Feature: 4,000-year-old "Olympic Games" on rocks

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By sportswriter Wang Chunyan

HOHHOT, July 21 (Xinhua) -- It's a fierce football game, but the result was hard to tell. Facing three defenders, the attacker sprinted with the ball and leaped high, making a thrilling breakthrough.

We can't hear the cheers on the field, as the scene of the game has been frozen for thousands of years. This football game is "played" on a black rock in the depths of Yinshan Mountain, north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Ancient ancestors carved the lines on the rock, showing the charm of kickers vividly. The football game attracted not only our interests but also two riders back then on the rock.

"This football-game rock art dates from the upper Neolithic Age to the Early Bronze Age, at least 4,000 years ago," said Zhao Zhankui, a researcher at the Hetao Cultural Museum.

"It's impossible to verify what the ball was made of, whether there was a goal in the game, and how to count the outcome. However, from the rock art, we can feel that this sport was very popular among the ancestors and attracted the audience to watch," added Zhao.

More than 150 distribution groups of rock art are scattered in the Yinshan Mountains of Bayan Nur City, Inner Mongolia, with more than 50,000 existing rock art, which is one of the largest rock art treasure houses in the world.

In this "thousands of miles gallery," there are many rock art showing sports scenes, giving people a more intuitive understanding and imagination of the origin of sports.

Besides the football-game rock art, rock art of running, jumping, throwing, archery, riding can be found, which seemed like the Olympic Games with a history of thousands of years were held on rocks.

On an eave-shaped boulder in the western section of Langshan Mountain, Dengkou County, Bayan Nur City, a mighty riding team came to us through time and space.

Some are on horseback, some are on camels, most of them move to the left of the rock, only two are on horseback to the right of the rock, as if they are in an equestrian exhibition competition.

In the upper right corner of the rock, a rider is not riding a horse but supporting himself on horseback with his four limbs as if performing a complex gymnastics routine.

"Rock art is the most ancient 'language' of mankind, recording ancient people's thoughts about themselves and the world. Sport is a common theme in rock art, and some mysteries of the origin of sports may be sealed in rock art," said Wang Jianping, president of China Rock Art Association.

In 2015, ancient rock art depicting people hunting with the fur snowboards was found in Altay Prefecture, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, dating back about 12,000 years, which made Altay one of the places where skiing is originated.

The relationship between rock art, sports and the Olympic Games does not stop there.

Zuojiang Huashan rock art, located in Chongzuo City, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, was not only China's first rock art on the world heritage list but was also displayed in the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Now, the postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics will kick off in two days, attracting the world's concerns and attention. Meanwhile, the sports meeting on rocks traveled through space and time, once again conveying a tribute to strength and beauty.

The sports-scene rock art makes people ask why the ancient ancestors do sports?

During those long years, our ancestors did it for survival.

When they had adequate food, more tools, and more leisure time, they longed to run faster to catch up with and hunt more animals; They longed to jump higher, over more obstacles and for a greater distance; They longed to become stronger so as not to lose out to other tribes.

Thousands of years have passed by; stars changed in position. Why do we do sports now?

For fitness, for health, for happiness, for leisure... Besides all these purposes, we do sports to challenge our limits, and explore more possibilities.

In 1896, the fastest time for men's 100-meter race was 11.8 seconds in the first modern Olympic Games.

In 1912 in Stockholm, the first electric timing device was used at the Olympics, and the record improved to 10.6 seconds. In 1968, the 100-meter race result broke the 10-second mark for the first time.

In the following 50 years, 9.92 seconds, 9.86 seconds, 9.79 seconds... Generation after generation, "flying men" constantly challenged their limits and temporarily fixed this achievement at 9.58 seconds.

Can we run faster? And who can do it?

No one knows the answer, but the challenge never stops.

"The Olympic flame can be the light at the end of this dark tunnel," the words of International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach have inspired countless sportsmen over the past year or so.

Referring to the Tokyo Olympics, which have been postponed for a year due to the pandemic, Bach hoped that this Olympic Games, which was destined to go down in history, "can become a great symbol of hope, optimism, unity and integration of all our diversity."

Regardless of nationality, country, age and gender, strength, skills, beauty and elegance of human beings displayed by sports have become more vital in the evolution of human beings.

The rock art may eventually disappear, but the sports items retain, and the Olympic spirit lasts long. There will be a light at the end of the tunnel. Enditem

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