The Olympic Games remain the world’s biggest international sporting event since their origin in Olympia in ancient Greece in the 8th century BC. The long history of these games shows that they gained popularity exponentially since their revival in the truly modern form at the end of the 19th century, starting afresh in Athens.
The Olympic Games were divided into the Summer and Winter Olympics, though the truly popular and exciting event has always been the Summer Olympic Games, held once every four years. Against the few hundreds athletes from a few countries of the world participating in the early Olympic Games, thousands of sportsmen-both men and women- from over 200 countries compete today in the Olympic Games.
The history of the Olympic Games dates back to the 8th century BC when these games were first played in Olympia in the ancient Greece. Different legends attribute their origin to different stories and events, which are mostly of mythical nature. These events were held once every four years (as is the custom today) while the first year in which they began is calculated to be 776 BC (in summer time). Historians tell that in those ancient Olympics, only young were allowed to participate, usually naked, in various athletic events. In the 5th and 6th centuries BC, ancient Olympics were at their climax. They were not only enjoyed as a source of recreation but were regarded as important from a religious viewpoint, seen as adjunct to sacrifices and other rituals for honoring Greek gods.
The Ancient Olympics were celebrated in Greece for about a thousand years. As Rome rose to power and Roman influence replaced Greek power, the Olympic Games lost much of their importance. Then Christianity stepped to official rule in the Roman Empire and the Olympics were seen as unethical according to the Christian moral code; and finally, in 393 AD, this mega sporting event was officially banned.
The Olympic Games were revived in the early 17th century England in Cotswolds as a local sports event. They were played on annual basis for several years and later, in the mid 18th century, Shropshire (West Midlands of England) started these games by the name of Olympian Class, later renamed as the Wenlock Olympian Games. In 1859, an affluent businessman and philanthropist from Greece, Evangelos Zappas, personally sponsored the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1859.
This sporting event was a revival of the centuries old tradition of Olympic Games. Adding to the enthusiasm of this revival was the discovery of the remains of the ancient Olympia, whence the games had originated, by German archaeologists at around the same time.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was founded in 1894 by Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin and Demetrius Vikelas to organize the first modern International Summer Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. Following this revival of the international Olympic Games, Paris (France) hosted the next Summer Olympics, allowing for the first time women athletes to compete in the games. Since then, the popularity of the Summer Olympic Games has seen an immense increase across the globe. In 1896, less than 250 athletes from 14 countries participated in the Olympics while the number of athletes taking part in the 2004 Summer Olympics (also held in Athens) was more than 11 thousand, coming from some 200 countries around the world.
The Winter Olympic Games, also held every four years since, are less popular and the number of participants in them has always been significantly low as compared to the more popular Summer Olympics.