Although records cannot verify games earlier than 776 B.C., the contests in Homer's Iliad indicate a much earlier competitive tradition. Held in honor of Zeus in the city of Olympia for four days every fourth summer, the Olympic games were the oldest and most prestigious of four great ancient Greek athletic festivals, which also included the Pythian games at Delphi, the Isthmian at Corinth, and the Nemean at Argos (the Panathenaea at Athens was also important). The Olympics reached their height in the 5th-4th cent. B.C.; thereafter they became more and more professionalized until, in the Roman period, they provoked much censure. They were eventually discontinued by Emperor Theodosius I of Rome, who condemned them as a pagan spectacle, at the end of the 4th cent. A.D.
Among the Greeks, the games were nationalistic in spirit; states were said to have been prouder of Olympic victories than of battles won. Women, foreigners, slaves, and dishonored persons were forbidden to compete. Contestants were required to train faithfully for 10 months before the games, had to remain 30 days under the eyes of officials in Elis, who had charge of the games, and had to take an oath that they had fulfilled the training requirements before participating. At first, the Olympic games were confined to running, but over time new events were added: the long run (720 B.C.), when the loincloth was abandoned and athletes began competing naked; the pentathlon, which combined running, the long jump, wrestling, and discus and spear throwing (708 B.C.); boxing (688 B.C.); chariot racing (680 B.C.); the pankration (648 B.C.), involving boxing and wrestling contests for boys (632 B.C.); and the foot race with armor (580 B.C.).
Greek women, forbidden not only to participate in but also to watch the Olympic games, held games of their own, called the Heraea. Those were also held every four years but had fewer events than the Olympics. Known to have been conducted as early as the 6th cent. B.C., the Heraea games were discontinued about the time the Romans conquered Greece. Winning was of prime importance in both male and female festivals. The winners of the Olympics (and of the Heraea) were crowned with chaplets of wild olive, and in their home city-states male champions were also awarded numerous honors, valuable gifts, and privileges.
The modern revival of the Olympic games is due in a large measure to the efforts of Pierre, baron de Coubertin, of France. They were held, appropriately enough, in Athens in 1896, but that meeting and the ones that followed at Paris (1900) and at St. Louis (1904) were hampered by poor organization and the absence of worldwide representation. The first successful meet was held at London in 1908; since then the games have been held in cities throughout the world (see Sites of the Modern Olympic Games, table). World War I prevented the Olympic meeting of 1916, and World War II the 1940 and 1944 meetings. The number of entrants, competing nations, and events have increased steadily.
To the traditional events of track and field athletics, which include the decathlon and heptathlon, have been added a host of games and sports—archery, badminton, baseball and softball, basketball, boxing, canoeing and kayaking, cycling, diving, equestrian contests, fencing, field hockey, gymnastics, judo and taekwondo, the modern pentathlon, rowing, sailing, shooting, soccer, swimming, table tennis, team (field) handball, tennis, trampoline, the triathlon, volleyball, water polo, weight lifting, and wrestling. Olympic events for women made their first appearance in 1912. A separate series of winter Olympic meets, inaugurated (1924) at Chamonix, France, now includes ice hockey, curling, bobsledding, luge, skeleton, and skiing, snowboarding, and skating events. Since 1994 the winter games have been held in even-numbered years in which the summer games are not contested. Until late in the 20th cent. the modern Olympics were open only to amateurs, but the governing bodies of several sports now permit professionals to compete as well.
As a visible focus of world energies, the Olympics have been prey to many factors that thwarted their ideals of world cooperation and athletic excellence. As in ancient Greece, nationalistic fervor has fostered intense rivalries that at times threatened the survival of the games. Although officially only individuals win Olympic medals, nations routinely assign political significance to the feats of their citizens and teams. Between 1952 and 1988 rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, rooted in mutual political antagonism, resulted in each boycotting games hosted by the other (Moscow, 1980; Los Angeles, 1984). Politics has influenced the Olympic games in other ways, from the propaganda of the Nazis in Berlin (1936) to pressures leading to the exclusion of white-ruled Rhodesia from the Munich games (1972). At Munich, nine Israeli athletes were kidnapped and murdered by Palestinian terrorists. The International Olympic Committee (IOC), which sets and enforces Olympic policy, has struggled with the licensing and commercialization of the games, the need to schedule events to accommodate American television networks (whose broadcasting fees help underwrite the games), and the monitoring of athletes who seek illegal competitive advantages, often through the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The IOC itself has also been the subject of controversy. In 1998 a scandal erupted with revelations that bribery and favoritism had played a role in the awarding of the 2002 Winter Games to Salt Lake City, Utah, and in the selection of some earlier venues. As a result, the IOC instituted a number of reforms including, in 1999, initiating age and term limits for members and barring them from visiting cities bidding to be Olympic sites.
