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The modern Olympics we see are often held up as a continuation of the first games. While the basic idea of sporting events is common to both, there is much that is different.

The original Olympics were actually only one part of four games held during the year. The others were the Nemean, Isthmian and Pythian Games. The Olympics, however, were by far the most famous. These games derived their name from Olympia, were they were held.

The Olympics were first held in 776 BC. The games were part of a religious festival in honor of the Greek gods. They were held in the temple sanctuary of Olympia in Peloponnesus, which is located in southern Greece. The games celebrated sporting achievement and excellence as well as victory. In fact, victory was the only thing celebrated and it often stood in place of open warfare between various factions. There was no silver or bronze medal awarded.

Every year, the Olympics were held on the second full moon after the summer solstice. This would have put them in July or August of each year. The games lasted for roughly five days. A truce was declared for the up to three months prior to the games so contestants could heal from battles and prepare themselves.

The origin of the games has not been conclusively determined. Greek legend has it that Zeus, himself, started the games. Other legends have it that Herakles founded the games. A third view is that they games were created as a memorial to Pelops, a hero. Whatever the reason, the games have certain stood the test of time even if the original Greeks would not recognize them today.

The original Olympics had only one event - the foot race. Not until the 18th Olympiad were individual events such as wrestling, horse riding, discus and javelin throwing were added. At its height, over 40,000 people would pile into a stadium in Olympia to watch the events.

Given the peaceful tone of the modern Olympics, it is somewhat surprising the pankration was one of the most popular events of the early games. It was essentially a brawl between as many contestants as entered, fighting all at the same time, with the last man standing declared the winner. All Olympic events were restricted to men, to wit, women could only watch.

Ancient Greeks were very competitive, and the games were about the only no-war outlet for their passion. Given this basic truth, it is somewhat odd that the modern Olympics attempt to disdain politics and national rivalries.
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