Tag Archives: sports

The Olympics: Invented by the Greeks

5 Aug

Ancient Olympics Nikolopoulos

We Greeks like to claim we invented just about everything.

The most famous? We invented democracy.

If you’ve watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding — 1 or 2 — you know that Greeks invented any word you can think of. This is not an exaggeration. I grew up hearing my father explain to me the Greek root to English words all … the … time.

We even invented cheesecake.

And, we invented the Olympics.

You’re welcome, by the way.

Today is opening ceremonies for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It’s always an exciting event, with a lot of intense political and social history.

I had the amazing experience of attending the Summer Olympics when they were in Athens, Greece! You can see a few photos from that trip here.

I’ve also been several time to the site of the Ancient Olympics. The first Olympics were held in Olympia, Greece. This happens to be on the Peloponnese peninsula where my father grew up, so I grew up visiting there and then as an adult brought my own friends there. You can see my Ancient Greek Olympics photographs from over the years here.

The Greeks invented the Olympics in the 8th century BC to celebrate the mythological Greek god Zeus. Consequently, they were not just about athletics but were highly religious: there were two temples and an altar built. During Antiquity, the games were held every four years. The Olympic games were opened up to all citizens of the Roman Empire during the Roman rule. The games were held until Theodosius I, a Christian emperor of the Roman Empire, banned the pagan rituals of the Olympic games in the 4th century AD. After him, Theodosius II had the temple to Zeus destroyed. For details on the Ancient Greek Olympics, read up here.

For the official modern-day Olympics, visit the Olympics website.

 

Sometimes it’s fun to think of what Olympic games I’d invent if I were in charge of the games today. Here are my picks:

 

  • Olive wreath crown-making
  • Subway turnstile hurdling
  • Best personal essay about gym class
  • Speed typing
  • Freestyle walking

Go, team, go!

 

 

 

 

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Friday Links: Tennis

30 Aug

tennisSir John Lavery’s Played!

We writers aren’t known for being the sportiest bunch. Oh, sure, there are exceptions to the rule, and if you read my blog regularly you know that I write about one such writer: Jack Kerouac, who went to Columbia on a football scholarship. I don’t know how it is that of all the writers I’ve read—and mind you I was a voracious reader from childhood on, reading both male and female authors—I grew most attached to one that was a jock. I guess that’s just irony.

Growing up in New Jersey, I was the cliché example of the girl in the glasses picked last in gym class. Most of my friends lived for the days we had gym, which was only maybe twice a week when I was in elementary school. I hated it. I would’ve rather sat in science class or written an essay than be forced to participate in a rousing game of What Time Is it Mr. Fox? or kickball.

In high school, I started taking tennis lessons. This was very much encouraged by my father, who thought it was great for my future—that it would help me succeed in life and business. I’m sure even in today’s economy there are corporate types who discuss mergers over a competitive game of tennis or golf. I mean, I did see it on an episode of Friends so it must be true. I’d bet there are even publishing types who do so. The reputation of writers and editors, though, is more akin to writing a book contract on a cocktail napkin during our three martini lunches. And so it surprised me that I actually liked tennis. I didn’t like it enough to actually exert too much energy running for the ball, but I liked it enough to make a bit of an effort to endure physical activity. I only took lessons for about a year—there were other things to do with my time, things like study for the SATs and hang out at diners—but I held onto my racket for quite some time. It made the move with me from New Jersey to my first apartment in New York. But it didn’t make it to my second apartment. I hadn’t made friends with the type of people who belonged to tennis clubs. I’d made friends with the type of people who were also picked last for gym class.

In celebration of the US Open, today’s Friday links are tennis related:::

Jason Diamond writes about David Foster Wallace and tennis literature (Flavorwire)

Harvest Books even put out an anthology called Tennis and the Meaning of Life

I myself am a bit partial to the use of tennis in Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus

The Great Gatsby came out around the time tennis was becoming popular in the US; Greg Victor offers a few thoughts on this (Parcbench)

I once sat behind this tennis star and author at Z100’s Jingle Ball

One of the earliest paintings to depict tennis was recently sold at auction (BBC)

Love this fashion spread depicting The Royal Tenenbaums, which of course featured a tennis prodigy (This Is Glamorous)

Althea Gibson broke the color barrier in 1950 when she entered the U.S. Championships

Have a sporty Labor Day weekend! Let me know if you’re doing anything fun.

