The modern games could owe a debt to a rural tradition, writes David Leggat.
Did you know that the modern Olympic Games had their origins 400 years ago in a hilltop amphitheatre in the English Cotswolds? Or that the programme included sports like shin-kicking and pulling faces?
Probably not. The traditional view is that the Olympics had their origins in 1890 when Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee, leading six years later to the first games of the modern era at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens.
But the people of the picturesque Gloucestershire village of Chipping Campden beg to differ. And they have the support of the British Olympic Committee.
Its submission to the IOC seeking to have the 2012 games in London declared:
"An Olympic Games held in London in 2012 will mark a unique anniversary - it will be exactly 400 years from the moment that the first stirrings of Britain's Olympic beginnings can be identified. In 1612 in the tiny village of Chipping Campden, Robert Dover opened the first Cotswold Olimpicks, an annual sporting fair that honoured the ancient Games of Greece.
"Those early Olimpick competitors were as remote as you could imagine from the Olympic stars of today, and the sports included singlestick, wrestling, jumping in sacks, dancing and even shin-kicking. But whatever the eccentric nature of the event, this was the pre-dawn of the Olympic Movement, and the Cotswold Games began the historical thread in Britain that was ultimately to lead to the creation of the modern Olympics."
That festival of sport, Robert Dover's Cotswold Olimpick Games, continues to this day. This year's games will be held on June 3 at the traditional amphitheatre, on what is now called Dover's Hill, overlooking the Vale of Evesham, with spectacular views across the plains of the Rivers Avon and Severn to the foothills of the Welsh mountains.
Next year, when London hosts the Olympic Games, the organisers of the Olimpick Games have big plans to celebrate the 400th anniversary.
These days Dover's Hill and the Olimpick amphitheatre are owned by Britain's National Trust, which bought the site in 1929, and the games are run by Robert Dover's Games Society, founded in 1965.
This year's programme - "Where will be presented for your edification and enjoyment, a HOST of SPECTACLES!" as the poster puts it - will include the Tug of War, the Champion of the Hill (climbing, that is), running races, gurning (pulling faces through a horse collar, reintroduced to the programme by popular request two years ago), singlestick fighting, tai kwando and falconry plus, my personal favourite, shinkicking.
In this event competitors hold each other by the shoulders and try to kick their shins and bring them to the ground. Shins can be protected with straw and competitors wear the traditional white smocks associated with the shepherds who took part with relish a century and more ago.
How tough were these men? In the 19th century contestants hardened their shins with coal hammers and wore boots tipped with iron. Broken legs? There were plenty. Ouch.
But the Olimpicks are about more than brutal competition in bizarre ancient sports. There are also costumes dating back 400 years to the origins of the games, exhibitions of morris dancing, cannons to be fired, a grand fireworks display, marching bands, a bonfire lit by the intriguingly named Scuttlebrook Queen and finally a torchlight process back to the centre of Chipping Campden for dancing in the square.
It all sounds like a lot of fun ... a lot more fun, probably, than the Olympic Games this endearing, crazy festival helped inspire.
Getting there: Air New Zealand has daily flights to London.
Getting around: For information about rail travel see here.
Further information: Olimpick Games.
David Leggat visited Chipping Campden with help from Visit Britain and Air New Zealand.