Olympic Time of the Year Athletes Converge for XXII Winter Games

This past weekend 47.6 percent of American homes tuned in for Super Bowl XLVIII, making the event the fifth most-watched television event in U.S. history. This Friday, Feb. 7, will see another top rated TV program with the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games. Last year more than 41 million viewers in the U.S. tuned in for the 2012 London Olympic Games, with over 900 million watching world-wide. This year the numbers are expected to be even higher.

History

Ancient Greece, a period of Greek history lasting from the eighth century BC to 600 AD, was host to the first Olympic Games. The Games were developed as a competition between representatives of many city-states and kingdoms in Greece. The Ancient Games hosted a variety of competitions from athletic running events, to combat sports such as pankration and wrestling, and of course the horse and chariot races. The date of the first Olympics was 776 BC, and it has been said that a cook named Coroebus was the first champion.

The original Olympics featured one race, held every four years, called the “stadion” race. The myth explains that the race was measured after Hercules, son of Zeus, walking in a straight line for 200 steps, somewhere between 590 and 790 feet. By the year 520 BC the last running event had been added to the Olympic Games which had been expanded from a one day to a five day affair, featuring the diaulos (the double stadion), dolichos (4800 meters), hoplitodromos (350-800 meters, with 50 pounds of armor) and stadion races, as well as chariot racing, javelin throw, long jump, discus throw, wrestling, boxing, a pentathlon and pankration. The five days Games included an opening ceremony during which 100 oxen were slaughtered as a sacrifice to Zeus, and a closing banquet for all the participants on the final day.

In 1894 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was founded, and thus began the modern Olympic Games, held in a rotating country, every four years. The IOC is responsible for the organization of the Olympic Movement with has been the cause of several developments in the Games over the past century. The Movement created the Winter Games in 1924, the Paralympic Games in 1960 and the Youth Olympic Games in 2010, and changed the participation of the Games to allow professional athletes to compete.

The first of the modern Games was held in Athens, Greece, in 1896. The Games featured 241 athletes from 14 different nations who competed in 43 events. The next Olympics were held in Paris, France in 1900 and it was the first time women were allowed to compete. When the Winter Games were introduced in 1924, the Summer and Winter Olympics were held the same year until 1994, in which the schedule switched to that of today, with both the Summer and Winter Games being held every four years — each Olympics two years apart.

Olympic Emblems

Motto — There are many symbols that have become associated with the modern Olympic Games since their inception in 1894. The first is the motto, “Citius, Altius, Fortius,” this is Latin for “Faster, Higher, Stronger,” and was developed by Pierre de Coubertin when he founded the IOC. The Olympic motto was introduced to the world during the 1924 Games in Paris.

Flag — Perhaps the most well-known symbol of the Olympics is the interlocking five rings, known as the Olympic rings. The symbol was designed in 1912 by Coubertin, and the Olympic flag with the symbol was introduced in 1914. The five colors of the rings on the white background were chosen because of the colors of the national flags of the nations involved in the Games at the time. The colors included encompass the national colors of Sweden, Greece, France, England, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Hungary, Spain, Brazil, Australia, Japan, China and the U.S. Prior to 1951, each color was stated to correspond with a continent, this is no longer the case, as today the five interlocking rings symbolize the meeting of athletes and the union of the five regions of the world from which they come.

Torch — The Olympic flame is transported to the host country each year from Olympia, Greece, the site of the Ancient Olympics. The flame is lit several months before the game is held and transported, by foot, horse, car, carriage, rocket and even satellite,  to the site of the Games. This tradition commenced in 1936 with the Berlin Games. The torch is lit by concentrating the rays of the Sun on a parabolic reflector. The torch reaches the main stadium during the Opening Ceremony of the Games as a symbol of the beginning of the Olympics.

Medals — The medals — gold, silver and bronze — are awarded to the top three finishers in each event. One side of the medal features a design for the particular Olympics at which it is given, including the name of the host of the Games, and the other side exhibits an image of the Greek goddess of victory, Nike, holding a winner’s crown and a palm. Since 2004, as a symbol of the renewal of the Games, Nike has been featured flying into the Panathenaic Stadium.

Anthem — The Olympic anthem was first performed in 1896 at the Athens Games, however it was not the official hymn until 1957. The original hymn was composed by Spyridon Samaras using the words from Greek poet Kostis Palamas.

Olive wreath — The “kotinos” is an olive branch twisted into a circle introduced in the Ancient Olympic Games by Heracles. In the Ancient Games there was only one winner in each event and they were crowned with this branch. The kotinos was used again in 2004 during the Summer Olympics in Athens.

Mascots — Although there is no official mascot of the Olympics, the Games since 1968 have featured an animal native to the country in which the Games are held or another figure that represents the culture of the nation. In 1980 in Moscow, the first true mascot, a Russian bear named Misha, was introduced.

Ceremonies — The opening ceremonies designate the official start to the Olympic Games. There are many traditional components of the ceremony including the “Parade of Nations,” in which athletes walk into the stadium by country. Beginning in 1928, it has been tradition that the nation of Greece enter the stadium first and the host country last. The Games this year will then be opened with the address, “I declare open the XXII Olympic Winter Games of Sochi,” given by the host country’s head of state, Russian President Vladimir Putin. After the parade of nations, the Olympic flag is presented with the playing of the Olympic hymn, followed by the passing of the torch and lighting of the stadium’s cauldron. In addition, starting in 1920, doves were introduced into the ceremony to symbolize peace.

During the closing ceremony the host country’s flag is again raised with their national anthem, and the “Parade of Flags” commences, however, the athletes are not grouped by nation in the closing ceremony. This tradition began in 1956 as a symbol of the unity of the athletes of the world. There is then a final medals ceremony, and the flags of Greece and the next country to host the Games are raised. The Olympic flag is lowered and taken out of the stadium, and finally, to mark the end of the Games, the Olympic flame is extinguished.

This year’s Games

This year’s Olympic Games will be held in Sochi, Russia, from Feb. 7 – 23, with over 2,500 athletes from 88 nations competing in 98 different events. This year there are 12 new events to debut.

Freeskiing halfpipe (men’s and women’s events) — Like the snowboarding halfpipe events currently included in the Winter Olympic Games, all athletes will have two runs in the preliminaries for a chance to qualify for the finals. The event consists of skiing down a halfpipe with a routine of flips, twists and jumps.

Freeskiing slopestyle (men’s and women’s events) — This event features a combination of alpine racing speeds and aerial skills. The event is judged based on the execution of skiing down the course over jumps and rails.

Snowboard slopestyle (men’s and women’s events) — Same as freeskiing slopestyle, except with a snowboard.

Snowboard parallel special slalom (men’s and women’s events) — Two athletes board down a course with the same obstacles side-by-side. The first one to the bottom without crashing wins.

Biathlon mixed relay — The teams will be composed of two females and two males. The female athletes will each race six kilometers followed by the two males racing 7.5 kilometers each. During the race, all four athletes must fire a shot from a prone and standing position, and will be penalized with a 150 meter lap for each miss. The team with the lowest time wins.

Women’s ski jumping — The jumping will take place on the same event hill where the men compete. Each jump is scored based on distance travelled and style. The athletes will do two jumps and the highest combined score wins.

Figure skating team event — One score per country will be combined from four classifications: mens, ladies, pairs and dance skating.

Luge team relay — One man and one woman single luger and one doubles team will race down the track and reach up to slap touch pads at the bottom to open the gate for their teammates. The team with the fastest time after the third sled crosses the finish wins.