The start of the first official OLYMPIC GAMES was declared in 776 BC by King Ephitus at a time when there were many Hellenic states. The games were held what is now the prefecture of Elia in Greece 24ks from the modern town of Pyrgos at the site of Ancient Olympia.
The Games were to honour of Zeus the King of the Olympian Gods, father of Athena, whose gigantic temple at Olympia was one of the wonders of the ancient world. Little remains of the temple but it might have looked something like this:
The Ancient Games took place around the first full moon in August and consisted of merely a foot race of about 500 metres. Gradually longer races were introduced as well as the pentathlon (a contest of running, leaping, wrestling, discus and spear-throwing), with chariot races as well as the pancration, a vicious combination of boxing and wrestling.
The early competitors were naked and were required to undergo a training of ten months, to make sacrifices to the Gods and to vow that they would compete fairly. There were official trainers as well as the judges who awarded the prizes─wreaths cut with a golden knife from the sacred olive tree in honour of Heracles, the mighty but disgraced son of Zeus who defeated monsters and man-eating animals in his famous 12 labours.
Marvellous stories were told of the feats of the victors at these ancient games. In a single leap they would cover a distance of nearly 17 metres, and one year the winner of the nine mile race kept running past the finishing line before he stopped at Argos, fifty miles away, the same evening.
The Games were held every four years and vast crowds camped
on the slopes of Mount Cronos or in the dry river beds.
Dense throngs stood around the racecourse and
must have suffered in the heat as water was scarce and often polluted.
A holy truce was declared for a whole month during which
all warfare was forbidden and the land of Ellas was considered sacred.
and the story goes that if any women were caught within the precincts
they would be thrown from a nearby rock!
There is one story however, of a Spartan woman being detected in male attire
but as her son was the victor of the Games she was forgiven.
Writers, poets and historians also read their works to large audiences,
and the citizens of the various city states of the ancient world got together in a way that happened nowhere else.
The Modern Olympic Games were instituted in 1896 and except during the first and second world wars were held every four years in various cities around the world including Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004 where thousands of athletes compete in hundreds of events and sporting activities.
The Olympic Flame is lit at the ancient site in Greece and
carried by runners to the city where the games are held.
In modern times the good will and good fortune
generated by the games rivals the work of the United Nations
in trying to bring the nations of the world together.
Nadine Neumann, a young woman who would not even have even
a spectator let alone competitor in the ancient games.
Wobbles an Olympic Story written by Nadine is her story,
the story of a young girl who became one of the fastest and
most versatile swimmers of her generation in the world,
who was part of the world of elite sport in Australia in the 1990’s,
and who by the time she was 20 had experienced more physical and
mental suffering than most of us ever have.
This book was written during her painful journey of finding a new life
after the cruel, triumphant, gloriously crazy Olympic dream.
Frighteningly real, insightful and compassionate,
Nadine reveals what it was like inside the Olympic swimming family in Australia.
Nadine’s story will make you angry and sad and affect you so deeply you will start to question things about your own life, your obsessions and the culture that carries them.
A beautifully constructed book, showing all the skills Nadine learnt in her University English teaching degree.
Cleverly she starts the story at the end of her Olympic dream, about to dive into the water at the 2000 Olympics Sydney Trials and then takes you back to where it all began for her at her local swimming pool in Ryde.
She tells her story through her own child’s voice and as the story progresses we see her change, but once she has decided that she will go to the Olympics there is no way she can be diverted, and her family become her ally in this dream. She is Herculean in the pursuit of her dream.
Nothing will stop her: not the punishing training regimes and internal politics of the day,
the undiagnosed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome triggered by glandular fever,
the broken neck and major depression,
the social isolation and fractured relationships
and the family hardships related to supporting her and her quest.
There is some wonderful writing in this book which make you realise what a multi-talented woman she has become. She uses short sentences, sometimes even single words like Euphoria, to great effect, showing the ability of a novelist to build tension, suspense and the desire to keep reading.
Even though sometimes you want to shake her and say, please stop, no more, she carries you on her journey, willing you to be on her side and to understand what it was like for her, and she succeeds.
There are many extracts which I have noted but this is one of my favourites.
‘To me the sound of water is the sound of heaven the tinkle of bubbles as the surface breaks and swirls around your ears, the rhythmic bass-drum of your breath, the roaring cymbals of your feet agitating the waves of your body curves, the melodious movement of an element that supports you, surrounds you, becomes part of you completely. And the symphony plays through a silence that makes you feel the song is yours alone….’
If you have ever marvelled at the Olympic swimming,
or swum yourself and felt the water element embracing you,
had an extraordinary dream in your ordinary life, overcome suffering with not too much grace,
felt like curling up and dying when it all gets too much,
you will find much in this book to illuminate your way.
It should be compulsory reading for all young would-be athletes and their families
but it is much more than that- it speaks to all of us and
we should thank Nadine for her courage in telling it so well and using her natural writing talent to such great effect.
Photos of Ancient Olympia courtesy of T.Palimperis
Other Photos courtesy of Nadine Neumann