Today, the Olympic Games are the world's largest pageant of athletic skill and competitive spirit. They are also displays of nationalism, commerce and politics. These two elements that make up the Olympic spirit are not modern inventions. The conflict between the Olympic movement's high ideals and the commercialism or political acts which accompany the Games has been noted since ancient times. According to the Atlanta Olympics organizers, 10,700 athletes from 197 countries will compete at the 1996 Summer Games, and over 2 million people will go to Atlanta to see them. The ancient Olympic Games, part of a major religious festival honoring Zeus, the chief Greek god, were the biggest event in their world. They were the scene of political rivalries between people from different parts of the Greek world, and the site of controversies, boasts, public announcements and humiliations. In this section you can explore the context of the Olympics and read stories about the participants and spectators who came to Olympia from all over the Greek world. The ancient Olympic Games began in the year 776 BC, when Koroibos, a cook from the nearby city of Elis, won the stadion race, a foot race 600 feet long.According to some literary traditions, this was the only athletic event of the games for the first 13 Olympic festivals or until 724 BC.Contrary evidence, both literary and archaeological, suggests that the games may have existed at Olympia much earlier than this date, perhaps as early as the 10th or 9th century BC.(museum.upenn.com).
Athletic training was a basic part of every Greek boy's education, and any boy who excelled in sport might set his sights on competing in the Olympics. The Olympic competition included preliminary matches or heats to select the best athletes for the final competition. .
Ancient writers tell the stories of athletes who worked at other jobs and did not spend all their time in training.