History of the Olympics

Olympics HistoryThe Olympics dates back to Ancient Greece, with the Ancient Olympic Games first occurring around 776 B.C. and continuing until they were banned by the Roman Emperor Theodosius in 393 A.D. It was the inspiration for the Modern Olympic Games, which first took place in 1896, founded by Pierre de Coubertin, returning to Athens after over 1500 years. Since then, the Modern Olympics has taken place in great cities across the world, with many of the original sports of the Ancient Games, such as running, javelin, long jump,  shot put and boxing, still being competed.

The Ancient Olympics

Athens, the key city in the Ancient world at the time of the formation of the games, was the site of the Ancient Olympics. They were performed at Olympia, from which the Olympics gets its name, the home of the Olympian Gods, so called because they lived on Mount Olympus. Indeed, the legends surrounding the Ancient Olympics tell that the games were originally performed by the gods themselves. In one of the legends, Dactyl Herakles held a race at Olympia, with Zeus, the Greek god of gods, crowning the winner with an olive wreath, still the traditional award given to an Olympic champion.

Ancient Olympics

The Ancient Olympics were therefore largely a religious occasion, with the events dedicated to the Gods of Ancient Greece, with Zeus the main focus. The purpose was to give thanks to the gods through a celebration of human ability, gifted to them by Zeus himself. It  was also religion that brought an end to the Ancient Olympics, becoming banned as part of the Roman Emperor Theodosius’ desired to rid the now Christian Empire of what was seen to be destabilising pagan rituals.

Though this religious focus has not remained part of the Modern Olympics, founding principals of the Ancient games are still present, indeed were the inspiration for the reformation of the Games in the 19th century. During the Ancient games, a truce was enacted throughout Ancient Greece to allow representatives of the city-states to travel and compete in the games. This coming together of people under the flag of peace, suspending conflict in order to celebrate together the achievements and abilities of mankind was the exact inspiration for  and remains the guiding principal of the Modern Olympic Games.

The Modern Olympics

The first Modern Olympics returned to Olympia in Athens on April 6th 1986, with 14 nations and 241 athletes competing in 43 events; James Connolly of the USA becoming the first Modern Olympic Champion after wining the triple jump. The modern Olympic movement was founded by the Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin, born out of the ideology of the Peace movement of the 19th century.

The peace movement can be traced to the publication of the peace concept put forward by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant in his book “On eternal Peace”, published in 1795. This is often cited as the starting point for the development of global peace as an ideology and something mankind should strive to achieve. The Olympics was seen by Pierre de Coubertin as a natural fit to this ideology, and more importantly a potentially strong means of spreading its message throughout the world.

The ancient tradition of people from different states coming together in ‘truce’ to celebrate mankind was a perfect symbol of this new movement, but it was more than that. Pierre de Coubertin was highly motivated by education, and he saw the Olympics as a way of education the world about this message, that all mankind is created equal. He was inspired on a visit to England, where he saw the work of Thomas Arnold at Rugby School and the Much Wenlock Games, founded by Dr. William Brookes. He saw how competition based purely on the physical attributes given to all men, while celebrating what can be achieved with it embodied the spirit of his ideology and that of his fellow peace advocates.

Since that first Olympics in 1896, the movement has grown unrecognisably from its original foundations. From the initial 43 events restricted to only men, the Olympics has progressed to include women, first allowed to compete in 1900, winter Olympic sports in 1908 and the Paralympic Olympiad since 1960. Today, the summer Olympics involves nearly 15,000 athletes competing in 300 events, with millions of people watching across the world. It has become a celebration of mankind’s achievements in all its forms, far beyond the limited scope of physical ability, though this remains at its core.

Olympic Exercise, Training and Fitness Development

The increase in scientific research into exercise and the resultant development of training techniques to improve the fitness levels relating to specific sports saw rapid advancements in the second half of the 20th century, coinciding with the conversion from amateur to professional sport. These advances continue today as the line between success and failure becomes increasingly narrow and even a slight advantage over other competitors can produce an Olympic Champion.

However, physical and mental training is far from a new phenomenon. Though the discipline of sports science as a profession and systematic training development is relatively recent, strength training for the purposes of competition can be traced as far back as 2040BC. Illustrations on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs depict weight lifting and other strength exercises, while specific training for the Ancient Olympic Games is well documented and accounted in folk law.

