Laurels and Hardy

Sidey’s Weekend Theme is “Competition”.


The first ever Olympic games took place in 776 BC. As little else is known about them, sit back and prepare to have your classical education expanded.

The games were held only between the City-states of Ancient Greece, which included (researched-bit coming up) Athens, Sparta, Rhodes, Croton, Elis, Megara, Thasos and Troy. At least therefore the opening ceremony was mercifully short.

Hang on, Troy? The city was not, of course, part of Greece, but the Trojans were allowed to enter for two reasons – firstly, the Greeks felt a bit guilty about the stunt they had pulled with the horse, and secondly the lovely Helen of Troy had announced that she wanted to enter the gymnastics, and every man in Greece wanted to see her do a triple somersault.

Because, of course, the early games were held in the nude. This explains why wrestling was not included, since no-one felt comfortable about rolling about naked with another man, at least not in front of spectators.

It also explains why Women’s Beach Volleyball was included, and why a huge, mostly female crowd turned up for the men’s 100 metres, apparently because of something called the Linfordchristides factor.

That first 100 metres was won by Usainboltus in a time of nine-and-a-bit thessalonikas. You must remember that there were no clocks back then, so the race was timed by a man counting one, thessalonika, two, thessalonika, three and so on. A sundial was used to time the longer races such as the 10,000 metres. This race was dominated by three Kenyans called Altius, Citius and Fortius who turned up from nowhere, ran the rest of the field ragged for 9,500 metres and then raced each other home in a sprint finish that saw all three of them overtake Usainboltus on the way.

image via

Field events featured the shot-put (throwing a rock), the discus (throwing a flat rock) and the hammer (throwing a rock tied to a piece of string). These events were included because, as can be seen from the photo, rocks were in plentiful supply in Olympia.

A suggestion that golf be included as an Olympic sport was rightly laughed off as ludicrous.

An event to find the best all-rounder was included. Entrants were to compete in dressage, caber-tossing, bungee jumping, synchronised-swimming, that thing where you dance run around with the piece of ribbon, and bobsleigh. The last one was left out at the last minute, not because Greece has no snow, but because they were then left with five sports which they could call the Pentathlon, whereas no-one knew the word for a six-sport equivalent.

I am afraid that I have to report that drug-cheats were around even then. One sprinter went to local pharmacist Apothecarius and asked him for a drug that would “make him go like the clappers”. Misunderstanding his meaning, Apothecarius gave him Senokot. The athlete was called Diarrhoea, and his name has since become a by-word for running, though not in the way he had intended.

Media interest was high for the games, though with no telephones around a journalist had to run the 26 miles to the BBC (Broadcasting Before Christ) headquarters in Marathon to file his report. He promptly dropped dead (they wouldn’t pay him mileage expenses) and this tragedy is of course commemorated by the Marathon bar, official snack to the Olympic Games ever since.

At the Closing Ceremony Olympic Council President Barondecoubertinides passed the Olympic torch from host city Olympia to the incoming host city, er, Olympia, and then, as is traditional, called upon “the youth of the world to assemble in four years time in 772 BC to celebrate the II Olympiad” (Roman numerals don’t look very impressive when it’s a low number).

And how did he know how many years BC the date was? Dunno, it’s all Greek to me.


6 thoughts on “Laurels and Hardy

  1. Elaine

    Well, that was an education – and a good smile. How lovely to see a photo of a Marathon – I still think they should have kept that name and not bowed to the Americans and changed the name to Snickers.


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