The Pomp and Circumstance of Ancient Olympics

The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro have finally arrived. The televised events of my favorite sport, water polo (the oldest continually played Olympic team sport) have already been programmed on the DVR and everyone from young to old in my family is eagerly awaiting all the pageantry and artistry of the opening and closing ceremonies.

Here’s a look behind the curtain of some of the Olympics most important ceremonies.

olympic torch

The Torch Relay

The modern Olympic torch relay pays homage to the ancient Greek’s affinity for the sun and fire, most likely because it was ancient Greece and it was fire and it would be a few millennia before heat pumps were invented. The first modern Olympic torch relay occurred at the 1936 Berlin games and the flame is lit from the sun using a parabolic mirror, known to the ancient Greeks as a skaphia. The 2008 Beijing Olympic torch relay holds the current records for the longest torch relay (130 days and 137,000 miles) as well as the most torchbearers (21,880).



Fireworks go off above the Bird's Nest at the conclusion of the Olympics Closing Ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing, China August 24, 2008. Photo by Doug Kanter
Except maybe Beijing

Opening Ceremony

Modern Olympic opening ceremonies are definitely a sight to behold, but don’t think the ancient Greeks didn’t know how to throw a party. Animal sacrifices, broken bones, palm-readers, and prostitution were the norm every quadrennial in Olympia. Today’s coordinated multi-media and firework displays almost blush by comparison.




olympic medals
Worth it.

Medal Ceremonies

Winners of ancient Olympic events were awarded an olive wreath, plucked from a tree by a specially trained young boy, and, depending on how wealthy the victor was, a large party was thrown honoring the winner. Upon returning home, Olympic champions would be showered with money, vats of olive oil, premium theater seats, and other ancient swag. Today, American gold-medalists received $25,000 from the U.S. Olympic committee and hope for endorsement and sponsorship deals to support their Olympic dreams.



olympics closing
Still funny

Closing Ceremony

Modern closing ceremonies are often as extravagant as the opening ceremonies in pomp and circumstance although this event is less regulated by the IOC. In the ancient games, participants, politicians, priests, and other elite citizens would gather on the final day of the games for a running of the bulls and a feast featuring more animal sacrifices on a 120-foot round, 21-foot tall altar to Zeus for their successes.




What have you enjoyed at this year’s Olympics so far? Let us know in the comments!