoni Timuani is the only athlete from the South Pacific nation of Tuvalu.

The Rio Games will be the first to feature Olympians born since the year 2000 - and the youngest is 13-year-old Nepalese swimmer Gaurika Singh.

Rio 2016 Medals

The design for the medals of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games highlights the relationship between the power of Olympic heroes and the power of natural forces. The medals use the form of the laurel leaf, an ancient symbol of victory, to connect the champions of the Olympic Games to the forces of the natural world. The designers have worked with organic, flowing lines to create the image on the reverse face. The varied textures of the medal’s relief are inspired by the energy and passion of Brazil.

In keeping with Olympic tradition, the front or obverse face of the medals bears the image of the Greek goddess of victory, Nike, and two symbols of ancient and modern Greece, the Panathinaiko Stadium in Athens and the Acropolis.

The Brazilian Mint has incorporated the principles of sustainable design into the production of the medals. The gold of the gold medal has been produced completely without the use of mercury. In the silver and bronze medals, 30 per cent of the material used is recycled.

In the ribbons for the medals, 50 per cent of the PET plastic comes from recycled sources. The medal cases, which are designed in the form of a stone, have been crafted only with freijo hardwood that has been certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council®). This guarantees that the wood used comes entirely from forests that are managed according to the highest standards of sustainability.

How it all began...

The story behind the medals goes all the way back to the Ancient Olympics, when only the winner of an event would receive a crown of laurel leaves as his prize. Legend has it that the leaves were taken from a sacred grove, near the temple of Zeus, in Olympia.

At the first Olympics of the modern era, the Athens 1896 Games, winners were awarded a silver medal and a diploma in addition to the crown. The St. Louis 1904 Games were the first in which gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded to athletes in the top three positions.

The St. Louis 1904 Olympics also saw the medals being fitted with a colourful ribbon to be pinned on the athletes’ chests. It was only in the Rome 1960 Games that they were changed to be hung around the winners’ necks.

Great Britain in Rio

Great Britain has competed in all 27 Olympic Games, winning at least one gold in each. The British have accumulated 773 medals (234
golds, 271 silvers and 268 bronzes) in 37 sports, most notably in track and field, rowing, cycling and sailing.

The British team has in this Olympic Games 372 athletes and they are going to try to win one of the medals in 32 sports disciplines. The youngest member of the British team is Amy Tinkler, 16 years old, and she is competing in Artistic Gymnastic. On the other side, the oldest member of the British team is John Whitaker, 61 years old, and he is competing in Equestrian.


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Peartree Languages is a language school located in Cardiff.


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