The Ancient Greek wrestling champion Milo from the 6th century BC was the first accounted person to use the modern training principal of ‘Overload’ in preparation for the Olympic Games. By lifting a calf above his head each day, as the calf grew Milo’s strength increased in response to the increase in load. Flavois Philostratus, a coach to Olympic champions in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, used planned training programmes including physiological and psychological aspects.

The development of the modern approach to training and fitness can be traced back to 18th century Britain, where trainers of athletes in running, boxing and other sports, as well as animal trainers such as in equestrian sports, discussed methods of training. In 1806 various training methods were put together in a national survey conducted by Sir John Sinclair, formalising a set of coaching guidelines based on the experience of the coaches involved.

However, it was not until 1950 that scientific testing was applied to training approaches, and throughout the 19th and early 20th century most successful athletes at the highest level had natural ability suited to the sport and a coach providing a suitably structured training programme. 

Modern Olympic Training

The development of modern sport has seen scientific applications to a wide range of areas of training and beyond since the end of the 2nd World War. Now an academic discipline in its own right, sports science and its effective implementation covers an ever increasing range of areas, given as a summary below.

Physiology – The physiological aspect of elite sport now covers a wide and increasing range of areas. Studies into the effects of training on the body, both good and bad, continue to advance our understanding of how the body works. Modern training methods then aim to enhance the physical attributes most suited to a particular sport, while attempting to minimise the negative effects of training and exercise. Physiological effects during and post exercise are equally important in any effective training program.

Nutrition – Adequate dietary intake now goes hand in hand with any successful modern Olympic training program. Providing enough fuel and nutrients to sustain long term, high intensity training as well as optimal competitive performance is highly important. This includes both sufficient nutrition prior and during exercise as well as in the subsequent recovery phase.

Psychology – The relationship between mind and body is not a new concept, but has seen significant advances in the modern era. It includes both the psychological demands of sport in general, the specific conditions of each sport and the attributes of the athletes themselves, both individually and as part of a team. This is not limited to just the sporting environment of the athletes, but also the wider psychological influences of the other aspects of their lives. Understanding all the related factors that affect the mindset of the athlete are important not just for optimal performance come the Olympics, but to sustain the required training routines.

Technical Development - All modern sports have a technical aspect, to a greater or lesser degree. Basic physical exercises such as running still require a large amount of analysis into optimum technique for each athlete, while complex team sports, such as hockey, require not only the technical development of each athlete but that of the team as a whole and team tactics. Decision making is also a vital part of any technical training, l earning when to implement the learned technique or tactic at just the right time. Maintaining and implementing the correct technical and tactical aspects at the very peak of competition, when physical and psychological demands are at their highest is crucial for any would be Olympic champion.

Progression – It is not possible to maintain optimal performance at all times. It is therefore important to structure all the aspects mentioned above into a suitable training program designed to allow the athlete to improve and progress. Selecting which points throughout the years in between Olympics the athlete needs to be at their peak, and structuring their training to achieve it. This will then form part of up to a four year progression phase to condition the athlete to achieve their best possible performance at the time of their Olympic competition. 

Upcoming Olympics

London, United Kingdom   2012

Sochi, Russia                        2014

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil      2016


Past Olympics

Athens, Greece                    1896

Paris, France                       1900

Saint-Louis, USA                 1904

London, UK                      1908   

Stockholm, Sweden         1912

Antwerp, Belgium            1920

Pairs, France                         1924

Chamonix, France                1924 (Winter)

Amsterdam, Netherlands    1928

St Moritz, Switzerland         1928 (Winter)

Los Angeles, USA                 1932

Lake Placid, USA                 1932 (Winter)

Berlin, Germany                   1936

Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany  1936 (Winter)

London, UK                           1948

St Moritz, Switzerland        1948 (Winter)

Helsinki, Finland                 1952

Oslo, Norway                         1952 (Winter)

Melbourne, Australia          1956

Cortina D’ampezzo, Italy    1956 (Winter)

Rome, Italy                       1960

California, USA              1960 (Winter)

Tokyo, Japan                   1964

Innsbruck, Austria               1964 (Winter)

Mexico City, Mexico             1968

Grenoble, France                  1968 (Winter)

Munich, Germany                 1972

Sapporo, Japan                      1972 (Winter)

Montreal, Canada               1976

Innsbruck, Austria              1976 (Winter)

Moscow, USSR                 1980

Lake Placid, USA            1980 (Winter)

Los Angeles, USA          1984

Sarajevo, Yugoslavia     1984 (Winter)

