Sunday, August 7, 2016

back at the games with Crow

On his way home from visiting his condor clan buddies in the Andes Crow stopped off to see how preparations were coming along for the Summer Olympic Games in Rio. Wishing all those people well, let’s just leave them to their events while I tell you a couple of the stories he’s shared with me about the Games that began in Ancient Greece more than 2700 years ago and were performed every four years for a millenium. The contemporary ones began in 1896.

One thing Crow insisted I understand is that Ancient Greece was considerably larger and more influential than the country as you know it today. Here’s a map so you can see just how much territory it covered. You’ll notice there are lots of cities, or city states as they were known then, nearly a thousand of them besides the ones whose names are familiar like Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Thebes, Syracuse, Aegina, Rhodes, Argos, Eretria, and Elis. Whereas the biggest was Sparta, Athens, Rhodes and Syracuse possessed large naval fleets which also allowed them to control wide areas of territory across the Aegean. People being not too different from what they are now the city states of Greece were often at war, a situation that made travel between them dangerous.

The Games were held in honour of Zeus, king of the gods, and were staged every four years at Olympia, a valley near a city called Elis. People from all over the Greek world came to watch and take part. As a religious festival the Games were more important than war so a ’sacred truce’ was enacted three months before the Games so the athletes and tens of thousands of fans could travel safely. Olympia was a pretty cool place with training facilities, pools and all the necessities to make the athletes ready:

 It is all hilly and shaded, and has many springs...The city is well provided with public buildings, gymnasia, stoas, temples, theatres, pictures, statues, and an agora which is excellently situated for all trading purposes.
 ~ 3rd century BCE description

But so much for history - you probably know all about it anyway. What was more fun for me was hearing Crow’s stories, a couple of which I’ll share with you. There are hundreds of events staged at the modern Summer Olympics but back then, and for the first fifty years or so, there was only one - a race from one end of the stadium to the other. Then everybody would pack up their tents and go home. Eventually, once the organizers came to understand it might be more amusing for everyone if the Games lasted a bit longer, more events were added to make four days of competitions. They included wrestling, boxing, long jump, throwing the javelin and discus, and chariot racing (no horse races because saddles hadn’t been invented yet).

Competing in the nude became the rule after a young wrestler whipped off his loin cloth before a match so he had more flexibility. This was before spandex was invented. A version of wrestling, the pankration, was probably the nastiest event because there were almost no rules. While biting and eye gouging was officially banned the decree wasn’t always enforced. I’m not even going to mention the fighter who won a match by breaking his opponents fingers at the beginning of the match. oops.. However, cheating was punished. Anyone caught cheating, trying to bribe an athlete for instance, was likely to be flogged and had to pay for a bronze statue of Zeus, as a punishment. There were many statues of Zeus at Olympia.

Women were not permitted to participate in or watch the events although young girls were allowed in the crowd, the sole exception to this rule was the priestess of Demeter who had a special viewing platform.

One of Crow’s favorite stories is about the woman who broke the rule against women at the Games (although I’m sure there were many cooking dinners back at the tents). Anyway, a lady named Mrs. Kallipateira was the racing trainer for her son Peisirodos, Pez and, naturally enough, wanted to see him perform. When he won his race Mrs. Kallipateira’s experienced a fashion emergency of such severity (prompted by all her jumping up and down) that made it apparent to all that she was indeed an adult female. In order to avoid such an occurrence in the future rules were established that all trainers also had to be naked.

Yes, we enjoyed more than one snifter of Remy as Crow reminisced about the past and offered his suggestions for the future. In 2004, the Summer Games were held in Athens, close enough to make us think fondly about returning them to Greece, if they are to continue at all. So far that hasn’t happened, the Games moved on at the direction of all of those who profit from the bribes and chicanery that goes along with membership in the I.O.C.

