The London Olympics that we’re watching on TV are very different from the ancient Olympics that began about 3 000 years ago.

For one thing, in those days it was just the Greeks competing against each other, with no other countries involved. And the events were very different too.

Apart from the sprint, similar to today’s races, there was the pankration, a mixture of boxing and wrestling, which could leave the fighters cut and bleeding.

There was also a race in which the competitors ran wearing suits of armour and carrying shields. And they held chariot races, and discus throwing with the discus made of bronze or iron so you had to be fantastically strong, and pentathlon.

There are five sports in pentathlon, from the Ancient Greek word for five: pente. In the original Olympics the sports were discus, javelin, jumping, running and wrestling, but the modern pentathlon consists of fencing (sword fighting), swimming, showjumping, running and shooting.

The games were held every four years for centuries, but then stopped in 393 CE, and didn’t start again until 1896 with the beginning of the modern Olympics in Greece.

These are among the facts in a great new book called Octavia’s Olympics, an exploration of the Olympic Games by Octavia the Ostrich and her friends Theo and Sofie. Octavia decides she wants to take part, and tries out some of the sports. Of course it helps in the long jump when you have wings to help propel you.

Through Octavia’s adventures we learn something about each of the sports, from athletics to archery, fencing and shooting, equestrianism and cycling and many more. She also has a go at beach volleyball, looking very pretty in a pink bikini.

The book tells the story of Octavia’s adventures, and is also full of interesting facts about the Games, as well as puzzles and rhymes.

For more information see or

• Octavia’s Olympics, by Helen Nevin & Sarah Riordan, and illustrations by Bridgette Hunt

(Planet Octavia Publishing)