The Olympic Games are one of the most widely recognized symbols of peace and unity throughout history. They are a tradition which can trace its origin back more than 3,000 years. Every four years the Ancient Greeks held huge celebrations in honor of the God Zeus near the city of Olympia and athletes from the different city-states would gather and take part in the competitions. During the Games they declared a so-called Olympic Truce, which, under the protection of Zeus, allowed safe passage to anyone, willing to participate, even if their states were currently engaged in hostilities. According to legend, it was the Greek hero Heracles who established the first games and the tradition continued for hundreds of years, until the start of the 5th century and the increasing Christianization of the Roman Empire.
The custom was revived again in 1859, shortly after the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire. At first it was a small event, held sporadically until in 1894 the International Olympic Committee was established. Its sole purpose was to govern and make sure the games are organized regularly, just like in ancient times - every four years. The games in 1928 in Amsterdam saw the reintroduction of one of the games’ oldest traditions – the Olympic flame. In Ancient Greece a fire was kept burning throughout the celebrations at the alter in the Temple of Hestia and additional fires were lit in the Temples of Zeus and his wife Hera. Today the flame is ignited at the exact same place as her temple used to stand.
Not long after its introduction, there was another major addition to the opening ceremony – the Olympic torch relay. This was the act, through which the flame was transported from Olympia, all the way to the site of the games. However, the origins of this tradition did not stem from Ancient Greece. Instead, it was created in Germany. Held in 1936 in Berlin, the Olympic Games were viewed by the National Socialist Party as a perfect opportunity to showcase their ideology to the rest of the world. They were organized by Carl Diem, who also came up with the relay idea, and were under the supervision of the propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. Everything, from the torch, the ignition mechanism or the transportation, was manufactured in Germany and the whole event was even captured on a film, called “Olympia”. Because of the war the next two Olympic Games were not held and in in 1948 the organizers decided to embrace the ritual, but this time as a symbol of piece.
Although the games were organized to promote their National Socialist ideology, the plan did not turn very successful. The main reason for this lies with African American sprinter and long jumper Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals. Incredibly, he would probably never had accomplished such a feat if it wasn’t for his state shoes, which were German. They were created by non-other but the founder of Adidas – Adi Dassler, who at the time was desperately trying to get athletes to promote his shoes. Unknowingly, Owens became the first ever pitchman of his product.