The Great Olympic tradition started at Olympia in Greece. So, how did these games come about and spread throughout the world? Here's a quick summary: In Ancient Greece, the Games were one of the many ways that the Greeks worshipped their gods. The first Olympic Games, recorded in 776 BC, aimed to show the physical qualities of the athletes who competed and to encourage good relations between cities across Greece. Winners at the Ancient Games had two victory ceremonies. In the first ceremony they received a palm branch and had red ribbons tied around their hands and head. At the second ceremony, an olive wreath was placed on the winner's head.
The modern version of the Olympics is credited to a young Frenchman, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who thought that the Olympic Games should be about bringing together sport, culture and education. In 1894, he founded the international Olympic Committee and, together, the members started to organise the first Olympic Games. In 1896, after two years of hard work, the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens. A total of 241 athletes from 14 countries took part and each winner received a silver medal and an olive branch.
Now, in 2012, to get into the Olympics spirit, let us look at some events that have been happening in the lead-up to tomorrow's Olympic Games.
Right now, as I type this article, on the eve of the Games, the Olympic flame has been lit and the torchbearers are jogging through some of the capital's most famous landmarks, where sightseers and Olympics fans have the opportunity to see the torch, as it is carried out through 32.7 miles in London. The torch will end its day's travels in Hyde Park, at 7:10pm, where a celebration cauldron will be lit.
For those of us living in Spain, we will be thrilled by the honour bestowed upon basketball player Pau Gasol, who has been chosen as Spain's flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony. Sadly, Rafael Nadal, another of Spain's remarkable sons, has been forced to withdraw through injury. Gasol, Nadal's replacement, also typifies "the best values in sport and competition."
The waiting will soon be over. People from all over the world gathered together in London to celebrate the Olympics.
Probably, the most spectacular and amazing story is that of the 57 year-old Chen Guanming, a Chinese man who cycled for 2 years from China to London to witness the Opening Ceremony. The only way Chen Guanming could afford to get to London was riding his rickshaw. He travelled approximately 60,000 km through 16 countries, overcoming floods, war zones, mountain passes and temperatures of -30C.
From Jiangsu province in eastern China, with his passport ready, he cycled, aiming to "spread the Olympic Spirit". He first travelled through Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, where he had to wring his clothes out seven to eight times a day because of the humidity and sweat. Cycling a rickshaw, with your belongings and food for the journey, and with the temperatures rising well above the 30s, I mean, who wouldn't sweat? To make matters worse, he was caught up in deadly floods in Thailand.
Even more impressive, and deserving a significant pat on the back, were Chen Guanming's efforts in trying to leave South East Asia, where he was refused a visa to enter Burma, and so, backtracked and cycled to Tibet, where he proceeded on his way, riding his old gearless bike up 7,000 ft. high mountains. For a 57 year-old man, this was an amazing achievement. I wonder how many of our average 57 year-old men with a rickshaw could do this?! Having crossed Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, Chen ended up in Turkey, where temperatures dropped to -30C and he spent four days snowed-in. I don't know the typical minimum temperature of his home town, but travelling from the hot climates of southern Asia to the extreme cold of Turkey, that's a lot of layers of clothing to carry. Given all of Chen's trials and tribulations, it seems that fate was on his side.
Finally, having arrived at his destination of London, on 6th July, Chen Guanming, the man who showed the will power, courage and stamina, to cycle 60,000 km, overcoming floods, war zones, mountain passes and temperatures of -30C, had achieved the impossible. Although he is not an Olympic athlete, he has shown the world the true meaning of the Olympic Spirit, and deserves a place in the winners' stand as the Games' unsung hero.
As the countdown to tomorrow's Opening Ceremony nears its conclusion, I hope that these few words may have inspired you to spread the Olympic Spirit. The Opening Ceremony will be broadcast worldwide at 9pm, UK time. To the athletes we wish "good luck", and to the worldwide audience of spectators we wish enjoyment and wonderful memories of this year's Olympics, where the world unites and shares the same triumphant event.
"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well." – The Olympic Creed