Seoul, South Korea        1988

Calgary, Canada              1988 (Winter)

Barcelona                             1992

Albertville, France         1992 (Winter)

Lillehammer, Norway      1994 (Winter)

Atlanta, USA                       1996

Nagano, Japan                    1998 (Winter)

Sydney, Australia                 2000

Salt Lake, USA              2002 (Winter)

Athens, Greece    2004

Turin,  Italy                           2006 (Winter)

Beijing, China                2008

Toronto, Canada             2010 (Winter)



R. Harris

Bsc Physical Education, Sports Science and Physics, Loughborough University Founder

Physical Training

To be at the top of all elite level Olympic sports requires a large amount of physical conditioning, whether the sport involves a high level of mental and technical ability, such as archery, or high physical demands, such as the marathon. As much as the mind has an effect on the body, the body has an effect on the state of the mind.

Any physical training program naturally is designed to bring about improvements in the physical condition of the athlete to enhance their overall performance in their sport. The development in physical conditioning has probably had the biggest impact on the advances in professional sport than any other aspect. The demand for improvements in physical fitness has also driven substantial advances in our understanding of how the human body works, and how to stimulate changes through exercise.

Physical conditioning for any sport can be split into two areas; general fitness conditioning and sport specific physical conditioning, though any effective training program must incorporate the two together. General physical fitness involves training to improve common areas of fitness for the purposes of improved overall health, and to provide the required basis for effective sport specific physical training. Effective preparation and recovery will form a key part of both general and sport specific physical conditioning.

General physical training will include improving cardiovascular function; the ability of the body to provide oxygen and other nutrients to the required sites in the body. It will also include muscular conditioning; improving strength and strength endurance, muscular energy efficiency and muscular flexibility. Other general physical conditioning will include balance, posture, joint stability and mobility.  Each of these aspects will involve both maximal level and endurance training. It is important to include all these aspects in a physical training program to ensure a well balanced physical condition.

Sport Specific physical conditioning is the training of physical attributes that are particularly important to a certain sport. Olympic sports require a very wide range of physical demands, and any Olympic athlete must structure their physical training to reflect the demands of their particular sport as much as possible. Cardiovascular demands can include; pure maximum capacity, such as sprinting; endurance, such as long distance swimming and multiple maximum capacity demands, such as in football. The various strength demands of each sport will depend on the parts of the body involved in the actions within the sport, the resistances encountered during these actions, and the cardiovascular aspects of the sport. Muscle fibres can be conditioned for maximum contraction strength, or contraction endurance. Each sport will require a certain degree of each of these from the muscles involved, and an effective training program will have to strike the right balance of the enhancement of each.

The physical demands of the competition structure must also be taken into account when constructing a physical conditioning program, not just the demands of the sport itself. Olympic competition for any sport will require multiple rounds, spread over varying time periods. Each athlete must be able to cope with the physical demands of external factors, both during and outside competition time, to make sure they are able to produce optimal performance during the event.

The effects on, and influences of, psychological factors is a vital part of the physical training. The mind and body interaction of any athlete in any sport cannot be separated; they are intrinsically linked to each other. Appropriate physical training will improve the mental capability of the athlete, while inappropriate training can cause a detrimental effect on the athlete’s mental performance. Conversely, effective mental training can improve the physical state of the athlete, while ineffective mental conditioning can reduce the athlete’s physical ability. The psychological strength of the athlete during both the training phase and competition phase of an Olympic program will ultimately determine the physical ability of the athlete and their peak performance level.

Any training program designed to enhance physical ability must be carefully structured over the specified period prior to competition in order to produce the athlete in their peak condition come the Olympic Games. This has become to be known by the term ‘periodisation’. This is the process of taking the training cycle as a whole and breaking it down into sections of different time periods of structured training. An Olympic training cycle will have its finish point at the completion of the Olympic competition, and a start point of up to four years prior to that Olympics. It is usually about 2 years in length, and minimum of a year’s duration. A periodisation program will include long term, medium term and short term periods, and can include multiples of each. They can also vary widely in length, but each will be structured to achieve the long term goals, which will be appropriate to the demands of the Olympic competition. Any periodisation program will include variations in intensity and areas of focus, and try to include as much variety as possible without straying too far from the specific demands of the individual sport.


