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Olympic Games
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The Olympic Games are a major international event of summer and winter sports, in which thousands of athletes compete in a wide variety of events. The Games are currently held every two years, with Summer and Winter Olympic Games alternating. Originally, the ancient Olympic Games were held in Olympiamarker, Greecemarker, from the 8th century BC to the 5th century AD. In the late 19th century, Baron Pierre de Coubertin was inspired by Olympic festivals to revive the Games. For this purpose, he founded the International Olympic Committeemarker (IOC) in 1894, and two years later, the modern Olympic Games were established in Athensmarker. The IOC has since become the governing body of the Olympic Movement, whose structure and actions are defined by the Olympic Charter.

The evolution of the Olympic Movement during the 20th century forced the IOC to adapt the Games to the world's changing social circumstances. Some of these adjustments included the creation of the Winter Games for ice and snow sports, the Paralympic Games for athletes with physical disabilities, and the Youth Olympic Games for teenage athletes. The IOC also had to accommodate the Games to the varying economical, political, and technological realities of the 20th century. As a result, the Olympics shifted away from pure amateurism, as envisioned by Coubertin, to allow participation of professional athletes. The growing importance of the mass media created the issue of corporate sponsorship and commercialization of the Games.

The Olympic Movement currently comprises international sports federations (IFs), National Olympic Committees (NOCs), and organizing committees for each specific Olympic Games. As the decision-making body, the IOC is responsible for choosing the host city for each Olympic Games. The host city is responsible for organizing and funding a celebration of the Games consistent with the Olympic Charter. The Olympic program, consisting of the sports to be contested at each Olympic Games, is also determined by the IOC. The celebration of the Games encompasses many rituals and symbols, such as the Olympic flag and torch, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies. There are over 13,000 athletes that compete at the Summer and Winter Olympics in 33 different sports and nearly 400 events. The first, second, and third place finishers in each event receive gold, silver or bronze Olympic medals, respectively.

The Games have grown in scale to the point that nearly every nation is represented. Such growth has created numerous challenges, including boycotts, doping, bribery of officials, and terrorismmarker. Every two years, the Olympics and its media exposure provide unknown athletes with the chance to attain national, and in particular cases, international fame. The Games also constitute a major opportunity for the host city and country to promote and showcase themselves to the world.

Ancient Olympics

The Ancient Olympic Games is a series of competitions held between representatives of several city-states from Ancient Greece, which featured mainly athletic but also combat and chariot racing events. The origin of these Olympics is shrouded in mystery and legend. One of the most popular myths identifies Heracles and his father Zeus as the progenitors of the Games.Pausanias, "Elis 1", VII, p. 7, 9, 10; Pindar, "Olympian 10", pp. 24–77 According to legend, it was Heracles who first called the Games "Olympic" and established the custom of holding them every four years.Pausanias, "Elis 1", VII, p. 9; Pindar, "Olympian 10", pp. 24–77 A legend persists that after Heracles completed his twelve labors, he built the Olympic stadium as an honor to Zeus. Following its completion, he walked in a straight line for 200 steps and called this distance a "stadion" (Greek: στάδιον, Latin: stadium, "stage"), which later became a unit of distance. Another myth associates the first Games with the ancient Greek concept of Olympic truce (ἐκεχειρία, ekecheiria). The most widely accepted date for the inception of the Ancient Olympics is 776 BC; this is based on inscriptions, found at Olympia, of the winners of a footrace held every four years starting in 776 BC. The Ancient Games featured running events, a pentathlon (consisting of a jumping event, discus and javelin throws, a foot race and wrestling), boxing, wrestling, and equestrian events. Tradition has it that Coroebus, a cook from the city of Elis, was the first Olympic champion.

The Olympics were of fundamental religious importance, featuring sporting events alongside ritual sacrifices honoring both Zeus (whose famous statuemarker by Phidias stood in his temple at Olympiamarker) and Pelops, divine hero and mythical king of Olympia. Pelops was famous for his chariot race with King Oenomaus of Pisatis. The winners of the events were admired and immortalized in poems and statues. The Games were held every four years, and this period, known as an Olympiad, was used by Greeks as one of their units of time measurement. The Games were part of a cycle known as the Panhellenic Games, which included the Pythian Games, the Nemean Games, and the Isthmian Games.

The Olympic Games reached their zenith in the 6th and 5th centuries BC, but then gradually declined in importance as the Romans gained power and influence in Greece. There is no consensus on when the Games officially ended, the most common-held date is 393 AD, when the emperor Theodosius I declared that all pagan cults and practices be eliminated. Another date cited is 426 AD, when his successor Theodosius II ordered the destruction of all Greek temples. After the demise of the Olympics, they were not held again until the late 19th century.

Modern Games

Forerunners and revival

The first significant attempt to emulate the ancient Olympic Games was the L'Olympiade de la République, a national Olympic festival held annually from 1796 to 1798 in Revolutionary France. The competition included several disciplines from the ancient Greek Olympics. The 1796 Games also marked the introduction of the metric system into sport. In 1850 an Olympian Class began at Much Wenlockmarker, in Shropshiremarker, England. It was renamed the Wenlock Olympian Games in 1859, and continues today as the Wenlock Olympian Society Annual Games. Dr Brookes adopted events from the programme of the Olympics held in Athens in 1859 in to future Games. In 1866, a national Olympic Games in Great Britain was organized by Dr. William Penny Brookes at London's Crystal Palacemarker.

