The Olympian Games; the chief national festival of the Greeks is celebrated in honor of Zeus at Olympia. It is a worldwide multi-sport event subdivided into summer and winter sporting events. The summer and winter games are both held every four years. The origins of these games are rooted in legends, the most popular legend describes that Hercules was the creator of the Olympic Games, and erected the Olympic stadium and surrounding buildings as an honor to his father Zeus, after completing his 12 labors. According to that legend he walked in a straight line for 400 strides and called this distance a "stadion" that later also became a distance calculation unit.
From the foundation, the main Olympic events were athletic. The earliest was a race over the course of the stadium - roughly 200m. Later came the introduction of two-lap (400m) and 24-lap (5000m) races, along with the most revered of the Olympiad events, the pentathlon. This encompassed running, jumping, discus and javelin events, the competitors gradually reduced to a final pair for a wrestling-and-boxing combat. It was, like much of these early Olympiads, a fairly brutal contest. More brutal still was the pancratium , introduced in 680 BC and one of the most prestigious events. Pancratium contestants fought each other, naked and unarmed, using any means except biting or gouging each others' eyes; the olive wreath had on one occasion to be awarded posthumously, the victor having expired at the moment of his opponent's submission. Similarly, the chariot races , introduced in the same year, were extreme tests of strength and control, only one team in twenty completing the seven-kilometre course without mishap.
The enormous gathering of people and nations at the festival extended the games' importance and purpose well beyond the winning of olive branchs; assembled under the temporary truce, nobles and ambassadors negotiated treaties, while merchants chased contacts and foreign markets. Sculptors and poets, too, would seek commissions for their work. Herodotus read aloud the first books of his history at an Olympian festival to an audience that included Thucydides - who was to date events in his own work by reference to the winners of the Pancratium. The Games gradually declined in importance as the Romans gained power in Greece. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Olympic Games were seen as a pagan festival and in discord with Christian ethics, and in 393 AD the emperor Theodosius I outlawed the Olympics, ending a thousand-year tradition.
Around the 1896, the Olympic Games were recovered at the initiative of a French nobleman, Pierre Fr dy, Baron de Coubertin, thus inaugurating the era of the Modern Olympic Games. Since then, in Athens, Greece, the participation in the Olympic Games has increased to include athletes from nearly all nations worldwide. With the improvement of satellite communications and global telecasts of the events, the Olympics are consistently gaining supporters. The most recent Summer Olympics were the 2004 Games in Athens and the most recent Winter Olympics were the 2006 Games in Turin. The upcoming games in Beijing are planned to comprise 302 events in 28 sports. As of 2006, the Winter Olympics were competed in 84 events in 7 sports.