R. Harris

Bsc Physical Education, Sports Science and Physics, Loughborough University Founder

Training Nutrition

Adequate and appropriate nutritional intake is vital for any athlete during both competition and training.  It is important to keep an athlete in optimal health and provide the energy requirements demanded by their sport.

Nutrition for Olympic athletes can be divided into two sections; the nutrition required for normal body function, and the increased  nutrition needed to meet the demands placed on the body by an athlete’s event and their training.

General Nutrition

The body requires a number of nutrients from our diet in order to effectively sustain normal bodily functions. The main areas of the diet are; fats, proteins, carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins and, minerals and water, while any alcohol intake must be carefully controlled. All of the six main areas of the diet are needed for different functions in varying quantities that are similar in all people, with a few conditions such as age, gender and ethnicity resulting in different requirements. However, the main variation in nutritional intake requirements is in energy needs.

The body requires a certain amount of energy for normal function, which is called Basic Metabolic Rate (BMR). Extra energy requirements then depend on the physical activity levels of the individual. The main source of energy for the body from the diet is carbohydrates, with fat and the body’s fat stores also a key energy source. Proteins also provide a source of energy, though only really when carbohydrate and fat sources are low or insufficient. Alcohol also contains a significant amount of energy and is therefore important to consider when assessing energy intake.

Sport Specific Nutrition

High intensity exercise places a large amount of stress on the body, which will vary between sports depending on the physical demands of each. The body must not only be able to cope with the demands of the exercise, but also be able to recover effectively from it. Adequate nutrition is vital for an Olympic athlete for both performance and recovery. The main area of focus is the energy demands of training and competition of an athletes sport, however there are several other increased nutritional requirements with increased exercise and subsequent recovery.

In preparation for an Olympic athlete’s competition or training session, each athlete must supply the body with sufficient energy to perform at the required level and to prevent fatigue. The main energy source is carbohydrates, though different sports have varying demands on carbohydrate and fat energy stores. For example, events of long duration, such as marathon running, cannot solely rely on carbohydrates for energy and rely largely on fat stores, while sprinters will mostly utilise carbohydrate. For most sports the body will utilise a combination of both to meet the energy demands placed on it. However, the body does not really use protein as an energy source. Only at the point of fatigue, where the body is unable to generate the energy it needs from carbohydrate and fat stores, will proteins be broken down from the body’s tissues to be used to make up the energy deficit.

Energy intake during competition can also be highly important to an Olympic athlete. While in some events, such as rowing, there isn’t an opportunity to take on fuel once the start gun is fired, in events such as the heptathlon there are many rounds of several events on the same day, and the athletes have an opportunity to refuel in between. Making sure the athletes maintain adequate energy levels to perform effectively then becomes a key part of their success. 

There are several increased nutrient demands placed on an athlete during the high intensity exercise required for Olympic success. This requires an increased intake of these nutrients from the diet in order to sustain the athlete through their training schedule and into competition. Nutrients such as sodium, potassium and other electrolytes, which are particularly lost with high sweat levels, must be replaced, while adequate protein for growth and repair of muscle tissue is also required. Other nutrients that can require an increased intake include calcium, to maintain bone density, and other micronutrients, such as vitamin C and vitamin E, which are known to be powerful antioxidants and can therefore help remove the increase in toxins built up during exercise.

Finally, hydration is a key component of an athlete’s nutritional requirements to maintain optimal performance levels. Just a 2% drop in hydration of the body can significantly reduce an athlete’s performance, and therefore each athlete must maintain the body in a sufficiently hydrated state to compete at Olympic level. There are several aspects that can effect the hydration requirements of an athlete, such as the physical demands and duration of exercise within their sport, heat and humidity levels and an athletes individual sweat predisposition. Optimal hydration levels prior to exercise and the intake during, if possible, is a vital part of successful Olympic performance. 


R. Harris

Bsc Physical Education, Sports Science and Physics, Loughborough University Founder

Olympic Training Programs of Injury Prevention

The management of injury and injury prevention is now a key part of an Olympic athlete’s training program. By the very nature of elite sport, the body of a top level athlete is pushed to the limit of its physical and mental potential. Like any machine, when you take it to the limits you run the risk of mechanical failure and the body is no different. Injury management and quick recovery is vital for all athletes to maintain their training routine and prepare sufficiently for competition.

However, the best form of injury management is injury prevention; preventing injuries from occurring in the first place and allowing for uninterrupted training and conditioning. Key to injury prevention and constructing a suitable training program is to understand what stresses the athlete’s individual sport and training will place on the body, particularly at the highest intensities, and what can be done to minimise these effects. With this in mind, injury prevention is split into two parts; micromanagement and micromanagement.


