Before it became an event watched by billions of people, the Olympic Games was a poorly organized competition that struggled to keep the audience awake.
We invite you on a fascination journey trough time that will reveal amazing facts you did not know about the Olympic Games.
1. The Torch Tradition
The Olympic flame is a symbol of the ancient games held in Greece. However, the modern version of it, the torch relay, was first introduced in 1936, during the Summer Olympics held in Berlin.
Yes, you heard right. One of the most popular and enduring parts of the Olympic ceremonial was inspired by Nazi propaganda, at a time when Hitler was preparing to take Europe by storm.
Back in the original version, a parabolic mirror was used to ignite the torch using the light of the Sun. The ceremonial takes place in Olympia and involves eleven women representing the Vestal Virgins (a kind of ancient Greek priestesses).
The fire is probably a reference to Prometheus, the ancient hero that stole fire from the gods and brought it to Earth.
2. Sexist From The Beginning
French Baron Pierre de Coubertin is considered the father of the modern Olympic Games.
His ambition to revive the ancient Greek tradition and make it a worldwide celebration of peace led to the theatrical event we now have at a four-year interval.
However, a century ago, the Olympic spirit was far from promoting the same values as it does today. As you probably know, the sexes were far from being equal to each other at the beginning of the 20th century. Women were allowed to compete only in a handful of sports.
History books will never tell you that Pierre de Coubertin was a sexist who considered athletic women “the most unaesthetic sight human eyes could contemplate.”
3. First Olympian Disqualified For Drug Use
Unfortunately, the latest Olympic events were marked by scandals of doping.
Ranging from fully-fledged performance enhancers to substances meant to relieve pain and tension, the list of what is allowed or not is one regularly updated.
As we promised, we will reveal the name of the first ever sportsman to receive a disqualification during an Olympic competition. Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall was a Swedish pentathlete who cost his team a bronze medal in 1968.
The poor young man needed two beers to calm his nerves before the pistol shooting part of the event.
Not exactly the substances you or the Olympic Committee expected, but still, a glimpse into the magical world of altering how your body works.
4. The Comeback of Golf
Golf has been for a long time on the black list of sports events, which did not hold a seat at the Olympic table.
And it is not hard to imagine why. Golf belongs to people that are far from the athletic ideal. They are not fast, nor strong, just have an eye and a steady arm for putting the ball in the whole.
Everything changed in 2016, in an attempt to make the Olympic Games even more accessible and appealing. However, the new Olympic course, built at the Reserva de Marapendi in the Barra da Tijuca zone (Rio de Janeiro), was challenged by environmentalists, as well as by locals.
5. Actual Material of Medals
There are thousands of photos with Olympians biting down their medals, in what seems to be a practice old as time.
Although various explanations are competing to justify the gesture, our bet goes on the fact that this was an old practice to test the authenticity of metal.
However, the Olympic medals hold a big surprise. The gold medals contain 92.5% silver, and only a thin outside foil is gold. The last solid gold medal was awarded back in 1912, but hosts now know better.
We don’t know how many medalists lost their teeth while testing the myth that the decorations hide chocolate inside, but the practice survived intact at Rio 2016.
6. The Secret of the Olympic Flag
Want to know the story behind the Olympic Flag and its colored rings?
The man who developed the design of the Olympic Flag was Pierre de Coubertin. He had a vision of what would unite people and help them put aside their differences.
Coubertin wanted each country in the world to be able to find at least one national color in the Olympic flag. The symbol of friendship between people evolved to the form we know today.
7. Gold For Painting?
The first editions of the Olympic Games had the hard task of figuring out which sports/activities deserved a place on the list.
Between 1912 and 1948, five art competitions stood alongside traditional sports: architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture.
For us, it is funny to imagine such Olympians warming up before their performance. Writers were flexing their fingers and musicians testing their vocal cords just before facing each other. Just imagine the adrenaline of writing a novel against the clock, just to finish ahead of others.
