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Olympic Games
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Olympic Games

from Olympia to the opening ceremony.]]

The Olympic Games, or Olympics, are a multi-sport event taking place every fourth year. Originally held in ancient Greece, they were revived by a French nobleman, Pierre Frédy, Baron de Coubertin in the late 19th century. The Games of the Olympiad, better known as the Summer Olympics, have been held every fourth year since 1896, with the exception of the years during the World Wars. A special edition for winter sports, the Winter Olympic Games, was established in 1924. Since 1994 these are no longer held in the same year as the Games of the Olympiad.

Table of contents
1 Ancient Olympics
2 Revival of the Olympic Games
3 Modern Olympics
4 Olympic Movement
5 Criticism
6 Olympic symbols
7 Olympic sports
8 Olympic champions and medallists
9 References
10 Related topics
11 External links

Ancient Olympics

In detail: Ancient Olympic Games

The origin of the ancient Olympic Games has been lost, although there are many legends surrounding its origins. One of these legends associates the first Games with the ancient Greek concept of ekeicheiria or Olympic Truce. The first recorded celebration of the Games in Olympia was in 776 BC, although this was certainly not the first time they were held. The Games were then mostly a local affair, and only one event was contested, the stadion race.

From that moment on, the Games slowly became more important throughout ancient Greece, reaching their zenith in the sixth and fifth centuries BC. The Olympics were of fundamental religious importance, contests alternating with sacrifices and ceremonies honouring both Zeus (whose colossal statue stood at Olympia), and Pelops, hero and mythical king of Olympia famous for his legendary chariot race, in whose honor the games were held. The number of events increased to twenty, and the celebration was spread over several days. Winners of the events were broadly admired and were immortalised in poems and statues. The Games were held every four years, and the period between two celebrations became known as an Olympiad. The Greeks used Olympiads as one of their methods to count years.

The Games gradually lost in importance as the Romans gained power in Greece. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Olympic Games were seen as a "pagan" festival threatening Christian hegemony, and in 393 the emperor Theodosius outlawed the Olympics, ending a thousand year period of Olympic Games.

Revival of the Olympic Games

wanted better physical education and foreign relations and so spurred the modern Olympic Games into existance.]]

The Olympic Games did not die in 393. Already in the 17th century a sports festival named after the Olympic Games was held in England. Over the next few centuries, similar events were organised in France and Greece, but these were all small-scale and certainly not international. The interest in reviving the Olympics grew when the ruins of ancient Olympia were uncovered by German archaeologists in the mid-19th century.

At the same time, Pierre, Baron de Coubertin sought for a reason for the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). He thought the reason was that the French had not received proper physical education, and sought to improve this. Coubertin also thought of a way to bring nations closer together, to have the youth of the world compete in sports, rather than fight in war. In his eyes, the revival of the Olympic Games would achieve both of these goals.

In a congress at the Sorbonne university in Paris held from June 16 to June 23, 1894 he presented his ideas to an international audience. On the last day of the congress, it had been decided that the first modern Olympic Games would take place in 1896 in Athens, in the country of their birth. To organise the Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was established, with the Greek Demetrius Vikelas as its first president.

The first modern Olympic Games were a success. Although the total number of participants did not exceed 250, they had been the largest international sports event ever held. The Greek officials and public were also very enthusiastic, and they even proposed to be allowed to have the monopoly on organising the Olympics. The IOC decided differently, however, and the second Olympic Games took place in Paris, France.

Modern Olympics

In detail: Summer Olympics, Winter Olympics

After the initial success, the Olympics struggled. The celebrations in Paris (1900) and St. Louis (1904) were overshadowed by the world's fair exhibitions in which they were included. The so-called Intercalated Games (because of their "off-year" status) were held in 1906 in Athens, marking the 10th anniversary of the Modern Olympics. Although organized by the IOC, they are currently not recognised by the IOC as Olympic Games. Most contemporary Olympic historians, however, consider them to be official Olympic Games. Either way, the 1906 Games again attracted a broad international field of participants — in 1904, 80% had been American — and great public interest, thereby marking the beginning of a rise in popularity and size of the Games.

