The Games have expanded from a 42-event competition with fewer than 250 male athletes to a 300-event sporting tradition with over 10,000 competitors of both sexes from 205 nations. Organizers for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing expected approximately 10,500 athletes to take part in the 302 events on the program for the Games. The 2004 Summer Olympics, for which organizers had also expected 10,500 competitors, drew a total of 11,099 in the 301 events offered.
Competitors are entered by a National Olympic Committee (NOC) to represent their country of citizenship. National anthems and flags accompany the medal ceremonies, and tables showing the number of medals won by each country are widely used. In general only recognized nations are represented, but a few sovereign-disputed countries are allowed to take part.
The United States has hosted four Summer Olympics games, more than any other nation. The United Kingdom will have hosted three Summer Olympics games (all in London) when they return to the British capital in 2012. Australia, France, Germany and Greece have all hosted the Summer Olympic Games twice. Other countries that have hosted the Summer Olympics are Belgium, Canada, Finland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, the Soviet Union and Sweden. The People's Republic of China hosted the Summer Olympics for the first time in Beijing in 2008. Four cities have hosted two Summer Olympic Games: Los Angeles, London, Paris and Athens. Stockholm, Sweden, has hosted events at two Summer Olympic Games, having hosted the games in 1912 and the equestrian events at the 1956 Summer Olympics - which they are usually listed as jointly hosting. Events at the Summer Olympics have also been held in Hong Kong and The Netherlands (both represented by their own NOCs), with the equestrian events at the 2008 Summer Olympics being held in Hong Kong and two sailing races at the 1920 Summer Olympics being held in The Netherlands.
Five countries - Australia, France, Great Britain, Greece, and Switzerland - have been represented at all Summer Olympic Games. Greece is the only one to have participated under its own flag in all Games. The only country to have won at least one gold medal at every Summer Olympic Games is Great Britain, ranging from one gold in 1904, 1952 and 1996 to fifty-six golds in 1908.
For individual sports, competitors typically qualify through attaining a certain place in a major international event or on the IF's ranking list. National Olympic Committees may enter a limited number of qualified competitors in each event, and the NOC decides which qualified competitors to select as representatives in each event if more have attained the benchmark than can be entered. Many events provide for a certain number of wild card entries, given to athletes from developing nations. Nations qualify teams for team sports through continental qualifying tournaments, in which each continental association is given a certain number of spots in the Olympic tournament. The host nation is generally given an automatic qualification.
The modern Olympic Games were founded in 1894 when Pierre Fredi, Baron de Coubertin sought to promote international understanding through sporting competition. He based his Olympics on the Wenlock Olympian Society Annual Games, which had been contested in Much Wenlock since 1850.
The first edition of de Coubertin's games, held in Athens in 1896, attracted just 245 competitors, of whom more than 200 were Greek, and only 14 countries were represented. Nevertheless, no international events of this magnitude had been organized before. Female athletes were not allowed to compete, though one woman, Stamata Revithi, ran the marathon course on her own, saying "[i]f the committee doesn’t let me compete I will go after them regardless".
The 1896 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the I Olympiad, was an international multi-sport event which was celebrated in Athens, Greece, from April 6 to April 15, 1896. It was the first Olympic Games held in the Modern era. Ancient Greece was the birthplace of the Olympic Games, consequently Athens was perceived to be an appropriate choice to stage the inaugural modern Games. It was unanimously chosen as the host city during a congress organized by Pierre de Coubertin, a French pedagogue and historian, in Paris, on June 23, 1894. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was also established during this congress.
Despite many obstacles and set backs, the 1896 Olympics were regarded as a great success. The Games had the largest international participation of any sporting event to that date. Panathinaiko Stadium, the first big stadium in the modern world, overflowed with the largest crowd ever to watch a sporting event. The highlight for the Greeks was the marathon victory by their compatriot Spiridon Louis. The most successful competitor was German wrestler and gymnast Carl Schuhmann, who won four gold medals.