We found it very interesting to learn that a number of cities have cancelled their bids to host the next Winter Games:
Oslo because there was so little public support for it.
Stockholm withdrew for similar reasons.
Krakow after a referendum found almost 70% of residents opposed the bid..
Along with Munich, Davos, Barcelona and Quebec City.
Leaving them with two potential hosts: Almaty, in the dictatorship of Kazakhstan, and the other was Beijing. Beijing won.

The same thing seems to be happening with the Summer Games:
In 2015 Boston withdrew its bid for the 2024 Summer Games because of low public support.
Hamburg pulled out after the local government lost another referendum.
Toronto’s mooted bid was scrapped.
The four candidate cities left are Rome, Budapest, Los Angeles and Paris - and Italy and Hungary are dubious.

We shall see, or should I say we’ll wait upon Events? Best wishes to all the Athletes in competition now and in the future. The Summer Games began with one competition and few contenders, now there are about three hundred events and nearly thirteen thousand challengers. They could use a permanent home.


* The picture at the top was made when Crow attended the hero’s welcome of an Olympic winner on his return home.


Halle said...

Let's hope the organizers take this year's experience to heart and realize that moving from place to place puts a huge burden on the average person to glorify a few. Much better to gather in the same location every four years; hopefully somewhere neutral and spiritually meaningful as Olympia was. A sacred truce also sounds wonderful, but perhaps just a bit too idealistic for 'modern times'.

Should Fish More said...

As is my wont, I'll write about something that only tangentially deals with the Olympics, or the obvious climate and economic problems of South American, and how much the US bears to blame for this. Ahem....

On a flight from LAX to Palm Springs some years ago I say near a guy my age, wearing a old team-type coat, leather sleeves, etc. On the back was an embroider of the famous picture from the '68 Olympics in Mexico City, the three black US sprinters, holding up black gloved hands.
We got off, were both waiting for rides, small airport....I approached him and asked if he was John Carlos. He nodded, looking neutrally at me. I held out my hand...."It's an honor, sir."
We talked for maybe 10 minutes, he was coaching for the local high school track team.

A brush with greatness, I imagine Crow has had many more.

Ask him about Ed Hamm in I think the '32 Olympics.

susan said...

I agree with you that making the home of the Olympics Athens, or some place in Greece, for perpetuity would be a great benefit for many reasons. Participating countries would support the Olympics financially. It would have the advantage of bringing some prosperity to Greece and not cripple a different country every 4 years.

Yes, we coould really use a sacred truce too. The current round of saber rattling is very scary.

susan said...

That was a very auspicious meeting, wasn't it? How cool.

Crow isn't here right now to ask but I'm guessing he may have known Ed Hamm. Was he someone you fished with in Oregon?

Ol'Buzzard said...

Your pictures with crow are always a pleasure to view as his destinations are so interesting.
the Ol'Buzzard

L'Adelaide said...

how interesting... i love your story of the mother who got so excited she dropped her skirts.... if they played all those dumb games today in the nude do you suppose they would still be playing? doubtful and given how many countries simply don't want/need these stupidly expensive games in their space is quite understandable. i did find it rather weird, nothing short, of the male gymnast who broke TWO of his leg bones??? just to stick a landing? things are a little out of whack in my humble opinion. certainly the doping continues... clearly.

as always, crow's stories are so good... and informative! xox

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan,
A very comprehensive and well reached post on the Olympics, complemented by great pictures.But the Olympics for the Boss Nova Rio touted by politicians as a great thing with net economic benefits for all its citizens as a whole that’s going to be very difficult to achieve.
But as I watched their simple, far less extravagant opening ceremony than usual, a real sense of pride and honesty came across to me. That was evident in their love of dance and music coupled with a concern for their environment and rain forests. Maybe if the Olympics goes well for them it might add some much needed positivism- at least I hope that is the case. I think the prospects for the country as a whole (so badly beaten up in the news) may well surprise with some better times ahead.

Best wishes

susan said...

It's always good to know we provided you with a little entertainment, OB. Many thanks for the compliment.

susan said...