The micromanagement of an injury prevention training program involves dealing with the effects of each individual training session and competition event. This is split into three sections; pre-exercise preparation, in-exercise management and post exercise recovery, with each of these including physical, nutritional and psychological aspects.

Each training program is designed to prepare an athlete for optimal performance come competition time, however it is important that an athlete is prepared properly for each of the training sessions within a training program. Making sure the body is ready for exercise is a vital part of injury prevention, particularly when performing at high intensity levels. This includes making sure that the muscles are properly prepared for the range of motion they will perform during exercise, that joints, muscles and bones are suitably able to sustain any impact encountered and that the body’s energy and exercise systems are sufficiently ‘warmed up’ ready for exercise. Adequate nutrition and hydration prior to exercise is also vital in injury prevention. While fluids and energy can be taken on in some cases during exercise, if they are insufficient prior to exercise it is by then too late to make up the shortfall. Sufficient energy and nutrients must be taken on for the demands of the exercise in order to prolong the point of fatigue, as fatigue is a key cause of injury. Along with this, only a small decrease in hydration can lead to a dramatic drop in performance as the body is unable to function at optimal levels. It therefore follows that if the body is not at optimum levels due to dehydration, and the body is forced to operate at maximum intensity, the likelihood for injury is dramatically increased. Proper hydration is therefore vital for injury prevention in any training program.

In-exercise injury management during training can include a number of strategies, such as taking on energy, nutrients and water to replace those lost during exercise, thus offsetting fatigue and helping to prevent injury. While the training session will have been constructed as part of a training progression plan that aims to reduce injury risk, feedback from athletes during a training session on the state of their bodies can help to pick up any minor injuries that inevitably occur, and allow the session to be altered and adapted to manage that injury at the point of occurrence and significantly reduce recovery time.

Post exercise recovery is vital in any Olympic injury prevention training program. The nature of high intensity exercise places large strain on the body and its functions. These include damage to muscle tissue, reduction in neurological function, increase in toxins, depletion of energy, nutrients and water content and a build up of ‘oxygen debt. Proper recovery of these and other effects of training is not only vital for improved performance, but for injury prevention. Appropriate nutritional intake and re-hydration should take place 30 mins, 1 hour, 2 hours and at regular intervals thereafter for optimal nutrient uptake post exercise. Muscular recovery must also be included, with muscle relaxation and repair strategies important for injury prevention. The removal of toxins that are produced during exercise should take place as soon as possible post exercise, with antioxidant taken on and blood flow to muscles increased with strategies such as ice baths or contrast showers. Neural recovery should also be taken into account, with replenishment of electrolytes and neuron stimulation techniques implemented. All these and other areas will help to limit the duration of the negative effects of exercise and help manage injury prevention.

Technique is also an important, and often ignored, part of injury prevention during training. Poor technique will inevitably lead to strains being placed on the body in inappropriate places, most likely in ways that the body has not been prepared for. At high intensities, this will increase the risk of injury during training. With the level of physical and mental exertion extremely high during training for Olympic athletes, extreme fatigue is common during a training session. This is where technique will inevitably become compromised, and if an athlete’s technique is already poor, a high injury risk scenario occurs. Good and well learned technique that is automatic, and not thought activated, will ensure correct technique throughout training and reduce injury risk.


Finally, there are the long term micromanagement injury prevention strategies that are important in any training program. An athlete cannot perform at maximum exertion at all times and in all training sessions, and their training program must be structured to include sufficient recovery time as well as be progressive. Once an athlete has identified with their coach or trainer the competition targets for the season, and the required performance levels for each, the training program must be designed to progress the athlete over the preparation period in such a way as to minimise injury risk. This must include technical preparation, progression of physical demands, adequate recovery periods and strategies, long term nutritional intake and psychological management. The long term effects on each of these areas and others must be effectively managed for effective injury prevention during training. Periods of high and low intensity training must be incorporated to allow for each of these areas to be properly structured within the training program, working closely with the athlete so they are able to be self active, and also manage the psychological demands of long term, high intensity training. Keeping the athlete in a positive, long term psychological state is vital not only for maximum conditioning, but also in injuring prevention. 


R. Harris

Bsc Physical Education, Sports Science and Physics, Loughborough University Founder

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