The Olympic Athlete
I always have respected Olympic athletes, for they spend all their time
training. Victorious athletes were professionals in the sense that they lived
off the glory of their achievement ever afterwards. Their hometowns might reward
them with: free meals for the rest of their lives, honorary appointments, or
leadership positions in the community. The victors were memorialized in statues
and also in victory songs, and commissioned from famous poets.
Today, the Olympic Games are the world's largest pageant of athletic
skill and competitive spirit. They are also displays of nationalism, commerce
and politics. These two opposing elements of the Olympics are not a modern
invention. The conflict between the Olympic movement's high ideals and the
commercialism or political acts, which accompany the Games, has been noted since
ancient times. The ancient Olympic Games, part of a major religious festival
honoring Zeus, the chief Greek god, were the biggest events in their world. They
were the scenes of political rivalries between people from different parts of
the Greek world, and the site of controversies, boasts, public announcements and
humiliations. Ancient athletes competed as individuals, not on national teams,
as in the modern Games. The emphasis on individual athletic achievement through
public competition was related to the Greek ideal of excellence, called "arete".
Aristocratic men who attained this ideal, through their outstanding words or
deeds, won permanent glory and fame. Those who failed to measure up to this code
feared public shame and disgrace.
Olympia was one of the oldest religious centers in the ancient Greek
world. Since athletic contests were one way that the ancient Greeks honored
their gods, it was logical to hold a recurring athletic competition at the site
of a major temple. Also, Olympia is convenient geographically to reach by ship,
which was a major concern for the Greeks. Athletes and spectators traveled from
Greek colonies as far away as modern-day Spain, the Black Sea, or Egypt.
Athletics were a key part of education in ancient Greece. Many Greeks
believed that developing the body was equally important as improving the mind
for overall health. Also, regular exercise was important in a society where men
were always needed for military service. Plato's Laws specifically mentions how
athletics greatly improved military skills. Greek youth therefore worked out in
the palaestra (wrestling-school) whether they were serious Olympic contenders or
Ancient competitors were required to train at Olympia for a month before
the Games officially started, like modern competitors at the Olympic. Young men
worked with athletic trainers who used long sticks to point out incorrect body
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