The Olympic Games is an international multi-sport event subdivided into summer and winter sporting events. The summer and winter games are each held every four years. Until 1992, they were held in the same year. Since then, they have been celebrated two years apart.
The original Olympic Games (Greek: Ολυμπιακοί Αγώνες; Olympiakoi Agones) began in 776 BC in Olympia, Greece, and was celebrated until AD 393. Interest in reviving the Olympic Games proper was first shown by the Greek poet and newspaper editor Panagiotis Soutsos in his poem "Dialogue of the Dead" in 1833. Evangelos Zappas sponsored the first modern international Olympic Games in 1859. He paid for the refurbishment of the Panathinaiko Stadium for Games held there in 1870 and 1875. This was noted in newspapers and publications around the world including the London Review, which stated that "the Olympian Games, discontinued for centuries, have recently been revived! Here is strange news indeed ... the classical games of antiquity were revived near Athens".
The International Olympic Committee was founded in 1894 with the initiative of a French nobleman, Pierre Frédy, Baron de Coubertin. The first of the IOC's Olympic Games were the 1896 Summer Olympics, held in Athens, Greece. Participation in the Olympic Games has increased to include athletes from nearly all nations worldwide. With the improvement of satellite communications and global telecasts of the events, the Olympics are consistently gaining supporters. The most recent Summer Olympics were the 2004 Games in Athens and the most recent Winter Olympics were the 2006 Games in Turin. The upcoming games in Beijing are planned to comprise 302 events in 28 sports. As of 2006, the Winter Olympics were competed in 84 events in 7 sports.
There are many myths and legends surrounding the origin of the ancient Olympic Games. The most popular legend describes that Heracles was the creator of the Olympic Games, and built the Olympic stadium and surrounding buildings as an honor to his father Zeus, after completing his 12 labors. According to that legend he walked in a straight line for 400 strides and called this distance a "stadion" (Greek: "Στάδιον")- (Roman: "stadium") (Modern English: "Stage") that later also became a distance calculation unit. This is also why a modern stadium is 400 meters in circumference length (1 stadium = 400 m). Another myth associates the first Games with the ancient Greek concept of ἐκεχειρία (ekecheiria) or Olympic Truce. The date of the Games inception based on the count of years in Olympiads is reconstructed as 776 BC, although scholars' opinions diverge between dates as early as 884 BC and as late as 704 BC.
From then on, the Games quickly became much more important throughout ancient Greece, reaching their zenith in the sixth and fifth centuries BC. The Olympics were of fundamental religious importance, contests alternating with sacrifices and ceremonies honouring both Zeus (whose colossal statue stood at Olympia), and Pelops, divine hero and mythical king of Olympia famous for his legendary chariot race, in whose honour the games were held. The number of events increased to twenty, and the celebration was spread over several days. Winners of the events were greatly admired and were immortalized in poems and statues. The Games were held every four years, and the period between two celebrations became known as an 'Olympiad'. The Greeks used Olympiads as one of their methods to count years. The most famous Olympic athlete lived in these times: the sixth century BC wrestler Milo of Croton is the only athlete in history to win a victory in six Olympics.
The Games gradually declined in importance as the Romans gained power in Greece. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Olympic Games were seen as a pagan festival and in discord with Christian ethics, and in 393 AD the emperor Theodosius I outlawed the Olympics, ending a thousand-year tradition.
During the ancient times normally only young men could participate. Competitors were usually naked, not only as the weather was appropriate but also as the festival was meant to be, in part, a celebration of the achievements of the human body. Upon winning the games, the victor would have not only the prestige of being in first place but would also be presented with a crown of olive leaves. The olive branch is a sign of hope and peace.
Even though the bearing of a torch formed an integral aspect of Greek ceremonies, the ancient Olympic Games did not include it, nor was there a symbol formed by interconnecting rings. These Olympic symbols were introduced as part of the modern Olympic Games.