In honor of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics tonight, our post today comes from Olympic enthusiast and World Vision staff member Kristin McGunnigle, who is currently in London to watch the games.
When Kristin isn’t traveling with the World Vision Experience, you can find her watching a wide variety of sporting events and teams — her favorite being the Olympics. Read on to learn from Kristin five fun Olympic facts you might not know.
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I can still remember 1992, sitting on my parents’ bed, watching Kristi Yamaguchi as she gracefully twirled her way to Olympic gold. At just 5 years old, I was hooked, with dreams of one day donning my own gold medal.
Those dreams may never come to fruition (still crossing my fingers to make the USA curling team in 20 years), but every two years, I find myself enthralled by “the Games,” glued to the television set, cheering on Team USA like my life depends on it.
Over the course of many summers and winters I’ve gleaned a thing or two about my favorite global spectacle. Without further ado, here’s a little something to impress your friends while watching the Games of the XXX Olympiad: five things you probably didn’t know about the Olympic Games.
1. Gold medals were not awarded in the first modern Olympic Games.
Ironically, the most coveted emblem of the Olympic Games we know and love was omitted from the first modern Olympic Games, held in Athens, Greece, in the summer of 1896. Instead, victors were given the traditional olive wreath — the original prize for victors during the ancient Olympic Games — accompanied by a silver medal embellished with Zeus holding the Greek goddess Nike, the personification of victory.
Bronze medals and laurel wreaths were awarded to the runner-up. It was not until the 1904 games in St. Louis, Missouri, that the familiar gold, silver, and bronze medals were finally awarded subsequently to the top three athletes in each competition.
2. Gold, silver, and bronze are not the only medals an athlete can be awarded during the games.
The Pierre de Coubertin medal, named after the father of the modern Olympic Games, is a rare medal awarded by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to athletes who demonstrate the spirit of sportsmanship during the games. Only awarded 11 times since its inception in 1964, the medal is said to be one of the noblest honors bestowed on an Olympic athlete. Move over, gold medal!
3. The colors featured in the Olympic rings do not represent a specific continent.
I’ll admit — even as an educated Olympic enthusiast, I have made this mistake. Designed by Pierre de Coubertin on the top of a letter in 1913 following the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden, each physical ring represents a continent competing in the games.
According to the IOC, the rings are “interlaced to show the universality of Olympism and the meeting of the athletes of the world during the Olympic Games.” The blue, yellow, black, green, and red rings are presented on a white flag. Collectively, these six colors represent all nations – not one particular continent. In fact, at least one of these six colors is represented in every flag of participating nations.
4. The Olympic flame has traveled nearly 560,000 miles since the inception of the Olympic torch relay at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany.
Dating back to the ancient Olympiad, the Olympic flame remains one of the most iconic symbols of the Olympic Games. Several months before the games begin, the torch must be lit by the rays of the sun at the ancient site where the temple of Zeus’ wife, Hera, once stood.
Over the course of the next several months, the flame travels by relay across the world to the host country; and during the pinnacle of the opening ceremony, the Olympic cauldron is lit. It remains lit until the conclusion of the games. This year, the torch relay will cover over 8,000 miles before reaching London’s Olympic Stadium on July 27.
5. Nearly 60 percent of the world’s population is expected to watch the opening ceremony in London this year.
Wait, what?! 60 percent?! That’s 4 billion people around the world expected to enjoy this year’s opening ceremony!
To put it in perspective, only 700 million people watched the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final, and only 165 million watched this year’s Super Bowl. It’s an incredibly moving thought, and it’s what I love most about the Olympic Games.
For one moment, we will all be watching together to celebrate sport. Sport is a universal language that binds communities together, breaking down the barriers of race, social class, religion, and politics. It’s a beautiful thing to witness. Almost a small glimpse of the Kingdom.
When I was 5, I fell in love with the dream of Olympic gold. Now, the Olympics continue to captivate me, watching the world come together under the spirit of sportsmanship, despite history and intentional conflict, to cheer for, to cry with, and enjoy the lasting memories of the games together.
I look forward to watching with you and waiting for the next Kerri Strug moment, dream team, or “miracle.”
Do you have a special Olympic moment or a favorite event to watch? Leave a comment and share your story!
Photo courtesy of Vivien Boyes, Images of Elsewhere. Do not use without permission.