After the Games, Coubertin and the IOC were petitioned by several prominent figures including Greece's King George and some of the American competitors in Athens, to hold all the following Games in Athens. However, the 1900 Summer Olympics were already planned for Paris and, except for the Intercalated Games of 1906, the Olympics did not return to Greece until the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Four years later the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris attracted more than four times as many athletes, including 11 women, who were allowed to officially compete for the first time, in croquet, golf, sailing, and tennis. The Games were integrated with the Paris World's Fair and lasted over 5 months. It is still disputed which events exactly were Olympic, since few or maybe even none of the events were advertised as such at the time.
Numbers declined for the 1904 Games in St. Louis, Missouri, United States, due in part to the lengthy transatlantic boat trip required of the European competitors, and the integration with the Louisiana Purchase Exposition World's Fair, which again spread the event out over an extended period. In contrast with Paris 1900, the word Olympic was used for practically every contest, including those exclusively for school boys or for Irish-Americans.
A series of smaller games were held in Athens in 1906. These were to be the first of an in 1906 to celebrate the "tenth birthday" of the games. The IOC does not currently recognize these games as being official Olympic Games, although many historians do. The 1906 Athens alternating series of games to be held in Athens, but the series failed to materialize. The games were more successful than the 1900 and 1904 games, with over 900 athletes competing, and contributed positively to the success of future games.
The 1908 London Games saw numbers rise again, as well as the first running of the marathon over its now-standard distance of 42.195 km (26 miles 385 yards). The winner of the first Olympic Marathon in 1896 (a male-only race) was Spiridon "Spiros" Louis, a Greek water-carrier. He won at the Olympics in 2 hours 58 minutes and 50 seconds at a distance of 40 km (24 miles 85 yards). The new marathon distance of 42.195 km (26 miles 385 yards) was chosen to ensure that the race finished in front of the box occupied by the British royal family. Thus the marathon had been 40 km for the first games in 1896, but was subsequently varied by up to 2 km due to local conditions such as street and stadium layout. At the six Olympic games between 1900 and 1920, the marathon was raced over six different distances.
At the end of the 1908 marathon the Italian runner Dorando Pietri was first to enter the stadium, but he was clearly in distress, and collapsed of exhaustion before he could complete the event. He was helped over the finish line by concerned race officials, but later he was disqualified and the gold medal was awarded to John Hayes, who had trailed him by around 30 seconds.
The Games continued to grow, attracting 2,504 competitors, to Stockholm in 1912, including the great all-rounder Jim Thorpe, who won both the decathlon and pentathlon. Thorpe had previously played a few games of baseball for a fee, and saw his medals stripped for this breach of amateurism after complaints from Avery Brundage. They were reinstated in 1983, 30 years after his death. The Games at Stockholm were the first to fulfill Pierre de Coubertin's original idea. For the first time since the Games started in 1896 were all continents represented with athletes competing in the same stadium.
The scheduled Berlin Games of 1916 were canceled following the onset of World War I.
The 1928 Amsterdam games were notable for being the first games which allowed females to compete at track & field athletics, and benefited greatly from the general prosperity of the times alongside the first appearance of sponsorship of the games, from Coca-Cola. This was in stark contrast to 1932 when the Los Angeles games were affected by the Great Depression, which contributed to the fewest competitors since the St. Louis games.
The 1936 Berlin Games were seen by the German government as a golden opportunity to promote their ideology. The ruling Nazi Party commissioned film-maker Leni Riefenstahl to film the games. The result, Olympia, was a masterpiece, despite Hitler's theories of Aryan racial superiority being repeatedly shown up by "non-Aryan" athletes. In particular, African-American sprinter and long jumper Jesse Owens won 4 gold medals. The tale of Hitler snubbing Owens at the ensuing medal ceremony is a fabrication. The 1936 Berlin Games also saw the reintroduction of the Torch Relay.
Due to World War II, the Games of 1940 (due to be held in Tokyo and temporarily relocated to Helsinki upon the outbreak of war) were canceled. The Games of 1944 were due to be held in London but were also canceled; instead, London hosted the first games after the end of the war, in 1948.
