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5 things you might not know about the Olympics

Find out some little-known facts about the biggest sporting event on the planet.

The first modern Olympics were in Shropshire

The first official modern Olympics were held in Athens in 1896. They were the brainchild of Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin, who wanted to use sport to spread peace between countries after the 1870s Franco-Prussian wars. He was inspired by the original Olympic Games in Ancient Greece, but was actually beaten to the idea of a modern version by the villagers of Much Wenlock in Shropshire, who set up what was known as the Wenlock Olympian Games featuring sports such as athletics, football and cricket in 1850. The Wenlock Olympian Games are still held every year, and gave London 2012 Olympic mascot Wenlock its name.

In the city

The honour of hosting the Olympic Games is officially awarded to an individual city, not a country. This is because ancient Greece was organized into city states such as Athens or Sparta, who were often at war. The city states called a truce for the Olympics every four years, sending athletes to compete in races at the site of Olympia rather than armies to invade each other instead. However, the modern Olympics haven’t kept the tradition that all athletes must compete in the nude!

The athletes aren’t really going for gold

If a silver medal winner ever feels like second best, they can maybe console themselves with the thought that the gold medals aren’t worth much more – in money at least. Olympic regulations state that the gold and silver medals have to be a minimum of 92.5% silver, and the gold medals are then plated in gold, with over 3,600kg of it used for London 2012. ‘Gold’ hasn’t always been top of the Olympics either. In the 1896 Athens Olympics the winner received a silver medal while the runner-up got an olive branch (there was no third place), and in the 1900 Olympics in France the winners were given paintings instead because the organizers thought they were more valuable.

The right royal reason why the marathon is 26 miles

The Marathon is named after an ancient Greek legend in which an Athenian soldier died after running 25 miles from the town of Marathon to Athens with news that they had defeated the Persian army. The first marathons in the modern Olympics were always approximately 25 miles until the British royal family asked that the race start at Windsor Castle and end at the Olympic stadium for the London 1908 Olympics. The distance between the two was exactly 26 miles and 385 yards, which then became the official Olympic standard.

Flagged up

The five coloured Olympic rings symbolize the Earth’s continents, but while your geography teacher will tell you that there are seven continents, the Olympic flag only has five rings. This is because North and South America are counted as one continent in the Olympics, and Antarctica isn’t counted at all since hardly anybody lives there! Although some claim that each colour represents a continent this isn’t actually true: the five colours were chosen because at least one of them can be found in the flag of every country in the world.

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