In February 2012, in the build-up to the London Olympics, the BGS Classics and Games departments ran a very successful “Olympiathlon”, my term chosen for the Greek Olympics Week. Here is how we did it, and some advice if you would like to create one for your school. I heartily recommend it! The Rio Olympics in 2016 might rekindle the demand for this, or even the 2020 Tokyo Olympics!
1. Get your Head of Sport or PE on board early on. This is absolutely crucial. Our Head of PE was brilliant, and very flexible. The success of the actual sport bit is central to how pupils and staff will respond to it. Large audiences won’t come along just to see speeches and people having olive wreaths put on their head. You will also need a location (Sports Hall, gym etc) and equipment (see below) and the Head of PE will almost certainly know much better than a Head of Classics what is needed, and will also have a good sense of what is possible and what is unrealistic. On the other hand, it has to be different, as otherwise it will just be like a normal PE lesson. Stick in as many accurate details as you can. A good book to start with for details is Judith Swaddling’s book, “The Ancient Olympic Games”
2. Decide what events you are going to put on. We did it in five lunch-times, and did a full pentathlon (javelin, discus, run, long-jump (with a difference!) and wrestling!), one event on each day, and one boy and one girl from each of our six Houses (adding a bit of natural competition) from a different year group each day.
3. Don’t try to do everything yourself – the competitors need to be chosen, but if you can get one person per class (or House) in each year group, or however you’re going to organise it, then the class/House teachers/tutors can appoint one competitor each.
4. Advertise it well. We did a full school assembly the week before, and then a report on how it was going in the assembly of the week of the Olympiathlon. Pupils involved in reading reports etc. goes down well. Also see if you can get someone with a decent camera to take photos; this will mean people won’t just forget about it once it’s over. Also if the school has a newsletter or magazine, get the editors interested and involved, so that a report can go into it.
5. Don’t try to do too much in a lunch-time. Write a script, and stick to it.
6. Here is the list of what we did each lunch-time:
- Introduction (taken from Pindar, but changed quite a bit, with some bits specific to the school and what is actually happening). Make sure you can be heard – I was in the Sports Hall, a huge space, so was glad to have a microphone. The Head of PE didn’t use the mike, as being a PE teacher, he was used to shouting very loudly and being heard!
- Procession of the athletes (accompanied by a trumpeter, if you can find one, playing a fanfare – our trumpeter wrote his own fanfare, but I’m sure a music teacher could help with this). They then line up in front of…
- Zeus Horkios (who is a different prominent figure in the school each day). We had our two Classics Honours Students, and then a Classics teacher, then the Director of Sport at the school, and one of our Year 11 Classical Civilisation students. The more different sorts of people you can get involved, the more people will know about it and come to support. I bought a grey beard and long blonde wig (I was looking for white, but blonde was ok) from a fancy dress shop, and had sheets for a “chiton” (a bit like a toga, to be honest).
- Oath (taken from Swaddling’s book). I had the athletes and the umpire/judge say the oath and then touch Zeus’s feet.
- Oration – choose some prominent members of the community to read a poem, speech or even make up something stirring on the spot. We had our Head of English, Head of History, a Classics teacher, an English teacher who is Greek, and read in modern Greek, and one of our public-speaking trained sixth formers. They all went down very well. They were also dressed up in chitons.
- The competitions
- Javelin – if you’re doing it indoors, the Head of PE can get indoor javelins, but if you don’t already own these, this will take some planning, or a pole with a soft end. Two goes to see who can throw it furthest.
- 192m run – this is the length of the Olympic Stadium in Olympia. You don’t need a 192m space for this, although if you can find one it will be better, I think. We used boards at one end, and cones to run around at the other end. The run takes less time than the other events, as everyone is running at the same time, rather than taking it in turns.
- Long-jump – give them weights, and it’s a multiple jump (two-footed, and five jumps, to see who can get further). Cones to indicate distance. Again, two goes, and the longer one counts for each competitor.
- Discus – we ended up using some large mayonnaise tub lids, stuck together, but we had planned to use a large discus (35 cm was the traditional diameter).
- Wrestling – the senior Rugby boys should be able to do this without too many H&S concerns. It was fantastic, and was by far the biggest draw for the audiences!
- The crowning with olive wreaths. I managed to find some plastic olive wreaths(well, they are laurel wreaths, but nobody will tell the difference!) and the two winners (one boy, one girl, except on the Friday when it was just the boys doing the wrestling) were crowned by Zeus. Then the showering with olive wreaths (well, small pieces of green paper cut into leaf shapes by my Year 7s!)
- A feast of fruit, provided by the catering department. Also bottles of water for dried-out athletes!
- Thank you to all the people who were involved. Pin up details of winners and competitions in important locations around the Sports Hall / Classics department etc!
I think that’s everything. A lot of hard work, but all very much worth it! I’m sure I will remember a lot of other things, and will post them again. Good luck if you are deciding to put on your own Olympiathlon. Let me know how it goes!!