Greek interest in reviving the Olympic Games began with the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1821. It was first proposed by poet and newspaper editor Panagiotis Soutsos in his poem "Dialogue of the Dead", published in 1833. Evangelis Zappas, a wealthy Greek philanthropist, sponsored the first "Olympic Games" in 1859 which was held in an Athensmarker city square. Athletes participated from Greece and the Ottoman Empire. Zappas paid for the restoration of the ancient Panathenaic Stadiummarker so that it could host all future Olympic Games. The Panathenian stadium hosted the first in 1870 and a second in 1875.

In the search for a reason for the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871), historian Baron Pierre de Coubertin theorized that the soldiers had not received proper physical education. In 1890, after attending the Olympian Games of the Wenlock Olympian Society, Coubertin decided that a large-scale revival of the Olympic Games was achievable. Coubertin built on the ideas of Brookes and Zappas with the aim of internationally rotating the Olympic Games from country to country. He presented these ideas during the first Olympic Congress of the newly created International Olympic Committeemarker (IOC). This meeting was held from June 16 to June 23, 1894, at the Sorbonnemarker University in Parismarker. On the last day of the Congress, it was decided that the first multinational Olympic Games would take place two years later in Athens. The IOC was fully responsible for the Games' organization, and, for that purpose, elected the Greek writer Demetrius Vikelas as its first president.


There were fewer than 250 athletes at the first Olympic Games of the modern times. Due to the failure of the Greek government to follow Zappas' explicit instructions the Panathenian Stadiummarker had to be refurbished a second time in preparation for the 1896 Athens Games. These Olympics featured nine sporting disciplines: athletics, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, shooting, swimming, tennis, weightlifting, and wrestling; rowing events were scheduled for competition but had to be cancelled due to bad weather conditions. The fencing events were hosted inside the landmark building called the Zappeion (named after Evangelis Zappas). The Greek officials and public were enthusiastic about the experience of hosting these Games. This feeling was shared by many of the athletes, who even demanded that Athens be the host of the Olympic Games on a permanent basis. The IOC had, however, envisaged these modern Olympics to be an itinerating and truly global event. As such they decided to hold the second Games in Paris.

Changes and adaptations

Following the success of the 1896 Games, that was organized by a Greek Olympic Committee and that was hosted in a stadium that had already hosted two Olympic Games, the Olympics entered a period of stagnation that threatened their survival. The celebrations in Paris in 1900 and St. Louismarker in 1904 were overshadowed by the World's Fair exhibitions, held at the same time and location. The St. Louismarker Games, for example, hosted 650 athletes, but 580 were originally from the United States. The homogeneous nature of this edition 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. Another successful Olympic Games organised by a Greek Olympic Committee and hosted in a stadium that had already hosted the Olympics three times. These Games are not officially recognized and no further editions have been held since. 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 Olympics.

Winter Games

The Winter Olympics were created to feature snow and ice sports that were logistically impossible to hold during the Summer Games. Figure skating (in 1908 and 1920) and ice hockey (in 1920) were featured as Olympic events at the Summer Olympics. The IOC desired to expand this list of sports to encompass other winter activities. At the 1921 Olympic Congress, in Lausannemarker, it was decided to hold a winter version of the Olympic Games. A winter sports week (it was actually 11 days) was held in 1924 in Chamonixmarker, France; this event became the first Winter Olympic Games. The IOC mandated that the Winter Games be celebrated every four years on the same year as their summer counterpart. This tradition was upheld until the 1992 Games in Albertvillemarker, France; after that, beginning with the 1994 Games, the Winter Olympics were held on the third year of each Olympiad.


In 1948, Sir Ludwig Guttman, determined to promote the rehabilitation of soldiers after World War II, organized a multi-sport event between several 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 twelve years, Guttman and others continued their efforts to use sports as an avenue to healing. For the 1960 Olympic Games, in Romemarker, Guttman brought 400 athletes to compete in the "Parallel Olympics", which became known as the first Paralympics. Since then, the Paralympics have been held in every Olympic year. As of the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoulmarker, South Korea, the host city for the Olympics has also played host to the Paralympics.

Youth Games

Starting in 2010, the Olympic Games will be complemented by Youth Games, where athletes between the ages of 14 and 18 will compete. The Youth Olympic Games were conceived by IOC president Jacques Rogge in 2001 and approved during the 119th Congress of the IOC. The first Summer Youth Games will be in Singaporemarker in 2010, while the inaugural Winter Games will be hosted in Innsbruckmarker, Austria, two years later. These Games will be shorter than the senior Games; the summer version will last twelve days, while the winter version will last nine days. The IOC will allow 3,500 athletes and 875 officials to participate at the Summer Youth Games, and 970 athletes and 580 officials at the Winter Youth Games. The sports to be contested will coincide with those scheduled for the traditional senior Games, however there will be a reduced number of disciplines and events.

