The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics begin Friday, February 9th. From then until February 25th, we’ll see the world’s most skilled athletes compete in 15 disciplines amongst 13 South Korean venues. CNN reports that 102 medals will be given out to the champs, and viewers in all United States time zones will have access to live coverage of the Games.
Needless to say, our modern Olympics have certainly grown larger than the Ancient Greek Olympians could ever fathom. When the Games first began around 3,000 years ago, they lasted for over a month as part of a religious festival dedicated to Zeus.
The first record historians have from the ancient Olympics dates back to 776 B.C., although it’s believed that the Games were held for years before then. The Greeks held their athletic event every four years, from August 6th to September 19th, from the 8th century B.C. to the 4th century A.D. Historians know there was only one event at the original Games — a 192-meter foot race located in Olympia.
The Olympics grew and gained popularity in the first 10 centuries of their existence. Ancient Greeks eventually introduced additional events like the diaulos and the dolichos foot races, along with the pentathlon, a series of five events including a foot race, a long jump, discus and javelin throws, and a wrestling match. In the 7th century, boxing and chariot racing were added to the Games as well.
But when the Roman Empire conquered Greece in the 2nd century B.C., the Olympics suffered a blow. Popularity and credibility declined. History.com notes an example from the fall: in A.D. 67, Emperor Nero entered the Olympic chariot race. Although he fell from his chariot, Nero still declared himself the victor.
In A.D. 393, Christian Emperor Theodosius I outlawed all pagan festivals and celebrations, therefore officially bringing an end to the Olympics after their 12-century run.
It wasn’t until 1,500 years later in France that the Olympics made a comeback. Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and in 1896, the first modern Olympics were held in Athens, Greece.
The Olympic Games have traveled a long road to be where they stand today. As they were 3,000 years ago, the Olympics are still the most revered sporting competition among modern athletes and spectators today.