Fun Fact Friday: The First AOL Instant Message Was Sent by a Greek

26 Apr

ted

So here’s a fun fact I just read this week, via Yahoo: Ted Leonsis was the very first person to ever sent an AOL instant message.

If you don’t know who Ted Leonsis is here’s a quick run-down of just some of his achievements:

  • He was a senior AOL executive for 13 years
  • He is the co-CEO of Groupon
  • He is a founding member of the Revolution Growth Fund
  • He is the majority owner of the Washington Capitals, the Washington Mystics, and the Washington Wizards
  • He’s on the Board of Directors for American Express
  • He produced the award-winning documentary Nanking
  • He is the author of The Business of Happiness
  • He was born in Brooklyn, NY, and raised in Lowell, MA
  • He currently lives in Potomac, MD, at Marwood, previously owned by Franklin Roosevelt, Joseph P. Kennedy, and Al Gore
  • He mentors through the Hoop Dreams program

Successful people are often thought of as ruthless and privileged, but Ted Leonsis is a self-made millionaire who follows his heart. This is the promotional copy for The Business of Happiness:

When the plane he was on prepared for a crash landing, Ted Leonsis asked himself the crucial question, If today is my last day on earth—will I die happy?. . . and realized the answer was no. Despite having achieved massive business success—he was a self-made multi-millionaire at the age of twenty-seven—he realized he would die unfulfilled. He told God that if he survived, he would turn his life around, give back more than he took, and pursue happiness. After walking off that plane, he got to work.

And while I mentioned Nanking above, I should also point out that his other documentaries are equally about social justice. Kicking It is a documentary narrated by Colin Farrell about the issue of homelessness, and A Fighting Chance tells the motivational story of Kyle Maynard, a wrestler who was born without arms and legs.

Ted Leonsis and the stories he helps get to the public are examples that no matter what our circumstances we are all capable of achievement.

Jack Kerouac Dropped Out of College. So What?

27 Jan

Is genius born or created?  By now everyone has read, or at least heard, about how Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College and went on to become the cofounder of Apple and one of the most important entrepreneurs of our time.  Perhaps less known is the fact that Jobs continued to audit classes at Reed.  He actually credited a calligraphy course he took as having a major impact on the Mac.  When I was taking a shuttle from the San Francisco airport to my hotel out in Walnut Creek, I had a midnight conversation with a businessman who had read the biography on Jobs and told me about how the computer genius’ interest in art was fundamental to his vision for building a successful brand.

Back in September, Flavorwire posted an article called “10 Famous Authors Who Dropped Out of School.”  This is what they wrote about Jack Kerouac:

In high school, Beat hero Jack Kerouac was no poet — he was a jock, star of the football team. His athletic skills won him a scholarship to Columbia University, but he and the coach didn’t get along. The two argued constantly and Kerouac was benched for most of his freshman year. Then, he cracked his tibia and, his already tenuous football career over, dropped out of school.

I love Flavorwire, and I understand that the writer was trying to keep the text short and irreverent, but I think it’s worth dissecting the often repeated line that Kerouac dropped out of Columbia University.  Implicit in remarks about his football scholarship and dropping out is the suggestion that Kerouac was neither intelligent nor studious—the same way that many critics like to point to how quickly he supposedly wrote his novels.  If he were a computer genius, like Steve Jobs, perhaps his craft would not be questioned, but because the arts are subjective, Kerouac’s dropping out of college is often reported more as a jab than as evidence toward his natural gifts.

To say that Kerouac was a jock and not a poet in high school undermines his academic achievements.  In reality, Kerouac, who didn’t even feel completely comfortable speaking English when he went off to school (he spoke his parents’ French Canadian dialect), did so well in school that he skipped a grade.  He spent a lot of time at the public library in his hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts, voraciously reading the classics.  When he was not on the football field, Kerouac was part of a roundtable discussion group on philosophy and literature.  His father was a printer, and so even at a young age, Kerouac produced his own writing.  Like Jobs, Kerouac did not come from money, and the scholarship he earned helped him attend the university, where he studied English under the tuition of great professors.

