Saturday, July 24, 2010

Olympic Youth

Today I wanted to draw your attention to something that many might not know about. In an e-mail newsletter I received from
the International Olympic Committee (IOC) I received a link to a video of the lighting of the Olympic Flame for the inaugural
Youth Olympic Games, a new initiative intended to get youth interested in sport and the Olympic spirit.

I love the Olympics and how it brings the world together like no other event (sorry World Cup fans!). The historian in me loves the tradition of the Olympics, the sacredness that, though today is somewhat dulled by marketing, for thousands of years was adhered to. It was something that blanketed the ancient world in peace for a time. The Olympic Games were, of course the most sacred of the four major games in ancient Greece, the other three being the Nemean Games, the Isthmian Games, and the Pythian Games.

Ancient Olympia was, and to my mind is, a most sacred place, a place of peace. I have been there a few times and, despite the hordes of tourists and idling buses outside the ancient sanctuary, I am always awed with the sense of peace that falls over my person when I set foot among the temples, columns and remnants of ancient arcades. The visitors seem to disappear and all I hear is the thrumming of cicadas in the light of Apollo’s sun. Yes, I do get carried away, but you can’t help that in a place like Olympia. When you walk the gravel pathways between the ruins, along the fallen column drums of the once-great Temple of Zeus (whose statue was a wonder of the ancient world) or walk down the barrel-vaulted tunnel to the stadium, the ghosts of past Olympians walk beside you. It is as though they are welcoming you to join them on their eternal stroll through the sanctuary, whispering to you to pass on the wisdom of the Olympic spirit, warning you to respect that most sacred of places.

If you have not been to Ancient Olympia, go. It is truly a wonder and a feeling to be tapped into. And if you do go, push the bustling, noisome tourists from your mind (because not everyone gets it), find a quiet corner beneath the shade of an olive tree and listen for voices of the past, the roar of the crowds that rang out for millennia. It is truly special.

The IOC has posted the flame lighting ceremony on their website for the Youth Olympic Games and if you have a bit of time it is definitely worth watching.
This will give you a taste of an ancient ceremony, undertaken with the sincerity that it deserves. The Olympic flame begins its journey here every time, lit by the priestesses of Olympia by the light of the sun that shines on this place.

It is very exciting that the Flame has been kindled in Olympia to herald the dawn of a new tradition. Good luck to the youth of the world and may Nike (Victory) be with you.

(Photo credit: Associated Press)
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