5 fun facts about the Olympics
By Penny Flanagan | July 18, 2012
Olympic Games

The Olympic Games are as much myth and legend as they are a sporting event. The first games were said to be held in 776 BC on the plain of Olympia in Greece with just one event: a short sprint. Only men were allowed to compete and apparently they competed in the nude!

Legend has it that the victors of these ancient games were crowned with wreaths from a sacred olive tree that grew behind the temple of Zeus, from a tree planted by Hercules, founder of the games who declared this great event should be held every four years.

An Olympiad refers to the four-year time gap between the games. It’s no coincidence that the Olympic Games happens every leap year. The Greeks, (those crazy maths geeks) noticed that eight solar years equalled 99 lunar months. So they divided their calendar into two four year periods of 49 months and 50 months. The leap day was added every four years, and that's when the athletes would strip off and start competing again.

The first modern Olympic Games began in 1896, and since that time 29 Summer Olympic Games have been held in 22 different cities and 21 Winter Olympic Games have been held in 18 different cities. 

1. Key dates for the London 2012 Olympic Games

The London 2012 Olympic Games will open on 27 July and run until 12 August. The full schedule of events is listed here - see the full schedule and results - and you can watch and plan your Olympics viewing by remembering London time is eleven hours behind New Zealand time.

There are 38 sports at the London 2012 Olympics, which will all be on display for the Opening Ceremony.

2. About the Olympic Rings and the Olympic Torch

The Olympic Rings we see today were said to be an ancient symbol used by the amateur Greek athletes - though this is unlikely to be historically accurate. The five Olympic Rings represent the five continents of the globe. The Olympic symbol shows the five rings interlaced, thus representing the unifying spirit of the Games. All athletes from all nations come together regardless of race, colour, religion, creed and politics and compete equally, united by the spirit of the Olympics.

The six colours of the Olympic flag – red, yellow, green, blue, black and white –  appears on all national flags from around the world.

The Olympic Torch is said to be a tradition passed down from the ancient Greek Olympics. Legend has it that a sacred flame burned at the altar of Zeus throughout the competition, although this is unlikely to be historically accurate. The torch relay and lighting of the torch at the Opening Ceremony is said to keep the Olympic Spirit alive all around the world. Apparently the first Olympic Torch was lit in the 1928 games, but truly became a feature of the Olympics in 1936 when the Nazis wanted to put on a show at the Berlin Olympic Games.

3. London: the Olympic city

This is the third time the city of London will host the Olympic Games. London hosted the Olympic Games back in 1908 when the Games lasted for 187 days starting from 27th April to 31st October. London hosted the Olympics again in 1948. The planned 2012 Summer Olympics will make London the first city to have hosted the modern Games of three Olympiads. London is the only city in the United Kingdom to have ever hosted the Olympics.

The United States is the only country to have hosted Summer Olympics on more occasions than the UK.

In 1916, 1940 and 1944 Olympics did not take place because of World War I and II. Host cities are selected by the IOC membership, usually seven years in advance

4. Olympic motto means faster, higher, stronger

"Citius, altius, fortius" are the three words of the Olympic motto which translate to faster, higher, stronger. It really means: do your best, compete well and achieve personal excellence. 

The ancient Olympics in Greece were open only for male participants - though there is some archaeological evidence to suggest a woman did compete back in ancient times. The first recorded female participation in the modern Olympic Games took place at the 1900 Paris Olympics.

5. What! The gold medals aren't real gold?

While you watch those athletes collecting their medals on the Olympic podium, remember the gold medals aren't pure gold. The 1912 Olympics was the last time that gold medals were solid gold. Ever since, they've been silver with gold plating.

Oddly enough, the top prize at the first modern Olympics was the silver medal. In 1896 in Athens, first place winners got a silver medal and an olive branch. Second place got a bronze medal. Third place got nothing.

In the 1900 Olympic Games in France, winners received paintings instead of gold medals. Gold, silver and bronze medals weren't given out until the third modern Olympics, in 1904. The French gave the winners paintings because they believed they were more valuable.



This article was written by Penny Flanagan.

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