I thought that was a very funny story too, Linda. Im guessing along with you that the Games played in the nude today is unlikely but hardly necessary either considering just how many silly events have been added. Air rifles? Why not tiddlywinks or paddleboards? I'd add hula-hooping if I didn't think that might already be an event.

Yeah, from what I've read doping is still rampant with the major difference now being extra drugs to cover the effects.

So glad you liked this and so happy to see you!

susan said...

Hi Lindsay,
It's always nice to see you've been by for a visit. Yes, I too hope the result of hosting the Olympics is good for the people and the country at large. Yet it is a faint hope after having seen the remains of other venues years afterwards and having read articles similar to this one. I can't help but remember years ago when Portland's city council at the time tried to get the residents to agree to build a Major League baseball stadium in hopes of attracting a team (the Montreal Expos were for sale at the time). It rains a lot in Portland, OR and the residents, when given the opportunity to vote, denied any support for the idea.

Better times are always determined by real popular support of big decisions.
Best wishes

Jono said...

I'm still enjoying thoughts of nudity, but long for the old days when there were more amateurs and less hype. I like the idea of permanently situating it somewhere like Greece. It could be a cornerstone of their economy and save a lot of misery for everyone else.

marja-leena said...

Very interesting and amazing that the Olympics have been going on for so long. If we keep this up, we really do need a permanent home for it and Greece should be the place.

With all the commercialism, drugs, and excesses, I have lost interest in the Olympics and many other sports events that are just big business including drugs. The pollution and poverty in Rio is not being helped at all despite promises. Think of the carbon footprint!

Sorry to sound so negative.... but on a very positive note, your art work always delights and inspires, dear Susan.

susan said...

Hi Jono, Nice to see you again. I also agree with you about the hype and the loss of focus on amateur athletes. Nowadays the winners are the corporates and the politicians and only elite athletes.

It's no longer much about sport, but about business and money.

Nudity is always fun to think about - unless, of course, it's the average board member of the IOC.

susan said...

Hi Marja-Leena :) It was the Ancient Olympics that continued for a thousand years while the modern version has lasted a hundred and twenty so far. The way things are going they may not last much longer from what I've been able to deduce.

Of course you're right about the drugs, commercialism, and excesses. It's shocking to understand nearly eighty thousand people were evicted from their homes so the venues could be built. It would be far preferable to see the billions invested used for permanent efficient public infrastructure. If Rio 2016 follows so many other after-Olympics results (Athens 2004, for instance) it won't be long before they're left with a crumbling, cracking, rubble-strewn ghost town.

I bet I'm more negative than you about all this, my friend :)

Delighted you liked my postcard picture of Crow.

okjimm said...

nice write. Reminds me of last week when I entered a contest with Basketball Joe and Baseball Ed. We competed in the 16 oz beer curl. I ended up with a hang over of Olympic porportions.

susan said...


Old Olympic swimmers never die - they just get washed up.

okjimm said...

ha, Indeed.

Andrew MacLaren-Scott said...

I view the moderm Olymics as an exhibition of unhealthy obsession, such as youngsters swimming, swimming, swimming, six hours a day every day just to swim the fastest. And running, running, running, etc... Unhealthy, and not a good example to anyone. Mad.

Andrew MacLaren-Scott said...

the "p" arrived last though :)

susan said...

I agree, Andrew, that it's become completely bonkers for many reasons. Not only are there real professional athletes in competition in a number of events but there are others who are financially supported by their governments. I've even heard of athletes (like runners) being recruited from poor countries with money and promises of citizenship. It's all about broadcast revenue these days and in the meantime ordinary people suffer homelessness and poverty.

Never mind the transient 'p'. It managed to cross the finish line.

Sean Jeating said...

"The picture at the top" is of olympic dimensions. Chapeau!
Reading your post, I once again wonder what was able to make me stop blogging about politics.
Thank you.
Oh, don't 'they' say sport has nothing to do with politics?

susan said...

A picture that suited Crow's memory of the time wasn't that easy to find, my friend. :)
Sometimes it seems as if everything has something to do with politics - or belief systems, at any rate.