Olympism: That phenomenon that navigates between modernization and traditions

With the appearance of the Paris 2024 podium, it may be a good time to refresh the struggle of Olympism to seduce new audiences and, at the same time, not to detach from traditions that, in some cases, are less old than they seem.



Among the many reasons we could argue to explain why the Olympic Games captivate so many millions of people around the planet, some go through both their contemporary energy and their profound traditions with equal intensity.

There is some strategic guile in including certain sports. Arbitrarily placing Atlanta ‘96 as its starting point, Olympism has since updated its list of sports and specialties so that today we are familiar with talking about beach volleyball, both race and freestyle BMX, skateboarding, rugby sevens, 3x3 basketball, surfing or climbing. Soon something similar will happen with Breakin’, regardless of any controversy.

The intention to seduce younger audiences, of those that until recently followed the so-called X Games with attention, is eloquent. But there is also some inclusion. This is an undeniable phenomenon that crosses our society on an infinite number of terrains and that in the games is not only manifested in the fact that Paris will be the first competition with gender equality in terms of the number of participants, but will also be honored from the mixed positions in swimming and athletics to the novel phenomenon of male participants in some artistic swimming teams. No minor historical detail: this, which was originally known as synchronized swimming, was a sport that, they say, was originally only reserved for boys.


Obviously, it is no longer interesting to remember that, when it comes to counting medals, one of the massive disciplines is worth the same as those with the lowest level of popular roots. A powerful message in this regard is that of the coexistence in the dining room of the Olympic village of a billionaire NBA champion or a Wimbledon champion with an enthusiastic athlete from one of the many countries that would never hope to climb a podium.

By the way, in the realization of the fact that all that matters is winning or that no one remembers who comes second, there is, before every game, an extremely powerful message from you, the fans. Dozens of countries whose medal aspirations are far from the mainstream, maintain extraordinary levels of audiences for up to 14 hours a day based on the logic of dynamic broadcasts in which those sports that captivate us as well as those that we discover day after day coexist. The logic would be something like maintaining the expectation that, those who wait for artistic gymnastics or horseback riding, will in the meantime be amazed to discover the best exponents of sports that, perhaps, they never thought of paying attention to.

On the other side of the balance of the battle for new audiences are those traditions that Olympism will never give up: in these ancient symbols lies much of its sometimes mysterious charm.

Strangely enough, or not so much, some of these traditions don’t come from that far; hardly any, from the time of the ancient Olympic Games.


In recent days, Paris 2024 released images of the podiums that will be used for each of the awards.

The term podium comes from “Podi”, foot in Greek. What doesn’t come from Greece is the podium itself as a crowning space for champions. It was in 1932, first in the winter of Lake Placid and then in the summer of Los Angeles that this custom made its debut.

Nothing too different from what happens with other elements that, since they are installed in the hearts of fans of Olympism, it doesn’t matter to us that they were almost a marketing work of the 20th century that started from an ancient rite.

For example, with such coveted Olympic medals. That there were no gold medals in Athens 1896 - only the first two were awarded silver, copper or bronze medals - but the contemporary habit was only installed in St. Louis 1904.

For example, the Olympic anthem created by Spyridon Samaras and Kostis Palamas for the 1896 games but whose final adaptation, as we know it, premiered in Rome 1960.

For example, the very emblematic flag of the IOC, which premiered the five rings only in Antwerp 1920.


For example, the Olympic torch.

We know of the historical references regarding the transfer of fire between citizens who announced the arrival of competencies in Ancient Greece.

However, it was necessary to wait until Amsterdam 1928 for the sacred fire to be present in the Olympic Stadium. It was thanks to the work and grace of the architect Jan Wills that a space was available at the top of the emblematic tower of the historic arena in the Dutch capital.

And the transfer of torches? This characteristic ritual, whose starting point is one of the most traditional celebrations in tribute to the creators of Olympia, had its premiere only in Berlin 1936.

As will be seen, even what seems older to us was installed over time.

Nothing to question. Those of us who love Olympism do not stop at calendar whims. Modern, old or not so old, games are much more than those details. As captivating as they seem to us.