CHARLOTTE, N.C., Aug. 3, 2016 – In honor of the upcoming Rio Olympics, we offer a Gold Medal edition of trivia with everything you ever wanted to know about the world’s largest sports competitions.
Most people know that athletes in the original Olympic Games competed in the nude. What most people do not know is that the word “gymnasium” is derived from the Greek word “gymnos,” which means “naked.”
Apparently the early Greeks did many things in the buff such as exercising and even attending parties called “sympsia.”
The sporting events were held to celebrate the male physique and to pay homage to the gods.
Prudish competitors were allowed to wear a “kynodesme,” a dog leash. A kynodesme was a thin leather thong that was used as a penis restraint. There were several other specifications for the garment but, for now, we’ll leave that to your own research.
Women were not allowed to compete or to attend the competitions as spectators. Not so in reverse, when females were finally able to exhibit their athletic prowess.
In ancient Greece, young girls were not encouraged to participate except for Spartan women. Spartans believed that athletic females would produce strong warriors.
Because of this, men were supposedly allowed to watch the naked females perform, using the rationale that it would encourage marriage and procreation.
Initially, the Olympic Games, which began in 776 BC, consisted of only one race, a sprint of roughly 210 yards. Why? Because that distance was the length of the stadium. Fifty years later the Olympic Game was pluralized when a second race of 437 yards (400 meters) was added.
More food for thought: The first Olympic winner was a baker named Koroibos from the Greek city state of Elis.
Only winners were awarded prizes, but not medals, in the early games. For his efforts the victorious athlete received an olive wreath crown.
Thanks to the tenacious efforts of French educator Baron Pierre de Coubertin, when the modern games were revived in 1896 in Athens the winners were actually awarded silver medals instead of gold. Gold replaced silver eight years later in St. Louis in 1904. Today the gold medals are made of sterling silver and layered with a thin coat of gold.
In the earliest days, there were actually four sports festivals, the Panhellenic Games. Each honored a different god with the Olympics being the most prestigious; the schedule alternated so there was a competition every year.
The Olympics held near Elis recognized Zeus, as did the Nemean Games close to Nemea. In the other years, the Pythian games just outside of Delphi celebrated Apollo, and the Isthmian Games near Corinth acknowledged Poseidon.
Speaking of women, the first modern games just before the turn of the 20th century featured a total of 311 men and no females. Contrast that with the 1996 games in Atlanta a century later, in which 3,543 women participated. As the saying goes, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”
Everyone always wants to know who the oldest and youngest athletes were to compete. Shooter Oscar Swahn from Sweden takes the honor of being the oldest. Swahn won his sixth Olympic medal in Antwerp in 1920 at the age of 72 years and 280 days.
At the age of 10 years, Greek gymnast Dimitrios Loundras in 1896 was the youngest competitor.
Speaking of gymnasts, many of us can still remember the first perfect score in gymnastics, which was recorded by Romania’s Nadia Comaneci at Montreal in 1976. She also won three gold medals.
A Russian gymnast takes the honor for amassing the most medals in history. Larissa Latynina participated in three Olympics between 1956 and 1964 and took home a total of nine gold, five silver and four bronze medals.
Want to guess which is the most frequently broken world record in men’s track and field? As of 2014, the pole vault has ratified 71 world records, set by only 33 men.
The first recognized mark was 13 feet, 2 ¼ inches set by American Marc Wright in 1912.
Today the overall record, which was set in 1994 by Russian vaulter Sergey Bubka of Ukraine, is a whopping 20 feet, 1.75 inches. Bubka, who broke the outdoor record 17 times and the indoor record 18 times, was also the first man ever to vault over 20 feet.
According to records, the Olympic Games is the largest broadcast event in the world, with coverage going out to 220 countries and more than 3.5 billion viewers.
And there you have it.
A pocketful of Olympic trivia to amaze your buddies the next time you head out to the “nakednasium.”
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Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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