Recent Games

From 241 participants representing 14 nations in 1896, the Games have grown to 10,500 competitors from 204 countries at the 2008 Summer Olympics. The scope and scale of the Winter Olympics is smaller. For example, Turinmarker hosted 2,508 athletes from 80 countries competing in 84 events, during the 2006 Winter Olympics. During the Games most athletes and officials are housed in the Olympic village. This village is intended to be a self-contained home for all the Olympic participants. It is furnished with cafeterias, health clinics, and locations for religious expression.

The number of participating countries is higher than the 193 that are current members of the United Nations. The IOC 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 set up their own National Olympic Committees. 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.

International Olympic Committee

The Olympic Movement encompasses a large number of national and international sporting organizations and federations, recognized media partners, as well as athletes, officials, judges, and every other person and institution that agrees to abide by the rules of the Olympic Charter. As the umbrella organization of the Olympic Movement, the International Olympic Committeemarker (IOC) is responsible for selecting the host city, overseeing the planning of the Olympic Games, updating and approving the sports program, and negotiating sponsorship and broadcasting rights.The Olympic Movement is made of three major elements:
  • International Federations (IFs) are the governing bodies that supervise a sport at an international level. For example, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFAmarker) is the IF for football , and the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) is the international governing body for volleyball. There are currently 35 IFs in the Olympic Movement, representing each of the Olympic sports.
  • National Olympic Committees (NOCs) represent and regulate the Olympic Movement within each country. For example, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) is the NOC of the United Statesmarker. There are currently 205 NOCs recognized by the IOC.
  • Organizing Committees for the Olympic Games (OCOGs) constitute the temporary committees responsible for the organization of a specific celebration of the Olympics. OCOGs are dissolved after each Games, once the final report is delivered to the IOC.

French and English are the official languages of the Olympic Movement. The other language used at each Olympic Games is the language of the host country. Every proclamation (such as the announcement of each country during the parade of nations in the opening ceremony) is spoken in these three languages, or the main two depending on whether the host country is an English or French speaking country.


The IOC has often been criticized for being an intractable organization, with several members on the committee for life. The leadership of IOC presidents Avery Brundage and Juan Antonio Samaranch was especially controversial. Brundage was president for over 20 years, and during his tenure he protected the Olympics from untoward political involvement. He was accused of both racism, for his handling of the apartheid issue with the South African delegation, and anti-Semitism. Under the Samaranch presidency, the office was accused of both nepotism and corruption. Samaranch's ties with the Franco regimemarker in Spain was also a source of criticism.

In 1998, it was uncovered that several IOC members had taken bribes from members of the Salt Lake Citymarker bid committee for the hosting of the 2002 Winter Olympics, to ensure their votes were cast in favor of the American bid. The IOC pursued an investigation which led to the resignation of four members and expulsion of six others. The scandal set off further reforms that would change the way host cities are selected, to avoid similar cases in the future.

A BBC documentary entitled Panorama: Buying the Games, aired in August 2004, investigated the taking of bribes in the bidding process for the 2012 Summer Olympics. The documentary claimed it was possible to bribe IOC members into voting for a particular candidate city. After being narrowly defeated in their bid for the 2012 Summer Games, Parisianmarker Mayor Bertrand Delanoë specifically accused the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the London Bid Committee (headed by former Olympic champion Sebastian Coe) of breaking the bid rules. He cited French President Jacques Chirac as a witness; Chirac gave guarded interviews regarding his involvement. The allegation was never fully explored. The Turinmarker bid for the 2006 Winter Olympics was also shrouded in controversy. A prominent IOC member, Marc Hodler, strongly connected with the rival bid of Sion, Switzerlandmarker, 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 against Sion's bid and potentially helped Turin to capture the host city nomination.


The IOC originally resisted funding by corporate sponsors. It was not until the retirement of IOC president Avery Brundage, in 1972, that the IOC began to explore the potential of the television medium and the lucrative advertising markets available to them. Under the leadership of Juan Antonio Samaranch the Games began to shift toward international sponsors who sought to link their products to the Olympic brand.


During the first half of the 20th century the IOC was run on a small budget. As president of the IOC from 1952 to 1972, Avery Brundage rejected all attempts to link the Olympics with commercial interest. Brundage believed the lobby of corporate interests would unduly impact the IOC's decision-making. Brundage's resistance to this revenue stream meant the IOC left organizing committees to negotiate their own sponsorship contracts and use the Olympic symbols. When Brundage retired the IOC had US$2 million in assets; eight years later the IOC coffers had swelled to US$45 million. This was primarily due to a shift in ideology toward expansion of the Games through corporate sponsorship and the sale of television rights. When Juan Antonio Samaranch was elected IOC president in 1980 his desire was to make the IOC financially independent.

