Myths about the first Olympic Games

Ancient Greeks thought that the first games held in Olympia were organized by heroes and gods.

PELOPS: In his first Olympian Ode dated to the fifth century BC, Pindar tells us about Pelops, the founder of the games. Pelops, the son of Tantalus, came from Asia Minor to participate in a chariot race organized by Oinomaos, the king of Pisa in the Peloponnese. Oinomaos was told of an oracle according to which the marriage of his daughter, Hippodameia, would cause his death.
Thus, he had killed all the suitors who came to participate in the race. Pelops came to Pisa, killed Oinomaos during the race, and married Hippodameia. As a king of the area, he first organized the games in order to purify himself. According to another version of the myth, he held the games in order to thank the gods for his victory.
In the same way, Hippodameia instituted the Heraean Games for the same reason. The organization of the chariot-race was illustrated in the eastern pediment of the temple of Zeus in the 5th century BC.

HERACLES: Heracles from Ida is another heroic figure associated with the first Games. Heracles came with his brothers Curetes from Crete, defined the length of the stadium at Olympia, organized a foot race with his brothers and crowned the victor with a wreath of wild olive leaves. Pindar also records that it was Theban Heracles, the son of Zeus who brought the wild olive from the Hyperborean countries, founded the foot race, introduced the cult of Zeus and determined the boundaries of the Sacred Altis.

HERAKLEIDAI: Finally, Strabo provides us with the first historical scenario. He reports that the games were first organized by the Herakleidai, after the spread of the Aitolo-dorian groups to Pisa. According to this interpretation, the Aetolian groups, who conquered Pisa and settled there under their leader Oxylus in the post-Mycenean period, ca. 1200-1100 BC, introduced the cult of Zeus. This occupation led to conflicts with the indigenous people, as indicated by the later antagonism between Eleans who migrated from Aetolia, and Pisatans. According to an Elean myth, Zeus took control of the sanctuary and founded the games. The myths refer to other cults too, probably associated with other groups which settled the area.