Nearly 3,000 years ago, male athletes from across Greece first gathered in Olympia to display their talents and physical prowess; they continued to do so for 300 years. Then, in 393 A.D., those pesky Romans put a halt to the games once Christianity was formally adopted as the official religion; that meant doing away with pagan practices, and the Olympics were originally designed as a celebration honoring Zeus. Then, more than 1,500 years later, the modern Olympics debuted—in Athens, of course.
Now, every four years, we get to participate in an ancient athletic spectacle that unites all of us…if only for two weeks. Tomorrow, athletes from across the globe will gather in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as the 2016 Olympic Games get underway.
We’ll hear stories of people who’ve worked their entire lives for their Olympic moment or those seeking to shatter records and break barriers. They are the athletes whose stories of perseverance, fortitude and strength will serve as an example to people everywhere of what you can achieve when you work hard and never give up. Their names will become synonymous with greatness and glory.
But before we hear those stories, let’s take a quick look at a few famous people you might not have known were also Olympic athletes.
1. George Patton
One of our greatest military generals competed in the 1912 Stockholm games in the pentathlon. Patton was educated at the United States Military Academy at West Point where he competed in track, broadswords, fencing and sharpshooting. Thanks to a cushy upbringing, Patton was also an avid horseman, so his well-rounded athletic abilities lent themselves well to competing in the pentathlon. He was serving with the cavalry at Fort Myer, Virginia, when he was selected for the 1912 team. He earned fifth place in the pentathlon at the Stockholm games, but never competed in organized sports again.
2. Dr. Benjamin Spock
Before he became the known baby care expert, Benjamin Spock was just the oldest child of a large New England family who was educated in private school and then Yale. That’s where he earned a spot on the rowing crew and subsequently competed in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris. The next year he started medical school and eventually became the foremost expert on raising babies.
3. Jason Statham
Today, you might think of Hollywood action movies (think “Transporter,” “Homefront” and the remade “Italian Job”) and a crazy cool accent when you hear the name Jason Statham. But back in the 1980s and 1990s, Statham was known as one of the best divers in Britain. He’d trained in the elite British Diving School and ended up competing in the 1990 Olympic Games in Auckland, New Zealand. He never actually made it to the Olympic games, but he did have a whole lot of hair to show off back then.
4. Harold Sakata
In the James Bond movie Goldfinger, Oddjob is the primary henchman of Auric Goldfinger. The man who played the popular Oddjob character is Harold Sakata, a Hawaiian actor who was a professional wrestler. He competed in the 1948 London Olympics in the weightlifting division, earning a silver medal. Sakata later turned to acting when a movie producer enlisted him for several guest appearances in popular television shows broadcast in the 1960s. Sakata continued to act until his death in 1982.
5. Grace Kelly’s Father and Brother
John Kelly, Sr., and John Kelly, Jr., both competed in rowing in Olympic games. Grace’s father earned a gold medal three times in sculling (a type of rowing that requires a single person to use two oars instead of only one) while her brother, John Kelly, Jr., earned a bronze medal in rowing. Combined, the father-son duo competed in five different Olympic games. Her brother was later elected president of the United States Olympic Committee.
Let the Games begin!
[If you’d like to learn more about sports stars from the ancient Olympic games, check out this site.]