The Religious Spirit of the Olympic Games
In the beginning, when the ancient Greeks centered an athletic competition around a festival honoring Zeus in 776 BC, the Olympics were steeped in religion. Even the mottos we take for granted originated from faith-based concepts. While the Olympics have largely strayed from their religious roots, here are few moments from history when religion and the Games have intersected.
What we think of as the modern-day Olympics had its origins in ancient games started in Olympia, Greece. But they didn't compete just for the sport of it. Athletes at that time (and they were mainly runners; it wasn't until much later that other sports became part of the games) thought that by being powerful and showing great physical prowess they were honoring the god Zeus. According to a BBC report on religion and the ancient games, athletes who were caught cheating or trying to use bribes were fined and the collected sums were used to erect a statue of the god. In 2004, the shot put event took place at the Temple of Zeus, left, site of the ancient games.
The games evolved from a tribute to "gods of Olympus" to its modern form in the mid-19th century, in part because of work by religious leaders. Catholic priest Henri Didon, a famous orator and writer, is credited with coining the Olympic motto citius, altius, fortius (faster, higher, stronger). In addition to coming up with the motto, Didon was also famous for his teachings on progress and understanding at the time of the French Revolution.