See R. Mandell, The First Modern Olympics (1976); J. Lucas, The Modern Olympic Games (1980); J. J. MacAloon, This Great Symbol (1981); A. Guttmann, The Games Must Go On (1984); J. Swaddling, The Ancient Olympic Games (2000); A. Kitroeff, Wrestling with the Ancients: Modern Greek Identity and the Olympics (2004); S. G. Miller, Ancient Greek Athletics (2004); T. Perrotet, The Naked Olympics (2004); N. Spivey, The Ancient Olympics (2004).
Sports festival. In ancient Greece it was a Panhellenic festival held every fourth year and made up of contests of sports, music, and literature. Since 1896 the name has been used for a modified revival of the ancient Games, consisting of international athletic contests held at four-year intervals. The original Games included footraces, the discus and javelin throws, the long jump, boxing, wrestling, the pentathlon, and chariot races. After the subjugation of Greece by Rome, the Games declined; they were finally abolished about AD 400. They were revived in the late 19th century through efforts led in part by Pierre, baron de Coubertin; the first modern Games were held in Athens. The first Winter Games were held in 1924. The direction of the modern Olympic movement and the regulation of the Games are vested in the International Olympic Committee, headquartered at Lausanne, Switz. Until the 1970s the Games adhered to a strict code of amateurism, but since that time professional players have also been allowed to participate. Programs for the Summer Games include competition in archery, baseball, basketball, boxing, canoeing, cycling, diving, equestrian sports, fencing, field hockey, football (soccer), gymnastics, handball, judo, the modern pentathlon, rowing, sailing, shooting, softball, swimming, table tennis, tennis, track and field (athletics), the triathlon, volleyball, water polo, weightlifting, and wrestling. The program for the Winter Games includes the biathlon, bobsledding, ice hockey, lugeing, skeleton sledding, snowboarding, and numerous ice skating and skiing events. Events are periodically added and dropped.
Learn more about Olympic Games with a free trial on Britannica.com.
The Olympic Games is an international multi-sport event established for both summer and winter games. There have been two generations of the Olympic Games; the first were the Ancient Olympic Games (Ολυμπιακοί Αγώνες; ) held at Olympia, Greece. The second, known as the Modern Olympic Movement, were first held in 1896, in Athens, Greece. The modern Olympics feature the Summer Games and Winter Games. The Paralympic and Youth Olympic Games are variations on the Modern Olympic Movement.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was founded in 1894 on the initiative of a French nobleman, Pierre Frédy, Baron de Coubertin. His vision was to bring together amateur athletes from around the world to compete in a variety of events. The IOC has become the governing body of the "Olympic Movement," a conglomeration of sporting federations that are responsible for the organization of the Games. The evolution of the Olympic Movement has forced the IOC to change Coubertin's time–honored ideals. The original vision of the pure amateur athlete had to change under the pressure of corporate sponsorships and political regimes intent on the creation of sports "dynasties".
Participation in the Games has increased to the point that nearly every nation on earth is represented. This growth has created numerous challenges; including political boycotts, the use of performance enhancing drugs, bribery of officials, and terrorism. While the Olympic Movement is forced to address issues never before conceived by Coubertin, the Olympics continue to grow in the face of these challenges. The Games encompass many rituals and symbols that were established during their infancy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most of these traditions are displayed in the opening and closing ceremonies, and the medal presentations. Despite the complexity of the current modern Games, the focus remains on the Olympic motto: Citius Altius Fortius - Faster, Higher, Stronger.
There are many myths surrounding the origin of the ancient Olympic Games; the most popular of which identifies Heracles and his father Zeus as the progenitors of the Games. According to the legend, Zeus held sporting events in honor of his defeat of Cronus, and succession to the throne of heaven. Heracles, being his eldest son, defeated his brothers in a running race and was crowned with a wreath of wild olive branches. It is Heracles who first called the games Olympic, and established the custom of holding them every 4 years. The legend diverges at this point. One popular story claims that after Heracles completed his 12 labors, he went on to build the Olympic stadium and surrounding buildings as an honor to Zeus. After the stadium was complete, he walked in a straight line for 200 strides and called this distance a "stadion" (Greek: στάδιον, Latin: stadium, "stage"), which later also became a unit of distance. Another myth associates the first Games with the ancient Greek concept of Olympic truce (ἐκεχειρία, ekecheiria). The most widely held estimate for the inception of the Ancient Olympics is 776 BC.
From then on, the Olympic Games quickly became very important throughout ancient Greece. They reached their zenith in the 6th and 5th centuries BC. The Olympics were of fundamental religious importance. They featured sport events and ritual sacrifices honoring both Zeus (whose colossal statue stood at Olympia), and Pelops, divine hero and mythical king of Olympia. Pelops was famous for his legendary chariot races with King Oenomaus of Pisatis. The number of events increased to twenty and the celebration spanned several days. Winners of the events were admired and immortalized in poems and statues. The Games were held every four years, known as an Olympiad. The Greeks used Olympiads as one of their units of time measurement.
