We’re celebrating the return of athletics, the unique Olympic sport

Running is the sport for everyone. It blurs the lines of age, size, and ethnicity. The barrier to entry is not based on status or money. You grind in open spaces – back roads and dirt roads – with nothing but your shoes on your feet. With athletics, these feelings only intensify. You grow as an individual, but benefit from the team. The lessons learned in it go beyond sport. You will learn where to push, when to stay in your lane, and how to lean into discomfort. And its origins as a spectator sport are far-reaching.

The history of athletics can be traced back to 776 BC. When it was played as the first Olympic sport and until 724 BC. The only event at the games remained. Freeborn Greek males sprinted equivalents of 200 meters and 400 meters; participated in distance events; and prevailed in pentathlon (discus throw, javelin throw, long jump, sprint and wrestling). Athletes who fought for a place on the podium received seal stones – much like our modern medals – a gemstone typically engraved with Nike, a winged goddess who embodied victory. In Greek mythology, she was a messenger of the gods, usually depicted with a wreath or ribbon to crown triumphant athletes.

Nowadays, Nike is a Titan in a different sense. The company stands for speed. Its iconic swoosh adorns the shoes of some of the world’s fastest runners from all over the world – from Kenya to Oregon, the birthplace of Nike. The story begins in Hayward Field at the University of Oregon.

In 1973 the young company signed its first athlete: Steve Prefontaine, a courageous 22-year-old prodigy of long-distance running. The ancient Greek athletes were brave in that taking part in chariot races often resulted in their being mangled or trampled to death – but that was what got the crowd going. You got drunk from the danger. Prefontaine understood the draw. He approached running – or better yet, running – with a warlike spirit and gave it the same appeal as watching horses thunder through a circus. He wasn’t shy. He went out hard and never doubted his stamina or speed would deteriorate.

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