Friday, October 10, 2008

Olympic Games

The five Olympic rings were designed in 1913, adopted in 1914 and debuted at the Games at Antwerp, 1920.
The five Olympic rings were designed in 1913, adopted in 1914 and debuted at the Games at Antwerp, 1920.

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 (Greek: Ολυμπιακοί Αγώνες; [Olympiakoi Agones]) 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.



Ancient Olympics

Athletes trained in this Olympia facility in ancient times.
Athletes trained in this Olympia facility in ancient times.
Main article: Ancient Olympic Games

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.[1] 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.[2]

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.[3] 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.[4] 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. [5] The Olympics were not seen again until their rebirth 1,500 years later.

Revival of the Modern Games


Further information: Cotswold Games and Wenlock Olympian Society Annual Games

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.[6] 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.[6]

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.[7] The competition included several disciplines from the ancient Greek Olympics. The 1796 Olympiade also marked the introduction of the metric system into sport.[7] 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.[8]

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.[9]

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.[10] 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.[11] The modern Olympic Movement was established, and the inaugural Games were to be held in the nation of their origin.

1896 Games

Main article: 1896 Olympic Games

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.[12] 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.[13]

Changes and Adaptations

Main article: Summer Olympic Games
The women's golf competition at the 1900 Paris Games.
The women's golf competition at the 1900 Paris Games.

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.[14] 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.[15]

Winter Games

Main article: Winter Olympic Games

While figure skating had been an Olympic event at both the London Games and the Antwerp Games, and ice hockey had also been held at the Antwerp Games, the IOC wanted equity between the winter and summer sports. At the 1921 Congress in Lausanne, the IOC decided to hold a winter version of the Olympic games.[16] The first Winter Olympics were held in 1924 in Chamonix, France. The IOC made the Winter Games a permanent fixture in the Olympic Movement in 1925, and mandated that they be celebrated every 4 years on the same year as their Summer counterpart.[17] This tradition held until the 1992 Games in Albertville, France. Beginning in 1994 the Olympic games have alternated on different 4–year cycles. Hence the most recent Winter Games were held in 2006, while 2008 marked the latest celebration of the Summer Games.


Main article: Paralympics

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.[18]

Youth Games

Main article: Youth Olympic Games

The Youth Olympic Games (YOG), were conceived by IOC president Jacques Rogge in 2001,[19] and approved by the IOC at the 119th IOC session in Guatemala City in July 2007.[20] 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.[21][22] 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.[23][24] 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.[25] The first host city will be Singapore in 2010; the bidding for the first winter edition in 2012 is underway.

Modern Games

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.[26] 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.[27] 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.[28]

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.[29]

Olympic Movement

The "Olympic Movement" is defined by the rules and guidelines of the Olympic Charter. It includes organizing committees for specific Games, International Federations for each sport featured at the Games, and the National Olympic Committees for each nation represented at the Games. The umbrella organization of the Olympic Movement is the International Olympic Committee (IOC), currently headed by Jacques Rogge.[30] The IOC oversees the planning of the Olympic Games, and insures the host city is meeting its obligations. It makes all the important decisions, such as choosing the host city and the event program for each Games. The three major components of the Olympic Movement beyond the IOC are described in further detail as follows:

  • International Federations (IFs), are the governing bodies of each sport (for example, FIFA, the IF for football (soccer), and FIVB, the international governing body for volleyball.) There are currently 35 IFs in the Olympic Movement.[31]
  • National Olympic Committees (NOCs), which regulate the Olympic Movement within each country (e.g., USOC, the NOC of the United States). There are 205 NOCs recognized by the IOC.[26]
  • Organizing Committees for the Olympic Games (OCOGs), which are the committees responsible for the organization of a specific celebration of the Olympics. OCOGs are dissolved after the celebration of each Games, once all subsequent paperwork has been completed.


