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Thursday, 26 July 2012

All About Olympics

Spark buzz  |  at  08:05  |   |  No comments

The Olympic games originally started in the city of Olympia, Greece, and were held every four years. Although it is calculated that the Olympic games have been held at least 293 times, the first written Olympic recordings date back to 776 BC. The last Olympic games in the ancient world were held in 389 AD, before being banned in 393 AD by the Roman Emperor Theodore I the Great. The Olympics included sports such as running, boxing, wrestling, and chariot racing, and since they were such an important and sacred event every war would cease to let athletes participate in the competitions. The participation was open to males only, and the winner of each event would be awarded with the prize of an olive wreath. Women were not admitted to the games, not even as spectators. The modern Olympic games date back to 1852, when the German archaeologist Ernst Curtius, while working on the ruins of Olympia, proposed to revive this ancient sport tradition. His idea was well received by Baron Pierre De Coubertin and with the motto "The important thing is not to win, but to participate" on June 23, 1884, he created a special committee to revive the games. The committee agreed that the first of the modern Olympics was to be held in Athens, Greece, in 1896. With re-establishing the four year laps between each edition, the Olympic games were held regularly until they were called off due to the war and began again in 1948, after a twelve year break.


The Origin of the Olympic Games

How did the Olympic Games get started? The ancient Olympic Games were primarily a part of a religious festival in honor of Zeus, the father of the Greek gods and goddesses. The festival and the games were held in Olympia, a rural sanctuary site in the western Peloponnesos. The Greeks that came to the Sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia shared the same religious beliefs and spoke the same language. The athletes were all male citizens of the city-states from every corner of the Greek world, coming from as far away as Iberia (Spain) in the west and the Black Sea (Turkey) in the east. The sanctuary was named in antiquity after Mt. Olympos, the highest mountain in mainland Greece. In Greek mythology, Mt. Olympos was the home of the greatest of the Greek gods and goddesses. The ancient Olympic Games began in the year 776 BC, when Koroibos, a cook from the nearby city of Elis, won the stadion race, a foot race 600 feet long. According to some literary traditions, this was the only athletic event of the games for the first 13 Olympic festivals or until 724 BC. Contrary evidence, both literary and archaeological, suggests that the games may have existed at Olympia much earlier than this date, perhaps as early as the 10th or 9th century BC. A series of bronze tripods have been found at Olympia, some of which may date to the 9th century BC, and it has been suggested that these tripods may in fact be prizes for some of the early events at Olympia. From 776 BC, the Games were held in Olympia every four years for almost 12 centuries. Additional athletic events were gradually added until, by the 5th century BC, the religious festival consisted of a five-day program. The athletic events included: three foot races (stadion, diaulos, and dolichos) as well as the pentathlon (five contests: discus, javelin, long jump, wrestling, and foot race), pugme (boxing), pale (wrestling), pankration, and the hoplitodromos. Additional events, both equestrian and for humans, were added throughout the course of the history of the Olympic Games. Equestrian events, held in the hippodromos, were an important part of the athletic program of the ancient Olympic Games and by the 5th century bC included the tethrippon and the keles.
The marathon was not an event of the ancient Olympic games. The marathon is a modern event that was first introduced in the Modern Olympic Games of 1896 in Athens, a race from Marathon - northeast of Athens - to the Olympic Stadium, a distance of 40 kilometers. The race commemorates the run of Pheidippides, an ancient "day-runner" who carried the news of the Persian landing at Marathon of 490 BC to Sparta (a distance of 149 miles) in order to enlist help for the battle. According to the fifth century BC ancient Greek historian Herodotus, Pheidippides delivered the news to the Spartans the next day. The distance of the modern marathon was standardized as 26 miles 385 yards or 42,195 kilometers in 1908 when the Olympic Games were held in London. The distance was the exact measurement between Windsor Castle, the start of the race, and the finish line inside White City Stadium. Nudity at the Games? There are two stories relating to the question of nudity at the ancient Olympic Games. One story states that it was a runner from Megara, Orsippos or Orrhippos who, in 720 BC was the first to run naked in the stadion race when he lost his shorts in the race. Another tradition is that it was the Spartans who introduced nudity to the Olympic Games in the 8th century BC as it was a Spartan tradition. It is not clear if the very first recorded victor at Olympia, Koroibos, who won the stadion race in 776 BC wore shorts or not. It seems fairly clear that by the late 8th century nudity was common for the male contestants. How we got from the Ancient Olympics to the Modern Games? Although the ancient Games were staged in Olympia, from 776 BC through 393 AD, it took 1503 years for the Olympics to return. The first modern Olympics were held in Athens, Greece, in 1896. The man responsible for its rebirth was a Frenchman named Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who presented the idea in 1894. His original thought was to unveil the modern Games in 1900 in his native Paris, but delegates from 34 countries were so enthralled with the concept that they convinced him to move the Games up to 1896 and have Athens serve as the first host. The first Modern Winter Olympic games were held in 1924 in Chamonix, France. There was no winter Olympic festival in ancient times. The Modern Olympic flag of five linked rings, each with a primary color used in the flags of the nations competing in the games, was introduced in 1908. There is no ancient basis for this modern symbol. The idea of the Olympic torch or Olympic Flame was first inaugurated in the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. The design of the Los Angeles colosseum included a facility for a large flame. There was no torch relay in the ancient Olympic Games. There were known, however, torch relays in other ancient Greek athletic festivals including those held at Athens. The modern Olympic torch relay was first instituted at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. The Olympic Oath was introduced in 1920.
Runners still run in Olympia
Because of the destruction of the site by Theodosius and several earthquakes, there is not much left in the way of buildings besides foundations, steps and columns but these are impressive and are in a beautiful setting near the Kladeos river. The area is called The Altis which means The Area Sacred To Zeus; the reason there is anything left is because the flooding of the river buried it until 1875 when archaeologists rediscovered it. The most outstanding building in the site of the Ancient Games is the 5th century Temple of Zeus, built by Livon, which contained the 12-meter-high statue by Phideas, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, which was removed to Constantinople by Theodocious and destroyed in a fire. The stadium, which could seat at least 20,000 people, was the largest of its kind. The Temple of Hera is where the Olympic flame is lit from the sun and then taken by runners to light the torch wherever the games are being held, a tradition which dates all the way back to 1936 AD. Even today you will notice runners using the area for fun and for practice. The museum is across the road and contains the 4th century BC Statue of Hermes by Praxiteles, familiar to anyone who has taken art history, plus a number of other finds from the excavations including the Nike of Victory by Paeonios. According to Olympic legend, she used to come down from the sky to hand a palm leaf to the winners. The entire archaeological site of Olympia won't make you stare in awe and marvel at the ancient architecture, however it is a beautiful place to visit and unlike most archaeological sites in Greece which are exposed to the sun and surrounded by vegetation that barely reaches your knees, Olympia is shaded by tall trees and walking through the ruins can be a peaceful and profound experience. Olympia is a place you can visit any time of year and if you can come here when the rest of the tourists are gone you will find it even more enjoyable.


