The advancement of humankind through the ages, laced with fascinating stories of triumphs and tribulations, provides us with an opportunity to look within and understand how the challenges were overcome time and again with quiet determination and single-minded devotion.

The story of the Olympic Games is no different and as we get ready to celebrate the latest edition in Rio de Janeiro, it is only pertinent to look back through the years and see how the event has come around to influence each and every corner of the world.

Chiselled out of the first recorded sporting activity conducted at intervals of four years around 3000 years ago (between 8th century B.C. and 4th century A.D.) in ancient Greece, the modern Olympics is now acknowledged to be the brainchild of the French aristocrat, Baron Pierre de Coubertin.

Right from 1896 to the present day, the Games have been a testimony on how sport can bring nations and athletes together at a pre-determined city and where they compete in various disciplines in an atmosphere of jovial abandon not only to grab the medals at stake but also foster a friendly world.

Manipulation, propaganda

However, the original vision of Coubertin has been sullied on more than one occasion. Because the Games take place under the full glare of the worldwide media, it is not surprising the event has been plagued by political pressures and has been manipulated and propagandised.

A few glaring examples are the Nazi propaganda (1936, Berlin), Soviet-Hungarian friction (1956, Melbourne), unhealthy tussle for supremacy between USA and the USSR at the height of the Cold War, controversy between China and Taiwan (1976, Montreal), disputes because of South Africa’s apartheid policy, boycott of the 1980 Games at Moscow by the United States and its allies in protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the retaliatory step undertaken by the Eastern bloc countries in 1984 Los Angeles and worst of all, the 1972 Munich massacre, which resulted in the loss of 11 innocent lives and the Games being forced to a temporary suspension.

What still haunts the Games is the repeated attempts by athletes to make personal gains at the expense of throwing the Olympic charter, and the principles enshrined in it, to the winds. And so we have 69 cases of confirmed sanctions accorded for violation of doping norms with the most obtrusive being Canadian Ben Johnson stripped of his 100m gold medal and sent back home in disgrace from 1988 Seoul Games.

The problem, despite the best efforts of the International Olympic Committee and the World Anti Doping Agency, still persists so much that the participation of Russia in Rio 2016 is very much in doubt now.

Sublime performances

What has helped the Olympic Games and the movement gain charm and appeal globally over the years has been the advent of television and a sequence of sublime performers and performances at various editions. These range from the running machines in Paavo Nurmi and Emil Zatopek, boy wonder Bob Mathias, the phenomenal leap of Bob Beamon, the sensational achievements of swimmers Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps, the fight against odds by Fanny Blankers-Koen, the Perfect 10 by Nadia Comaneci, and more recently the dashing displays by Jamaican Usain Bolt in his attempts to conquer time over the straight.

Undoubtedly, champions like these are those who have helped the Olympics stand the test of time, emerge as a sporting marvel and acquire the tag of being one of the wonders of the world.

Rio 2016, now just a fortnight away, can only be another glorious chapter in the already glittering history of the Games.

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