Mythology and sport in the Olympic games

Most Olympic talk around the gym water cooler in Saugerties, NY today focused on either the latest surprise outcome in swimming, the power of Chinese competition or the pretty abysmal coverage of the games by NBC. - - As in the past, competitive games are hosted by governments and rulersDan Kitwood/Getty ImagesOli Scarff/Getty ImagesSome patrons decried, as usual, what they consider to be the 'politicalization' of the games, while others were cynical that the games really accomplished anything diplomatic, even if they liked watching athletes competing in sometimes rather uncommon sports. When asked, everyone seemed to have a sense that the Olympics were intended originally for some higher goal, echoing the dream of the French aristocrat," target="_blank" rel="nofollow - Pierre de Coubertin - , who is credited with coming up with the idea of a renewed Olympics for the modern age.The history of the modern Olympics is usually recounted at some point in the official broadcast of the games and is easy to look up, so it won't be recapped here except to say that de Coubertin's ideal of international sports competition has created its own mythology complete with rituals, rules about who can play and not, and an elaborate set of expectations that disappoint some and fill others with hope every time the games come around again.The modern Olympics don't really look much like the" target="_blank" rel="nofollow - ancient Greek games - they're supposed to emulate except in one way: they are a really big deal. The Greeks had many 'games' not just the ones named for the homeland of the gods, and they were all dedicated to Zeus or another patron deity. They were religious rituals and competition was a sacred act.In this manner, the ancient Greek games were very similar to other forms of state competition in the ancient world. Sport and religion were completely bound together and usually competition was understood - - as a way of reenacting myth or determining the will of the gods.The famous ball game of the" target="_blank" rel="nofollow - Maya people - in Central America not only retold the principle myths of creation and emergence, and quite literally because the losers of some bouts were sacrificed. The game was also used to decide political conflicts, solve simple disagreements and was also played for fun. In these instances, folks were probably not sacrificed (usually). The will of the gods was understood to govern the outcomes.Roman sporting events, including gladiatorial combat, occurred in arenas that were consecrated to important Roman gods and were understood to contain and block out chaotic elements. The will of the gods and the" target="_blank" rel="nofollow - power of the state - could be exhibited within the sacred realm of the arena and order restored. This is why executions also occurred within the arenas. - search engines - Chinese gambling games," target="_blank" rel="nofollow - including the invention of playing cards - which eventually were imported to the West, always involved both skill and an element of chance and change. They were a literal embodiment of the spiritual principles of" target="_blank" rel="nofollow - Taoism - which involve give and take, going with the Will of Heaven.The modern Olympics have their own set of proposed" target="_blank" rel="nofollow - 'mythological' principles - and even though most people aren't consciously aware of them, they respond to them just the same. The games are supposed to be fair and the competition for its own sake (no professionals, doping or cheating). It's supposed to be a time when commercial and political interests take a back seat to individual excellence. At the same time, we do keep track of which countries win the most medals and assign some kind of merit to those results.We complain when these principles are violated, we admire unknown individuals who unexpectedly excel and we really want our own 'team' to win. We revere winners and forget losers unless their loss was especially heroic. Mythology's harder to kick than it seems. - -