Greece has risen to prominence in a number of sporting areas in recent decades. Modern Greek champions have been awarded with numerous medals in individual and team sports such as basketball, wrestling, water polo, athletics, and weightlifting. Many of them have gained international recognition through their participation in world championships and Olympic Games. In 2004 the Olympic Games returned to its birthplace and created a unique capital gain to the benefit of the country itself and of the Olympic Games.
The Ancient Olympic Games
The Olympic Games and the Marathon have been established across the world by promoting world peace, fair play and the three Olympic values: excellence, respect and friendship.
Read more about the history of the Olympic Games
Olympia in the western Peloponnese was the home of the ancient Olympic Games, established by Hercules, according to tradition, in honor of the Olympian gods who were the first competitors. Evidence indicates that games were initially held at Olympia in the 9th century B.C. Named after the highest mountain in Greece, Olympus, the Games were recorded as held every four years since 776 B.C.E. In 676 B.C.E. they acquired pan-Hellenic significance, and by 576 B.C.E., their prestige had reached its peak.
Special messengers were sent in every direction to announce the beginning of a sacred truce and there was a suspension of all disputes and warfare among Greek city-states. The largest cities were represented by official ambassadors to Olympia. The competitions testing strength and endurance lasted five days and included a wide variety of events. Eventually, additional contests included a four-horse chariot race.
Chariot and horse races took place in the hippodrome, while athletic contests were held in the stadium. Wrestling and boxing were combined in the pankration; jumping, discus-throwing, javelin-throwing, running, and wrestling were included in the pentathlon.
The victors of the games were honored by all Greeks. Memorials were erected and they were praised in poems and songs. Victorious competitors did not receive any trophies or medals. The emblem of supreme honor was an olive wreath placed on their heads. Some cities were said to tear down sections of their walls to let their victorious athletes pass through, signifying that with such individuals they did not need fortifications.
The Olympics and other popular festivals were more significant as institutions than the individual honors accorded to athletes who competed. In addition to inspiring succeeding generations to pursue competitive sports, they also contributed to a sense of unity between the Greek city-states, as indicated by the fact that of an Olympic truce during the games.
For a thousand years, the games were held at regular intervals of four years. The games continued well after the decline of Olympia as a sanctuary and the Roman conquest of Greece. The advent of Christianity inspired radical social and religious changes and the old monuments were used to build a castle. The Games continued until A.D. 393, when the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I banned them by decree, while, in A.D. 426, Theodosius II ordered the total destruction of the sanctuary's temples. The Goths delivered the final blow by destroying what could not be carried away.
In the following centuries, the river Kladeos covered the sacred land with sand and pebbles. It was not until 1875 that archaeologists brought it back to light and re-discovered ancient Olympia.
The first modern games took place in Athens in 1896. The modern revival of the Olympic Games is associated with Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937) who, in January 1894, in a letter to the athletic organizations of every country, pointed out the educational value of sports to modern man, if practiced in accordance with the ideals of ancient Greece.
Since the Olympic revival, the Greek athletes always lead the parade that marks the opening of the Games preceded by the lighting of the Olympic torch. The flame that is used to light the torch comes from the sacred site of Olympia, where it is lit from the sun's rays and then carried by a relay of runners to the city where the games are being held.
The first modern games took place in Athens in 1896. Many of the original Olympic contests were retained, with new events added. One of the original events still contested is the Marathon race, commemorating the feat of an unknown Athenian warrior. In 490 B.C., he ran in full armor from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens, to bring the news that the invading Persians had been defeated. He could only utter the words "Rejoice, we are victorious," before falling dead from exhaustion.
This event is now regarded as the pinnacle of the Olympic Games. The present distance of the race is 26 miles, 385 yards or 42.2 kms, the distance between Marathon and Athens. The first Olympic Marathon in 1896 was won by a Greek runner, Spyros Louis, in 2 hours, 58 minutes and 50 seconds.
Since their revival in Athens in 1896, the Olympic Games have been celebrated every fourth year, except for interruptions caused by World Wars. Athens hosted the Olympic Games of 2004 with a celebration of sports and culture that linked antiquity with the modern world.
Athens 2004 Olympic & Paralympic Games
The 2004 Summer Olympic Games, officially known as the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad, was a premier international multi-sport event held in Athens from August 13 to August 29, 2004 with the motto Welcome Home. 10,625 athletes competed, some 600 more than expected, accompanied by 5,501 team officials from a record 201 countries. There were 301 medal events in 28 different sports.
Athens 2004 marked the first time since the 1996 Summer Olympics that all countries with a National Olympic Committee were in attendance. It was also the first time since 1896 that the Olympics were held in Greece, marking the return to the birthplace of both the ancient and modern Olympic Games.
Athens 2011 Special Olympics
The Special Olympics is a non-profit organization that invites children and adults with intellectual disabilities to explore their abilities in various sports activities. In 2007, the Special Olympics International Committee selected Athens to host the Special Olympics World Summer Games for the year 2011.
By being offered the opportunity to host the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games, 7 years after having hosted the 2004 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Greece became one of only four countries to have organized the entire range of great athletic multiple‐sport events.
Every year, thousands of runners from all over the world participate in the Athens Classic Marathon. The classic Marathon’s 42km is the link between a legend and a leading athletic event signaling the power of human will.
The Marathon Race stands out as it was born by a true historic and heroic event. It was a feat accomplished by a news-bearing foot soldier from ancient Athens, who announced - with his last words - the victory of the Greeks against the Persians during the Marathon Battle in 490 BC. The Athens 2010 Race is considered historic as it marked the 2,500th anniversary since the Battle of Marathon.
In modern times, the 42,195m Marathon Race became one of the most competitive events during the revival of the Olympic Games in 1896. A Greek athlete named Spyros Louis, running what has ever since been referred to as the Original Marathon Course from the ancient city of Marathon to the Panathinaikon Stadium in Athens, won the gold medal of the first modern Olympic Games and became a legend of Greek and International Athletics.
Apart from the sporting experience, athletes who participate in the Athens Classical Marathon have the chance to enjoy the traditional Greek hospitality, discover the fascinating landscape of our country and explore a city which is constantly improving.
Greek News Agenda: Athens- Marathon Capital of the World