At the 1952 Games in Helsinki the USSR team competed for the first time and immediately became one of the dominant teams. Finland made a legend of an amiable Czech army lieutenant named Emil Zátopek, who was intent on improving on his single gold and silver medals from 1948. Having first won both the 10,000 and 5,000 meter races, he also entered the marathon, despite having never previously raced at that distance. Pacing himself by chatting with the other leaders, Zátopek led from about half way, slowly dropping the remaining contenders to win by two and a half minutes, and completed a trio of wins.
The 1956 Melbourne Games were largely successful, barring a water polo match between Hungary and the Soviet Union, which political tensions caused to end as a pitched battle between the teams. Due to a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in Britain at the time and the strict quarantine laws of Australia, the equestrian events were held in Stockholm.
The 1960 Rome Games saw the arrival on the world scene of a young light-heavyweight boxer named Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali, who would later throw his gold medal away in disgust after being refused service in a whites-only restaurant in his home town, Louisville, KY. Soviet women's artistic gymnastics team members won 15 of 16 possible medals. Other performers of note in 1960 included Wilma Rudolph, a gold medalist in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 4x100 meters relay events.
The 1964 Games held in Tokyo are notable for heralding the modern age of telecommunications. These games were the first to be broadcast worldwide on television, enabled by the recent advent of communication satellites. The 1964 Games were thus a turning point in the global visibility and popularity of the Olympics.
Performances at the 1968 Mexico City games were affected by the altitude of the host city. No event was affected more than the long jump. American athlete Bob Beamon jumped 8.90 meters, setting a new world record and, in the words of fellow competitor and then-reigning champion Lynn Davies, "making the rest of us look silly." Beamon's world record would stand for 23 years. The 1968 Games also saw the introduction of the now-universal Fosbury flop, a technique which won American high jumper Dick Fosbury the gold medal. Politics took center stage in the medal ceremony for the men's 200 meter dash, where Tommie Smith and John Carlos made a protest gesture on the podium against the segregation in the United States; their political act was condemned within the Olympic Movement, but was praised in the American Civil Rights Movement.
Politics again intervened at Munich in 1972, with lethal consequences. A Palestinian terrorist group named Black September invaded the Olympic village and broke into the apartment of the Israeli delegation. They killed two Israelis and held 9 others as hostages. The terrorists demanded that Israel release numerous prisoners. When the Israeli government refused their demand, a tense stand-off ensued while negotiations continued. Eventually the captors, still holding their hostages, were offered safe passage and taken to an airport, where they were ambushed by German security forces. In the firefight that followed, 15 people, including the nine Israeli athletes and five of the terrorists, were killed. After much debate, it was decided that the Games would continue, but proceedings were obviously dominated by these events. Some memorable athletic achievements did occur during these Games, notably the winning of a then record seven gold medals by United States swimmer Mark Spitz, Lasse Virén's, of Finland, back to back gold in the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters, defeating American distance great Steve Prefontaine in the former, and the winning of three gold medals by 16-year-old Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut, who, however failed to win the all-around to her teammate Ludmilla Tourischeva.
There was no such tragedy in Montreal in 1976, but bad planning led to the Games' cost far exceeding the budget. The Montreal Games were the most expensive in Olympic history until the 2008 Summer Olympics, costing over $5 billion (equivalent to $20 billion in 2006). For a time, it seemed that the Olympics might no longer be a viable financial proposition. There was also a boycott by African nations to protest against a recent tour of apartheid-run South Africa by a New Zealand rugby side. The Romanian gymnast Nadia Comăneci won the women's individual all around gold medal with two of four possible perfect scores, thus giving birth to a gymnastics dynasty in Romania. Another female gymnast to earn the perfect score and three gold medals there was Nellie Kim of the USSR. Lasse Virén repeated his double gold in the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters, making him the only athlete to ever win the distance double twice.
