Since it began, more than two thousand years ago, the Olympic Games have been the competition grounds for the worlds greatest athletes. From its beginning, as a competition for the citizens of ancient Greece and other surrounding countries, the Olympics have developed into a worldwide, commercially oriented event.
In 776 B.C. the early Olympic Games began in ancient Greece. The Games were so important to the Greek people, that they used periods in between the Games as a method of dating important historical events. The prize the winners received included free food and lodging for life. Winners were mentioned in poems, their figures set in sculpture, and their achievements known throughout Greece. To put it simply, winning the Olympic games made you a hero.
Even being at the Games was an honor. People from Italy, Sicily, Asia, Africa, and Spain all made the long journey to Olympia. All the famous people of the time attended the Games. The sculptor Phidias, who made the enormous statues of Zeus and Athena in Greece, Pindar, the poet, and the historian Herodotus all came to witness the competition.
Olympia was chosen as sight of the Games because it was recognized as a neutral area. It had been the most sacred place for the worship of Zeus, the supreme god in the Greek pantheon. Another factor was that it possessed a beautiful green valley and was accessed by two rivers, somewhat hard to find anywhere else in Greece. It was here, in Olympia, that the wild olive tree grew, and from these came the infamous olive wreath, called the Crown Olive. The Crown Olive was the most coveted, and only, prize won at Olympia. One Persian leader questioned, "What sort of men have you led us to fight against, who contend not for money but purely for the sake of excelling?"
Originally there was only one race, a sprint, and the prize for the winner was an olive wreath. As time went on, other races were added, as were other sports, including boxing and wrestling. Among the more unusual events were the race in armor and the apene race, in which a chariot was pulled not by horses, but by mules. Prizes became more elaborate, and there were even cases of bribery, corruption and boycotts.
The Present Games
1896 - The Athens Games were funded by a gift from a wealthy architect, Georgios Averoff, of one million drachma, and by the sale souvenir stamps and medals. Although the quality of the athletes’ performances was only mediocre, the Games were a huge success. The enthusiasm and good sportsmanship of the Greek spectators were rewarded when the highlight event, the marathon, was won by a Greek peasant, Spiridon Louis.
1900 - The second Olympics, held in Paris, turned out to be a failure. Reduced to a mere appendage to the World Exhibition of the year, the events of the Olympics were spread out over five months. Poor organization and poor attendance made things worse; some of the athletes were actually unaware that the meet they had taken part in was the Olympics.
1904 - The third Olympic Games were scheduled for Chicago because Americans had shown such great enthusiasm for the first two Olympics. However, a dispute broke out between Chicago and St. Louis, which wanted the Games to be held as part of the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition. President Theodore Roosevelt eventually sided with St. Louis, and the Games were moved. This change proved to be an awful mistake, as the St. Louis organizers turned out to be even less competent than the Paris organizers. Most European nations skipped the Games, and not even Baron de Coubertin bothered to attend. Events were spread out over four and a half months, and some included only U. S. athletes.
1906 - After two straight disasters, the Olympic movement might have died had it not been for the Intercalated (or Interim) Games. Following the success of the 1896 Games, the Greeks had hoped to hold their own international games every four years between Olympics. However, the proposed Games of 1898 had to be cancelled because of political and economic upheaval, and the 1902 Games weren’t even considered. By 1906, though, the Greeks were ready to try again. Although de Coubertin opposed the Intercalated Games, they were quite successful and actually helped save the Olympic movement. These Games are considered unofficial by the International Olympic committee (I.O.C.).
1908 - The Games had been planned for Rome, but the Italians backed out for financial reasons, and the Games were then awarded to London. Most of the events were held in Shepherd’s Bush Stadium, which included a cycle track, a running track, a soccer field, a swimming pool, and a platform for wrestling and gymnastics. The London Games were basically well organized and produced the first comprehensive Official Report. There were, however, numerous disputes. The Russians tried to prevent the Finns from displaying the Finnish flag, and the English did the same to the Irish. The competitions were run entirely by the British, which led to protest over the rules by representatives of France, Canada, Italy, Sweden, and, especially, the United States. The bickering between Great Britain and its former colony was so acute that it almost put an end to the Olympics.
1912 - The sixth Olympics were held in Stockholm. Well-organized, the Stockholm Games saw the first use of electronic timing devices and a public address system. The Swedes refused to allow boxing matches to be held in their country, which led the I.O.C. to pass a rule limiting the power of local organizing committees in future Olympics. The success of the 1912 Games helped the Olympic movement survive the interruption that came to be known as World War I. In ancient times, all wars were suspended to allow safe passage for Olympic athletes. In modern times, this truce has not been honored.
