Legend says that the first Olympics began when Hercules challenged his four brothers to contests of strength. Be that as it may, the earliest recorded Olympics was in 776 B.C.E. in Olympia, Greece. The games were in honor of Zeus, king of the gods, which is why they were always held in Olympia. Olympia was at the foot of Mount Olympus, thought to be the home of the gods. The Greeks called a time span of four years an Olympiad, whether this was a cause or effect of the Olympics being held every four years, I could not determine.
The games were only open to free men who could speak Greek. The custom of competing in the nude began in 720 B.C.E. when Pausanias insisted on running without clothing because he could run faster that way. Women were not only barred from competing, but could not even watch the games, because they were held on ground sacred to Zeus where women could not go. The exceptions were the horse races and the chariot races because these were held outside the sacred grounds.
The competitions that were held included: Boxing, Horse Riding, Chariot Racing, Pankration (a combination of boxing and wrestling), Running, Wrestling and the Pentathlon which was composed of Discus Throwing, Javelin Throwing, Jumping, Running and Wrestling.
Horse riding and chariot racing were the most expensive of the sports. Only the very wealthy could afford to pay for horses, feed, equipment and training. Because of this, the sponsor of the winning chariot received the traditional olive wreath instead of the actual driver. One Roman nobleman boasted that he had entered seven chariots in one race, a classic case of conspicuous consumption.
In 393 A.D., more than eleven centuries after the games began, the Roman Emporer Theodosius ended the games declaring them to be corrupt. Shortly afterwards, the city of Olympia was buried in an earthquake. The city remained buried until it was uncovered by a German archaelogical excavation in 1870.
Baron Pierre de Coubertin was inspired by Olympia. He spoke to an international gathering of sports competitors in Paris on June 23, 1894, proposing the idea of renewing the Olympics. Two years later, the first modern Olympics was held in its original birthplace, Olympia, in 1896. Fourteen countries, including U.S., Greece, Germany, France, U.K., Hungary, Austria, Australia, Denmark, and Switzerland sent a total of 245 male athletes, the majority of them, Greek.
The events included track and field, fencing, weightlifting, rifle and pistol shooting, tennis, cycling, swimming, gymnastics and wrestling. The highlight of games was the first modern day marathon, from Marathon to Athens which was watched by more than 100,000 people.
Olympics History -- http://www.athensguide.org/olympics-history.html
Ancient Sports -- http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/Olympics/sports.html
The First Modern Olympics -- http://www.infoplease.com/spot/mm-athens.html
War and the Modern Olympics -- http://www.sjc.uq.edu.au/projects/Olympics/History/history6.html
Women and Sports History -- http://www.caaws.ca/Milestones/Kidd_Olym.htm
The Winter Olympics -- http://www.infoplease.com/ipsa/A0115111.html