My wife and I had a museum tour for 6th graders today. The tour theme was Myths, Legends, and Stories. The students had been studying ancient Egypt and Greece. Since the Olympics are in Athens this year, I did some research on the origins in the hope we had something appropriate at the museum. But we did not. So, since I hate waste, I'll share some of the research with you good folks.
In 776 BC there was a 200 yard foot race at Olympia, about 200 mi from Athens. That was the first Olympic competition. By the next century there was a vast expansion of events. The competitors came from other nations besides Greece. The games honored Zeus, and the athletes were naked. Zeus was said to look favorably on those who were most talented and beautiful. The winners were Zeus's choices, by definition. The winners were awarded laurel wreaths. Later there were similar games in Nemea, Isthmia, and Delphi. I think the Delphic games were dedicated to Apollo, and the others to Zeus.
There was racing, javelin, discus, pentathlon, wrestling, and kick-boxing (something called Pancratium). Participants were often maimed or killed. There were also poetry readings and music. The games lasted till 393 AD, by which time Christianity had overtaken the Roman Empire, and its seat was in Constantinople, too close to Greece to allow pagan rituals to prevail.
The modern Olympics began (I think) in Athens (?)1896. But from there the venue changed each year, unlike during the 12 century span of the ancient Olympics. This year we will not see naked athletes (damn it ---- I prefer authenticity), and the only deaths and maiming will likely be the result of terrorist acts (may it not happen). In addition to the games we can look forward to TV programs devoted to ancient Greece and comparisons between the ancient and modern Olympics.