Ancient Olympic Games: Better In The Buff
The oldest recorded Olympics was in 776 BC. That makes the Olympics older than Betty White…which is no small feat.
When it first started there was only one race: a foot race, and it was run while wearing only the finest of birthday suits.
There are several theories as to why the Olympics started: to honor a myth about Zeus fighting his father Kronos over control of the world, as a tribute to the gods in front of their temples at Olympia, or simply because guys like running—and it's hot in Greece, so why not do it naked?
For whatever reason they kicked off in the first place, it's clear that the Games represented an outgrowth of the values and beliefs of ancient Greek society. They idealized physical fitness and mental discipline: what better way to celebrate those ideals than a big ol' sports match?
Over the years the Greeks added more events like the hoplitodrome, a footrace in which the athletes ran wearing full armor (sweaty), and the pentathlon, which was an event that included jumping, javelin, sprint, discus, and wrestling.
Eventually, the games encompassed most of the Roman Empire, and served as a peaceful influence over all of the war-inclined city-states.
This continued until Theodosius I, the Christian Roman Emperor, declared the Olympic Games a pagan festival and ordered them stopped in the year A.D. 394. What a killjoy.
Modern Olympic Games: Not Performed Nude
The Olympics as we know them started in 1892, when Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a young, rich, French guy dedicated to the promotion of physical education, proposed the idea of reviving the ancient Olympics as an international athletic competition to be held every four years.
The Union des Sports Athlétiques approved of this idea, and in 1894, de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee, or the IOC.
Since its re-conception, the Olympics have undergone numerous changes. Women are allowed to compete, for one, which is a nice change from the pre-1900 Games. (Although nothing's perfect: women were only allowed to compete in the ski-jumping competition as recently as the Sochi Games in 2014, because before then people believed if they did it their uteruses would fall out.) (Source)
Black athletes fought their way towards fair recognition as well. The first Black athlete to ever compete in the Olympics was Constantin Henriquez de Zubiera, who played rugby for France in the 1900 Games. Although societal prejudices stopped many Black athletes from competing in large numbers, the 1960 Games saw a reversal of that trend, when the American teams had a large number of African Americans just totally demolish the rest of the world in the majority of track sports.
The other main thing that has changed in terms of who is allowed to compete was the requirement that all Olympic participants be of amateur status. As the book Rome: 1960 loves to remind us, up until those Games there were strict guidelines that athletes not have any monetary reimbursement for being an athlete.
These rules took on many forms—many of them completely ridiculous. One Olympian, Lee Calhoun, had been banned from competition for a year because he and his wife had accepted gifts for being married on the television show Bride and Groom (Rome: 1960). If you can figure out how that makes him a professional athlete, you just let us know.
Regardless, the Olympics today are a global event, with countries across the world competing in hundreds of different sporting events. They represent peaceful cooperation amongst nations, and uphold a standard of sportsmanship that's unrivaled elsewhere. They're a quadrennial celebration of the human body and all of the amazing things it can accomplish.
So they haven't really changed from the ones the Ancient Greeks threw. They're just bigger, and, you know, not naked.