Sunday 30 October, 11.45am until 1.15pm, Café
The Olympic Games are known as the greatest show on earth. They provide a two-week spectacle of sport and much more besides. The modern Olympic Games are seen as an occasion when the whole world can come together and overcome division. They also act as a showcase for the host city and nation, as well as for athletic prowess from competitors of all nations, and often record-breaking performances.
The modern Olympics take their inspiration from the Ancient Greek Games which began at Olympia in the 8th century BC. On the surface there are many similarities between ancient and modern games. Some of the original events still survive, the Games were and still are a great spectacle and great status is attached to victory. But can we seriously compare the spirit of the games in Ancient Greece and the games today? Is there an enduring idea of human physical and sporting excellence that has lasted through the ages? Or in comparing ancient and modern are we in danger of a self-flattering historical amnesia? Why, if the Olympic spirit is so strong, did it take a French aristocrat, Pierre de Coubertin, to revive the games in 1896 after a gap of 1500 years.
It often seems that the Olympic ideal of sporting excellence and international harmony is overshadowed by politics and scandal. From Hitler’s Berlin Olympics in 1936 to the Ben Johnson drug scandal in 1988, the headlines are often of the wrong kind. Even the first modern Olympiad in 1896 became a focus for Greek nationalist revival. Many argue the modern Games are in reality a circus for political and commercial interests. Is the true Olympic spirit in danger of being overshadowed? Or is the Olympic spirit really just a myth?
writer, broadcaster and teacher; author, The Ball is Round: a global history of football and How to Watch the Olympics; regular writer, Prospect magazine
editor-at-large, spiked; author, There Is No Such Thing As A Free Press ...and we need one more than ever
cultural historian; author, The First London Olympics, 1908; Royal Literary Fund Fellow
columnist, Independent titles; advisor to Evgeny Lebedev; author, Twirlymen: the unlikely history of cricket’s greatest spin doctors
|Hans van Wees|
Grote Professor of Ancient History, Department of History, University College London
director, membership and events, Institute of Ideas; convenor, IoI Book Club; IoI’s resident expert in all sporting matters
All three books succeed in destroying comprehensively the illusion that the early games of the modern Olympic movement reflected an age of innocence in which the four horsemen of the athletic apocalypse, corruption, professionalism, nationalism and doping, had not yet impaired Baron de Coubertin’s vision of a revival of the ethos of ancient Greece.Michael Beloff, Spectator, 26 July 2011
World's media flock to Much Wenlock in Shropshire to witness the event that inspired a global phenomenon, writes Simon TurnbullSimon Turnbull, Independent, 11 July 2011
Today's Olympic Games are based on what took place at Olympia, in Greece, nearly three millennia ago. What were the ancient Olympics like, and how different were they from those of modern times?Dr Stephen Instone, BBC History, 18 February 2011
In the summer that saw the first successful flight of the Zeppelin, a 140 acre site of scrubland in West London was transformed into the White City, which housed the 1908 Franco British Exhibition ? and a state-of-the-art stadium built to house the first London Olympics. The Olympics were organised by volunteers in just 18 months and at a fraction of the cost of the modern Olympics and yet, just as today, the sport was overshadowed by doping scandals and caused international uproar.
Rebecca Jenkins, Piatkus Books, 26 June 2008
A range of articles looking at the history of the Games - from the Ancient Games to modern timesOlympist
What have the ancient Greeks done for us lately?
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