Tomorrow, the 2012 Summer Olympic games will kick off in London. Years of planning and training have gone into this event, as elite athletes from across the globe will come together for two weeks of competition.
A Brief History of the Olympics
The first recorded Olympic Games were held in Ancient Greece in 776 BC; however, they are thought to have been going on for 500 years prior to that date. They were held on the plains of Olympia and were a way to honor the gods. Only free Greek men were allowed to participate in these competitions, and women were not permitted to even watch. Those who won these ancient games became heroes, attaining a near godlike status in Greek society. The Olympics were both an athletic and religious event that combined sports and spiritual activities. The games continued to be a recurring event until 393 AD when Emperor Theodosius outlawed the Olympics as "pagan activities."
In the 1800's, the modern Olympic movement began in Europe. Due to the activism of Pierre de Courbetin, a young Frenchman, the first modern Olympic games were organized in Athens in 1896. It was Courbetin who raised the idea to hold this event once every four years, and he was the founder of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), who still manages the Games today. In 1924, the first Winter Olympic Games were held in the same year as the Summer Games. Today, the Olympics are organized every 2 years, oscillating between Winter and Summer Games. The Olympic Games include approximately 35 sports and over 400 events. In the Summer Games, 25 different sports are featured, versus 15 in the Winter. In recent years, the IOC has also begun organizing Paralympic Games (for individuals with physical disabilities) and Youth Olympic Games, which happen in the same year as the general Olympic Games.
Olympic Symbols and Ceremonies
The Olympic Games are steeped in ritual and symbolism. As a sporting event, the Games unite individuals from all countries of the world to participate in two weeks of peace and sportsmanship. As such, the Olympic symbols and ceremonies also embody these ideals. The Olympic rings depict five interlocking, different colored circles. Pierre de Courbetin designed this symbol and it is meant to represent the five parts of the world that all unite peacefully to participate in the Olympic Games. The Olympic rings sit on a white field and are the only design on the Olympic Flag.
Another iconic Olympic symbol is the Olympic flame and torch. The origin of the flame dates back to ancient Greece, when the Greeks would keep a flame burning throughout the Olympic games. Today, to honor that Greek history behind this tradition, the Olympic flame is always lit in Olympia. A group of 11 women, representing the ancient priestesses of Olympia, light the flame using the rays of sun outside the Temple of Hera. From there, a relay of torchbearers carries the flame from Greece to whatever city is hosting the next Olympics. Typically, those selected to transport the flame for part of its journey are famous athletes or personalities from the country hosting the Games. In addition, the route changes each time, as the hosting city's Olympic committee can determine how they want to best highlight their country or region during the trip. The final destination is always the opening ceremony for that year's Games, where the last torchbearer lights the flame that will burn throughout the Games. The individual or group selected to light the flame is kept a secret until the very last moment.
The Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics are also deeply steeped in tradition. Each Opening Ceremony begins with the "Parade of Nations" in which each country's athletes march in to the stadium dressed in their country's colors and bearing their nation's flag. In homage to the origins of the Olympics, Greece is always the first country to enter the arena, and the host country enters last. All other nations proceed alphabetically. In the Closing Ceremony, all athletes march together, not divided by nation, as a symbol of the unity for which the games stand. During the Closing Ceremony, the Olympic flame is extinguished and the President of the IOC formally closes the Games by calling upon the youth of the world to assemble four years from then in the next host city to celebrate the following Olympic Games.
This summer's Olympic Games will be held in London, the capital city of Great Britain, from July 27 until August 12. London won the honor of hosting the Games in 2005, beating out rival cities Paris, New York, Madrid, and Moscow. Ever since, the London Oragnising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) has been planning for this event. Whenever a city hosts the Olympics, there is a huge amount of preparation that is needed. Multiple stadiums are constructed that will house the hundreds of events that will occur. In addition, the city must prepare for the onslaught of athletes, coaches, and spectators that will come to participate in and watch the Games.
When the IOC selects a host city they pay particular attention to whether a city can handle the amount of construction and preparation the Games require and sustainably maintain or reuse these structures once the Olympics are over. In this regard, London's bid for the Olympics was quite strong, and one of the main reasons it was selected as the host. London has put considerable resources since 2005 into developing the Lower Lea Valley, where the new Olympic Village and Olympic Park were built. After the Games, this area will transition into an extensive sporting and park complex that the LOCOG hopes will transform a huge portion of East London.
There will be a total of 302 events held during the London 2012 games, the same number as during the Beijing Games in 2008. While baseball and softball have been cut from the roster since 2008, three new events were added: women's boxing, mixed doubles in tennis, and Omnium racing in track cycling. Athletes from the 204 countries with National Olympic Committees (NOCs) are expected to compete, and as of May 24th, 2012, 183 countries had at least one competitor qualify for the Games.
All eyes will be on London in the coming weeks, as spectators tune in to watch their country's athletes compete in the world's most elite sporting event. If you are currently in the U.S., tune in to NBC for coverage of the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Ani is a fan of exploring new places through photography and the local cuisine. After earning her BFA in photography from NYU and gaining communications experience at International Planned Parenthood Federation, she joined InterExchange in 2012, and worked as the Marketing Producer until 2016.