Gradually the Games declined in importance as the Romans gained power in Greece. In 393 AD Emperor Theodosius I proclaimed Christianity the religion of the Empire. He banned the Olympic Games, which were seen as a pagan festival. The Olympics were not seen again until their rebirth 1,500 years later.
Although the revival of the Olympic Games began in the mid-19th Century; sport events with titles such as "Olympick" or "Olympian" Games were held as early as the 16th Century. These events included an "Olympick Games" that was run for several years at Chipping Campden in the English Cotswolds. The present day Cotswold Games trace their origin to this festival.
There is evidence of a European Olympic movement as early as 1796. Annually, from 1796–1798, L'Olympiade de la République was held in France, and is an early forerunner to the modern summer Olympics. The competition included several disciplines from the ancient Greek Olympics. The 1796 Olympiade also marked the introduction of the metric system into sport. An "Olympian Class" was begun at Much Wenlock in Shropshire, England in 1850, which was renamed "Wenlock Olympian Games" in 1859 and continues to this day as the Wenlock Olympian Society Annual Games. A national Olympic Games in Great Britain was organized by, William Penny Brookes, at Crystal Palace in London, in 1866.
The first evidence of Greek interest in reviving the Olympic Games was by poet and newspaper editor Panagiotis Soutsos in his poem "Dialogue of the Dead", published in 1833. Meanwhile Evangelos Zappas, a wealthy Greek philanthropist, sponsored a modern revival of the Games. An international Olympic Games was held in an Athens city square in 1859. Later Zappas paid for the refurbishment of the ancient Panathenian Stadium. Another modern celebration was held at this stadium in 1870, followed by a third in 1875. Zappas' revival was composed of athletes from two countries: Greece and the Ottoman Empire.
While Zappas was renewing interest in the Games in Greece, Baron Pierre de Coubertin was searching for a reason for the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871). He theorized that the French soldiers had not received proper physical education. In 1890 he attended the "Olympian Games" of the Wenlock Olympian Society, and decided that a revival of the Olympic Games was acheivable.
Coubertin built on the ideas of Brookes and Zappas. His aim was to globalize the Olympic Games. He presented his ideast at a congress at the Sorbonne University, in Paris, France, held from June 16 to June 23, 1894. On the last day of the congress, it was decided that the first multinational Olympic Games would take place in 1896 in Athens. To organize the Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was established, with the Greek businessman, Demetrius Vikelas, as its first president. The modern Olympic Movement was established, and the inaugural Games were to be held in the nation of their origin.
There were less than 250 athletes at the first Olympic Games. The Panathenian Stadium used for Zappas' Games of 1870 and 1875 was refurbished a second time in readiness for the 1896 Games. This first modern Olympics had nine disciplines: Athletics, Cycling, Fencing, Gymnastics, Shooting, Swimming, Tennis, Weightlifting, and Wrestling. The Greek officials and public were very enthusiastic about hosting the inaugural Games, and offered to host the Olympic Games permanently. The IOC decided differently, however, and the second Olympic Games took place in Paris, France. It was at the Paris Games that women were first allowed to compete.
After the initial success of the 1896 Games, the Olympics struggled. The celebrations in Paris (in 1900) and St. Louis (in 1904) were overshadowed by the World's Fair exhibitions, which were held at the same times and locations. The St. Louis Games, for example, hosted 650 athletes, but 580 of these athletes were from the United States. The homogenous nature of these Games was a low point for the Olympic Movement. The Games rebounded when the 1906 Intercalated Games (so–called because they were the second Games held within the third Olympiad) were held in Athens. The Intercalated Games are not officially recognized as an Olympic Games, and no later Intercalated Games have been held. These Games attracted a broad international field of participants, and generated great public interest. This marked the beginning of a rise in both the popularity and the size of the Games.
In 1948 Sir Ludwig Guttman, determined to innovate new ways to rehabilitate soldiers after World War II, organized a multi-sport event between various hospitals to coincide with the 1948 London Olympics. Guttman's event, known then as the Stoke Mandeville Games, became an annual sports festival. Over the next 12 years Guttman and others continued their efforts to use sports as an avenue to healing. For the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, Guttman brought 400 athletes to compete in the "Parallel Olympics"–the first Paralympics. The Paralympics have been held in every Olympic year since 1960. The host city for the Summer Olympics has also hosted the Paralympics since the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.
The Youth Olympic Games (YOG), were conceived by IOC president Jacques Rogge in 2001, and approved by the IOC at the 119th IOC session in Guatemala City in July 2007. The Youth Games will be shorter: the summer version will last at most twelve days; the winter version will last a maximum of nine days. The IOC will allow no more than 3,500 athletes and 875 officials to participate at the summer games, and 970 athletes and 580 official at the winter games. The sports contested at these games will be the same as those scheduled for the traditional Games, but with a limited number of disciplines and events. The estimated cost for the games is $30 million for the summer and $15–$20 million for the winter games. The first host city will be Singapore in 2010; the bidding for the first winter edition in 2012 is underway.
