Olympic Games open this Friday in Athens, Greece, we take a look at
how the Olympics began more than 2,700 years ago. We look at four
Summer Olympics sports with interesting origins, which means that we
leave out any coverage of our favorite team -- the Jamaican bobsled
The very first Olympic Games took place
in 776 B.C. in Olympia, Greece; hence the name "Olympics." The
winners at the first Olympic Games received an olive tree wreath and
a hero's return to their city-states. Victory was considered to be
the highest honor a mortal could attain. Three-time winners became
exempt from taxation, and they had statues made of themselves.
Special coins were struck to commemorate equestrian victories.
Only four sports have been featured at
every modern Olympic Games, which began in 1896: track and field,
fencing, weight lifting and cycling. Others, such as tug of war,
rugby, polo, lacrosse and golf, were once played in the Olympics but
have since been discontinued. Here's a brief primer on the origins
of several popular Olympic sports:
Before we get to the modern pentathlon,
we have to go back to the ancient pentathlon, which made its debut
in 708 B.C. The ancient pentathlon consisted of the discus throw,
the javelin, the long jump, the stadium-length race and wrestling.
The modern pentathlon was introduced in
the Stockholm Olympic Games of 1912 by the fonder of the modern
Olympic Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. In the modern pentathlon,
barely resembling the original version, contestants must shoot,
fence, swim, compete in show jumping and run.
Why these five events? Legend has it
that a young cavalry officer was ordered to deliver a message on
horseback. The officer had to fend off the enemy with his sword and
pistol, but his horse was shot in the process, leaving him to swim
and run the rest of the way to deliver the message.
Believe me when I tell you that the
other three origins can't top that one, so no one will blame you if
you switch over to the comics now.
[to top of second column
in this article]
This two-on-two sport traces its origin
back to California in the 1920s, when there were six players on each
side. Matches played with two people per team first occurred in
1930. Beach volleyball was played in France as early as 1927, also
with six players per team, and it spread to Bulgaria, the former
Czechoslovakia and the former USSR a few years later. American
soldiers helped spread it to even more countries during World War
II. Beach volleyball made its Olympic debut at the 1996 Summer Games
in Atlanta and is one of the most popular events at the Olympics.
The exact origin of table tennis is
unknown, but it's believed that it was first played by using cigar
box lids for paddles and a carved champagne cork for a ball. The
sport was originally named "pingpong" because of the sound the ball
makes when it hits the table. Table tennis debuted at the Seoul
Olympics in 1988.
While games involving the kicking of a
ball have been around for thousands of years, modern soccer, known
everywhere outside of America as football, originated in England
during the eighth century. English sailors spread the game worldwide
in the 1800s. Today, it is the most popular sport in the world.
Soccer (sorry, but I just can't get
used to calling it football) made its Olympic debut as a
demonstration sport in the 1896 Athens Olympics. It became an
official Olympic sport in the 1908 London Olympics, and it took only
88 years for the women's game to be included in the Olympics, at the
1996 Atlanta Games, where the American women's team won the gold
Let the games begin!
you're interested in volunteering to work with the Special Olympics,
www.SpecialOlympics.org or call (202) 628-3630 for information.
Invention Mysteries is written each
week by Paul Niemann. To see Paul's list of the nine greatest
inventions of all time, go to
© Copyright Paul Niemann 2004