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.[32] He was also accused of both racism, for his handling of the apartheid issue with the South African delegation, and anti-Semitism.[32] Under the Samaranch presidency, the Olympic Movement made great progress, but the President's office was accused of both nepitism and corruption.[33] Samaranch's ties with the Franco regime in Spain, and his long term as IOC president (21 years), have been points of criticism.[34]

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.[35]

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,[36] 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.[37][38] 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.[39]


Main article: Olympic symbols

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.[40]

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

"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."[40]

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.[40]

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.[41]

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.[42]



A scene from the opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
A scene from the opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

As mandated by the Olympic Charter, various elements frame the Opening Ceremonies of a celebration of the Olympic Games.[43][44] Most of these rituals were established by the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium.[45]

The ceremonies typically start with the hoisting of the host country's flag and a performance of its national anthem.[43][44] The host nation then presents artistic displays of music, singing, dance, and theater representative of its culture.[45] 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.[46]

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.[43][44] 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.[45] 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.[43][44] 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.[47]

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:

I declare open the Games of [name of the host city] celebrating the [ordinal number of the Olympiad] Olympiad of the modern era/[ordinal number of Winter Olympics] Olympic Winter Games.[48]

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:

Celebrating the XXIII Olympiad of the modern era, I declare open the Olympic Games of Los Angeles.[49]

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.[48] 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.[51]

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".[48]

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.[48] 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.[48] 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.[48] This gesture was discontinued after several doves were burned alive in the Olympic Flame during the opening ceremony of the 1988 Summer Olympics.[52] 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.


Various traditional elements frame the Closing Ceremonies of an Olympic Games, which take place after all athletic events have concluded. Flag bearers from each participating country enter the stadium in single file, behind them march all of the athletes without any distinction or grouping by nationality – a tradition that began during the 1956 Summer Olympics at the suggestion of Melbourne schoolboy John Ian Wing, who thought it would be a way of bringing the athletes of the world together as "one nation."[53] (In 2006, the athletes marched in with their countrymen, then dispersed and mingled as the ceremonies went on).

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.[54] 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.[55]

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.[48] 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:

  • The Antwerp flag was presented to the IOC at the 1920 Summer Olympics by the city of Antwerp, Belgium, and was passed on to the next organizing city of the Summer Olympics until the 1988 Games in Seoul.
  • The Oslo flag was presented to the IOC at the 1952 Winter Olympics by the city of Oslo, Norway, and is passed on to the next organizing city of the Winter Olympics.
  • The Seoul flag was presented to the IOC at the 1988 Summer Olympics by the city of Seoul, South Korea as a replacement for the Antwerp flag.

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.[56]

Medal presentation

The medal ceremony for the men's team pursuit at the 2008 Games in Beijing.
The medal ceremony for the men's team pursuit at the 2008 Games in Beijing.

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.[57] 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.[58] 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.[59]


Main article: Olympic sports

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.[60] 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.[61]

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.[62]

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.[63]

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.[63]

Amateurism and professionalism

Further information: Amateurism

The ethos of the aristocracy as exemplified in the English public schools greatly influenced Pierre de Coubertin.[64] The public schools subscribed to the Ancient Greek and Roman belief that sport formed an important part of education, an attitude summed up in the saying: mens sana in corpore sano – a sound mind in a healthy body. In this ethos, a gentleman was one who became an all–rounder, not the best at one specific thing. There was also a prevailing concept of "fairness," in which practicing or training was considered tantamount to cheating.[64] Those who practiced a sport professionally were considered to have an unfair advantage over those who practiced it merely as a "hobby." [64]

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.[65]

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.[66] 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.[67]

As class structure evolved through the 20th century, the definition of the amateur athlete as an aristocratic gentleman became outdated.[64] 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.[68] 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.[69]



Countries that boycotted the 1976 (yellow), 1980 (blue) and 1984 (red) games
Countries that boycotted the 1976 (yellow), 1980 (blue) and 1984 (red) games
Main article: Olympic boycotts

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.[70] 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.[71]

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.[29]

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."[72] The 1984 boycotters staged their own Friendship Games in July and August.[73][74]

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.[75][76][77]


Tommie Smith (center) and John Carlos (right) showing the raised fist in the 1968 Summer Olympics.
Tommie Smith (center) and John Carlos (right) showing the raised fist in the 1968 Summer Olympics.