Winter Olympics

When the IOC was established, one of the sports proposed for the programme was ice skating, but no skating was conducted at the Olympics until the 1908 Summer Olympics in London, which featured four figure skating events. The idea of separate Winter Games was proposed, but voted down by the Scandinavians, who favoured their own Nordic Games. Nevertheless, winter events were on the schedule of the cancelled 1916 Games, and the 1920 Games.

For 1924, it was decided to organise a Semaine des Sports d'Hiver ("International Winter Sports Week") in Chamonix, France under the patronage of the IOC, and in connection with the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. This week proved a great success, and in 1925 the IOC decided to create separate Winter Olympic Games, not connected to the Summer Olympics. The 1924 events were retroactively designated as the first Winter Olympics at the 1926 IOC Session. All sports conducted at the Winter Olympics are all held on either ice or snow, as required by the Olympic Charter, the IOC's constitution.

Until 1992, the Winter and Summer Olympics were held in the same year, but in 1986, the IOC voted to separate them, as to spread costs for all involved parties. Because of this decision, the 1994 Winter Olympics were held only two years after the previous edition.


From the 245 participants from 15 nations in 1896, the Games grew to more than 10,500 competitors from 200 countries at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The number of competitors at the Winter Olympics is much smaller than at the summer edition; 2,400 athletes competed at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 78 events.

With over 16,000 broadcasters and journalists present in Sydney, the Olympics are one of the largest media events, together with the Football World Cup. In 2000, an estimated 3.8 billion viewers watched the Olympics on television. The growth of the Olympics is the largest problem the Olympics face today. Although allowing professional athletes and attracting sponsorships from major international companies solved financial problems in the 1980s, the large number of athletes, media and spectators puts makes it difficult and expensive for host cities to organise the Olympics.

Political interference

Despite what Coubertin had hoped, the Olympics did not stop wars from happening, and the Olympics were interrupted twice — once due to World War I and again during World War II. Politics also interfered with the Olympics on several other occasions. The 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin were used as propaganda by the German Nazis. In the 1970s and 1980s, boycotts plagued the Olympics. African nations boycotted the 1976 Olympics because New Zealand's rugby team had played in South Africa. The United States and several other Western nations refused to compete at the Moscow Olympics in 1980 because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc partners countered by boycotting the next Olympics in Los Angeles, California.

One of the darkest chapters in Olympic history was written in 1972, when the Summer Games were held in Munich, West Germany. Eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists. A failed liberation attempt led to the deaths of all of the athletes, five terrorists, and a policeman. This event is known today as the Munich Massacre.

Future Olympic Games

The next celebration of the Games of the Olympiad, as the Summer Olympics are formally called, will be August 2004 in Athens. Beijing will host the 2008 Games, while the bidding process to host the 2012 Olympics is currently in progress.

In 2006 the next celebration of the Winter Olympics will take place, when the Italian city of Turin hosts them. Vancouver will organise the 2010 edition.

Olympic Movement

A number of organisations are involved in organising the Olympic Games. Together they form the Olympic Movement. The rules and guidelines by which these organisations operate are outlined in the Olympic Charter.

At the heart of the Olympic Movement is the International Olympic Committee (IOC), currently headed by Jacques Rogge. It can be seen as the government of the Olympics, as it takes care of the daily problems and takes all important decisions, such as the host city of the Games and the programme of the Olympics.

Three groups of organisations operate on a more specialised level:

At present 202 NOCs and 35 IFs are part of the Olympic Movement. OCOGs are dissolved after the celebration of the Games, when all subsequent paperwork has been done.

More broadly speaking, the term Olympic Movement is sometimes also meant to include everybody and everything involved in the Olympics, such as national sport governing bodies, athletes, media and sponsors of the Olympic Games.


In the past, the IOC has often been criticised for being a monolithic organisation, with several members remaining a member at old age, or even until their deaths. Especially the leadership of IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch has been strongly criticised. Under his presidency, the Olympic Movement made great progress, but has been seen as autocratic and corrupt. Samaranch's ties with the former fascist government in Spain, and his long term as a president (21 years), until he was 81 year old, have also been points of critique.