From the 241 participants representing 14 nations in 1896, the Games have grown to 10,500 competitors from 204 countries at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. The scope and scale of the Winter Olympics is much smaller. For example, Turin, Italy hosted 2,508 athletes from 80 countries competing in 84 events during the 2006 Winter Olympics. As participation in the Olympics has grown, so has its profile in the international media. At the Sydney Games in 2000, an estimated 3.7 billion viewers watched the games on television, and the official website of the Sydney Olympics generated over 11.3 billion hits.
The number of participating countries is noticeably higher than the 193 countries that currently belong to the United Nations. The International Olympic Committee allows nations to compete that do not meet the strict requirements for political sovereignty that other international organizations demand. As a result, colonies and dependencies are permitted to host their own Olympic teams and athletes even if such competitors also hold citizenship in another member nation. Examples of this include territories such as Puerto Rico, Bermuda, and Hong Kong; all of which compete as separate nations despite being legally a part of another country. Since 1980, Taiwan has competed under the name Chinese Taipei, and under a flag specially prepared by the IOC. Prior to that year the People's Republic of China refused to participate in the Games because Taiwan had been competing under the name Republic of China.
The IOC has often been criticized for being an intractable organization, with several members remaining on the Committee for life. The leadership of IOC presidents Juan Antonio Samaranch and Avery Brundage were especially controversial. Brundage was president of the IOC for over 20 years. During his tenure he protected the Olympics from untoward political involvement. He was also accused of both racism, for his handling of the apartheid issue with the South African delegation, and anti-Semitism. Under the Samaranch presidency, the Olympic Movement made great progress, but the President's office was accused of both nepitism and corruption. Samaranch's ties with the Franco regime in Spain, and his long term as IOC president (21 years), have been points of criticism.
In 1998, it became known that several IOC members had taken bribes from the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, in exchange for voting for 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 host cities are elected to avoid further bribes. Additional active and former athletes were added to the IOC and membership terms have been limited.
A BBC documentary, which aired in August 2004, entitled Panorama: "Buying the Games", investigated the taking of bribes in the bidding process for the 2012 Summer Olympics. The documentary claimed it is possible to bribe IOC members into voting for a particular candidate city. After being narrowly defeated in their bid for the 2012 Summer Games, Parisian Mayor Bertrand Delanoë specifically accused the British Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair and the London Bid Committee (headed by former Olympic gold medalist Sebastian Coe), of breaking the bid rules. He cited French President Jacques Chirac as a witness; Chirac gave rather more guarded interviews. The issue was never fully pursued. The Turin bid for the 2006 Winter Olympics was also shrouded in controversy. A prominent member of the IOC, Marc Hodler, himself strongly connected with rival Sion, Switzerland's bid, alleged bribery of IOC officials by members of the Turin Organizing Committee. These accusations led to a wide–ranging investigation. The allegations also served to sour many IOC members to Sion's bid and in fact may have helped Turin to capture the host city nomination.
The Olympic movement uses symbols to represent ideals embodied in the Olympic Charter. The Olympic Rings are the most widely recognized symbol. These five intertwined rings represent the unity of the five inhabited continents (with the Americas regarded as one continent). The five colored rings on a white field form the Olympic Flag. The colors, white, red, blue, green, yellow, and black, were chosen because each nation has at least one of these colors in its national flag. The flag was adopted in 1914, but the first flown at 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp. It is hoisted at each celebration of the Games.
Prior to each Games, the Olympic Flame is lit in Olympia, Greece and brought to the host city by runners carrying the torch in relay. There it plays an important role in the Opening Ceremonies. Though the flame has been an Olympic symbol since 1928, the relay was introduced in 1936 as part of the German government's attempt to promote its National Socialist ideology.
The Olympic mascot, an animal or human figure representing the cultural heritage of the host country, was introduced in 1968. It has played an important part of the Games since 1980 with the debut of Misha, a Russian bear. The mascots of the most recent Olympic Games in Beijing were the Fuwa. They are five creatures that represent the five fengshui elements important in Chinese culture.
French and English are the official languages of the Olympic movement. The other official language used at each respective Olympic Games is the language of the host country. Consequently, every proclamation (such as the announcement of each country during the parade of nations in the Opening Ceremonies) is spoken in French, English and the host country's native language.
As mandated by the Olympic Charter, various elements frame the Opening Ceremonies of a celebration of the Olympic Games. Most of these rituals were established by the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium.