Were the ancient Olympics just for men?
Along with the athletic contests held at ancient Olympia, there was a separate festival in honor of Hera (the wife of Zeus). This festival included foot races for unmarried girls. Although it is not known how old the festival was, it may have been almost as old as the festival for boys and men. Little is known about this festival other than what Pausanias, a second century AD Greek traveler, tells us. He mentions it in his description of the Temple of Hera in the Sanctuary of Zeus, and says that it was organized and supervised by a committee of 16 women from the cities of Elis. The festival took place every four years, when a new peplos was woven and presented to Hera inside her temple. During the Hera festival, unmarried girls competed in three age groups in a foot race that was a single length of the race course (approximately five-sixths the length of the men's dromos, but held in the same stadion used for the men's and boys' contests). Girl victors in this foot race could dedicate images (probably paintings) in the altis to commemorate their victories, and they could take part in the sacrifice of the cows in honor of Hera. Pausanias gives us a description of a girl's attire for the Hera games of the second century AD. The girls wore their hair free down their back and a tunic hanging almost as low as the knees covering only the left shoulder and breast. The costume that Pausanias describes may have been the traditional costume at Olympia and possibly elsewhere for centuries. Unmarried girls had a number of advantages at Olympia. They not only had their own athletic contests of the Hera festival in which to participate, but they were also allowed to watch the men's and boys' contests of the festival of Zeus. Married women, on the other hand, were not allowed to participate in the athletic contests of the Hera festival, and were barred on penalty of death from the Sanctuary of Zeus on the days of the athletic competition for boys and men. We don't know whether or not the women allowed the men to watch the girls' contests! Events for women were first added to the Modern Olympic program in 1900 at the Paris Olympics. The first women's marathon was at the 1984 games in Los Angeles.
Alternative Olympics
Each year, The Olympiad Committee reviews requests from various sports clubs around the globe asking that their newly-invented athletic disciplines be accepted as part of the Olympic Games. All clubs are hopeful that their ludicrous sports games will become part of the biggest sports event in the world, especially ever since powerwalking became a major Olympic discipline. Therefore, after much thought and caffeinated early morning assemblies and mid-afternoon reunions and late-night meetings, the Committee finally reached a decision as to which new sports to introduce in the Olympics. Feeling that it was time for a groundbreaking change, the decision makers opted for the unconventional sports diciplines proposed by the International Alternative Sports Club. Their decision was based on originality, daredevilry (one must be a daredevil to be able to pull off such a stunt as submitting these sports ideas to the Olympiad Committee) and reality-relevance. As a matter of fact, they were really impressed at how these disciplines reflect real life in big cities and suburbs and how easily they may be integrated in one's life. As one member of the Committee explains, "Inspired by real life, these are sports anyone of any age can practice. They're also practical, as you can exercise anytime, anywhere, whether in the city, the countryside or simply on your very own front lawn. And the cost is minimal. No special equipment is required, no exorbitant gym fees. However, you will have to invest in some good tennis shoes if you want to go pro. You won't need a coach, but joining your local Alternative Sports Club may be helpful". Like any professional sportsman, you need to train hard. "The competition is fierce. Parisians are particularly good. But you still have four years of intensive practice if you want to compete in the next Olyumpic Games, when these disciplines will be officially introduced". He also recommends moving to Paris, like American Tour de France champion Greg Lemond had done, to insure intensive training. As different - alternative - and accessible as these new Olympic categories may be, they still require as much physical stamina and mental concentration as any other competitive sport. There are four new categories: the 100m ZigZag Run, the Whoops Jump, the Super-Powerwalk and Sidewalking. You're thinking, "How not original". Well, imagine jogging or walking in the city or in your local park. Are the streets, sidewalks, lanes all smooth and clear, with no "objects" in sight? My guess is that you often encounter some sort of undesirable object deposited by "man's best friend" and therefore can't jog or run in one consistent line, but instead zigzag your way through. You're always steering yourself left or right to avoid "it". Well, this is what makes these games so original and a breath of fresh air (so to speak). They have a modern approach and, although different disciplines, they nevertheless share a common detail. And it is precisely that which renders these games so different, um... alternative. Just what is this detail? First of all, it is known as props. The props are plastic imitations of a substance we'll call doggy-do (rather doggy-don't). You're thinking, "How icky!" well, they are plastic. At first, the Committee did consider using the real thing, but then thankfully waived the idea for obvious reasons of hygiene and other inconveniences. And at least one can say truly say now that the introduction of new sports games is a breath of fresh air and mean it. Before waiving that idea, the Committee had also considered using dogs from pounds to provide the props - at least they would be doing something instead of sitting in a cage all day - but, luckily, the Committee declared hygiene more important (Aah! These conscientious people should set up the an HSO, Hygienic Streets Organization, within the United Nations, but that's a different story which will appear in U.N. Organizations We'd Like to See). Besides, there are just so many dogs in a given place at a given time. And besides, dogs have their dignity, too.

