From The Olympic Games: The First Thousand Years, by M.I. Finley and H.W. Pleket:

Not much about these first modern Games, it should immediately be added, was genuinely 'Olympic'. … For all his romanticism, Coubertin had a contemporary aim, and the success of his scheme depended on a realistic choice of events — hurdling, cycling, the high jump, fencing and so on — appropriate to the athletic interests of his own day, not to those of a long dead civilization. It was the Olympic 'spirit', the Olympic ideology, as he conceived it, that was to serve his purposes, not the ancient Olympic reality.

There was nothing in ancient Greek practice, for example, to warrant the Olympic torch, carried halfway round the world as a symbol of Olympic internationalism. The torch races of antiquity were purely local relay races, with teams of naked men, wearing diadems, carrying their lighted torches in metal holders through the streets 'from altar to altar'. They were part of a religious ritual in the strict sense, hence the diadems, the altars as end-points, and the climactic honour given the winner of placing his torch on the altar of the god or goddess being celebrated (1976, p.4).

Contrast this with Muhammad Ali lighting the Olympic torch in Atlanta, part of his TV arc outside the ring. From gods to nation-states to corporations …


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  1. sportsBabel » Sovereignty and the Eternal Flame says:

    [...] with the flows and disconnects of global capital to create new messages that coexist with those imagined to have existed for thousands of years. Date: August 9, 02008Feedback: 0 comments | Permalink: url Tags: China | Empire | Olympics | [...]