COMMENTARY 786.3: The Not-So-Noble History of the Olympics

You don’t have to be cynical to note that none of the modern Olympic Games have consistently lived up to the noble goals of their founder. There’s too much nationalism, commercialism, overemphasis on medal counts, and explosions of pure ego.

But before we despair about the imperfections of this grand effort to promote world peace and fair play, consider the legend of how the games began in 776 B.C.

The story is that a prince named Pelops sought the hand of the daughter of a king who was vain about his chariot-racing skill. The king challenged each one of his daughters’ suitors to a race, promising that anyone who beat him could marry his daughter and become heir to his kingdom.

But the stakes were high. If a suitor lost, he would be beheaded, and his head would decorate the palace. That’s a pressure our modern athletes don’t face.

According to the myth, Pelops secretly replaced the bronze linchpins on the king’s chariot with ones made of wax. During the race, the wax melted and the king was thrown to his death. Pelops married the princess and instituted the Olympic Games to celebrate his victory. Not exactly the example of sportsmanship envisioned in the Olympic Creed.

National pride and prestige were always part of the Games, however. The best athletes were heavily recruited and richly rewarded. Cheating and bribery were so common that statues of athletes caught rigging or fixing contests were erected (at the cost of the cheaters) on the roadway leading to the stadium to memorialize their shame.

I wonder if we should consider doing that in Washington?

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that Character Counts!

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