The historic importance of the Olympics

hey safer here

so the Olympics are coming up soon and

we all know about its pageantry and

international stakes but I wanted to

tell you guys about how the games have

been a part of world history not just

about the actual playing of them I'm not

a sports fan by any means but the

Olympics hold a different chord its

importance as an international event is

incomparable to anything else here's the

history of why that is many of you have

probably read about the ancient Olympics

they were a central event to the ancient

Greeks being held every four years from

before recorded history there until 394

AD they were the most important of the

four Panhellenic games which were games

held to celebrate one mythic tradition

or another there are a few myths about

the creation of the tradition but there

is no concrete evidence to show when or

why they came about interestingly enough

a couple ancient historians claimed that

the harrion games which was the female

component of the Olympics were the first

athletes to compete there so it's

possible that the Olympics were started

by women the Greeks so revered the games

that they based their dating system on

the Olympiad beginning in 776 BC and

measuring every four years from their of

even greater importance the Greeks would

declare a truce for all internal Wars in

order to go play the games this Olympic

truce was so important to them that they

would suspend all legal disputes and

capital punishment for the duration of

the games too bad that couldn't have

happened in 1916 1940 and 44 AD there is

a call to renew the Olympic truce but no

one's paid attention since it was

declared in 1996 of course there were

violations of the Olympic truce even in

ancient times during the Peloponnesian

War the Spartans were fine

at one point for assaulting a city

during the truce some city-states

used the games to declare their

allegiance during the Peloponnesian War

some also boycotted the games in protest

seems kind of familiar to some recent

history the ancient Olympics kept going

even after the Romans conquered the

Greeks in 146 BC heck Rome modeled her

own version called the Capitoline games

after the Greeks natural disasters and

barbarian invasions had taken their toll

on the Olympics and they dwindled over

the course of the next six centuries the

games lived on despite the troubles

until Theodosius banned them in 394 ad

because they were a pagan ritual in a

Christianized Roman Empire the games

were gone no longer of any importance

for 1500 years but they came back

coincidentally exactly 1500 years later

the modern Olympics were founded in 1894

now there had been a number of games

like this that had been held since the

1830s some in facts kind of going back

to the 17th century there was some

notable attempts at organizing them

internationally but to no significant

avail though the 1866 Crystal Palace

games were fairly close a French

historian named Pierre de Coubertin

proposed the reorganization of the

Olympics in 1892 an Olympic Congress was

organized in 1894 and they voted to

create the modern Olympics after

organizing the International Olympic

Committee or IOC for short with

Coubertin as the leader the first modern

Olympiad began two years later in 1896

the games were held in an ancient

Stadium in Athens Greece originally

built in 330 BC to symbolize the

continuity between them and the ancient

games and they went off splendidly now

I'm not going to go into the minutiae of

which games did what to implement the

modern traditions

instead let's look at a few moments that

have rocked the world since the founding

of the Olympics first let's talk about

war there have only been three Olympiads

that were skipped as I am mentioned

before the tradition of the Olympic

truce did not translate into modern

times instead the games in 1916 1940 and

1944 were skipped altogether because of

the world wars there was one other

similar instance early on when the games

in st. Louis in Paris were overshadowed

by nearby expositions the IOC decided to

hold an intercalated Olympics in Athens

that means only two years between

Olympic events they had originally

scheduled them for 1902 but because of

the local conflicts in Greece at the

time the date was pushed back to 1906

they worked well but the IOC has since

disavowed these Olympics because

Coubertin didn't like the idea of

intercalated Olympics despite now having

them because of the separation of winter

and summer olympics beginning in 1994

but the IOC is nothing if not a bunch of

stuffy old aristocrats a remnant of

Cooper Todd's time so that's a total of

four Olympiads cancelled because of war

next let's talk about the 1936 Olympics

in Berlin and garmisch-partenkirchen

during the Third Reich now there have

been two movies of recent date that have

brought the subject up one I've actually

done a review on and another I'm in the

process of researching which is kind of

what prompted this episode in the first

place this was really the first time a

nation used the Olympics to show off

their ascendancy of course now that is a

standard thing but Germany brought a lot

to the table firstly there was all the

Nazi cinematography Leni Riefenstahl

had been building her cinema repertoire

and the movie she produced from filming

these Olympics netted her quite a few

awards including a gold medal from the

IOC after its release for a while in


the IOC actually gave out gold medals

for the Arts Germany also broadcast the

games on television in 1936 so the games

were designed around the pageantry

for instance the running of the torch

was created specifically to show off the

ascension of Germany under Nazi rule

despite the connotation the spectacle

was too great and the Olympics has

continued doing the torch relay ever

since besides we've always had a

fascination with Nazis on film just

think of how many movies come out a year

about something that only lasted between

1933 and 1945 but funny enough this is

really where that began as a result

several countries boycotted the games

