Week of August 1, 2021

Carrying the Torch


The modern Olympics began in 1896, but they were inspired by the originals which happened at least 3,000 years before. Those took place every four years near Greece’s Mount Olympus (hence the name), mythological home of the gods, in a 6-week festival to honor the god Zeus.


The Covid-19 pandemic postponed the 2020 Tokyo Olympics until 2021, but major world events caused earlier games to be cancelled altogether. There were no Olympics in 1916 due to World War I, and none in 1940 or 1944 because of World War II.


The five rings of the Olympic flag, when first created, represented the five continents of “America” (both North and South), Europe, Asia, Africa, and “Oceania” or Australia. Nowadays, we recognize North and South America as different continents and Antarctica as a continent as well, albeit one that still has never sent athletes to the Olympics.


The five colors of the rings in the Olympic flag, including the white background, included the colors of the flags of all the countries that were competing when the flag was first designed.


The first 13 ancient Olympics had only one event. It was a foot race over a distance comparable to the modern 200-meter event. This 600-foot distance was called a “stade” or “stadion,” and is the origin of the modern word “stadium.”


The first dedicated Winter Olympics took place in 1924 in the French Alps.


Dress and uniform issues at many ancient Olympics were a non-issue. Athletes (all men) often competed naked, barefoot, and rubbed with olive oil. Notably, the word “gymnasium” meant “school for naked exercise.”