When did the Winter Olympics start?
No, I mean, originally? Who was the first man to ski through the forests of Europe with a flaming torch above his head, threatening to set the entire continent ablaze once every four years? Or was it also modelled on Greek history? Did the warriors of ancient Greece retire to the mountains of Thessalonika once every four years, to compete at sledging? Are there pictures on Greek vases depicting men bent over in strange positions, whizzing downhill on bent planks, clothed in nothing except primitive dark glasses...?
Then how did it start?
I will tell you. Many years ago, the peoples of the North told many tales of Odin and his gods, and of their battles against the giants who lived in the furthest north, And of all the gods who fought with the giants, none was mightier than Thor and his famous hammer Mjollnir. And one day Thor went on a journey, taking with him only his servant Thialfi and the god of mischief known as Loki. And they journeyed to the land of the giants, where the giants made mock of them, saying: ‘Look at Thor with his mighty muscles! Let us see if Thor can catch a snowball.’
And Thor became angry and said: ‘Throw the snowball, pal, and let us see if I can catch it!’
And the giants threw an enormous snowball at him and knocked him over.
‘You have been tricked,’ said Loki, who knew a trick when he saw one. ‘That was not a snowball. That was an avalanche created by these giants. It would have crushed any one of them to death, but you it merely knocked over.’
And when Loki saw how the giants still laughed, he said angrily: ‘Why do you not challenge us to a proper trial of strength instead of these childish games?’
‘Very well,’ said the giants. ‘We will challenge you to some of our favourite sports. First of all we will challenge you to sliding fast through the forest.’
Which they said, so that Thor would knock himself out on one of the many overhanging branches. But Thor slid so fast through the woods that he knocked all the trees flat and came first in the race.
‘Very good,’ said the giants. ‘Now we will play at getting into skin-tight trousers and sliding across the ice on the lake with our hands behind our backs.’
And this they said to make Thor look ridiculous.
‘I get into skin-tight trousers for no man, god or giant!’ roared Thor.
‘I will do it,’ said Thor's servant Thialfi, who was a good slider and had a lower centre of gravity than the giants as well as slim legs which looked good in tights, and he won his race.
‘That is very good,’ said the giants, ‘but now there is something much harder, viz sliding downhill on two planks tied to your feet without hitting a tree.’
‘This is too ridiculous for words,’ said Thor, and he was right, for the giants were inventing all these things to make mock of Thor. But Loki said he would take part in this race.
‘How will we know who has won?’ he said to the giants.
‘We count out loud as you come down the slope,’ said the giants, ‘and if you come to the last bend in under one minute 23 point four seconds, you are on course for a bronze or better.’
But Loki had noticed that when the giants did their downhill sliding on planks, they covered all their body with clothes, even to their faces, and plastered them with slogans such as 'Come to Giantland for your Hols' and 'Sponsored by Midgard', and nobody could recognise them, not even their best friends, so when it came to Loki's turn he cunningly wrapped a chamois goat in protective gear and it descended the slope faster than anyone.
‘You have done well,’ said the giants. ‘But here is a final challenge, O Thor. For this one we want you to put little slidy things on your feet, and get on the ice, and then while we play some music such as “The Giant's Tango”, you will dance round and round with Loki in your arms, and we will give you points for gracefulness.’
And then finally even Thor saw that they were making mock of him and he raised his mighty hammer Mjollnir, but by magic everything faded away and the next moment all three found themselves back in Asgard where the gods dwelt. And ever after they have held the Winter Olympics to celebrate Thor's victory over the giants.
I don't believe a word of it.
Suggest a more likely explanation, then.
The Independent WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 16TH 1994