The ceremonies typically start with the hoisting of the host country's flag and a performance of its national anthem. The host nation then presents artistic displays of music, singing, dance, and theater representative of its culture. The artistic presentations have continued to grow in scale and complexity. The Opening Ceremony at the Beijing Games reportedly cost $100 million, with much of the cost incurred in the artistic portion of the ceremony.
The traditional part of the ceremonies starts with a "Parade of Nations", during which most participating athletes march into the stadium, country by country. Each country's delegation is led by a sign with the name of their country and by their nation's flag. Traditionally (starting at the 1928 Summer Olympics), Greece enters first, due to its historical status as the progenitor of the Olympics, while the host nation marches last. In 2004, when the Games were held in Athens, Greece marched last as host nation rather than first, although the flag of Greece was carried in first. Between these two nations, all other participating nations march in alphabetical order of the dominant language of the host country, or in French or English alphabetical order if the host country does not write its dominant language in an alphabet which has a set order. In the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, both Spanish and Catalan were official languages of the games, but due to politics surrounding the use of Catalan, the nations entered in French alphabetical order. The 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan saw nations entering in English alphabetical order since the Japanese language grouped both China and Chinese Taipei together in the Parade of Nations. For the 2008 Summer Olympics, instead of using either French or English, the countries were ordered by how many strokes it takes to write the country's name in Simplified Chinese.
After all nations have entered, the president of the Organizing Committee makes a speech, followed by the IOC president who, at the end of his speech, introduces the representative of the host country who declares the Games open by reciting the formula:
Before 1936, the opening official would often make a short welcoming speech before declaring the Games open. However, since 1936 when Adolf Hitler opened both the Garmisch Partenkirchen Winter Olympics and the Berlin Summer Olympics, the Openers have used that formula. There have been two exceptions:
Despite the Games having been awarded to a particular city and not to the country in general, the Olympic Charter presently requires the Opener to be the host country's head of state. However, there have been many cases where someone other than the host country's head of state opened the Games. The first example was at the Games of the II Olympiad in Paris in 1900, when there was not even an Opening Ceremony. There are five examples from the United States alone in which the Games were not opened by the head of state.
Next, the Olympic Flag is carried horizontally (since the 1960 Summer Olympics) into the stadium and hoisted as the Olympic Anthem is played. The Olympic Charter states that the Olympic Flag must "fly for the entire duration of the Olympic Games from a flagpole placed in a prominent position in the main stadium".
The flag bearers of all countries then circle a rostrum, where one athlete (since the 1920 Summer Olympics) and one judge (since the 1972 Summer Olympics) speak the Olympic Oath, declaring they will compete and judge according to the rules. Finally, the Torch is brought into the stadium, passed from athlete to athlete, until it reaches the last carrier; often a well-known athlete from the host nation, who lights the fire in the stadium's cauldron. Beginning at the post–World War I 1920 Summer Olympics, the lighting of the Olympic Flame was followed by the release of doves, symbolizing peace. This gesture was discontinued after several doves were burned alive in the Olympic Flame during the opening ceremony of the 1988 Summer Olympics. However, Opening Ceremonies have continued to include doves in other forms; for example, the 2002 Winter Olympics featured skaters holding kite-like cloth dove puppets. The 2008 Summer Olympics included the formation of a dove by performers in lighted suits.
Three national flags are hoisted on flagpoles one at a time while the corresponding national anthems are played: the flag of Greece on the middle pole to honor the birthplace of the Olympic Games, the flag of the host country on the lefthand pole, and the flag of the country hosting the next Summer or Winter Olympic Games on the righthand pole. In 2004, when the Games were held in Athens, only one Greek flag was raised.
The president of the Organizing Committee makes a speech, followed by the IOC president, who formally closes the Olympics by saying:
I declare the Games of the [ordinal number] Olympiad/[ordinal number] Olympic Winter/Summer Games closed and, in accordance with tradition, I call upon the youth of the world to assemble four years from now in [name of host city] to celebrate the Games of the [subsequent ordinal number] Olympiad/[subsequent ordinal number] Olympic Winter/Summer Games.The Olympic Flame is extinguished and, while the Olympic Anthem is played, the Olympic Flag that was hoisted during the opening ceremonies is lowered from the flagpole and carried from the stadium.
In what is known as the Antwerp Ceremony (because the tradition began at the Antwerp Games), the mayor of the city that organized the Games transfers a special Olympic Flag to the president of the IOC, who then passes it on to the mayor of the city hosting the next Olympic Games. The receiving mayor then waves the flag eight times. There are three such flags, differing from all other copies in that they have a six-colored fringe around the flag and are tied with six colored ribbons to a flagstaff:
This tradition posed a particular challenge at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy. The flag was passed from Sergio Chiamparino, the mayor of Turin, to Sam Sullivan, the mayor of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Mayor Sullivan, who is a quadriplegic, waved the flag by holding it in one hand and swinging his motorized wheelchair back and forth eight times.