The 100m ZigZag Run evidently requires advanced running skills, but also the skill of being able to run while looking ahead (experts recommend fixing your eyes on an object. This may cause you to look demented, but if you practice hard enough, you'll eventually get the hang of it and be able to observe several objects and the scenery and look normal) and avoiding the props which, inventors persist to insist, exist on real streets and in real parks. To see the do's, you may not look down directly - no head tilting downwards, just your eyeballs are allowed to move. The rules of the game consist of running fast, avoiding the doggy-do's by zigzagging your way around them (no jumping allowed) and keeping in your own lane. The Whoops Jump requires both good running and jumping skills. The purpose of the game is to jump over a few feet (or yards, depending on the level of the competitors) of doggy-do. This might be reminiscent to some of early morning jogging sessions in a beautiful park when they suddenly come across ...eew ...doggy-do. The speed at which they're running being too fast to be able to stop, they have no alternative (there goes that word again) but to jump! If you're a beginner, this is best practiced with a beach towel laid out on the ground. Once you are able to jump over the towel, you can start getting riskier. The Super-Powerwalk is a bit like the 100m ZigZag Run, no jumping over the do's and no looking directly down (eyes must do the bending to see, not the head). This is a more difficult discipline, however, as an excessive usage of the arms is required. Any powerwalker knows just how difficult it is to do The Funky Chicken movement while walking real fast. The difficulty is twofold when there are do's to avoid. A real challenge of a sport. Sidewalking - short for sidewalk walking - is the real novelty. Not only are regular athletic requirements unnecessary, but sports clothes are optional. The game will take place on a specially built set - very Hollywood - consisting of a famous avenue (Park Avenue, Champs-Elysees, to name a few). The participants will be dressed in everyday clothes - suits, jeans, dresses, etc., not to mention nice shoes, and will have to walk - sidewalk - around trying to miss the doggy-do's planted in various places around the set, sorry, sidewalk. These out of the ordinary sportsmen will also play roles - so Hollywood. Business in a hurry, lovebirds taking a stroll, woman window-shopping, kids rollerblading, happy-go-lucky male whistling and daydreaming... No Hollywood movie can ever provide as many roles! Their roles aren't as easy as they sound, though, for they have to miss the do's while doing banal everyday activites. Again, the rules forbid looking down. Exceptional concentration is required. The winners will have the possibility of going to Hollywood (where the sets - the sets - are cleaner).

