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Connections: Olympics Unite Nations of the World

By Jeff Martin

Never more is my faith restored in humanity than during the Olympic Games.

Winter, summer – the games could be held in a back alley in Chinatown and still my faith in humanity, in the essence of competition, would be restored.

While the opening ceremony, with its parade of nations, can be a bit lengthy and tedious, there are glimpses of human divinity, of hope, of resolve and complete faith in cooperation among peoples and nations.

We’re now less than a month away from the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi. Provided no terrorist incidents occur, it will mark yet another moment in human history where people of different races, genders and religious backgrounds come together and compete.

In honor of the Olympics, I’d like to offer some fascinating bits of information about the ancient games, which are traced back to 776 B.C. I’d also like to put the word out that I’m looking for future human interest stories concerning Western New York residents who are or were somehow connected with current or past games. Email at the address below.

The first games were dedicated to the Olympian gods and were held on the plains of Olympia. Records show that the games were like giant flea markets or fairs, with hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of vendors and peddlers traveling hundreds of miles to sell their wares and services.

The games continued for 12 centuries until Emperor Theodosius declared that the games were “pagan cults.” They were banned shortly after.

Then, in 1894, a French educator Baron Pierre de Coubertin, proposed a revival of the games, and thus the modern-day Olympic Summer Games were born.

Many of the events, including javelin and sprinting, were done barefoot and naked. Imagine the furor that would cause in our modern times.

The first Winter Olympic Games were held in Chamonix, France, in 1924, and Norway has won the most medals (263) at the winter games.

The Olympic Games are believed to owe their purity and importance to religion, specifically to the cult of Zeus. Ultimately, the games were aimed to show the physical qualities and evolution of the participants.

Event winners received their first awards immediately after the competition. The Hellanodikis, or Greek judge, would place a palm branch in his hands while spectators cheered and threw flowers to him. Red ribbons were tied on his head and hands as a mark of victory.

The official award ceremony took place on the last day of the games. Names were said aloud, as were the winners’ fathers’ names and homelands. Then the olive tree wreath, or kotinos, was placed on the winners’ heads.

With that, I wish all nations good luck in Sochi.

(Feel free to contact Jeff at jwmartin38@gmail.com.)

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