27 July 2012

A history of the Olympics

8 Menachem Av 5772

(Arutz Sheva) Of Israel’s 37 delegates to the Olympics, roughly half will not participate in the opening festivities. Friday evening, in addition to being the start of Shabbat, is also the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av, the day of national Jewish mourning for the Temple, although fasting and mourning are pushed off this year until after the Sabbath.


Origin and History of the Olympic Games

From Grolier Online’s New Book of Knowledge
The Rise of the Games

The Olympic Games originated long ago in ancient Greece. Exactly when the Games were first held and what circumstances led to their creation is uncertain. We do know, however, that the Games were a direct outgrowth of the values and beliefs of Greek society. The Greeks idealized physical fitness and mental discipline, and they believed that excellence in those areas honored Zeus, the greatest of all their gods.


A History of the Olympic Games

The story of the Olympics is a complex narrative full of paradox and contradiction. It not only tells the story of the world’s most gifted athletes as symbols of human power and beauty, but it also reveals political conflict and personal squabbles. Modern-day Olympics founder Pierre de Coubertin saw them as a manifestation of the nineteenth-century liberalism of Thomas Jefferson and John Stuart Mill wherein individual liberty was the highest good (Guttman 2002). Realizing that religion often led to bloodshed, he imagined the Olympics as a type of secular faith based on good sportsmanship and fair play. While the Games have attempted to be a meeting place of peace and equality, in reality they have consistently been a site where idealism clashes with the realism of politics and professionalism (Henry 1984).

Ancient Games

Although the Olympic Games first were recorded in Greece in 776 B.C., archaeologists have traced evidence of the Games as a pagan religious and fertility festival back into the second millennium before Christ (Kindersley 2004). The Greeks considered the Games to be of enormous political, religious, and social significance and held that the original Olympic flame was lit from the rays of the sun itself. They even calculated their calendar according to the Olympic cycle,....

Though the Games continued during the Roman period, they were diluted by claims of bribery, ... Emperor Theodosius banned pagan religions and adopted Christianity as the faith of the Roman Empire. While Christian zeal may have ended the Games, they were kept alive by the works of poets such as Pindar. During the Middle Ages, athletic endeavors held little significance, but there were several sporadic attempts during the Renaissance to revived the Games (Kindersly 2004). It wasn’t until Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937) enthusiastically argued for the revival of the Olympics at the fifth anniversary of the Union des Societes Francaises de Sports Athletiques (USFSFSA) in 1894 that the Games would be taken seriously (Kanin 1982).

Coubertin and the Beginning of Modern Games

...Coubertin was motivated by two seemingly contradictory motives. Fiercely nationalistic, Coubertin saw the Olympics both as a way of re-establishing the glory of France while at the same time establishing a more peaceful and harmonious world (Guttman 2002).

...Coubertin suggested to Demetrios Vikelas, a prominent Greek man of letters and the first IOC president, that the first Olympic Games of the modern era be held in Athens. While the Greeks were less than enthusiastic about this unsolicited honor, the first games were inaugurated there in 1896. The most familiar symbols such as the torch, flag, rings, and the motto “Citius, Altius, Fortiu” were still to come.

Growing Pains and Increasing Success: 1900-1912

The Games that followed immediately after Greek 1896 Olympics were marred by poor publicity, rumors of cheating, poor attendance, and ugly nationalism. During the Paris Games in 1900, Americans noted the Frenchman finished the marathon “surprisingly fresh” and clean, despite the mud-drenched track. Athlete accommodations were so poor that German athletes assumed their French hosts had meant to deliberately insult them. And due to the World Exhibition being held at the same time as the Games, many athletes were confused whether they really participated in the Olympics at all. The 1904 American Games in Missouri did not do much better as they were overshadowed by the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition. Participant attendance was drastically low because European athletes were reluctant to travel to what they imaged as a wilderness settlement inhabited by “hostile people who ate buffalo meat.” In addition, to the horror of more sophisticated members of the IOC, American organizers set aside two days for “Anthropological Days,” a “scientific experiment” wherein a variety of “savages” such as Pygmies, Patagonians, Filipinos, and Native Americans competed in mud slinging contests and greased pole climbing. Most Olympic historians regard this as a shameful event that almost killed the Olympic movement. It was, however, the first time that gold, silver, and bronze medals were awarded. Not surprisingly, most gold medals were awarded to the Americans (Guttman 2002)....

The Most Controversial Games and WWII: 1936-1944

The first televised Olympics were the 1936 Summer Games, which were actually awarded to Berlin before Hitler came into power. Once in control of the country, Hitler realized the opportunity for Germany to demonstrate its vitality and organizational expertise and so he donated 20,000,000 Reichmarks to the IOC (Kindersley 2004). The star of these Games was African-American track and field athlete Jesse Owens who wowed the German crowds. Ironically, though German newspapers highlighted positive photos of Owens’s achievements, the most liberal of American southern journals, the Atlanta Constitution, showed no shots of Owen. The Olympic torch relay was started during these Games as a way to connect countries of the world to Berlin. Especially in light of Riefenstahl’s film Olympia, which actually set the standard for filming athletic events, scholars still contemplate whether the Berlin Games were an instance of Nazi propaganda or a triumph of Olympianism (Guttman 2002). WWII, however brought a 12-year cancellation of the games.

Politics and Organizational Strains: 1948-1992
...When the games resumed in 1948, the IOC struggled with balancing strong anti-communist sentiment with their public commitment to the universality ideal of Olympianism, and the Games were often boycotted by at least one country (including America's boycott of the Moscow Summer Games in 1980). ...nothing would prepare the world for the most horrific event in Olympic history—the murder of 11 Israeli athletes and officials by Palestinian terrorists during the 1972 Games in Munich (Kindersley 2004).

An Era of (Relatively) Good Feelings: 1992-2004
The less-than-celebratory mood that had draped over the Games seemed to change in 1992 in Barcelona when, for the first time in many years, no country boycotted the Olympics, Germany competed as a unified country, and South Africa rejoined after eliminating apartheid....

...it has taken nearly a century for some of the internal contradictions of the Olympics to be understood and for other problems like commercialism and drug abuse to arise. Though none of the Courbetin’s values, explicit or implicit, have been perfectly realized, the Olympics provide a venue for the world to meet to celebrate peace and beauty...whether or not the world takes advantage of that offering.

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