Culture Street

By Sophia Whitfield

London will be the home of this year’s Olympic Games. Athletes have arrived and the eyes of the world will now be focused on the sporting prowess that will be demonstrated over the next few weeks in London.

The Olympic Games of today are a far cry from its founding roots. The Olympic Games were first held in 776 BC on the sacred site of Olympia in Greece. At the time athletics and gymnastics were considered the grounding training for warriors as individual combat still played a large part in warfare. In 776 BC the Games focus was as much about elite athletes as it was religious ceremonies. These ceremonies took up a substantial part of the five-day Games. Judges and athletes offered sacrifices and prayers as they worshipped formidable gods.

Back then it was the wroth of Zeus that spurred athletes on as they swore to Zeus that they would abide by the rules and play fair. Today, in a secular games, athletes fear the wroth of the media, the dissatisfaction of their sponsors and the disappointment of the public.

The modern Olympic Games still retain the pageantry and ceremony that marked the ancient Games, but there are no religious ceremonies marking the commencement of the Games. Instead we will be treated to a spectacle featuring the British countryside, which includes real farmyard animals. “Isles of Wonder” according to Artistic Director Danny Boyle “salutes and celebrates the exuberant creativity of the British genius in an Opening Ceremony that we hope will be as unpredictable and inventive as the British people.”

There will no doubt be a literary theme running through the ceremony. Shakespeare and Dickens, whose bicentennial is being celebrated this year across the UK, must surely feature, but for now details are still under wraps.

One aspect does stand firm and that is the competitive aspect of the Games. Every nation will be spurring on its top athletes in a bid to win Olympic gold.

The competitive nature of the Olympians can be traced back to Homer’s poems where noble warriors such as Achilles and Odysseus expressed their desire “always to be the first and to surpass all others”. There was no honour in second or third place, only in first place.

Winning and losing aside we have six spectacular weeks of viewing to look forward to. We will watch from our sofas as athletes, who have trained for years to reach their goal level of fitness, triumph. Hours spent at the gym, on the track or in the pool with one goal in sight – the 2012 London Olympics.

This week, at Culture Street, we will be celebrating literary London. For centuries London has inspired writers and writing. As we lead into a week where the eyes of the world will be focused on London, we invite you to sit back and enjoy our literary London series.

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