In 1998, it became known that several IOC members had taken bribes from the organising committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, in exchange for a vote on the city at the election of the host city. The IOC started an investigation, which led to four members resigning, and six being expelled.

The scandal set off further reforms, changing the way in which host cities are elected to avoid further bribes. Also, more active and former athletes were allowed in the IOC, and the membership terms have been limited.

Olympic symbols

In detail: Olympic symbols

The Olympic movement uses many symbols, most of them representing Coubertin's ideas and ideals. The best known symbol is probably that of the Olympic Rings. These five intertwined rings represent the unity of the five continents, while the colours (red, blue, green, yellow, black) were chosen such that each nation has at least one these colours in its national flag. The rings are also featured on the Olympic Flag, which is hoisted at each celebration of the Games.

The official Olympic Motto is "Citius Fortius Altius", a Latin phrase meaning "Swifter, Stronger, Higher". Coubertin's ideals are probably best illustrated by the Olympic Creed:

"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

The Olympic Flame is lighted in Olympia and brought to the host city by runners carrying the torch in relay. There it plays an important role in the opening ceremonies.

Opening Ceremonies

at the 2002 Winter Olympics.]]

Many traditional elements frame the opening ceremonies of a celebration of the Olympic Games. The traditional part of the ceremonies starts with a parade of nations, during which most participating athletes march into the stadium country by country. One honoured athlete, typically a top competitor, from each country carries the flag of his or her nation leading the entourage of other athletes from that country. After all nations have entered, the organizing country's head of state formally opens the Olympics.

Next, the Olympic Anthem is played, and the Olympic flag rises in the stadium. The penultimate runner in the Olympic Flame Relay brings a torch into the stadium, passing the flame to the last carrier. The last carrier of the torch, often a well-known athlete from the host nation, then lights the fire in the stadium's cauldron, followed by the release of doves, symbolising peace. Finally, the flag bearers of all countries circle around a rostrum, where one athlete and one referee will speak the Olympic Oath, declaring they will compete and judge according to the rules.

Apart from these traditional elements, the host nation ordinarily presents artistic displays of dance and theatre representative of that country.

Closing Ceremonies

The closing ceremonies are not as structured as the opening ceremonies. The athletes also march into the stadium, but they march in random order, not divided by country. The Olympic fire is then extinguished, and the Olympic flag is lowered, folded, and presented to the mayor of the host city of the next Olympic Games. The IOC president ends the ceremonies by declaring the Games closed.

Olympic sports

In detail: Olympic sports

At the 2000 Olympics, events were held in 28 sports, per the IOC count. If one splits up sports such as aquatics, there were 34 different sports. Only five sports have been on the Olympic programme since 1896: athletics (track and field), cycling, fencing, gymnastics and swimming. If the 1896 rowing events had not been cancelled due to bad weather, they would have been included in this list as well.

An the most recent Winter Olympics, 7 sports were conducted, or 15 if one splits up sports such as skiing and skating. Of these, cross country skiing, figure skating, ice hockey, nordic combined, ski jumping and speed skating have featured on the programme at all Winter Olympics. In addition, figure skating and ice hockey have also been contested as part of the Summer Games before introduction of separate Winter Olympics.

In recent years, the IOC has added several new sports to the programme to attract attention from young spectators. Examples of such sports include snowboarding and beach volleyball. The growth of the Olympics also means that some less popular (modern pentathlon) or expensive (white water canoeing) sports have to fear for their place on the Olympic programme. Although no sports have been excluded from the programme since the 1920s, the IOC has indicated it may do so after the 2004 Games if sports no longer fit in the programme.

Until 1992, the Olympics often also featured so-called demonstration sports. The objective was for these sports to reach a big audience through the Olympics; the winners of these events are not properly Olympic champions. These sports were sometimes sports only popular in the host nation, but also internationally known sports have been demonstrated. Some demonstration sports, such as baseball and curling were eventually included as full-medal events.

Amateurism and professionalism

In Coubertin's vision, athletes should not compete for money, and it was therefore decided that professional athletes would not be allowed to compete in the Olympic Games. This exclusion of professionals has caused several controversies throughout the history of the modern Olympics.