After these traditional elements, the next host nation introduces itself with artistic displays of dance and theater representative of that country. This tradition began with the 1976 Games. During the closing ceremony of the Beijing Games the presentation by London, host of the 2012 Summer Olympics, featured guitarist Jimmy Page, recording artist Leona Lewis, and footballer David Beckham.
After each Olympic event is completed a medal ceremony is held. A three–tiered rostrum is used for the three medal winners, with the gold medal winner ascending to the highest platform. The medals are awarded by a member of the IOC. After medals are awarded, the flags of the nations of the three medalists are raised. The flag of the gold medalist's country is in the center and raised the highest while the flag of the silver medalist's country is on the left facing the flags and the flag of the bronze medalist's country is on the right, both at lower elevations than the gold medalist's country's flag. The flags are raised while the national anthem of the gold medalist's country plays. Citizens of the host country also act as hosts during the medal ceremonies. They aid the officials who present the medals and act as flag bearers.
Currently, the Olympic program consists of 35 different sports, 53 disciplines and more than 400 events. The Summer Olympic program includes 28 sports with 38 disciplines and the Winter Olympic program is comprised of 7 sports with 15 disciplines. There were 9 sports were on the original Olympic program in 1896: athletics, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, weightlifting, shooting, swimming, tennis, and wrestling. If the 1896 rowing events had not been cancelled due to bad weather, they would have been included in this list as well.
Of the 15 disciplines in 7 sports featured at the most recent Winter Olympics; cross country skiing, figure skating, ice hockey, Nordic combined, ski jumping, and speed skating have been on the program at all Winter Olympics. In addition, figure skating made its debut at the London Summer Olympics of 1908 and ice hockey was first contested at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp before the introduction of a separate Winter Games.
Rule 48.1 of the Olympic Charter requires that there be a minimum of 15 Olympic sports at each Summer Games. At its 114th Session, in 2002, the IOC limited the Summer Games to a maximum of 28 sports, 301 events, and 10,500 athletes. The Olympic sports are defined as those governed by the International Federations listed in Rule 46 of the Olympic Charter. A two–thirds vote of the IOC is required to amend the Charter to promote a Recognized Federation to Olympic status and make the sports it governs eligible for inclusion on the Olympic program. Rule 47 of the Charter requires that only Olympic sports may be included on the program.
The IOC reviews the Olympic program at its first session following each Olympiad. A simple majority is required for an Olympic sport to be included in the Olympic program. Under the current rules, an Olympic sport not selected for inclusion in a particular Games remains an Olympic sport and may be included again later with a simple majority. At the 117th IOC Session, 26 sports were included on the program for London 2012.
The International Olympic Committee invited a representative of the Headmasters' Conference (the association of headmasters of the English public schools) to attend its early meetings. The Headmasters' Conference chose the Reverend Robert Laffan, headmaster of Cheltenham College, as its representative to the IOC meetings. He was made a member of the IOC in 1897 and, following the first visit of the IOC to London in 1904, was central to the founding of the British Olympic Association a year later.
The exclusion of professionals has caused several controversies throughout the history of the modern Olympics. 1912 Olympic pentathlon and decathlon champion Jim Thorpe, was stripped of his medals when it was discovered that he played semi–professional baseball prior to winning his medals. He was restored as champion on compassionate grounds by the IOC in 1983. Swiss and Austrian skiers boycotted the 1936 Winter Olympics in support of their skiing teachers, who were not allowed to compete because they earned money with their sport and were considered professionals.
As class structure evolved through the 20th century, the definition of the amateur athlete as an aristocratic gentleman became outdated. The advent of the state–sponsored "full-time amateur athlete" of the Eastern Bloc countries further eroded the ideology of the pure amateur; as it put the self–financed amateurs of the Western countries at a disadvantage. Nevertheless, the IOC held to the traditional rules regarding amateurism. In the 1970s amateurism requirements were gradually phased out of the Olympic Charter. Eventually the decisions on professional participation were left to the international federation for each sport. This change was perhaps best exemplified by the American Dream Team, composed of NBA players, which won the Olympic gold medal in basketball at 1992 Olympics. As of 2004, the only sports in which no professionals compete is boxing (though even this requires a definition of amateurism based on fight rules rather than on payment, as some boxers receive cash prizes from their National Olympic Committees); in men's football (soccer), the number of players over 23 years of age is limited to 3 per team.
The 1956 Melbourne Olympics were the first Olympics to be boycotted. The Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland refused to attend because of the repression of the Hungarian Uprising by the Soviet Union; additionally, Cambodia, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon boycotted the games due to the Suez Crisis. In 1972 and 1976, a large number of African countries threatened the IOC with a boycott, to force them to ban South Africa, Rhodesia, and New Zealand. The IOC conceded in the first two cases, but refused to ban New Zealand in 1976 because the boycott was prompted by a New Zealand rugby union tour to South Africa, and rugby was not an Olympic sport. The countries withdrew their teams after the games had started; a few African athletes had already competed. Twenty-two countries (Guyana was the only non-African nation) boycotted the Montreal Olympics because New Zealand was not banned.
