Olympics: a continuing experiment in international brotherhood

Make way, Misha. Sam, the Olympic Eagle, is heading our way. Sam is the mascot, or emblem, for next year's Olympic Games at Los Angeles in southern California. Sam the Eagle takes over from Misha the bear, mascot for the last Olympic Games. Those games were held in Moscow in the Soviet Union in 1980.

It's easy to figure out when the Olympic Games are held. Not only do they come around every four years, but they also fall during a leap year.

Two things are special about a leap year:

1. A leap year has one extra day, which is added to the short month of February, making it 29 days instead of the usual 28 days.

2. A leap year is a year that can always be divided exactly by four. So, if you want to find out if 1932 or 1956 were years of the Olympic Games, see if you can divide them evenly by the number 4.

The 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles will get under way in July. Some 10,000 athletes from as many as 150 countries are expected to attend.

The athletes will compete in 23 different events. Some events such as swimming, track and field, and boxing will take place at the main stadium, which is known as the Coliseum. This was the site for the last Olympics held in Los Angeles, in 1932. But because the Olympics cover such a broad range of skills, some of the contests will be held miles from Los Angeles.

The farthest distance you could travel to watch two different events within the Olympic encampment would be about 200 miles. That is the distance between Lake Casitas, some 90 miles north of Los Angeles in Ventura County and the site of the rowing and canoeing, and Fairbanks Ranch, 110 miles south of Los Angeles in San Diego County. Not surprising, Fairbanks Ranch will be the site for the endurance contest in the equestrian events. (Since ''equestrian'' is taken from the Latin word equus, it refers to horse-riding events.)

Although next year's Olympic Games will have 23 participating sports, this isn't the tradition. Sports have been added and withdrawn over the years.

The first Olympics, held as long ago as 776 BC, had only one event. It was a sprint race, about 200 yards long. The winner of the very first Olympics was a young cook named Coroebus of Eris, in Greece.

Originally the Olympic Games grew out of religious festivals that took place in several places in ancient Greece. One of those places was called Olympus. And that's how the word Olympic Games came into use.

The Olympic Games were started again in more modern times as a way to display brotherhood and friendly competition among all athletes of the world. The Olympic symbol, five interlocking rings, represents friendship of all peoples. Each ring stands for a continent: Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas.

Although international friendship is the goal, political squabbles sometimes get in the way of countries competing at the Olympic Games. At the Montreal Games in 1976 about two dozen African countries chose not to attend. They didn't want to be in the same company with the team from New Zealand because New Zealanders had played sports against South Africa. South Africa is a country where whites and blacks are kept apart, and this angered the protesting African nations.

At the last Olympic Games in Moscow the United States and 35 other countries decided they would not attend the games. Their quarrel was with the host country , the Soviet Union. Only the year before the 1980 Olympiad the Soviet Union invaded the country of Afghanistan. The Russians did this so they could control events in this mountainous land that borders the Soviet Union. Soviet troops are still there four years later.

It's possible that a few countries which oppose the US won't come to the Olympic Games. That could include the Soviet Union. But it is unlikely. The Soviet Union has won the greatest number of gold medals at the last few Olympics. Unless something very serious happens in US-Soviet relations, there's a good chance the Soviets will want to come to the games to show they have the world's best athletes.

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