Athletics hold a great value to the tradition and culture of the Greek people. Since 776 BC, important athletic festivals have been held as part of the tradition in Olympia. According to tradition, the most important athletic competitions were inaugurated in 776 B.C. at Olympia in the Peloponnesos.
In the 6th century B.C, Panhellenic games were held among the Greek-speaking countries at Isthmia, Delphi, and Nemea. The Pythian Games at Delphi were organized to honour Apollo. It was not only a sports festival; singing and drama contests were also held. At Nemea and Olympia, athletic festivals were arranged in honour of Zeus.
At Ishmia, it was held for Poseidon. Those who won in these games were said to bring great honour to their families and towns. Statues were made to celebrate their success, and poems were also created.
The goal of the Greek athletics festivals was to compete and set records. It was a big test of endurance and power. The athletes used to compete in footraces, javelin throwing, long jump, boxing, and other games. They used to train very hard for the festivals. They believed that athletics distinguished them from the non-Greeks.
For the ancient Greeks, athletic ability represented discipline, capability, education, and status. From the Late Bronze Age, showing athletic ability was a part of the life of the royals and those of high rank in society.
The Minoan and Mycenaean wall paintings consisted of drawings of races, wrestling, and boxing. Athletic competitions were held as funeral games as well.
More people started visiting Olympia to observe the athletics festivals as they grew popular. Slowly these festivals become less religious and more about entertainment. These festivals attracted lots of visitors from around the world.
Through the Roman period, these athletic events became like sporting events. The marathon was not a part of the ancient Olympic games. It was only included in the Modern Olympic Games.
The ancient Greeks loved sports. They believed that a strong and healthy body is the most desirable thing in life. There were lots of public gymnasiums in Greece so that people could train themselves. Today the Olympic games are one of the most popular athletics events in the world.
Athletes from various countries come here to compete in different categories. Those who win medals in the Olympics are considered to be high achievers, and they have a lot of respect in society.
The Olympics and other athletic festivals still hold a lot of value to the Greeks, just like in ancient times. The only difference is that these festivals are considered sporting events and nothing religious.