The Olympics as we know today have their roots in the ancient Olympic Games of Greece where sporting events were not used as a showcase for athletic ability but as a way of paying tribute to the Gods. As like the Olympics we know today, the games were held every four years at the sanctuary of Zeus in Olympia among the representatives of several city-states and kingdoms of ancient Greece.
A state of unrest among the Gods due to Zeus’s (the sun god) marriage to an older, lunar goddess (Hera) resulted in the division of Greece into various unfriendly States. The Olympic games were therefore devised as a way of settling rivalries without killing each other. King Iphitus is credited with starting the Games in 776 but he had actually altered a far older event that was held around the pre-existing women’s games called the Heraea, held in the honour of the Greek goddess Hera.
Mount Olympus possesses a deep cleft in the cliffside that is believed to have Gaia or Mother Earth’s power emanating from it and has been a sanctuary inhabited since prehistoric times. Close to the sanctuary was said to be an altar to Hera where a statue of the goddess was covered in a dark blue cloak embroidered with silver to represent the night sky (lunar element). This was renewed every four years when the women’s games were held (like the modern olympics are held today). They were always traditionally held a year before the men’s.
A champion of each gender was ultimately chosen upon conclusion of each games session; the archaism of the concept of sacred marriage between the Earth Goddess and the Sky God reinforced the idea among the ancient Greeks that the chosen winners. should become lovers to appease the Gods. In cosmic marriages among gods and goddesses. such as the wedding of Helios, the sun and Selene, the moon demonstrated, two ‘light’ sources could bring harmony then peacefully separate again to restart the cycle every four years (in which the games honoured this renewal).
The practice of sports in the ancient Olympics was very different to the modern athletic practices we see now. Female competitors were divided into age categories and ran 160 metre races wearing short tunics with one breast and a shoulder exposed. At male events, however, nakedness was a requirement following an incident in which the over-competitive mother of one athlete accompanied her son to the games in disguise as a male athlete. Her elaborate plan was foiled when, upon seeing that her son had won, she leapt over a fence with her short tunic revealing that she was in fact, not a man.
And unlike today’s fancy gold, bronze and silver medals ancient competitors were given wreaths of olive leaves as prizes (fancy seeing Usain Bolt sporting one of them, eh?)