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.[78] 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.[79]

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.[80] The photo of the three men on the medal podium has become an iconic Olympic image.[81]

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.[82]


One of the main problems facing the Olympics (and sports in general) is doping, or the use of performance enhancing drugs. In the early 20th century, many Olympic athletes began using drugs to improve their athletic abilities. For example, the winner of the marathon at the 1904 Games, Thomas J. Hicks, was given strychnine and brandy by his coach, even during the race.[83] As these methods became more extreme, it became increasingly evident that doping was not only a threat to the integrity of sport but could also have potentially fatal side effects on the athlete. The only Olympic death linked to doping occurred at the Rome Games of 1960. During the cycling road race in Rome, Danish cyclist Knud Enemark Jensen fell from his bicycle and later died. A coroner's inquiry found that he was under the influence of amphetamines.[84] By the mid–1960s, sports federations were starting to ban the use of performance enhancing drugs, and the IOC followed suit in 1967.[85]

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.[86] 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.[87]

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.[88] 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.[89][90]

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.[91] 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.[92][93]


Despite what Coubertin had hoped for, the Olympics did not bring total peace to the world. In fact, three Olympiads had to pass without a celebration of the Games because of war: because of World War I the 1916 Games were cancelled, and the summer and winter games of 1940 and 1944 were cancelled because of World War II. The South Ossetia War between Georgia and Russia erupted on the opening day of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Both President Bush and Prime Minister Putin were attending the Olympics at that time and spoke together about the conflict at a luncheon hosted by Chinese President Hu Jintao.[94] When Nino Salukvadze of Georgia won the bronze medal in the 10-meter air pistol competition, she stood on the medal podium with Natalia Paderina, a Russian shooter who had won the silver. In a much–publicized image from the Beijing Games, Salukvadze and Paderina embraced on the podium after the ceremony had ended.[95]

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.[96] 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.[97] 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.

Champions and Medalists

The reverse side of the medals of the 2008 Summer Olympics: silver (left), gold (center), bronze (right). Each medal has a ring of jade.
The reverse side of the medals of the 2008 Summer Olympics: silver (left), gold (center), bronze (right). Each medal has a ring of jade.
See also: List of multiple Olympic gold medalists

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)[98] 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.[99] 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.[100]

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.

All-time Individual Medal Count

See also: List of multiple Olympic gold medalists
Athlete ↓ Nation ↓ Sport ↓ Olympics ↓ Image:Gold medal icon.svg Gold ↓ Image:Silver medal icon.svg Silver ↓ Image:Bronze medal icon.svg Bronze ↓ Total ↓
Phelps, MichaelMichael Phelps USA Swimming 2000–2008 14 0 2 16
Latynina, LarissaLarissa Latynina USSR Gymnastics 1956–1964 9 5 4 18
Nurmi, PaavoPaavo Nurmi FIN Athletics 1920–1928 9 3 0 12
Spitz, MarkMark Spitz USA Swimming 1968–1972 9 1 1 11
Lewis, CarlCarl Lewis USA Athletics 1984–1996 9 1 0 10
Dæhlie, BjørnBjørn Dæhlie NOR Cross-country skiing 1992–1998 8 4 0 12
Fischer, BirgitBirgit Fischer GDR / GER Canoeing (flatwater) 1980–2004 8 4 0 12
Kato, SawaoSawao Kato JPN Gymnastics 1968–1976 8 3 1 12
Thompson, JennyJenny Thompson USA Swimming 1992–2004 8 3 1 12
Biondi, MattMatt Biondi USA Swimming 1984–1992 8 2 1 11
Ewry, RayRay Ewry USA Athletics 1900–1908 8 0 0 8
Andrianov, NikolaiNikolai Andrianov USSR Gymnastics 1972–1980 7 5 3 15
Shakhlin, BorisBoris Shakhlin USSR Gymnastics 1956–1964 7 4 2 13
CaslavskaVěra Čáslavská TCH Gymnastics 1960–1968 7 4 0 11

Host Cities

By 2012, the Olympic Games will have been hosted by 42 cities in 22 countries, but only by cities outside of Europe and North America on 7 occasions. Since the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, the Olympics have been held in Asia or Oceania 4 times, which is a sharp increase compared to the previous 92 years of modern Olympic history. All bids by countries in South America and Africa have failed. The number in parentheses following the city or country denotes how many times that city or country had then hosted the games. The table includes the "Intercalated Games" of 1906, which the IOC no longer considers official Olympic Games.