The 1984 Summer Olympics became a watershed moment in Olympic history. The Los Angeles-based organizing committee, led by Peter Ueberroth, was able to generate a surplus of US$225 million, which was an unprecedented amount at that time. The organizing committee had been able to create such a surplus in part by selling exclusive sponsorship rights to select companies. The IOC sought to gain control of these sponsorship rights. Samaranch helped to establish The Olympic Program (TOP) in 1985, in order to create an Olympic brand. Membership in TOP was, and is, very exclusive and expensive. Fees cost US$50 million for a four year membership. Members of TOP received exclusive global advertising rights for their product category, and use of the Olympic symbol, the interlocking rings, in their publications and advertisements.

Impact of television

The 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin were the first Games to be broadcast on television, though only to local audiences. The 1956 Winter Olympics were the first internationally televised Olympic Games, and the following Winter Games had their broadcasting rights sold for the first time to specialized television broadcasting networks—CBS paid US$394,000 for the American rights, and the European Broadcasting Unionmarker (EBU) allocated US$660,000. In the following decades the Olympics became one of the ideological fronts of the Cold War. Superpowers jockeyed for political supremacy, and the IOC wanted to take advantage of this heightened interest via the broadcast medium. The sale of broadcast rights enabled the IOC to increase the exposure of the Olympic Games, thereby generating more interest, which in turn created more appeal to advertisers who purchased advertising time on television. This cycle allowed the IOC to charge ever-increasing fees for those rights. For example, CBS paid US$375 million for the rights of the 1998 Nagano Games, while NBC spent US$3.5 billion for the broadcast rights of all the Olympic Games from 2000 to 2012

Viewership increased exponentially from the 1960s until the end of the century. Worldwide audience estimates for the 1968 Mexico City Games was 600 million, whereas at the Los Angeles Games of 1984, the audience numbers had increased to 900 million; that number swelled to 3.5 billion by the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelonamarker. However, at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydneymarker, NBC drew the lowest ratings for any Summer or Winter Olympics since 1968. This was attributed to two factors: one was the increased competition from cable channels, the second was the internet, which was able to display results and video in real time. Television companies were still relying on tape-delayed content, which was becoming outdated in the information era. A drop in ratings meant that television studios had to give away free advertising time. With such high costs charged to broadcast the Games, the added pressure of the internet, and increased competition from cable, the television lobby demanded concessions from the IOC to boost ratings. The IOC responded by making a number of changes to the Olympic program. At the Summer Games, the gymnastics competition was expanded from seven to nine nights, and a Champions Gala was added to draw greater interest. The IOC also expanded the swimming and diving programs, both popular sports with a broad base of television viewers. Finally, the American television lobby was able to dictate when certain events were held so that they could be broadcast live during prime time in the United States. The result of these efforts was mixed: the ratings for the 2006 Winter Games, held in Europe, were significantly lower than those for the 2002 Games, while there was a sharp increase in viewership for the 2008 Summer Olympics, staged in Beijing.


The sale of the Olympic brand has been controversial. The argument is that the Games have become indistinguishable from any other commercialized sporting spectacle. Specific criticism was levelled at the IOC for market saturation during the 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney Games. The cities were awash in corporations and merchants attempting to sell Olympic-related wares. The IOC responded by indicating they would address this to prevent further spectacles of over-marketing at future Games. Another criticism is that the Games are funded by host cities and national governments; the IOC incurs none of this cost, yet controls all the rights and profits from the Olympic symbols. The IOC also takes a percentage of all sponsorship and broadcast income. Host cities continue to compete ardently for the right to host the Games, even though there is no certainty that they will earn back their investments.

Symbols and ceremonies


The Olympic Movement uses symbols to represent the ideals embodied in the Olympic Charter. The Olympic symbol, better known as the Olympic rings, consists of five intertwined rings and represents the unity of the five inhabited continents (considering North and South America as a single continent). The colored version of the rings—blue, yellow, black, green, and red—over a white field forms the Olympic flag. These colors were chosen because every nation had at least one of them on its national flag. The flag was adopted in 1914 but flown for the first time only at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerpmarker, Belgiummarker. It has since been hoisted during each celebration of the Games.

The Olympic motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius, a Latin expression meaning "Faster, Higher, Stronger". Coubertin's ideals are further expressed in the Olympic creed:

Months before each Games, the Olympic flame is lit in Olympia in a ceremony that reflects ancient Greek rituals. A female performer, acting as a priestess, ignites a torch by placing it inside a parabolic mirror which focuses the sun's rays; she then lights the torch of the first relay bearer, thus initiating the Olympic torch relay that will carry the flame to the host city's Olympic stadium, where it plays an important role in the opening ceremony. Though the flame has been an Olympic symbol since 1928, the torch relay was introduced at the 1936 Summer Games, 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 on the Games identity promotion since the 1980 Summer Olympics, when the Russian bear cub Misha reached international stardom. The mascots of the most recent Summer Olympics, in Beijing, were the Fuwa, five creatures that represent the five fengshui elements important in Chinese culture.



As mandated by the Olympic Charter, various elements frame the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Most of these rituals were established at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp. The ceremony typically starts 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 grown in scale and complexity as successive hosts attempt to provide a ceremony that outlasts its predecessor's in terms of memorability. The opening ceremony of the Beijing Games reportedly cost $100 million, with much of the cost incurred in the artistic segment.

