Saturday, July 28, 2012

Pankration

By Julie Rahm

I love the Olympics. I feel inspired sitting in front of the television, a bowl of hot buttered popcorn in my lap, watching men and women who have mastered their bodies and minds reach new heights of human possibility.
The exact origins of the Olympics are unclear. Records indicate they began around 776 BC in Olympia, Greece. The games were usually held every four years. During a celebration of the games, an Olympic Truce was enacted so athletes could travel from their city-states to the games in safety.
At first, the Olympic Games lasted only one day, but eventually grew to five days. The Olympic Games originally contained one event: a short sprint measuring up to 790 feet, or the length of the stadium. A second race was introduced in 724 BC, during the 14th Olympic Games. The race was a single lap of the stadium, approximately 1,300 ft. A third foot race was introduced in 720 BC. The length of this race was 24 stadium laps, or about three miles. The event was run similarly to modern marathons. The runners began and ended their event in the stadium. But, the race course would wind its way through the Olympic grounds. Another event added to the ancient Olympics was the "Hoplite race" introduced in 520 BC. (A Hoplite was a Greek soldier.) The race was traditionally run as the last race of the Olympic Games. The runners would run approximately 800 yards in full or partial armor, carrying a shield and wearing a helmet. As the armor weighed about 60 pounds, the “Hoplite race” emulated the speed and stamina needed for warfare. Also, the athletes usually competed nude because the festival was meant to celebrate the achievements of the human body. My husband, John, still thinks this is good idea!
Over the years, more events were added: boxing, wrestling and pankration. Pankration mixed wrestling and boxing and is the root of modern day Mixed Martial Arts. Other events included chariot racing, and a pentathlon, consisting of wrestling, long jump, javelin throw, and discus throw.
Boxing became increasingly brutal over the centuries. Initially, soft leather covered the boxer’s fingers. But eventually, hard leather weighted with metal was sometimes used. The fights had no rest periods and no rules against hitting a man while he was down. Bouts continued until one man either surrendered or died. However, killing an opponent wasn't a good thing, as the dead boxer was automatically declared the winner!
Compare these ancient games with the spectacle occurring this week in London, England. In London, there will be 35 sports, 400 events, 17,000 athletes, 20,000 journalists, and 205 countries represented. Ticket sales will top nine million. Eighteen million meals will be prepared using 25,000 loaves of bread, 82 tons of seafood, 19 tons of eggs, 100 tons of meat, 21 tons of cheese and 330 tons of fruit and vegetables! The games will grow the economy of England by 80 billion dollars. Now you know!

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