Kerouac left Columbia, then he returned to resume his studies, and then dropped out for good.  However, like Steve Jobs, Kerouac continued his studies even after he dropped out of college.  He enrolled at The New School, where he studied literature.

 

After Kerouac moved to Ozone Park, Queens, and holed himself up writing, his friends jokingly referred to him as “The Wizard of Ozone Park.”  Do you know “The Wizard of Menlo Park” (New Jersey) was?  Thomas Edison, who after only three months of formal schooling, dropped out.

 

***

This post has been updated. I wrote “college” when I meant to write “school,” when referring to Kerouac’s ease with English.

 

 

10 Things You May Not Know about Jack Kerouac

27 Sep

Here are ten things you may not know about Jack Kerouac.

  1. His parents were French-Canadian immigrants, and he didn’t learn to speak English until he went to school.  It wasn’t until he was a teenager that he began feeling comfortable conversing in English.
  2. He was the baby of the family.  He had an older sister named Caroline (nicknamed “Nin”) and an older brother named Gerard, who died when he was just a boy.
  3. He was a Classicist.  He used to skip school just to go read the Classics in the library.
  4. He attended prep school.  Graduating a year early from high school, he had a scholarship lined up to attend Columbia University, but they required him to attend Horace Mann Preparatory School first.
  5. While in school, he wrote music reviews.  He also had a job as a sports writer for his hometown paper.
  6. He joined the US Navy and the US Merchant Marine.
  7. His go-to food while hitchhiking across the country was apple pie.
  8. His first book, The Town and the City, was published under the name John Kerouac.  When he drew the cover he envisioned for On the Road, he also wrote his name as John Kerouac.  His parents had given him the name Jean-Louis, and John was the closest Americanization of his name.
  9. His first marriage took place in prison.  He had been arrested as a material witness after his friend murdered a man who had been stalking him.  Kerouac’s girlfriend agreed to post bail if he married her.
  10. In addition to writing, he also was a painter.

Photographs from the Olympics in Greece

9 Aug

 

 

 

 

I couldn’t pass up going to the Olympics when they were held in Athens in 2004.  At last, the Olympic Games were back where they began!  The men’s and women’s shot put tournament were even held in Olympia, the original site of the Olympics.  The rest of the games were in Athens, which had been completely revamped and upgraded with insanely gorgeous stadiums.  Unfortunately, because of the slow rate of construction there was a lot of fuss in the media about whether the Greeks could get it done in time.  The condescending attitude seemed kind of ironic, considering the Greeks invented the tradition of the Olympics and preserved the ancient site.  Between that and it being the first Olympics since 9/11, there weren’t as many people there as expected.  It was too bad because the Olympic Village that they created especially for the 2004 Athens Olympics was one of the most gorgeous modern venues I’ve ever had the experience of being in.  My friend and I got great seats to our chosen event — men’s swimming 😉

 

Have you ever been to the Olympics?  Which sports would you most want to watch in person?

 

Photographs from My Trip to the Ancient Olympics

6 Aug

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you watching the Olympics right now?

My family lives close to where the very first Olympics were held — the Olympic games began in 776 BC in Olympia, which is in the Peleponnesus in Greece — so over the years, I’ve visited Olympia more times than I could possibly count.  Even though I’m probably one of the least athletic people on the entire planet and couldn’t care less about watching any of the Olympic games, I still love going to site of where the Olympics all began.

What’s so fun about Olympia, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is that you can actually walk right up to the incredible stone columns.  You’re essentially treading the same path as the ancient Olympians.  My father always insists that we run the stadium, and since I love to ham it up for the camera, we end up with lots of silly pictures like the above.  Through this tradition, he’s been able to capture me growing up through the lens of the Ancient Olympics.

If you’re planning a trip to Olympia, Greece, you may find this site helpful.

 

Does your family have a tradition of taking annual photos anywhere unique?