After the artistic portion of the ceremony, the athletes parade into the stadium grouped by nation. Greece is traditionally the first nation to enter in order to honor the origins of the Olympics. Speeches are given, formally opening the Games. Finally, the Olympic torch is brought into the stadium and passed on until it reaches the final torch carrier—often a well-known and successful Olympic athlete from the host nation—who lights the Olympic flame in the stadium's cauldron.


The closing ceremony of the Olympic Games takes place after all sporting events have concluded. Flag-bearers from each participating country enter the stadium, followed by the athletes who enter together, without any national distinction.Three national flags are hoisted while the corresponding national anthems are played: the flag of Greece, to honor the birthplace of the Olympic Games; the flag of the current host country, and the flag of the country hosting the next Summer or Winter Olympic Games.The president of the organizing committee and the IOC president make their closing speeches, the Games are officially closed, and the Olympic flame is extinguished.In what is known as the Antwerp Ceremony, 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.After these compulsory elements, the next host nation briefly introduces itself with artistic displays of dance and theater representative of its culture.

Medal presentation

A medal ceremony during the 2008 Summer Olympics

A medal ceremony is held after each Olympic event is concluded. The winner, second and third-place competitors or teams stand on top of a three-tiered rostrum to be awarded their respective medals. After the medals are given out by an IOC member, the national flags of the three medalists are raised while the national anthem of the gold medalist's country plays. Volunteering citizens of the host country also act as hosts during the medal ceremonies, as they aid the officials who present the medals and act as flag-bearers. For every Olympic event, the respective medal ceremony is held, at most, one day after the event's final. For the men's marathon, the competition is usually held early in the morning on the last day of Olympic competition and its medal ceremony is then held in the evening during the closing ceremony.


The Olympic Games program consists of 33 sports, 52 disciplines and nearly 400 events. For example, wrestling is a Summer Olympic sport, comprising two disciplines: Greco-Roman and Freestyle. It is further broken down into fourteen events for men and four events for women, each representing a different weight class. The Summer Olympics program includes 26 sports, while the Winter Olympics program features 7 sports. Athletics, swimming, fencing, and artistic gymnastics are the only summer sports that have never been absent from the Olympic program. Cross-country skiing, figure skating, ice hockey, Nordic combined, ski jumping, and speed skating have been featured at every Winter Olympics program since its inception in 1924. Current Olympic sports, like badminton, basketball, and volleyball, first appeared on the program as demonstration sports, and were later promoted to full Olympic sports. Some sports that were featured in earlier Games were later dropped from the program.

Olympic sports are governed by international sports federations (IFs) recognized by the IOC as the global supervisors of those sports. There are 35 federations represented at the IOC. There are sports recognized by the IOC that are not included on the Olympic program. These sports are not considered Olympic sports, but they can be promoted to this status during a program revision that occurs in the first IOC session following a celebration of the Olympic Games. During such revisions, sports can be excluded or included in the program based on a two-thirds majority vote of the members of the IOC. There are recognized sports that have never been on an Olympic program in any capacity, including chess and surfing.

In October and November 2004, the IOC established an Olympic Programme Commission, which was tasked with reviewing the sports on the Olympic program and all non-Olympic recognized sports. The goal was to apply a systematic approach to establishing the Olympic program for each celebration of the Games. The commission formulated seven criteria to judge whether a sport should be included on the Olympic program. These criteria are history and tradition of the sport, universality, popularity of the sport, image, athletes' health, development of the International Federation that governs the sport, and costs of holding the sport. From this study five recognized sports emerged as candidates for inclusion at the 2012 Summer Olympics: golf, karate, rugby, roller sports and squash. These sports were reviewed by the IOC Executive Board and then referred to the General Session in Singapore in July 2005. Of the five sports recommended for inclusion only two were selected as finalists: karate and squash. Neither sport attained the required two-thirds vote and consequently they were not promoted to the Olympic program. In October 2009 the IOC voted to instate golf and rugby as Olympic sports for the 2016 and 2020 Summer Olympic Games.

The 114th IOC Session, in 2002, limited the Summer Games program to a maximum of 28 sports, 301 events, and 10,500 athletes. Three years later, at the 117th IOC Session, the first major program revision was performed, which resulted in the exclusion of baseball and softball from the official program of the 2012 London Games. Since there was no agreement in the promotion of two other sports, the 2012 program will feature just 26 sports. The 2016 and 2020 Games will return to the maximum of 28 sports given the addition of rugby and golf.

Amateurism and professionalism

The ethos of the aristocracy as exemplified in the English public schools greatly influenced Pierre de Coubertin. The public schools subscribed to the 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 sound 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. Those who practiced a sport professionally were considered to have an unfair advantage over those who practiced it merely as a hobby.

The exclusion of professionals caused several controversies throughout the history of the modern Olympics. The 1912 Olympic pentathlon and decathlon champion Jim Thorpe was stripped of his medals when it was discovered that he had played semi-professional baseball before the Olympics. His medals were restored by the IOC in 1983 on compassionate grounds. 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 thus 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. Beginning in the 1970s, amateurism requirements were gradually phased out of the Olympic Charter. Eventually the decisions on professional participation were left to the IFs. As of 2004, the only sport in which no professionals compete is boxing, although 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 , only three players over the age of 23 are eligible to participate per team in the Olympic tournament. This is done in order to maintain a level of amateurism.