Since 1956, art and sports took each its separate way, and the Olympic Games remained only for those willing to sweat.
The Olympic Cultural Program became home for the five art competition, although that’s an extremely unpopular venture.
8. Zika Virus
Alongside favela gangs and the fear that the venues and infrastructure will not be ready in time, the Zika virus made Rio 2016 one of the most dangerous Olympic Games.
We heard many things about the new threat, and at some point, facts met fiction, creating an entire mythology around the topic. The most important aspect you need to know is that Zika is particularly dangerous for pregnant women and for those planning to get pregnant.
Zika produces congenital disabilities like microcephaly. Of course, babies with microcephaly might look cute, but this condition can significantly reduce their chances of growing into normal adults.
Zika is usually carried by mosquitos and can also be transmitted sexually. Brazil currently experiences an outbreak of Zika cases, which doesn’t make it a safe destination.
Many athletes and celebrities didn’t travel to Rio fearing they would end up infected.
9. The Initial Olympic Sports Apparel
The Ancient Greeks invented the Olympic Games as a way of praising the triumph of the human body (of the male body, to more accurate).
For one reason that defies logic, the athletes of the past competed naked and seasoned with olive oil. A display of hedonism, but some questions remain unanswered.
How comfortable was it? We now use olive oil for our salads and compete in fancy Nike, Adidas, or Puma outfits. Are we doing things wrong?
Do we upset the gods by not showing our naked bodies during the Olympic Games?
10. First Olympics On US Soil
The 1904 Summer Olympics, held in St. Louis, Missouri was the third edition of the modern era games and the first to reach American soil. The US being on the verge of affirming itself as a world superpower.
However, racism was a prized possession, and the Olympics features the so-called “Anthropology Days.” Savage and primitive people from all over the world were brought to compete, with only one purpose in mind – display their inferiority and their inability to behave according to the rules created by the modern man.
The exotic individuals were kept in something similar to a zoo and paid to entertain the public. We are happy to say that those embarrassing days are over and that we finally learned to live with each other.
11. Winner Without Knowing
We talked earlier about how women were not allowed to compete in most Olympic events. Well, golf was seen so poorly and so un-masculine, that they had no problem in admitting skirt users.
The 1900 Olympic Games in Paris was a fiasco regarding the organization. Take this unbelievable story.
Margaret Abbott was an American woman traveling throughout Europe to complete her education with extracurricular activities. For her, the Olympic golf tournament was just another opportunity to spend time in the company of interesting people.
She competed alongside her mother and even won first prize, but without acknowledging the scale of her triumph. Everything was brought to the surface when Abbott’s family was contacted by the Olympic Games committed in 1996.
A clear sign that the Olympics were not such a big deal in their first editions.
13. The “Most Pregnant” Woman to Compete
We are sure there is no official statistics covering this topic.
However, we were able to conduct a small research and present to you what we found. Malaysian air rifle shooter Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi was eight months pregnant when she took part in the 2012 London Olympics.
Taibi finished 34th out of 56, which is not pretty bad. Just consider the toddler kicking and probably ruined the accuracy of her shots.
We are more surprised by the fact that there is no clear rule preventing pregnant women from taking part in the Games. Accidents do happen from time to time.
Is it cheating if a pregnant woman wins a medal? Should it be considered a team effort?
14. Abandoned Olympic Venues
One of the biggest problems with organizing the Olympic Games in new locations is that the local authorities need to reserve a consistent budget for infrastructure.
Large venues appeared in areas where no major sports event will ever take place afterward.
It happened in Greece in 2004, and it will probably happen again in Rio. Countries often end up in economic difficulties because they pushed to get ready in time and meet all the requirements.
Brazil is probably the best example where the Olympic Games had to overcome social, economic, and political problems.
The term “White Elephants” is often used to describe multi-million venues and facilities that serve no purpose once the Olympics are over.