How to Photograph Olympic Sports

Regardless of whether you are one of the millions of lucky spectators, camera in hand, at the Olympics, or you are at your local high school track meet, here are some tips from the New York Institute of Photography to help you take exciting pictures at your favorite sporting events. According to Chuck DeLaney, Dean of the world's largest photography school, "These tips will help you get great photos regardless of whether you are at an Olympic swim meet or your child's soccer game".
1. Fill the frame. Try to fill the frame with a player's body, rather than simply showing him or her as a distant speck. The type of picture you're looking for is a closeup action shot. A shot that fills the frame with just one or two players in the heat of a basketball game or a gymnast swinging from the parallel bars.
How do you get such a picture? Well, of course, it would be best to get as close as you can to the action. But be realistic! Unless you are a coach, you won't be on the sidelines at an Olympics baseball game. So, unless you are close to the floor or at a local game where you can get closer to the action, don't expect to get photos to rival your favorite sporting magazine.
If you're way back in the stands, you'll need a long lens - 200mm or longer - and use a tripod if allowed to steady the shot and fast film to stop the action - ISO 400 or faster. Hint: When something exciting happens everybody stands up! So, if you're sitting in crowded stands, don't be surprised that at the height of action, when something is actually worth photographing, the guy in front of you jumps up and gets in your way. The solution is try and sit where there is no one in front of you which might happen at a local game but certainly won't be an option at major events in Sydney.
2. Indoors don't use strobe. Most indoor arenas don't allow it. Anyway, you'll blind the athletes. Rather, take advantage of the arena lights. Since they're incandescent, however, make sure you use "Indoor" color film.
3. Use a fast film. Since you want to stop the action, use a fast film. ISO 800 is a good choice. The 800 films produced by Kodak and Fuji show very little graininess.
4. Focus. If your camera does not offer auto-focusing, use "zone focusing" - that is, estimate your distance to the point where you expect the action to be, pre-set your camera for this distance, and then don't adjust it when you shoot each picture. This works especially well if you are using a small aperture - f/8 or smaller- which will increase your depth of field.
5. Subject. If you are shooting basketball, baseball or soccer, try to show the ball in the picture. Whether you're shooting the batter taking a mighty swing or a goalie protecting the net, the picture is more effective if it shows the ball too.
6. Anticipate where the action will be. Know the game so you can plan ahead. Aim your camera where you expect the action to be, and pre-set the focus and exposure for that area. If you are photographing a race or swim meet, pre-set the focus and exposure to a spot where you expect the runner or swimmer to be.
7. Look around. Finally, don't forget to look for reaction shots too. Yes, the action on the field during the battle may be intense. But many a great picture of tragedy and triumph occurs after play is over or on the faces of the fans.



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