The journey to Olympia is just as much a pilgrimage today as it was in ancient times. The Olympic games as we know them now originated over 2700 years ago, with the first organized games taking place as early as 776 BC*. Athletes from all over Greece traveled to the heart of the Peloponnese in order to compete for the honour of becoming a member of the Olympic elite. Foot races and wrestling matches were common place.
Did you know that, outside the main arena, there were also feats of mental and intellectual strength? The original Olympic games included exercising that muscle of voracious appetite, the brain. Gifted elocutionists presented arguments of logic and reason. Athens has been a hotbed of philosophic debate for millennia. It's not surprising that the Hellenic world valued the sport of engaging one's mind on the same level as exercising one's body.
In June 2012 we had the great good fortune to be able to travel to Greece. Our stay in Olympia was memorable, although not necessary for the reasons traditionally associated with the Olympics. Ancient Olympia has become a tourist destination, that much is true. It feels... different, though, than what I expected. Located in the center of the Peloponnese, Olympia is unlike many iconic Greek locations in one important way: the city is not located on the seaside.
While other Grecian cities revolve around the ocean, Olympia is situated in the quiet heat, slow breezes and soft eucalyptus leaves of the interior. One benefit to being further inland is that there is not as much humidity. I was thankful for that. The day we toured the original Olympic grounds, the afternoon heat clocked in at 53° Celsius.
53°! Can you imagine competing in that heat? Or even being a spectator? As it was, we walked through the lush grounds of the historic site on a lazy June day. The heat was not stifling first thing in the morning, but still, it gave me the impression that a person could languish here if they succumbed to the temptation to curl up under the leafy green branches of the sweet smelling eucalyptus. Once you drifted away, you would enter into a never ending nap/dream/wake cycle. I imagined the dreams that were dreamed in this place. Hopes of athletes determined to bring honour to their home towns and family name; inspired everyday folk who made the pilgrimage to pay tribute to their roots and cheer for their hometown hero. I was inspired to begin dreaming my own dreams for victory in my life.
There is a path leading to the main stadium where athletes would have entered immediately before competing in their race. Walking this pathway was a rite of passage. Life size statues of previous Olympian champions lined the foot path, marking the way for competitors. The statues stood as reminders to those who came next: Your race is your own. Strive to accomplish your personal best. Do so with honour and integrity. The Olympic games were as much about accomplishing a moral victory as a physical one.
We had an opportunity to walk through that archway onto the field of competition. We soaked in the history of the place, the energy of countless races fought and won, the celebrations and tributes, the honour awarded to participants. We sat in the shade of the ruins and listened to the stories of the ancients, brought to life by the remnants of memory carved from the earth, the stone.
My impression of Olympia was one of unending peace - quite a surprise compared to my expectation. I'm not certain what I expected? A testosterone-fueled, hyper masculine overdrive of competition? The grounds we wandered that day in June were very different. We were on hallowed ground. There was a tangible element of the sacred in every step. I'm certain the events of the past were electrifying beyond compare. The very nature of sporting events has a way of bringing out the competitive edge in everyone. Olympia, however, has left a legacy of honour, integrity and peace in its wake.
Karma Pratt is a faith-driven mom of twins, a communicator, a writer, and an encourager from way back. She offers professional writing and editing services at redraincoatcreations.com.
Photo Credits: Olympic Arch: http://www.greeka.com/peloponnese/olympia/