In so many ways, the modern Olympic games are far different from their ancient progenitors and becoming more different every year.
The ancient Olympics were built upon the physical abilities of human beings. Technology plays a greater role with each successive quadrennial tournament. In 2008, we've seen the technological aspect of the competition extend even to the material composition of the swimwear. It is truly incredible how the Olympics have come to represent a partnership between the jocks and the geeks!
The ancient Olympics incorporated only a few games, but the modern games involve a dizzying array of "sports." Who knew that jumping on a trampoline was an Olympic event? As I was saying to Tracy a few minutes ago, the Olympics includes several sports that I really enjoy watching for one game every four years. Men's table tennis? I'm not paying for season tickets, but I sincerely enjoy taking in a game or two during the Olympics. With such diversity of contests, there's something for everyone to watch and enjoy.
The original Olympics did not, to my knowledge, involve any prizes awarded according to the subjective analysis of "judges." You either crossed the finish line first, or you didn't. You either threw the javelin the farthest, or you didn't. We've injected a new level of controversy into the modern Olympics by having an ever increasing number of sports in which panels of judges award medals based upon sometimes-so-obviously-flawed judging systems.
Nations did not issue passports—false or genuine—for their athletes in ancient Greece.
But for all the ways that the modern Olympics are advancing further and further away from the original Olympics, I can identify one way in which our modern games are with each iteration coming so close to the original Olympic ideal. It came to me as I was watching the American women's volleyball team last night and then the U.S. women's hurdlers tonight:
The original Olympians competed naked.