The story of sports began thousands of years ago, when ancient people first started playing ball games. As time passed, new sports emerged, along with competitions and international events at which to play them. In modern times, sports are a major source of exercise, entertainment for spectators, and a way for millions of professional athletes worldwide to test their skills.
Bowling beginnings (3200 BCE)
Discoveries of ancient balls and pins in an Egyptian grave date bowling back 5,000 years. Modern tenpin bowling will begin in 1841 in the US.
Ancient ball game (2000 BCE)
The Mayans play a speedy ball game called pitz. The objective is to pass a rubber ball through a stone hoop without using hands or feet. The Aztecs, Incas, and Olmecs play similar games.
Ancient Olympics (776 BCE)
At Olympia, a religious site in southwest Greece, the first recorded Olympic Games are held. They honor the protector of the people, Zeus. The Games are held every four years, with competitors often traveling long distances to participate.
Marathon message (490 BCE)
When a messenger named Pheidippides runs from the Battle of Marathon to Athens, Greece with news of a victory, the distance of 25 miles (40 km) becomes the measurement for a marathon. In 1921, the distance will be standardized as 26.2 miles (42.195 km).
Hand tennis (1100 CE)
European monks play the earliest version of tennis using their hands to hit the ball. By the 1870s, a similar game named Sphairistike is played in the UK with wooden rackets. Renamed tennis, the game’s first championship will be played at Wimbledon in 1877.
Bicycle design (1490)
Italian artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci sketches the first bicycle design, complete with pedals and a chain. Bicycles and competitive cycling sports do not develop until centuries later.
The Marylebone Cricket Club in London introduces rules to turn a 16th-century game into the sport we now call cricket.
Boxing gloves (1867)
Wearing padded boxing gloves becomes compulsory for competitive fighters. However, similar attire had already been seen in ancient Greece, where fighters covered their hands in animal hide, and in ancient Rome, where gladiators used metal to really pack a punch.
Table tennis (1880s)
During winters in Victorian England, house guests make their own entertainment by turning their dining tables into mini tennis courts to play the first games of ping pong (also known as table tennis). Champagne corks are used as balls.
Soccer league (1888)
The world’s first soccer league competition gets underway in England. Twelve teams take part, with Preston North End crowned champions at the end of the season.
Modern Olympics (1896)
French aristocrat Pierre de Coubertin arranges a revival of the ancient Olympic Games. The competition is held in Athens, Greece with about 300 athletes from 14 countries. Events include swimming, cycling, weightlifting, wrestling, athletics, and the first marathon.
World Series (1903)
The two US baseball leagues - the American League and the National League - compete for the end-of-year championship for the first time in what is today known as the World Series.
Tour de France (1903)
The first Tour de France is held, lasting 19 days and covering 1,508 miles (2,428 km) along French roads. Although 60 competitors start the race, only 21 finish. The race was born to help boost the flagging sales of the cycling newspaper L’Auto.
Beach volleyball (1920s)
This game is first played on the beach in Santa Monica, California. Today, the sport is played on beaches and artificial sand courts all around the world.
Football leagues (1920)
The National Football League begins with a meeting in Canton, Ohio. A second football league, named the American Football League, gets underway 40 years later. In 1967, the champions of the two leagues face each other in the first annual Super Bowl.
World Cup (1930)
The biggest soccer competition gets underway in Uruguay. Thirteen teams contest it, with the host nation emerging as the champions. The tournament has been held every four years since, except when World War II twice caused its postponement.
The first Paralympic Games takes place in Rome, Italy. More than 400 athletes take part in events including archery, swimming, table tennis, and basketball.
Women’s World Cup (1991)
The first competition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup is held in China, with the US beating Norway 2-1 in the final. The tournament has been held every four years since.