1916 - Scheduled for Berlin, this Olympics was cancelled.
1920 - The Games were awarded to Antwerp, Belgium, as compensation for all the grief that had been inflicted on the Belgians during the war. The losers of World War I, Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, and Turkey, were not allowed to participate. With little money available to run the Games, the 1920 Olympics were not very impressive and were not well documented. An Official Report does not exist for 1920----only a typed manuscript containing an incomplete listing of the results.
1924 - This year marked the first winter Olympics, held in Chamonix, France. The summer games were held, for the second time, in Paris. The Games were well attended, with athletes from 44 nations taking part, as opposed to the previous record of 29. Competition was of a very high standard. However, the fanaticism of Parisian sports fans led to several outrages, including booing during the playing of national anthems of other countries and numerous incidents during the boxing and fencing tournaments. The French, who never had an opinion of their neighbors, were particularly irritated by the Americans, since the U. S. government had only recently criticized the French occupation of the Ruhr. During a ruby match between France and the United States, an American art student was severely caned by an incensed French spectator who had become annoyed by the loud U. S. "rooting". In Europe and North America countless editorials were written calling for an end to the Olympics.
1928 - Held in Amsterdam, Germany took part in the Games for the first time since 1912. The boxing tournament was once again disrupted by protests, but for the most part, the Amsterdam Games were a success. For the first time track and field events for women were included in the program, although women had previously taken part in tennis, golf, archery, figure skating, yachting, swimming, and fencing.
1932 - Los Angeles Olympics faced two major obstacles: the Depression and the geographical isolation of California. Participation was the lowest since 1906, although the level of competition was excellent. Only three teams took part in the field hockey tournament, and soccer had to be dropped completely. All of the male athletes lived in a makeshift Olympic Village in Baldwin Hills, while the women stayed in a hotel on Wilshire Boulevard. Although the United States was in the midst of Prohibition, an exception was made for the French and the Italians, who claimed that wine was an essential component of their diet. The 1932 Olympics saw the introduction of automatic timing and the photo-finish camera, as well as the first use of a victory platform for award ceremonies and the playing of national anthems to honor winners.
1936 - Berlin was chosen as the site of the 1936 Olympics. Few people suspected that a mere two years would see the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Jews in various countries asked for a boycott of the Berlin Olympics, and in the United States a boycott proposal was only narrowly defeated. An alternative People’s Olympics was scheduled to take place in Barcelona, Spain, but it was cancelled at the last minute when the Spanish Civil War broke out the day before competition was set to begin. The 1936 Olympics are best remembered for Hitler’s failed attempt to use to prove his theories of Aryan superiority, but they are also noteworthy because they saw the introduction of the relay, in which a lighted torch is carried from Olympia to the site of the current Games. The 1936 Olympics were also the first to be shown on television. Twenty-five large TV Screens were set up in theaters throughout Berlin, allowing locals to see the Games for free.
1940 - The Olympics were awarded to Japan ---the Winter Games to Sapporo and the Summer Games to Tokyo---but when Japan invaded China and became caught up in a major war, the Olympics were taken away from the Japanese. The Winter Games, rescheduled for Garmisch-Partenkirchen, site of the 1936 Games, were cancelled less then five months before the planned starting date, when Germany invaded Poland to start World War II. The Summer Games, rewarded to Helsinki, were cancelled when Soviet troops invaded Finland.
1948 - London was given the task of hosting the first Olympics in 12 years. There was much grumbling in England that the project was a waste of money, considering that Britain was still recovering from the war. However, the Games went off well, and interest among Londoners increased rapidly as the competitions progressed. Following the precedent set after World War I, the World War II losers, Germany and Japan, were not invited to participate. A minor incident developed when two swimmers from Northern Ireland were refused permission to compete for the team from Eire (Ireland). The 1948 Olympics also saw the first participation by Communist countries and, with this, the first defections of participants.
1952 - This was the first year in which the U.S.S.R. competed in the Games. In the United Nations, the Ukraine and Byelorussia were both treated as independent nations, with full voting privileges. In the Olympics, on the other hand, the Ukraine and Byelorussia were considered part of the U.S.S.R., and Ukrainian and Byelorussian athletes were forced to represent the Soviet Union. Despite fears of a Cold War showdown, Soviet and American athletes in Helsinki were on their best behavior and actually got along quite well. In fact, the 1952 Games were so well run that some observers suggested that the Olympics be held permanently in Scandinavia.
