The Olympics

Legendary Sports Events


By Matt Christopher

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Ask most Olympians how their story begins and they will answer, “When I was young, I always dreamed of going to the Olympics. . .” Some will then go on to tell of their great athletic triumphs. Others will recall agonizing near-misses. But for most, the very fact that they reached the Games at all was a dream come true. For the Olympic Games offer athletes something few others sporting events can: the chance to be recognized as the best in the world at a chosen sport.

With stories of great triumphs and great tragedies, the Olympics not only embodies the competitive human spirit, but also sets a stage stage for foreign relations and politics. Historical references combined with amazing sports stories give this book both an educational and exciting appeal.


Copyright © 2008 by Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Little, Brown and Company

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First eBook Edition: July 2008

ISBN: 978-0-316-03276-6


Imagine that you are posed on a gym mat in the middle of a huge stadium, waiting for the music that signals the start of your floor routine. Or perhaps you are atop a huge snow-covered slope, counting the seconds before you burst forth from the gate and slalom down the hill at breakneck speed. Or maybe you are crouched on the track, feet pressed against the starting blocks, hands steadying you in the final moments before the starting gun sets you free.

The eyes of thousands of spectators are on you. Television cameras from nations around the world train their lenses on you. Your heart is thumping. Adrenaline courses through you. Your body is a finely tuned machine, the epitome of fitness and the result of months, even years of training. Your mind is focused on one thing, and one thing only: giving the athletic performance of your life.

You are an Olympian, and this is your moment.

But you are not alone. Chances are, many people have worked very hard to get you to this moment.

Your parents have been there from the beginning. They saw something special in you — and helped you see it, too. They drove you to practices, meets, games, and competitions. They paid for your equipment, uniforms, classes, and training. They cheered the loudest when you succeeded, held your hand when you failed, urged you to be the best you could be.

Your teachers, coaches, trainers — all lent their knowledge and skills to help you hone the talent you were born with and lift you to ever greater heights. They prepared you for this, the most challenging moment of your life.

Your siblings and friends made sure you "kept it real." Even as you reached for the stars, they joked with you, played with you, and fought with you. They know you not just as a superior athlete, but as a person. No matter how you fare, they will be there for you.

But in the end, you are the one who got you to this moment. And as you ready yourself for the most important athletic contest of your life, you join the ranks of thousands of others who have taken part in the most honored and longest-lived sporting tradition in history: the Olympic Games.


776 BC–AD 1894

The Olympics Begin, End, and Begin Again

The Olympic Games were born in 776 BC in ancient Greece. Back then, Greece was divided into small kingdoms called city-states. These city-states were often at war with one another. Then, according to legend, the famous Oracle of Delphi told one king of a way to bring peace to the land — at least temporarily.

"Announce a race to honor Zeus, the king of the gods," the Oracle instructed him. "Open the race to all male athletes of Greece, and then declare a truce so that these athletes can travel to the contest in safety. This truce will foster peace."

Few people ever disobeyed the Oracle, and this king was no exception. He chose Olympia, a religious sanctuary dedicated to Zeus, as the location for the race. The Olympic Games take their name from this site.

The first Olympics consisted of a single race called the stade. The stade was a sprint of about 600 feet and was run barefoot on a dirt track. A cook named Koroibos won the race in 776 BC, becoming the first Olympic champion.

From then on, the Olympics were held every four years. As the Games grew in popularity, new events were added that tested speed, agility, and strength. By the fifth century BC, the Games were five days long.

Like today's athletes, the ancient Greek competitors worked with trainers for many months to hone their skills and increase their physical abilities. In July of an Olympic year, they traveled to Olympia to train for one final month under the watchful eyes of the ten Olympic judges.

The competitors were all male citizens of Greece. Few women were allowed near Olympia during the games, in part because the athletes trained and competed in the nude. Slaves and non-Greeks were not permitted to compete because they were not considered worthy of the honor.

Spectators arrived in August, just before the Games were to begin, transforming the area around Olympia into a colorful fairground. On Opening Day, the crowd hurried to watch the athletes march into Olympia's stadium. Then, before a statue of Zeus and the Olympic judges, the competitors solemnly swore that they had been training for ten months of that year and that they would obey the rules of the Games. That afternoon, boys ages twelve to eighteen ran, wrestled, and boxed for top honors, giving spectators a look at Greece's future Olympians.

The next morning everyone flocked to the hippodrome, a dirt oval track about three-quarters of a mile around, for the chariot races. At the sound of the trumpet, the charioteers whipped their horses to full speed for distances of two and a half miles to eight miles. It took great skill to avoid collisions, and many races featured at least one bloody crash that wounded or even killed horses and drivers.

Next up were horse races. Jockeys rode bareback, leaning forward to urge their steeds ever faster. The going was rough, for no one bothered to rake the dirt after the chariot races. Horses sometimes stumbled, taking their riders with them to the ground.

The afternoon was given over to the pentathlon, a five-part competition of discus, javelin, jumping, running, and wrestling.

A discus looks like a modern Frisbee — but is much larger and heavier! Some ancient discuses weighed as much as five and a half pounds. Experts disagree about whether ancient athletes whirled around before releasing the discus, as modern competitors do, or if they threw from a standing position. Either way, throwing one any distance required great strength.

The ancient javelin had a length of thong twisted about the shaft. The competitor wrapped the thong around two fingers, took a running start, and then hurled the spear overhand, releasing the thong as he did. The thin leather strap helped the javelin fly true.

After the javelin came the long jump. Historians aren't sure if a jumper got a running start or jumped from a standing position. Pictures on ancient pottery show some athletes swinging heavy hand weights while jumping — a difficult maneuver, according to modern jumpers who have tried to duplicate it.

If a single athlete won these first three events, he was declared the victor and the pentathlon ended. If not, the final two events, a stade sprint and a wrestling match, took place. The man who placed highest in all five events was the champion.

Three races took place on the third day: the long-distance dolichos (approximately two and a half to two and three-quarters miles); the diaulos, which was two lengths of the stadium; and the one-length stade. Many athletes competed in this last race, for the entire Games were named after its winner, a huge honor.


On Sale
Jul 15, 2008
Page Count
112 pages

Matt Christopher

About the Author

Matt Christopher is the best-selling name behind more than 100 sports-themed books for young readers.

Learn more about this author