Go for the Gold! The Modern Olympic Games


Origin and History of the Olympic Games
The Modern Olympic Games
The Olympic Principles and Traditions
Politics and the Olympics
Olympic Controversies
The Olympics in Photos





The Modern Olympic Games
From Grolier Online’s New Book of Knowledge

The revival of the Olympic Games began with Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863–1937) of France. Coubertin was greatly interested in education, and he firmly believed that the best way to develop the minds of young people was to develop their bodies as well; learning and athletics should go together. After he visited the ruins of ancient Olympia, it occurred to Coubertin that perhaps the best way to generate widespread acceptance of his theory was to resurrect the Olympic Games. He hoped the new Games would bring back the ideals of physical, mental, and spiritual excellence displayed in the ancient Games, as well as build courage, endurance, and a sense of fair play in all who participated. In addition, he hoped the Games would turn the tide he saw worldwide of the growing commercialism of sports.

In 1892, Coubertin first introduced the idea of starting the Olympic Games again. Few people were ready to accept his idea. But in 1894 Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and began planning the first modern Olympiad.

The first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896 in Athens, Greece — a fitting place to rekindle the spirit of the early Greek Games. Coubertin remained president of the International Olympic Committee until 1925. In this office he directed the course the Games were to take. He wrote the Olympic Charter, protocol, and athletes' oath, and he also planned the ceremonies.

Although the modern Olympic Games are patterned after the ancient Greek Games, there are important differences. Unlike ancient Greece, modern nations have not stopped wars for peaceful athletic competition. Because of World War I, Games were not held in 1916. Nor were they held in 1940 and 1944, during World War II.

The original Olympics were always held at Olympia. Almost every modern Olympiad is celebrated in or near a different city of the world. The earlier Games were open only to Greek citizens and athletes from other Mediterranean countries. The modern Games encourage all nations to compete. A person may enter if his or her country has a National Olympic Committee (NOC) that is recognized by the International Olympic Committee. Events for women have become a major interest in the modern Games, and the winners receive honors equal to those given the male winners.

The ancient Greeks furthered culture by giving honors for cultural achievements at the Olympic Games. The modern Olympics hold an arts festival, where the culture of the host country is showcased in various art forms.

Footraces, jumping, discus and javelin throwing, boxing, wrestling, and some other events were carried over from the original Olympic Games. But such present Olympic contests as cycling, canoeing and sailing, football (soccer), basketball, judo, rifle shooting, and water polo were unknown in early times. The modern pentathlon tests an athlete's all-around ability in swimming (300-meter freestyle), cross-country running (4,000 meters), fencing with the épée, horse show jumping, and shooting with a target pistol at 10 meters.

One of the most grueling events of the modern Olympics is the marathon. This footrace over a distance of 26 miles, 385 yards (42.195 kilometers) is a supreme test of the runners' endurance. The marathon was not run at Olympia, but it has its origin in ancient Greece. In 490 B.C. the Athenians defeated an army of invading Persians at Marathon, which is northeast of Athens. From there, Pheidippides, a champion runner in the Olympic Games, carried the news of victory to the people of Athens. To do this he had to run a great distance. Once he reached Athens and gasped out his news of victory, he died. It is in his honor that the marathon race is run.

In 1924, the Winter Games became a new feature of the modern Olympics. Such cold-weather sports as pair and figure skating, ice hockey, bobsledding, and the biathlon (rifle shooting on a cross-country ski course) could never have developed in the warm climate of Greece (although figure and pair skating and ice hockey had been included in previous modern Games). Until 1992, the Winter Games were held in the same year as the Summer Games. Beginning in 1994, the Winter and Summer Games were held two years apart, on separate four-year cycles.

A poster from the 1900 Universal Exhibition shows a a female fencer holding in her right hand the three traditional weapons — foil, sword and sabre — even though women could not compete until 1924.
(Photo: © IOC/Olympic Museum Collections)

Vocabulary

Charter: A document outlining the principles, functions, and organization of a group.

Commercialism: the practice and spirit of making a profit

Generate: to create

Protocol: a code of conduct

Resurrect: to bring back to life