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. 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 and Rhodesia, because of their segregationist regimes. New Zealand was also one of the African boycott targets, due to the "All Blacks" (national rugby team) having toured apartheid-ruled South Africa. The IOC conceded in the first two cases, but refused to ban New Zealand on the grounds that rugby was not an Olympic sport. Fulfilling their threat, twenty African countries were joined by Guyana and Iraq in a Tanzania-led withdrawal from the Montreal Games, after a few of their athletes had already competed.Taiwan also decided to boycott these Games because the People's Republic of China (PRC) exerted pressure on the Montreal organizing committee to keep the delegation from the Republic of China (ROC) from competing under that name. The ROC refused a proposed compromise that would have still allowed them to use the ROC flag and anthem as long as the name was changed. Taiwan did not participate again until 1984, when it returned under the name of Chinese Taipei and with a special flag and anthem.

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. This boycott reduced the number of nations participating to 81, the lowest number since 1956. The Soviet Union and 14 of its Eastern Bloc partners (except Romania) countered by boycotting the Los Angeles Olympics of 1984, contending that they could not guarantee the safety of their athletes. Soviet officials defended their decision to withdraw from the Games by saying that "chauvinistic sentiments and an anti-Soviet hysteria are being whipped up in the United States". The boycotting nations of the Eastern Bloc staged their own alternate event, the Friendship Games, in July and August.

There had been growing calls for boycotts of Chinese goods and the 2008 Olympics in Beijing in protest of China's human rights record, and in response to the disturbances in Tibet and ongoing conflict in Darfur. Ultimately, no nation supported a boycott. In August 2008, the government of Georgiamarker called for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics, set to be held in Sochimarker, Russiamarker, in response to Russia's participation in the 2008 South Ossetia war. The International Olympic Committeemarker responded to concerns about the status of the 2014 games by stating that it is "premature to make judgments about how events happening today might sit with an event taking place six years from now".


Contrary to the founding principles, the Olympic Games have been used as a platform to promote political ideologies. Nazi Germany wished to demonstrate the Nationalist Socialist Party's benevolence and desire for peace when they hosted the 1936 Games. The Games were also intended to show the superiority of the Aryan race; a goal that was not met due in part to the achievements of athletes such as Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at this Olympics. The Soviet Union did not participate until the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinkimarker. Instead, starting in 1928, the Soviets organized an international sports event called Spartakiads. Other communist countries organized Workers Olympics during the interwar period of the 1920s and 1930s. These events were held as an alternative to the Olympics, which were perceived as a capitalist and aristocratic event. It was not until the 1956 Summer Games that the Soviets emerged as a sporting superpower and, in doing so, took full advantage of the publicity that came with winning at the Olympics.

Individual athletes have also used the Olympic stage to promote their own political agenda. At the 1968 Summer Olympics, in Mexico Citymarker, two American track and field athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who finished first and third in the 200 meter sprint 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 (USOC) to either send the two athletes home or withdraw the track and field team. The USOC opted for the former.

Currently, the government of Iran has taken steps to avoid any competition between its athletes and those from Israel. An Iranian judoka did not compete in a match against an Israeli during the 2004 Summer Olympics. Although he was officially disqualified for excessive weight, Arash Miresmaeli was awarded US$125,000 in prize money by the Iranian government, an amount paid to all Iranian gold medal winners. He was officially cleared of intentionally avoiding the bout, but his receipt of the prize money raised suspicion.

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. The only Olympic death linked to doping occurred at the Rome Games of 1960. During the cycling road race, 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. By the mid-1960s, sports federations were starting to ban the use of performance enhancing drugs; in 1967 the IOC followed suit.

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.

In the late 1990s, the IOC took the initiative in a more organized battle against doping, by forming the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 1999. There was a sharp increase in positive drug tests at the 2000 Summer Olympics and 2002 Winter Olympics. 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 IOC-established drug testing regimen (now known as the Olympic Standard) has set the worldwide benchmark that 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 tests were used to detect banned substances. Several athletes were barred from competition by their National Olympic Committees prior to the Games; only three athletes failed drug tests while in competition in Beijing.


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: the 1916 Games were cancelled due to World War I, and the summer and winter games of 1940 and 1944 were cancelled because of World War II. The South Ossetia War between Georgiamarker and Russiamarker 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. 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 what became a much-publicized event from the Beijing Games, Salukvadze and Paderina embraced on the podium after the ceremony had ended.

Terrorism has also threatened the Olympic Games. In 1972, when the Summer Games were held in Munichmarker, Bavariamarker, Germanymarker, eleven members of the Israel Olympic team were taken hostage by the terrorist group Black September in what is now known as the Munich massacremarker. 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. During the Summer Olympics in 1996 in Atlantamarker, a bombmarker was detonated at the Centennial Olympic Parkmarker, 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 for the bombing.

