The Spirit of the Olympics

Every four years, the world comes together to compete in the most celebrated and respected sporting event in the world, the Olympic Games - a tradition dating back to 776 BC. The Olympic Games first originated in Ancient Greece as part of a religious festival to honour the god Zeus. Every four years, people from all around Greece traveled to Olympia to experience the richest competitive game in antiquity. Join us as we look back at the spirit of the game with selections from the Bridgeman Images archive from around the world.

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Although the Olympic Games died when the Greek empire fell, the games were revived again in 1896 in, of course, Athens. That year, the games featured 280 male participants from 13 different countries, competing in 43 different sports. Due to its popularity during the late 19th century, the games evolved into a sophisticated business that honours the most dedicated athletes in our time.

A cartoon commenting on the revival of interest in Ancient Greece which culminated in the first modern Olympiad in 1896, 19th century / Universal History Archive / UIG / Bridgeman Images

There’s something about competition that as a society, we are so passionate about. The feeling of winning gives us an inexplicable amount of adrenaline and pride. Pride for ourselves, but also a sort of national pride, knowing that our win represents a win for our home country. The first competition in the Olympic Games isn’t a sport, yet the decision on where the games are going to be held.

Italian Football Supporters, Rose Bowl stand crowded with US supporters, during the match Italy-USA at the Los Angeles Olympic Games. Pasadena (USA), July 31, 1984. / Mondadori Portfolio / Nino Leto / Bridgeman Images

Seven years before the next games, countries in every continent make bids to the International Olympics Committee, and those with the higher bids undergo a ten month investigation to determine whether they are equipped to host the games. The country with the leading infrastructure, resources, transportation, and most importantly that with the most space, is most likely to be chosen as the host. The country that then gets chosen to host the Olympics, has already won the first game. The world turns their eyes on that country, as it proves that it is the most suitably equipped to host the biggest sporting event in the world.

1984 Olympic Games Opening ceremony, 1984 (photo) / Mondadori Portfolio / Nino Leto / Bridgeman Images

Throughout history, we have countlessly documented the symbolism of the Olympic Games and captured historical moments where athletes have proven their strengths and abilities in a range of sports. In 1920, the official white flag with five coloured rings on it, flew for the first time in Antwerp.

Olympic Games, London, 1948 (colour litho) / Photo © Christie's Images / Bridgeman Images

This flag, and specifically the rings, have become the prominent symbol of the Olympics. Each ring represents each continent in the world, while the colours (blue, yellow, black, green and red) appear on the flags of the continents represented, creating a symbol of a unified world through sports. Another important symbol during the Olympics, is the olympic flame, which is lit at the ancient site of Olympia, and then transported to the country where the Olympics are to be held and kept lit until the closing ceremony. The flame follows the tradition of Ancient Greece and it is meant to symbolise the continuity between antiquity and modernity.

Olympic Flame, Australia, 1956 © Museum of New Zealand te Papa Tongarewa / Bridgeman Images

There have been many historical moments in the Olympics. Photos of the first 22 women who participated in the 1900 Olympic Games in Paris, photos of Muhammad Ali winning the gold medal in 1960, or photos of Jesse Owens taking home four gold medals and three world records. These moments, together with all the other historical moments in the Olympics, will go down in history and will continuously prove the limits our bodies can overcome if we work hard.

Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) with other members of the U.S. boxing team with their Gold Medals at the 1960 Olympic Games / Everett Collection / Bridgeman Images

This year, the Olympic Games are being held in Tokyo, Japan. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic there are controversies on whether the games should be postponed. Japan is currently suffering a devastating outbreak of cases, and many have taken their concerns about the game to the streets of Japan, protesting the games to be stopped. The Japanese government is still going forward with the schedule, yet suffering a shortage of staff, as just a month before the games, 10,000 volunteers have quit their positions for fear of being infected with the virus. Japan is expecting many tourists to fly from all over the world to attend the games, however this is the first time, the games will experience a huge lack of national support and pride to be hosting the games.

Tokyo 2020 - Building / Photo © Olivier Martin Gambier / Artedia / Bridgeman Images

This year, the Olympic Games are being held in Tokyo, Japan. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic there are controversies on whether the games should be postponed. Japan is currently suffering a devastating outbreak of cases, and many have taken their concerns about the game to the streets of Japan, protesting the games to be stopped.

Tokyo 2020 - City / Photo © Olivier Martin Gambier / Artedia / Bridgeman Images

The Japanese government is still going forward with the schedule, yet suffering a shortage of staff, as just a month before the games, 10,000 volunteers have quit their positions for fear of being infected with the virus. Japan is expecting many tourists to fly from all over the world to attend the games, however this is the first time, the games will experience a huge lack of national support and pride to be hosting the games.

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