Olympic Games host cities
Summer Olympic Games Winter Olympic Games
Year Olympiad Host city Country Host city Country
1896 I Athens (1) Greece (1)

1900 II Paris (1) France (1)

1904 III St. Louis(1) (1) United States (1)

1906 III Athens (not recognized) Greece

1908 IV London (1) United Kingdom (1)

1912 V Stockholm (1) Sweden (1)

1916 VI (2) Berlin Germany

1920 VII Antwerp (1) Belgium (1)

1924 VIII Paris (2) France (2) I Chamonix (1) France (1)
1928 IX Amsterdam (1) Netherlands (1) II St. Moritz (1) Switzerland (1)
1932 X Los Angeles (1) United States (2) III Lake Placid (1) United States (1)
1936 XI Berlin (1) Germany (1) IV Garmisch-Partenkirchen (1) Germany (1)
1940 XII (3) Tokyo
V (3) Sapporo
St. Moritz
1944 XIII (3) London United Kingdom V (3) Cortina d'Ampezzo Italy
1948 XIV London (2) United Kingdom (2) V St. Moritz (2) Switzerland (2)
1952 XV Helsinki (1) Finland (1) VI Oslo (1) Norway (1)
1956 XVI Melbourne (1) +
Stockholm (2)(4)
Australia (1) +
Sweden (2)
VII Cortina d'Ampezzo (1) Italy (1)
1960 XVII Rome (1) Italy (1) VIII Squaw Valley (1) United States (2)
1964 XVIII Tokyo (1) Japan (1) IX Innsbruck (1) Austria (1)
1968 XIX Mexico City (1) Mexico (1) X Grenoble (1) France (2)
1972 XX Munich (1) West Germany (2) XI Sapporo (1) Japan (1)
1976 XXI Montreal (1) Canada (1) XII Innsbruck (2) Austria (2)
1980 XXII Moscow (1) Soviet Union (1) XIII Lake Placid (2) United States (3)
1984 XXIII Los Angeles (2) United States (3) XIV Sarajevo (1) Yugoslavia (1)
1988 XXIV Seoul (1) South Korea (1) XV Calgary (1) Canada (1)
1992 XXV Barcelona (1) Spain (1) XVI Albertville (1) France (3)

XVII Lillehammer (1) Norway (2)
1996 XXVI Atlanta (1) United States (4)


XVIII Nagano (1) Japan (2)
2000 XXVII Sydney (1) Australia (2)


XIX Salt Lake City (1) United States (4)
2004 XXVIII Athens (2) Greece (2)


XX Turin (1) Italy (2)
2008 XXIX Beijing (1)(5) China (1)


XXI Vancouver (1) Canada (2)
2012 XXX London (3) United Kingdom (3)


XXII Sochi (1) Russia (1)
2016 XXXI To be announced


XXIII To be announced
1 Originally awarded to Chicago, but moved to St. Louis to coincide with the World's Fair 2 Cancelled due to World War I 3 Cancelled due to World War II 4 Equestrian events were held in Stockholm, Sweden. Stockholm had to bid for the equestrian competition separately; it received its own Olympic flame and had its own formal invitations and opening and closing ceremonies, as with all other Games.[101] 5 Equestrian events held in China's Hong Kong SAR. Although Hong Kong has an independent National Olympic Committee from China, the equestrian competition was an integral part of the Beijing Games; it was not conducted under a separate bid, flame, etc., as was the 1956 Stockholm equestrian competition. The IOC website lists only Beijing as the host city.[102]

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