1956 - The Olympics were staged in the southern hemisphere for the first time. Melbourne, Australia, was so remote from most parts of the world that the number of competitors was the smallest since 1932. Australian quarantine laws caused the equestrian events to be held separately, in Stockholm. The Melbourne Games were stung by two boycotts. Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon withdrew to protest the Israeli-led takeover of the Suez Canal, and Holland, Spain, and Switzerland boycotted to protest Soviet invasion of Hungary. Actually public pressure in Switzerland was so great that the Swiss Olympic Committee changed its mind and voted to participate after all, but then it was too late to get the entire Swiss team to Australia in time. The I.O.C. scored a political coup by forcing West and East Germany to enter a combined team. This practice continued for next two Olympics. The 1956 Olympics were also highlighted by an innovation in the Closing Ceremony. Following a suggestion by John Ian Wing, an Australian-born Chinese carpenter’s apprentice, it was decided to tell all the athletes march together instead of by nation, as a symbol of global unity.
1960 - The Olympics, held beneath the blazing summer sun of Rome, went off without a major incident. Like the Londoners in 1948, the Romans were fairly blasé at first, but got caught up in the excitement once the Games got going. Even the Pope became a spectator, as he watched the canoeing semifinals from a window of his summer residence. The Rome Olympics were the last in which South Africa was allowed to take part for 32 years, as the I.O.C. bowed to international pressure to punish the South African government for its racist policies.
1962 - Indonesia hosted the Asian Games in Jakarta. When the Indonesian government refused to allowed athletes from Israel and Taiwan to take part, the I.O.C. suspended the Indonesian Olympic Committee until it agreed to abide by the rules of the I.O.C.
1964 - Indonesia withdrew its team from the Tokyo Olympics. With that problem out of the way, the 1964 Olympics proceeded smoothly and efficiently.
1968 - The Mexico City Olympics are best known for the Black Power protests of the U.S. runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos. The year 1968 was a highly politicized one. China was in the throes of the Cultural Revolution, Czechoslovakia’s burst of freedom was crushed by Soviet troops, the government of France was almost overthrown by the student-led demonstrations, and civil rights and anti-war demonstrations were spreading across the United States. Mexico was by no means immune to such revolutionary activity. As the Olympics approached, 300,000 Mexican students and teachers were on strike. Ten days before the Olympics were scheduled to begin, government troops opened fire on several thousand unarmed students holding a rally in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas. Hundreds of young people were killed. The I.O.C. refused to take a stand on this, declaring that the incident was "an internal affair" which was "under control." Yet exactly two weeks later, when two black men made a silent, nonviolent protest, the I.O.C. was up in arms, condemning Smith and Carlos for their shocking, disrespectful behavior. Two other controversies of 1968, the introduction of sex tests for women athletes (first used at the Winter Games in Grenoble) and the altitude of Mexico City (7347 feet). The rarefied air led to numerous world records in races of short distances, but was disastrous to competitors engaged in endurance events, except those who had trained at high altitudes.
1972 - The West Germans, hoping to erase embarrassing memories of the Nazi Games of 1936, staged the biggest Olympics yet, in Munich. However, the Olympic movement was permanently scarred on the morning of September 5, when eight Palestinian terrorists broke into the Olympic Village and made their way to the dormitory of the Israeli team. Two Israelis were killed immediately and another nine were taken hostage. The terrorists demanded the release of 200 prisoners from Israeli jails and safe passage for themselves out of Germany. They got as far as a military airport, where West German sharpshooters killed three of the terrorists. The battle that ensued left all nine Israeli hostages dead, as well as two more terrorists and one policeman. The Olympics were suspended for 34 hours, and a memorial service was held in the main stadium.
1976 - The Olympics, held in Montreal, were hit by a boycott of African nations led by Tanzania. The Africans had demanded expulsion of New Zealand because a rugby team from that nation had made a tour of South Africa. The I.O.C. claimed that controlling the travel of rugby teams was outside its authority since rugby isn’t an Olympic sport, but the Africans, joined by Iraq and Guyana, held firm. Of the boycotting nations, only Tanzania stayed home completely, while the others traveled to Canada and didn’t make final decision until the last minute. Despite the absence of the Africans, the 1976 Olympics were filled with excellent competitions. However, poor planning and corruption caused the city of Montreal to suffer a major financial loss.
