In the country of Greece, there is special valley where two small rivers come together. The name of the valley is Olympia. There are groves of trees on the slopes and here and there a small farm. It’s pretty valley but you might wonder what’s so special about it.
If you walked along one of its rocky pathways, you might think that things had never been much different here. But if you sat down on a stone to rest, you might notice that the stone was not an ordinary one but a chunk of a big pillar that had been broken off. You would see that it was pitted and chipped and covered with moss and so must be very old.
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If you got up and looked around through the trees, you might see rows of ancient broken pillars still standing there. You could guess that at one time-very,very long ago-they had held up a roof. It was the roof of a stadium that sheltered people who watched the world’s first Olympic Games. Let’s follow a young man named Philip whose hometown Athens chose him to run in one of the first Olympic Games.
Philip walked more than 100 miles from Athens to Olympia. Athletes came to Olympia from all parts of Greece. Some of the young men were runners and jumpers. Some were boxers. Some were wrestlers. Some threw the javelin, a kind of spear. Others threw the discus, a heavy plate made of stone or metal. Some raced in chariots-two wheeled wagons pulled by great war-horses. The winners of the contests would be called the best in the whole country of Greece.
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Philip and the other athletes practiced with their trainers in the big gymnasiums at Olympia for months before the festivities and contests began. Tents of many colors housed the thousands of visitors. There were booths where they could buy food-olives, goat, cheese, sweet honey cakes and refreshing drinks. They could also buy clothing, jewelry, vases, cooking pots or even horses. Acrobats, jugglers and magicians performed tricks for the holiday crowd. There were sword-swallowers and fire eaters.
Ad he waited with the other runners for the signal that would start the race, Philip felt his heart pound with excitement. The Olympic Games were very important to the Greek people. Everyone had a holiday so that whoever wanted to could go to see the games. Armies stopped fighting so that the soldiers could go to watch. More than anything else in the world, Philip wanted to win this race-for himself, for his beloved city of Athens, and for the god Zeus.
When the race started the crowd grew silent. Philip could feel his bare feet pounding into the ground of the track as he passed one…then another…and then another of the runners. At last there was only one runner ahead of him. But this runner stayed ahead! Philip tried to remember everything his trainer had taught him…and slowly …slowly…he came closer to the head runner.
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But the race was nearly over. Could he pass this runner in time? At the finish line they were almost side by side. Wild cheers and shouting filled the air. Then Philip’s friends and well-wishers ran onto the field. They picked Philip up and carried him high over their heads. Then Philip knew he had won!
Philip received his winner’s prize in front of a great statue showing Zeus, the most important Greek god, sitting on a throne made of ivory and rare dark wood called ebony. The statue was as high as a house. It was decorated with gold and silver and Zeus’s eye were sparkling jewels. The winner’s prize was only a simple little crown made from an olive branch. But the crown was supposed to be a gift from Zeus himself. Those who received it were believed to be favored by the god for the rest of their lives.
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