The Greeks invented athletic contests and held them in honour of their gods. The Isthmos game were staged every two years at the Isthmos of Corinth. The Pythian games took place every four years near Delphi. The most famous games held at Olympia, South- West of Greece, which took place every four years. The ancient Olympics seem to have begun in the early 700 BC, in honour of Zeus. No women were allowed to watch the games and only Greek nationals could participate. One of the ancient wonders was a statue of Zeus at Olympia, made of gold and ivory by a Greek sculptor Pheidias. This was placed inside a Temple, although it was a towering 42 feet high.
The games at Olympia were greatly expanded from a one-day festival of athletics and wrestling to, in 472 BC, five days with many events. The order of the events is not precisely known, but the first day of the festival was devoted to sacrifices. On the Middle Day of the festival 100 oxen were sacrificed in honor of a God. Athletes also often prayed and made small sacrifices themselves..
On the second day, the foot-race, the main event of the games, took place in the stadium, an oblong area enclosed by sloping banks of earth.
At Olympia there were 4 different types of races; The first was stadion, the oldest event of the Games, where runners sprinted for 1 stade, the length of the stadium(192m). The other races were a 2-stade race (384 m.), and a long-distance run which ranged from 7 to 24 stades (1,344 m. to 4,608 m.).The fourth type of race involved runners wearing full amor, which was 2-4 stade race (384 m. to 768 m.), used to build up speed and stamina for military purposes.
On other days, wrestling, boxing, and the pancratium, a combination of the two, were held. In wrestling, the aim was to throw the opponent to the ground three times, on either his hip, back or shoulder. In ancient Greek wrestling biting and genital holds were illegal.
Boxing became more and more brutal; at first the pugilists wound straps of soft leather over their fingers as a means of deadening the blows, but in later times hard leather, sometimes weighted with metal, was used. In the pancratium, the most rigorous of the sports, the contest continued until one or the other of the participants acknowledged defeat.
Horse-racing, in which each entrant owned his horse, was confined to the wealthy but was nevertheless a popular attraction. The course was 6 laps of the track, with separate races for whereupon the rider would have no stirrups. It was only wealthy people that could pay for such training, equipment, and feed of both the rider and the horses. So whichever horse won it was not the rider who was awarded the Olive wreath but the owner. There were also Chariot races, that consisted of both 2-horse and 4-horse chariot races, with separate races for chariots drawn by foals. There was also a race was between carts drawn by a team of 2 mules, which was 12 laps of the stadium track.
After the horse-racing came the pentathlon, a series of five events: sprinting, long-jumping, javelin-hurling, discus-throwing, and wrestling.
The ancient Greeks considered the rhythm and precision of an athlete throwing the discus as important as his strength.
The discus was a circle shaped stone, iron, bronze, or lead. There were different sizes according to age groups. The javelin was a long wooden stick shape with spear head, similar height to that of a person. In the middle was bound a thong for a hurler's fingers to grip and guide to the correct angle it was thrown.
To Jump long distances athletes used lead or stone weights to increase the length of the jump. These weights were known as 'halteres' were held in front of the athlete during his ascent, and then swung behind his back and dropped during his descent to help propel him.
Olympics Through Time the history of the Olympic Games from the time when athletic contests were held during religious ceremonies until the First International Olympic Games in 1896
Little has changed about the design of Horse racing tracks from ancient Greece to modern times.