Champions and medalists

The athletes or teams who place first, second, or third in each event receive medals. The winners receive gold medals, which were solid gold until 1912, then made of gilded silver and now gold plated silver. Every gold medal must contain at least six 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. At the 1896 Olympics only the first two received a medal; silver for first and bronze for second. The current three medal format was introduced at the 1904 Olympics 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 olive wreaths. National Olympic Committees and the media record medal statistics as a measure of success.

All-time individual medal count

The IOC does not keep an official record of individual medal counts, though unofficial medal tallies abound. These provide one method of determining the most successful Olympic athletes of the modern era. Below are the top ten individual medal winners of the modern Olympics (the gender of the athlete is denoted in the "Sport" column):
Athlete Nation Sport Olympics Gold Silver Bronze Total
Swimming (m) 2000–2008 14 0 2 16
Gymnastics (f) 1956–1964 9 5 4 18
Athletics (m) 1920–1928 9 3 0 12
Swimming (m) 1968–1972 9 1 1 11
Athletics (m) 1984–1996 9 1 0 10
Cross-country skiing (m) 1992–1998 8 4 0 12

Canoeing (f) 1980–2004 8 4 0 12
Gymnastics (m) 1968–1976 8 3 1 12
Swimming (f) 1992–2004 8 3 1 12
Swimming (m) 1984–1992 8 2 1 11

Host nations and cities

Map of Summer Olympics locations.
Countries that have hosted one Summer Olympics are shaded green, while countries that have hosted two or more are shaded blue.
Map of Winter Olympics locations.
Countries that have hosted one Winter Olympics are shaded green, while countries that have hosted two or more are shaded blue.
The host city for an Olympic Games is usually chosen seven years ahead of their celebration. The process of selection is currently carried out in two phases that span over a two-year period. The prospective host city first applies to its country's Olympic Committee; if more than one city from the same country submits a proposal to its NOC, the national committee typically holds an internal selection, since only one city per NOC can be presented to the International Olympic Committee for consideration. Once the deadline for submission of proposals by the NOCs is reached, the first phase (Application) begins with the applicant cities asked to complete a questionnaire regarding several key criteria related to the organization of the Olympic Games. In this form, the applicants must give assurances that they will comply with the Olympic Charter and with any other regulations established by the IOC Executive Committee. The evaluation of the filled questionnaires by a specialized group provides the IOC with an overview of each applicant's project and their potential to host the Games. Based on this technical evaluation, the IOC Excutive Board selects the applicants that will proceed to the candidature stage.

Once the candidate cities are selected, they must submit to the IOC a bigger and more detailed presentation of their project as part of a candidature file. Each city is thoroughly analyzed by an evaluation commission. This commission will also visit the candidate cities, interviewing local officials and inspecting prospective venue sites, and submits a report on its findings one month prior to the IOC final decision. During the interview process the candidate city must also guarantee that it will be able to fund the Games. After the work of the evaluation commission, a list of candidates is presented to the General Session of the IOC, which is assembled in a country that must not have a candidate city in the running. The IOC members gathered in the Session have the final vote on the host city. Once elected, the host city bid committee (together with the NOC of the respective country) signs a Host City Contract with the IOC, officially becoming an Olympic host nation and host city.

By 2016, the Olympic Games will have been hosted by 44 cities in 23 countries, but by cities outside Europe and North America on only eight occasions. Since the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, the Olympics have been held in Asia or Oceania four times, a sharp increase compared to the previous 92 years of modern Olympic history. The 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro will be the first for a South American country. No bids from countries in Africa have ever succeeded. The countries that sent the most athletes to the 2008 Summer Olympics are China with 639, the United States with 596, and Russia who brought 455 athletes.

The United States has hosted four Summer and four Winter Olympics, more than any other nation. Among Summer Olympics host nations, the United Kingdom has been the host of two Games, and will host its third Olympics in 2012. Germany, Australia, France, and Greece are the other nations to have hosted the Summer Olympics twice. Concerning the Winter Olympics, France took the hosting job for three times, while Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Japan, and Italy have done it twice. The next Games, to be held in Vancouvermarker, will be Canada's second Winter Olympics and third overall.

Olympic Games host cities
Year Summer Olympic Games Winter Olympic Games Youth Olympic Games
Olympiad Host city No. Host city No. Host City
1896 I Athensmarker, Greecemarker
1900 II Parismarker, Francemarker
1904 III St. Louismarker, United Statesmarker
1906 III Athensmarker, Greecemarker
1908 IVmarker Londonmarker, United Kingdommarker
1912 V Stockholmmarker, Swedenmarker
1916 VI Berlinmarker, Germanymarker

Cancelled due to World War I
1920 VII Antwerpmarker, Belgiummarker
1924 VIII Parismarker, Francemarker I Chamonixmarker, Francemarker
1928 IX Amsterdammarker, Netherlandsmarker II St. Moritzmarker, Switzerlandmarker
1932 X Los Angelesmarker, United Statesmarker III Lake Placidmarker, United Statesmarker
1936 XI Berlinmarker, Germanymarker IV Garmisch-Partenkirchenmarker, Germanymarker
1940 XII Tokyomarker, Japanmarker