Following the Soviet Union's participation in the Afghan Civil War, 66 nations, including the United States, Canada, West Germany and Japan, boycotted the 1980 games held in Moscow. The boycott contributed to the 1980 Games being a less publicised and less competitive affair, which was dominated by the host country.
In 1984 the Soviet Union, and 13 Soviet Allies, reciprocated by boycotting the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. These games were perhaps the first games of a new era to make a profit. The games were again viable, but had become more commercial. Again, without the participation of the Eastern European countries, the 1984 Games were dominated by their host country. The game was also the first time Mainland China (People's Republic) participated.
The 1988 Seoul games were very well planned but the games were tainted when many of the athletes, most notably men's 100 metres winner Ben Johnson, failed mandatory drug tests. Despite splendid drug-free performances by many individuals, the number of people who failed screenings for performance-enhancing chemicals overshadowed the games.
On the bright side, drug testing and regulation authorities were catching up with the cheating that had been endemic in athletics for some years. The 1992 Barcelona Games were cleaner, although not without incident. In evidence there was increased professionalism amongst Olympic athletes, exemplified by US basketball's "Dream Team". 1992 also saw the reintroduction to the Games of several smaller European states which had been incorporated into the Soviet Union since World War II.
By then the process of choosing a location for the Games had itself become a commercial concern; allegations of corruption rocked the International Olympic Committee, in particular with reference to Salt Lake City's bid to host the 2002 Winter Olympics. It was also widely rumored that The Coca-Cola Company, a key IOC sponsor, was highly influential in the 1996 Summer Olympics being hosted by its home city of Atlanta. In the stadium in 1996, the highlight was 200 meters runner Michael Johnson annihilating the world record in front of a home crowd. Canadians savored Donovan Bailey's record-breaking gold medal run in the 100-meter dash. This was popularly felt to be an appropriate recompense for the previous national disgrace involving Ben Johnson. There were also emotional scenes, such as when Muhammad Ali, clearly affected by Parkinson's disease, lit the Olympic torch and received a replacement medal for the one he had discarded in 1960. The latter event took place not at the boxing ring but in the basketball arena, at the demand of US television. The atmosphere at the Games was marred however when a bomb exploded during the celebration in Centennial Park. In June 2003, the principal suspect in this bombing, Eric Robert Rudolph, was captured.
The 2000 Games were held in Sydney, Australia, and showcased individual performances by local favorite Ian Thorpe in the pool, Briton Steve Redgrave who won a rowing gold medal in an unprecedented fifth consecutive Olympics, and Cathy Freeman, an Indigenous Australian whose triumph in the 400 meters united a packed stadium. Eric "the Eel" Moussambani, a swimmer from Equatorial Guinea, had a memorably slow 100 meter freestyle swim that showed that, even in the commercial world of the twentieth century, some of de Coubertin's original vision still remained. The Sydney Games were also memorable for the first appearance of a joint North and South Korean contingent (to a standing ovation) at the opening ceremonies, even if they competed as different countries. IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch declared at the Closing Ceremony, "I am proud and happy to proclaim that you have presented to the world the best Olympic Games ever."
2004 saw the Games return to their birthplace in Athens, Greece. Greece spent at least $7.2 billion on the Games, including $1.5 billion on security alone. The games were praised and appreciated for their excellent quality in terms of organization, hospitality, symbolism, the level of the competition and athleticism, and the overall image transmitted worldwide. Although unfounded and wildly sensationalized reports of potential terrorism drove crowds away from the preliminary competitions of first weekend of the games (August 14-15), attendance picked up as the games progressed. Still, a third of the tickets failed to sell. The Athens Games witnessed all 202 NOCs participate with over 11,000 participants.
The 2008 Summer Olympics were held in Beijing, People's Republic of China. Several new events, including the new discipline of BMX for both men and women, were held. For the first time, women competed in the steeplechase. The fencing program was expanded to include all six events for both men and women. Women had not previously been able to compete in team foil or saber events (although women's team épée and men's team foil were dropped for these Games). Marathon swimming events, over the distance of 10 kilometers, were added. In addition, the doubles events in table tennis were replaced by team events.