1912 Olympic pentathlon and decathlon champion Jim Thorpe was disqualified when it was discovered that he played semi-professional baseball prior to winning his medals (he was restored by the IOC in 1983). Twenty-four years later, Swiss and Austrian skiers boycotted the 1936 Winter Olympics in support of their skiing teachers, who were not allowed to compete because they were considered to be professionals, earning money with their sport.

It gradually became clear to many that the amateurism rules had become outdated. For example, many athletes from East European nations were officially employed by the government, but effectively given opportunity to train all day, thereby only being amateurs in name. Nevertheless, the IOC held on to amateurism.

In the 1980s, amateurism regulations were relaxed, and eventually completely abolished in the 1990s. This switch was perhaps best examplified by the American Dream Team, composed of well paid NBA stars, which won the Olympic gold medal in basketball in 1992. As of 2004, the only sport in which no professionals compete is boxing; in football the number of players over 23 years of age is limited to three per team.

Advertisement regulations are still very strict, at least on the actual playing field, although "Official Olympic Sponsors" are common. Athletes are only allowed to have the names of clothing and equipment manufacturers on their outfit. The sizes of these outings are limited.


One of the major problems facing the Olympics (and international sports in general) are performance enhancing drugs. In the early 20th century, many Olympic athletes used drugs to enhance their performance. For example, the winner of the marathon at the 1904 Games, Thomas Hicks, was given strychnine and brandy by his coach, even during the race.

It was not until the late 1960s that sports federations put a ban on doping, and the IOC followed suit in 1967. The first Olympic athlete to test positive for doping use was Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall, a Swedish pentathlete at the 1968 Summer Olympics. More than fifty athletes followed him over the next 34 years, among which several medal winners, notably in weightlifting. The most publicised doping-related disqualification was that of Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, who won the 100 m at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, but tested positive for stanozolol.

Despite the tests, many athletes used doping without being caught. In 1990, documents were revealed that many East German athletes, especially women, had been administered anabolic steroids and other drugs by their coaches and trainers, as a government policy.

In the late 1990s, the IOC took initiative in a more organised battle against doping, leading to the formation of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 1999. The 2000 and 2002 Olympics showed that the battle is not nearly over, as several medallists in weightlifting and cross-country skiing were disqualified after doping offences.

Olympic champions and medallists

In detail: Olympic medallists

may be considered the most successful Olympic athlete in history.]]

For all events held at the Olympic Games, a classification is made up. The athletes (or teams) who place first, second or third receive medals. The winners receive a gold medal (although it is actually gilt silver), the runners-up a silver medal, and the third placed athletes a bronze medal. This practice was introduced in 1908; at the Athens Olympics only the first two received a medal, while various prizes and cups were awarded at the 1900 and 1904 Olympics.

Because the Olympics are held only once every four years, the public and athletes often consider them as more important and valuable than world championships and other international tournaments, which are often held annually. Many athletes have become celebrities or heroes in their own country, or even world-wide, after becoming Olympic champion.

The diversity of the sports, and the great differences between the Olympic Games in 1896 and today make it difficult to decide which athlete is the most successful Olympic athlete of all times. When measuring by the number of gold medals won, the following athletes may be considered the most successful:
Athlete (Nation) Sport Olympics 1st 2nd 3rd Total
Ray Ewry (USA) Athletics 1900-1908 10 0 0 10
Larissa Latynina (URS) Gymnastics 1956-1964 9 5 4 18
Paavo Nurmi (FIN) Athletics 1920-1928 9 3 0 12
Mark Spitz (USA) Swimming 1968-1972 9 1 1 11
Carl Lewis (USA) Athletics 1984-1996 9 1 0 10
Bjørn Dæhlie; (NOR) Cross-country skiing 1992-1998 8 4 0 12
Sawao Kato (JPN) Gymnastics 1968-1976 8 3 1 12
Matt Biondi (USA) Swimming 1984-1992 8 2 1 11
Jenny Thompson (USA) Swimming 1992-2000 8 1 1 10
Nikolay Andrianov (URS) Gymnastics 1972-1980 7 5 3 15

In the above table, the results of the 1906 Olympics have been included; without these, Ray Ewry would move down to 9th position, as he won two of his titles at the Intercalated Games.


Related topics

External links