Helsinkimarker, Finlandmarker

Cancelled due to World War II
V Sapporo, Japanmarker

St. Moritzmarker, Switzerlandmarker

Garmisch-Partenkirchenmarker, Germanymarker

Cancelled due to World War II
1944 XIII Londonmarker, United Kingdommarker

Cancelled due to World War II
V Cortina d'Ampezzomarker, Italymarker

Cancelled due to World War II
1948 XIV Londonmarker, United Kingdommarker V St. Moritzmarker, Switzerlandmarker
1952 XV Helsinkimarker, Finlandmarker VI Oslomarker, Norwaymarker
1956 XVI Melbournemarker, Australia +

Stockholmmarker, Swedenmarker
VII Cortina d'Ampezzomarker, Italymarker
1960 XVII Romemarker, Italymarker VIII Squaw Valleymarker, United Statesmarker
1964 XVIII Tokyomarker, Japanmarker IX Innsbruckmarker, Austriamarker
1968 XIX Mexico Citymarker, Mexicomarker X Grenoblemarker, Francemarker
1972 XX Munichmarker, West Germanymarker XI Sapporo, Japanmarker
1976 XXI Montrealmarker, Canadamarker XII Denvermarker, United Statesmarker

Innsbruckmarker, Austriamarker
1980 XXII Moscowmarker, Soviet Unionmarker XIII Lake Placidmarker, United Statesmarker
1984 XXIII Los Angelesmarker, United Statesmarker XIV Sarajevomarker, Yugoslavia
1988 XXIV Seoulmarker, South Koreamarker XV Calgarymarker, Canadamarker
1992 XXV Barcelonamarker, Spainmarker XVI Albertvillemarker, Francemarker
1994 XVII Lillehammermarker, Norwaymarker
1996 XXVI Atlantamarker, United Statesmarker
1998 XVIII Nagano, Japanmarker
2000 XXVII Sydneymarker, Australia
2002 XIX Salt Lake Citymarker, United Statesmarker
2004 XXVIII Athensmarker, Greecemarker
2006 XX Turinmarker, Italymarker
2008 XXIX Beijing, Chinamarker
2010 XXI Vancouvermarker, Canadamarker I Singaporemarker
2012 XXX Londonmarker, United Kingdommarker I Innsbruckmarker, Austriamarker
2014 XXII Sochimarker, Russiamarker II To be determined
2016 XXXI Rio de Janeiromarker, Brazilmarker II To be determined
2018 XXIII To be determined
2020 XXXII To be determined

See also


  1. Young (2004), p. 12
  2. Richardson (1997), p. 227
  3. Young (2004), pp. 12–13
  4. Spivey (2004), pp. 229–230
  5. Crowther (2007) pp. 59–61
  6. Golden (2009), p. 24
  7. Burkert (1983), p. 95
  8. Swadling (1999), pp. 90–93
  9. Olympic Museum, "The Olympic Games in Antiquity", p. 2
  10. However, Theodosius' decree contains no specific reference to Olympia (Crowther (2007), p. 54).
  11. Crowther (2007), p. 54
  12. Young (1996), pp. 2, 13–23, 81
  13. Young (1996), p. 68
  14. Coubertin, Philemon, Politis & Anninos (1897), Part 2, p. 8
  15. Young (1996), pp. 100–105
  16. Darling (2004), p. 135
  17. Coubertin, Philemon, Politis & Anninos (1897), Part 2, pp. 98–99, 108–109
  18. Olympic Charter (2007), Rule 24, p. 53.
  19. Maraniss (2008), pp. 52–60
  20. Maraniss (2008), pp. 60–69
  21. Cooper-Chen (2005), p. 231
  22. Buchanon & Mallon (2006), p. ci
  23. Findling & Pelle (2000), p. 209
  24. Slack (2004), p. 194
  25. Slack (2004), p. 192
  26. Gershon (2000), p. 17
  27. Tomlinson (2005), p. 14
  28. Slack (2004), pp. 16–18
  29. Slack (2004), p. 17
  30. Cooper-Chen (2005), p. 230
  31. Woods (2007), p. 146
  32. Buchanon & Mallon (2006), p. cii
  33. Slack (2004), p. 194–195
  34. Olympic Charter (2007), pp. 88–90.
  35. Olympic Charter (2007), p. 87
  36. Putin Faces Green Olympic Challenge: The Sochi 2014 Winter Games are threatened by a looming international boycott, environmental concerns, and public protests against local development, Christian Science Monitor, accessed August 18, 2008.
  37. Lawmakers want Olympics out of Russia, CNN, August 15, 2008.
  38. Findling & Pelle (2004) p. 107
  39. Findling & Pelle (2004) p. 111–112
  40. Roche (2000), p. 106
  41. Porterfield (2008), p. 15
  42. Originally awarded to Chicago, but moved to St. Louis to coincide with the World's Fair
  43. Not recognized by the IOC
  44. 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 its previous Games.
  45. Equestrian events were held in China's Hong Kong. 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.


Further reading

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