Also at the Montreal Games of 1976, the People's Republic of China (PRC) exerted pressure on the IOC to keep the team from the Republic of China (Taiwan) from competing under the name "Republic of China". Republic of China refused to agree to a proposed compromise that would have allowed Taiwan to use the ROC flag and anthem. Taiwan did not participate again until 1984, when it returned under the name "Chinese Taipei" and used a special flag.
In 1980 and 1984, the Cold War opponents boycotted each other's games. Sixty-five nations refused to compete at the Moscow Olympics in 1980 because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The boycott reduced the number of nations participating to only 81, the lowest number of nations to compete since 1956. The Soviet Union and 14 of its Eastern Bloc partners (except Romania) countered by boycotting the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. They contended that they could not guarantee the safety of their athletes. Soviet officials were quoted as saying, "chauvinistic sentiments and an anti-Soviet hysteria are being whipped up in the United States. The 1984 boycotters staged their own Friendship Games in July and August.
There had been growing calls for boycotts of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing in protest of China's poor human rights record and response to the recent disturbances in Tibet, Darfur, and Taiwan. President George W. Bush showcased these concerns in a highly publicized speech in Thailand just prior to the opening of the Games. Ultimately no nations withdrew before the games began, but there were politicians, such as Canada's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who refused to attend in protest. There have also been campaigns calling for Chinese goods to be boycotted.
The Olympics have been affected by political incidents on many occasions. The 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin are an example of how the Olympics have been used to promote a political agenda. The German Nazi Party promoted the 1936 Games as propaganda for the superiority of both the Aryan race and the facist political structure. Luz Long, a German competitor in the long jump, helped Jesse Owens (a black athlete) to win the long jump at the expense of his own chance to win the event. For his efforts he was posthumously awarded the Pierre de Coubertin Medal. In a similar vein, the Soviet Union did not participate in the Olympic Games until the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki. Instead, in 1928 the Soviets organized an international sports event called Spartakiads. Many athletes from Communist countries or from countries with close political ties to the Soviet Union chose not to participate, or were even barred from participating in Olympic Games, and instead participated in Spartakiads.
A political incident on a smaller scale occurred at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Two American track-and-field athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who finished first and third in the 200-meter track and field race, performed the Black Power salute on the victory stand. The second place finisher, Peter Norman, wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in support of Smith and Carlos. In response to the protest, IOC President Avery Brundage told the United States Olympic Committee to either send the two athletes home, or withdraw the complete track and field team. The USOC opted for the former. The photo of the three men on the medal podium has become an iconic Olympic image.
Interference of politics in the Games is not a thing of the past. Currently, the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran specifically orders its athletes not to compete in any Olympic heat, semi-final, or final that includes athletes from Israel. This directive had an impact at the 2004 Summer Olympics when an Iranian judoka, who had otherwise earned his place, did not compete in a match against an Israeli judoka.
The first Olympic athlete to test positive for the use of performance enhancing drugs was Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall, a Swedish pentathlete at the 1968 Summer Olympics, who lost his bronze medal for alcohol use. The most publicized doping-related disqualification was that of Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, who won the 100 meter dash at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, but tested positive for stanozolol. His gold medal was subsequently stripped and awarded to runner-up Carl Lewis, who himself had tested positive for banned substances prior to the Olympics, but had not been banned. Despite the testing, many athletes continued to use medication to improve their athletic ability without getting caught. In 1990, documents were revealed that showed many East German female athletes had been unknowingly administered anabolic steroids and other drugs by their coaches and trainers. Girls as young as eleven were started on the drug regimen without consent from their parents. American female swimmers, including Shirley Babashoff, accused the East Germans of using performance enhancing drugs as early as the 1976 Games. No clear evidence of doping was discovered until after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the aforementioned documents proved that East Germany had embarked on a state-sponsored program to dramatically improve their competitiveness at the Olympic Games and other international sporting events. Many of the culprits have been subsequently tried and found guilty of various crimes in the German penal system.
In the late 1990s, the IOC took initiative in a more organized battle against doping, leading to the formation of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 1999. The recent 2000 Summer Olympics and 2002 Winter Olympics have shown that this battle is not nearly over, as several medalists in weightlifting and cross-country skiing were disqualified due to doping offenses. During the 2006 Winter Olympics, only one athlete failed a drug test and had a medal revoked. The only other case involved 12 athletes with high levels of haemoglobin and their punishment was a five day suspension for health reasons. The IOC-established drug testing regimen (now known as the "Olympic Standard") has set the world-wide benchmark by which other sporting federations around the world attempt to emulate. During the Beijing games, 3,667 athletes were tested by the IOC under the auspices of the World Anti-Doping Agency. Both urine and blood testing was used in a coordinated effort to detect not only banned substances but also blood doping. While several athletes were barred from competition by their National Olympic Committees prior to the Games, three athletes failed drug tests while in competition in Beijing.