1980 - The Moscow Olympics were disputed by another boycott, this one led by U.S. President Jimmy Carter, part of a package of actions to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. With his eyes on the upcoming presidential election and his pride on the line, Carter engaged in extensive arm-twisting to get other nations to support the boycott. Some governments, such as those of Great Britain and Australia, supported the boycott, but allowed the athletes to decide for themselves if they wanted to go to Moscow. No such freedom of choice was allowed U.S. athletes, as Carter threatened to revoke the passport of any athlete who tried to travel to the U.S.S.R. Certain sports, such as yachting, equestrian events, field hockey, and men’s swimming were hit particularly hard by the boycott. Yet the Games proceeded with much pomp and more world records were set than had been set in 1976. Security precautions were extremely thorough, with track and field winners physically prevented from taking victory laps. Meanwhile, the Soviet spectators gave the worst impression of any host city since the Paris Olympics of 1924. With traditional Olympic powers West Germany, Japan, and the United States missing, some Soviet fans took out their aggressions by booing and heckling the Poles and East Germans.
1984 - With the Olympics being held in Los Angeles, the government of the U.S.S.R. responded with a revenge boycott. Although the Soviets were noticeably unsuccessful in convincing other nations to join in their action, more countries attended than ever before; those nations that did stay home accounted for 58% of the gold medals in 1976. Among the sports which lost most of their medal contenders were weightlifting, wrestling, gymnastics, women’s swimming, football, handball, modern pentathlon and women’s track and field. Nevertheless, the 1984 games, the first since 1896 to be staged without government financing, were very successful. Good feelings prevailed to such an extent that at the Opening Ceremony, that the athletes broke ranks to join in spontaneous dancing, such celebration usually being reserved for the Closing Ceremony.
1988 - When the Olympics were awarded to Seoul, South Korea, grave concerns were raised about the ability of the organizers to the Games in a nation which was not only ruled by an unpopular dictatorship but was in a state of permanent hostility with North Korea. The first half of the problem was solved when South Korean government bowed to international pressure and held democratic elections. Attempts were made to appease the North Koreans by allowing them to stage several events, but in the end they boycotted the Olympics, taking Cuba, Ethiopia, and Nicaragua with them. Madagascar and the Seychelles also stayed away for reasons which are unclear, while Albania, acting independently, declared its fourth consecutive boycott, an Olympic record. Although tainted by steroid scandals and the assault on a referee by South Korean boxing officials, the Seoul Games were efficiently staged and the people of South Korea received high marks for their hospitality.
In the years following the Seoul Games, the world went through massive political changes. Apartheid was repealed in South Africa, allowing the nation to return to the Olympics. The Berlin Wall fell and West and East Germany were united. Communism collapsed in the Soviet Union, and the U.S.S.R. split into 15 separate countries.
1992 - Independent teams from Estonia and Latvia made their first appearance since 1936, and Lithuania fielded its first team since 1928. The remaining ex-Soviet republics competed in the Barcelona Games as the Unified Team, although individual winners were honored by the raising of the flag of their own republic. Even Albania, freed from Stalinist dictatorship, participated for the first time since 1972. Cuba, North Korea, and Ethiopia also ended their boycott streaks at two. In all the 1992 Opening Ceremony was a festive occasion. The only controversy was what to do about Yugoslavia, which was the subject of United Nations sanctions because of its military aggression against Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. At the last minute, it was decided that Yugoslavia would be banned on team sports, but that individual Yugoslav athletes could compete as "independent Olympic participants." The star of the Games was the city of Barcelona itself, with its beautiful architecture and its cosmopolitan populace. The collective mood of the 1992 Olympics was one of guarded optimism that the Olympic movement had successfully survived a difficult two decades of political turmoil.
The 2000 Summer Olympics will be held in Sydney, Australia. For more information see our Links Page.
The 2002 Winter Olympics will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah. For more information see our Links Page.
The 2004 Summer Olympics have yet to have a site chosen. Some of the cities bidding for the opportunity to host them are:
Cape Town, South Africa
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The 2006 Winter Olympics have yet to have a site chosen. Some of the cities bidding for the opportunity to host them are:
The 2008 Summer Olympics have yet to have a site chosen. Some of the cities bidding for the opportunity to host them are:
The 2010 Winter Olympics have yet to have a site chosen. Some of the cities bidding for the opportunity to host them are:
The 2012 Summer Olympics have yet to have a site chosen. Some of the cities bidding for the opportunity to host them are:
Baltimore & Washington, D.C., USA (Joint Bid)
Los Angeles, USA
New York City, USA
San Francisco, USA
Seattle, USA & Vancouver, Canada (Joint Bid)
Tampa & Orlando, USA (Joint Bid)
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