The Olympics journey - from 776 B.C. to Beijing-2008August 6th, 2008 - 9:07 am ICT by IANS
By Ilya Kramnik
Moscow, Aug 6 (Ria Novosti) In ancient times, sports originated as peacetime rivalries between warriors. Running, boxing, wrestling, chariots racing were all elements of their military training and the best of them demonstrated their skills in competitive games. The ancient Olympics, during which the warrior-sportsmen proved their skills, were held for more than 1,200 years.
The first confirmed Olympics took place in 776 B.C., while the last were held in 394 A.D, after which they were banned by the Roman Emperor Theodosius because, he said, they were pagan festivals.
For a millennium and a half, mankind forgot about sports. Different contests continued to be held, and the Middle Ages saw impressive tournaments between knights, but they hardly qualified as sporting competitions. During this period, people had no time for sports because of the disappearance of a common centre of civilisation, a role that Greece and later Rome played for more than a thousand years.
The ancient tradition was revived only in the late 19th century, when Europe once again came to perceive itself as a common civilisation. A French nobleman, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, was the author of the idea.
He pursued two goals - to make sports more popular at home (he believed that poor physical shape of French soldiers was one of the reasons for the defeat in the 1870-71 war with Prussia), and to unite different countries through peaceful competitions, which he considered the best way of avoiding wars.
The first modern Olympic games were held in Athens in 1896. In the following decades the Olympic movement had to fight for survival, because none of the major powers was interested in Courbertin’s ideas.
The Games in 1900 and 1904, combined with world exhibitions in Paris and Saint Louis, were not very popular because they were too long and lacked spectacular events.
The Olympic movement grew stronger by the fourth Games in London, which attracted some 2,000 athletes, more than the number of athletes in all the previous Games put together.
As a complicated social and political phenomenon, big-time sports emerged in the 1930s when the Third Reich tried to use the Berlin Games to prove the “Aryan race’s supremacy” to the whole world.
This phenomenon became fully established in the 1950s, when Soviet-US competition was transferred to the sports ground. From then on, the idea of sports independent of politics ceased to exist.
Sports were not only subject to politics, but became a major part of it. The superpowers could not afford an open armed clash and Olympics and other international arenas became the only places where the confrontation between Soviet Union and the US, could be fought in real time.
John F. Kennedy said that two things determined a nation’s prestige - space flights and Olympic gold medals.
This was probably the most honest motto of the Cold War. Big-time sports became part of this war, with teams turned into military units, and sports ground into battlefields.
For the Soviet team, the 1972 Munich Games were very convincing revenge for the defeat by the Americans in the non-official point-count in Mexico four years before.
The Soviets simply could not afford to lose in the year of the Soviet Union’s 50th anniversary. Soviet athletes won 99 medals, including 50 gold, one third more than the Americans.
The crowning glory came in the Basketballhalle, where the Soviet team was competing in the finals against the Americans, the absolute favourite which had not lost a single Olympic game in several decades running.
The last three seconds allowed Alexander Belov to score the victory in this incredible game.
Regrettably for all sports lovers, this long-standing confrontation was marred by two boycotts. The US and many other western countries refused to attend the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, and the Soviet Union reciprocated by boycotting the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.
The Soviet Union proved its worth in Seoul in 1988. It received 132 medals, including 55 gold, which compared to 94 and 36 American medals, respectively. The US came third after East Germany.
The Soviet triumph took place in Barcelona in 1992. The Soviet Union had already collapsed by that time, and a “combined team” played under the Olympic, rather than the Soviet, flag. It won 112 medals, including 45 gold, against the United States’ 108 and 37.
In the Atlanta and the Sydney Games in 1996 and 2000, the Russian team ranked second in the non-official point-count, and was third in Athens in 2004.
World’s athletes have gathered to compete in Beijing. China’s economic and political might has been steadily growing in the last few years, and Beijing hopes to win the Game in the non-official point-count.
The US wants to preserve its global lead, while Russia will have to fight hard to regain its lost positions.
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Tags: ancient tradition, baron pierre de coubertin, beijing 2008, emperor theodosius, french nobleman, french soldiers, kramnik, military training, modern olympic games, olympic movement, pagan festivals, peacetime, physical shape, pierre de coubertin, ria novosti, rivalries, roman emperor, spectacular events, times sports, world exhibitions