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Why Did the Ancient Greeks Start the Olympics?

author image Michael Gauthier
Michael Gauthier started writing professionally for LIVESTRONG.COM in 2011. As an owner/operator of two Parisi Speed Schools, he trains athletes of all ages to increase speed, strength, endurance and agility. Gauthier is a certified personal trainer with the Cooper Institute and holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in marketing from Lamar University.
Why Did the Ancient Greeks Start the Olympics?
An ancient temple in Athens. Photo Credit pavlemarjanovic/iStock/Getty Images

The Olympics, the most famed sporting competition series on earth, bring the world's best athletes to one stage to compete for their countries. The events and the reasons for the Olympics are much different now than when the ancient Greek Olympics were first recorded in 776 B.C. at Mount Olympia in Greece.


Several myths tell why the ancient Greeks started hosting an athletic competition of this magnitude. One tale says King Oinomaos of Pisa would only allow a man who could beat him in a chariot race marry his daughter Hippodamia, but if the challenger lost, he would be beheaded. Prince Pelops wished to marry Hippodamia and crafted a plan to beat Oinomaos. Pelops won the race and Oinomaos died in the process. Pelops married Hippodamia and founded the Olympics to commemorate his victory. Another myth involves Hercules attacking the city of Elis and founding the Olympics in honor of his father, Zeus.

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The Facts

Historians have discovered that the ancient Olympics were a combination of sporting event and religious festival, and only Greek males were allowed to compete. Each Olympic Games started with a sacrifice and an oath to Zeus by the athletes to swear fair competition. During the first Olympic Games, the only event was the stadion foot race, which mythology states was measured by Hercules and was approximately 190 meters long. It was not until the 14th Olympiad that a new event was introduced, a double stadion race. Even during wartime, Greek athletes were allowed safe passage to the Olympics to compete. The Ancient Olympic Games were held once every four years for 1,170 years, until Christian Byzantine Emperor Theodosius prohibited the competition.


The victors of the Olympics received an olive branch wreath as a prize and were regarded as heroes. No material gain was awarded to the athletes. Some had statues and poems crafted in their honor, and the honor of their communities. Greeks were a competitive people who believed passionately in "agon," or competition, and being regarded as the greatest through the competition.

More than a Game

The prideful Greeks started the Olympics because of their belief in the glory of competition and to honor the gods with their ability. The Olympics were much more than a game, they gave competitors a chance at immortality. Competitors were seen as heroes who, in their victories, received something greater than money or prizes -- honor. The Ancient Greek Olympics merged two things that the Greeks held sacred, religion and the desire for greatness.

Stadion Workout

The ancient Greek stadion race was the foundation of the ancient Olympics. Today's equivalent in track is the 200-meter dash. Next time you go out for a jog, head to a local track instead, and sprint like the Greeks with this Olympics-inspired workout. Start by running a 200-meter dash at 100 percent effort, rest for five minutes and repeat another 200-meter sprint. After the second 200, rest for five minutes and then jog for 400 meters, a double stadion. Upon completion, immediately run another 200 meters with 100 percent effort. Rest for another five minutes and run your last 200-meter sprint at maximum effort. Rest for five minutes again, and jog 400 meters for your second and final double stadion. Use this workout for conditioning; you'll sprint/jog a total of one mile.

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