Olympics: how a cult of the gods became humanity’s greatest tradition

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The Tokyo Olympics are about to start. On Friday (23), the opening ceremony of the 32nd edition of the event takes place, which takes place in this format we have known since 1896, when the Olympic Flame was lit for the first time in Athens, Greece.

But you may have heard that these are the Olympic Games of the Modern Era, right? This is because the real origin of the greatest sporting event in the world is Greek mythology, from many centuries before Christ. And the story that unfolded thereafter, throughout all this time, is equally emblematic, involving religions, wars, entrepreneurship, political disputes and, of course, lots of money.

Who invented the Olympic Games?

The Olympic Games of the Modern Era, as we know it today, was created by Baron de Coubertin, a French historian, in 1894. At the time, some archaeological discoveries in the ruins of Olympia, Greece, increased international interest in this previously forgotten tradition. . With an eye on that, Coubertin organized an international congress in Paris to propose the holding of an event similar to what happened in the past. It was the foundation of the International Olympic Committee, which two years later, organized the first edition of the Games – and it does so until today.

In the beginning, the Olympic Games were not the success they were to become in the future. As it was a novelty, the first edition of the modern era was a success (both in relation to the number of international athletes and the public), but the following ones, in Paris (1900) and St. Louis (1904), did not have much prominence, precisely because they were included in the schedule of World Exhibitions – events that brought together the great minds and novelties of the time. It was only after the extraordinary edition of 1906, in Athenas, that the Games again attracted the attention of the general public.

Before the “Modern Era”, what were the Olympic Games like?

Among these archaeological finds found at Olympia were inscriptions on the winners of a foot race held every four years from 776 BC, reproducing the practice of the gods of mythology in their worship. This date is taken as the official start of Olympic competitions. It was a time of many wars between the different kingdoms of Greece and it is estimated that, at that time, the kings sealed a summer truce, which would be celebrated with the Olympic Games. Hence the idea that the Olympics are a celebration of peace between peoples.

But the inspiration for the Games came from mythology, whose narratives show that the gods competed against each other in race events and, for victory, were crowned with olive branches.