London, United Kingdom will hold the 2012 Summer Olympics, making London the first city to host the Games three times. The International Olympic Committee has removed baseball and softball from the 2012 program. However, it may be re-added in programs in later years. The International Olympic Committee has announced that the finalists to host the 2016 Summer Olympics are Chicago, USA; Tokyo, Japan; Madrid, Spain; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The Summer Olympic Sports or Federations are regrouped under a common umbrella association, called the Association of Summer Olympic Federations (ASOIF).
Note: Although the Games of 1916, 1940, and 1944 had been cancelled, the Roman numerals for those Games were still used because the Summer Games' official titles count Olympiads, not the Games themselves; those Olympiads occurred anyway per the Olympic Charter. This is in contrast to the Roman numerals in the official titles of the Winter Olympic Games, which ignore the cancelled Winter Games of 1940 & 1944; those titles count Games instead of Olympiads.
|I||1896||Athens, Greece||6–15 April||14||241||241||0||9||43|
|II||1900||Paris, France||14 May – 28 October||24||997||975||22||18||95|
|III||1904||St. Louis, United States||1 July – 23 November||12||651||645||6||17||91|
|Int'd||1906||Athens, Greece||22 April – 2 May||20||903||883||20||13||78|
|IV||1908||London, United Kingdom||27 April – 31 October||22||2008||1971||37||22||110|
|V||1912||Stockholm, Sweden||12 May – 27 July||28||2407||2359||48||14||102|
|VI||1916||Originally awarded to Berlin, cancelled because of World War I|
|VII||1920||Antwerp, Belgium||20 April – 12 September||29||2626||2561||65||22||154|
|VIII||1924||Paris, France||4 May – 27 July||44||3089||2954||135||17||126|
|IX||1928||Amsterdam, Netherlands||17 May – 12 August||46||2883||2606||277||14||109|
|X||1932||Los Angeles, United States||30 July – 14 August||37||1332||1206||126||14||117|
|XI||1936||Berlin, Germany||1–16 August||49||3963||3632||331||19||129|
|XII||1940||Originally awarded to Tokyo, then awarded to Helsinki, cancelled because of World War II|
|XIII||1944||Originally awarded to London, cancelled because of World War II|
|XIV||1948||London, United Kingdom||29 July – 14 August||59||4104||3714||390||17||136|
|XV||1952||Helsinki, Finland||19 July – 3 August||69||4955||4436||519||17||149|
|XVI||1956|| Melbourne, Australia|
| 22 November – 9 December|
|XVII||1960||Rome, Italy||25 August – 11 September||83||5338||4727||611||17||150|
|XVIII||1964||Tokyo, Japan||10–24 October||93||5151||4473||678||19||163|
|XIX||1968||Mexico City, Mexico||12–27 October||112||5516||4735||781||18||172|
|XX||1972||Munich, West Germany||26 August – 11 September||121||7134||6075||1059||21||195|
|XXI||1976||Montreal, Canada||17 July – 1 August||92||6084||4824||1260||21||198|
|XXII||1980||Moscow, Soviet Union||19 July – 3 August||80||5179||4064||1115||21||203|
|XXIII||1984||Los Angeles, California, United States||28 July – 12 August||140||6829||5263||1566||21||221|
|XXIV||1988||Seoul, South Korea||17 September – 2 October||159||8391||6197||2194||23||237|
|XXV||1992||Barcelona, Spain||25 July – 9 August||169||9356||6652||2704||25||257|
|XXVI||1996||Atlanta, Georgia, United States||19 July – 4 August||197||10318||6806||3512||26||271|
|XXVII||2000||Sydney, Australia||15 September – 1 October||199||10651||6582||4069||28||300|
|XXVIII||2004||Athens, Greece||13–29 August||201||10625||6296||4329||28||301|
|XXIX||2008||Beijing, China||8–24 August||204||11028||28||302|
|XXX||2012||London, United Kingdom||27 July – 12 August||future event|
Rio de Janeiro or Tokyo