because of the Nazis Spain even went so

far as to plan a rival Olympiad but was

stopped by their own civil war we've

seen this kind of politicization of the

Olympics itself several times since but

never to this extent although one could

argue the original Athens Games were

politicized in this way as well the

Olympics continued to change but they

remain a place of statecraft and

pageantry cemented into that place

because of the Nazis so let's look at

how that role as a place of statecraft

has been usurped by jumping forward to

1968 a tumultuous year indeed the games

were held in Mexico City during what is

now called the dirty war where the

Mexican government conducted a secret

war against dissidents because of the

games a student protest beforehand was

violently suppressed killing between 30

and 300 of the protesters worldwide

issues with race came to the fore as

well African nations threatened to

boycott the games if South Africa came

because of the ongoing system of

apartheid there so South Africa wasn't

allowed to come although in 1976

because of some strange circumstances

those African nations boycotted because

of reasons related to apartheid anyways

the US would do the same thing to the

USSR during the 1980 games in Moscow

because they had invaded Afghanistan the

u.s. saw some pretty political intrigue

in 1968 itself the civil rights movement

was beginning to splinter into militancy

in the u.s. in the Olympics its

traditional to play the first-place

winners national anthem when they are

standing on the podium and when two

Americans placed first and third instead

of saluting the anthem they raised their

black gloved fist in the air in the

symbol of the Black Power movement with

the intent of raising awareness to their

cause you see 1968 was really the year

that the Olympics became a political

vehicle for protest another huge change

came in the next Olympics in the 1972

Munich Games the Israeli team was taken

hostage by a terrorist group called

Black September they were a breakaway of

the Palestinian Liberation Organization

or PLO for short

they were PLO members who remained in

Jordan after their failed attempt to

take over that country in 1970 after

taking the hostages they demanded on

live television that West Germany and

Israel released certain leadership who

had been captured in 1971 from prison

during a botched rescue attempt by the

West Germans the terrorists massacred

the team of eleven people once the

fighting was done five terrorists were

killed and one West German officer along

with three terrorists captured this

shocked the world and prompted a

campaign of anti terrorism unequaled

until 9/11 many countries created

Special Forces units specifically for

the threat and the Israelis embarked on

a campaign of vengeful assassination

before all of that could take place the

three remaining terrorists were set free

by the West Germans before the Winter

Olympics began that year because a

Lufthansa flight was captured by the PLO

in Damascus this is when much of the

world had to come to terms with the

sidious effect of terrors and it began

with the Olympics although many places

had been experiencing national terrorist

groups like The Weather Underground

Irish Republican Army anti Shah of Iran

groups and the Quebec Liberation Front

those were localized problems it took

the Munich Olympics to make terrorism

and international problem from the

bleakness of terror propaganda and

protests there's happy facets to the

modern Olympics I want to touch on even

though it was cemented in place by Nazis

using the Olympics to demonstrate an

up-and-coming country's rise to

prominence has taken shape in a

significant way

Beijing Sochi and now Rio de Janeiro

have all been used to say that the

People's Republic of China the Russian

Federation and now the Federative

Republic of Brazil hold the hope of

ascendancy to first world status they

may have achieved that to varying

degrees but the Olympics represents that

hope for them the IOC specifically has

chosen these countries to try and

promote their ascendancy the athletes

who attend these events hold the same

hopes for their respective countries we

compare countries by their athletic

achievements at the Olympics because

each athlete is representing their

country in a way that no other athletic

competition can compare to the spirit of

friendly competition is baked into the

very symbol for the Olympics the Olympic

rings were designed by Coubertin in 1912

to represent the five inhabited

continents and he took into account the

colours of many national flags from that

time later each ring was given a

specific continent to represent closely

enough now it would be called kind of

races since yellow is Asian blackest

African and red is American but

Coubertin never indicated the Rings were

supposed to be that specific instead it

is an abstraction

the same physical flag is typically

flown at the Olympics with the second

ever being flown from 1924 to 1988 and

the new one flying over Rio right now

it's a symbol of unity and belief in the

coming together to represent one's

country the eyes of the world rest upon

those competing under it's waving form

it's a weird thing if you think about it

for the most part the world is not

interested in most of these sports

outside of the Olympics the audience for

swimming track and field gymnastics and

so on is miniscule for the regular


by comparison hell I can tell you I'm

certainly not interested in any

whatsoever outside the Olympics then

again I don't care one bit about sports

in general for instance this last Super

Bowl I hosted a game party they watch

the game while I read a book through

most of it I'm the guy who steers the

conversation away from sports talk but

when the Olympics come on I'm glued to

the TV it's because the Olympics is more

than simple sports competition it is

important to world history a place to

celebrate our differences set global

trends make a statement worldwide resist

oppression and revel in the glory of

one's country we'll see how the next

Olympiad stacks up