Terrorism has also threatened the Olympic Games. In 1972, when the Summer Games were held in Munich, West Germany, eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage by the terrorist group Black September in what is now known as the Munich massacre. A bungled liberation attempt led to the deaths of the nine abducted athletes who had not been killed prior to the rescue. Also killed were five of the terrorists and a German policeman. Another example of terrorism at the Olympics came during the Summer Olympics in 1996 in Atlanta. A bomb was detonated at the Centennial Olympic Park, which killed 2 and injured 111 others. The bomb was set by Eric Robert Rudolph, an American domestic terrorist, who is currently serving a life sentence at ADX Florence in Florence, Colorado. In 2002, the Winter Games in Salt Lake City took place just five months after September 11, 2001. All Olympics since then have required a higher level of security to avoid any terrorist attack. These games were the first Olympics since then, and thus the first to implement the new measures.
The athletes or teams who place first, second, or third in each event receive medals. The winners receive gold medals–solid gold until 1912, after which they were made of gilded silver and now gold plated silver. Every gold medal must contain at least 6 grams of pure gold) The runners-up receive silver medals and the third-place athletes are awarded bronze medals. In events contested by a single-elimination tournament (most notably boxing), third place might not be determined and both semifinal losers receive bronze medals. The practice of awarding medals to the top three competitors was introduced in 1904; at the 1896 Olympics only the first two received a medal, silver and bronze. Various prizes including works of art were awarded in 1900. The 1904 Olympics also awarded silver trophies for first place. It was at the Intercalated Games of 1906 that the three medal format was first introduced. Since the IOC no longer recognizes these games as official Olympic games, the first official awarding of the three medals came in the London Olympics of 1908. From 1948 onward athletes placing fourth, fifth and sixth have received certificates, which became officially known as "victory diplomas". In 1984 victory diplomas for seventh- and eighth-place finishers were added. At the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, the gold, silver and bronze medal winners were also given wreaths. The IOC does not keep track of overall medal tallies per country, but the media often publish unofficial medal counts. National Olympic Committees also keep track of medal statistics as a measure of success.
The question of which athlete is the most successful of all time is a difficult one to answer. The diversity of the sports and the evolution of the Olympic Games since 1896 complicate the matter. It is further complicated by the fact that the IOC no longer recognizes the Intercalated Games which it originally organized. While it may not be the most equitable way to measure success, a list of the most titles won at the Modern Olympic Games by individuals is one way to determine the greatest Olympic athletes of all time.
|Summer Olympic Games||Winter Olympic Games|
|Year||Olympiad||Host city||Country||№||Host city||Country|
|1904||III||St. Louis(1) (1)||(1)|
|1906||III||Athens (not recognized)|
|1924||VIII||Paris (2)||(2)||I||Chamonix (1)||(1)|
|1928||IX||Amsterdam (1)||(1)||II||St. Moritz (1)||(1)|
|1932||X||Los Angeles (1)||(2)||III||Lake Placid (1)||(1)|
|1936||XI||Berlin (1)||(1)||IV||Garmisch-Partenkirchen (1)||(1)|
|1940||XII (3)|| Tokyo→|
| →||V (3)|| Sapporo→|
|1944||XIII (3)||London||V (3)||Cortina d'Ampezzo||''|
|1948||XIV||London (2)||(2)||V||St. Moritz (2)||(2)|
|1952||XV||Helsinki (1)||(1)||VI||Oslo (1)||(1)|
|1956||XVI|| Melbourne (1) +|
| (1) +|
|VII||Cortina d'Ampezzo (1)||(1)|
|1960||XVII||Rome (1)||(1)||VIII||Squaw Valley (1)||(2)|
|1964||XVIII||Tokyo (1)||(1)||IX||Innsbruck (1)||(1)|
|1968||XIX||Mexico City (1)||(1)||X||Grenoble (1)||(2)|
|1972||XX||Munich (1)||(2)||XI||Sapporo (1)||(1)|
|1976||XXI||Montreal (1)||(1)||XII||Innsbruck (2)||(2)|
|1980||XXII||Moscow (1)||(1)||XIII||Lake Placid (2)||(3)|
|1984||XXIII||Los Angeles (2)||(3)||XIV||Sarajevo (1)||(1)|
|1988||XXIV||Seoul (1)||(1)||XV||Calgary (1)||(1)|
|1992||XXV||Barcelona (1)||(1)||XVI||Albertville (1)||(3)|
|2002||XIX||Salt Lake City (1)||(4)|
|2016||XXXI||To be announced|
|2018||XXIII||To be announced|