History of the Olympic Games

About the Olympic Games

The Olympic Games are the world’s most prestigious multi-sport event in which thousands of athletes from around the world participate in a variety of competitions. The Olympic Games are governed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The modern Olympic Games are inspired by the Ancient Olympic Games held in Olympia, Greece. The first Olympic Games in the modern era were held in Athens in 1896, and since then the games have been held every four years.

The Ancient Games
There are reasons to believe that the ancient Olympic Games were held from about 900 BC and from 776 BC historical evidence state that the Games were held every four years in Olympia in the plain of Elis in southwestern Greece. The opening of the Games was marked by the lighting of a flame at the altar of Zeus. When the Games were completed the flame was turned off.

The athletes competed in a variety of sports. Among the most popular sports were athletics, boxing, wrestling, horse racing and a five events pentathlon. Athletes from throughout the Greece empire and later on from the Roman empire attended the Games and thousands of people crowded the Games to watch the competitions and to join in the religious ceremonies.

In 393 AD the ancient Olympic Games were abolished by Emperor Theodosius of Rome for religious reasons.

Reviving the Games
The idea to revive the Ancient Olympic Games came from the French baron Pierre de Coubertin. Having long thought about his project he invited interested people from several countries to participate in an international sports congress in June 1894 at the Sorbonne in Paris. Here it was decided to hold Olympic Games every four years, and to arrange the upcoming Games the Congress established an international committee headed by the Greek diplomat Dimitrios Vikelas and with Pierre de Coubertin as Secretary General. The committee became the basis for the current IOC - the International Olympic Committee.

Originally it was Coubertin's idea that the first Olympic Games were to be organized in Paris in 1900 in connection with the World Expo, but interest in Greece for the project was so great that it was decided to arrange the first games already in 1896 in Athens.

The early Olympic Games
The first Olympic Games in the modern era were hence held in Athens in April 1896 with a reconstructed Panathenian Stadium as the main venue. The stadium had originally been built in 330 BC.

241 athletes from 14 nations attended the Games. All of them were men and the largest delegation was from Greece. The athletes competed in nine sports with athletics, gymnastics and cycling as the most important.

More than 100,000 spectators attended the competitions and the first Games became a great success.

After the success in 1896 the next two Olympic Games were held as a part of the Universal Expositions in Paris in 1900 and St. Louis in 1904. In hindsight this was not a good decision. The olympic programme was spread out during the entire period of the exhibition. A number of olympic events had little relation to the olympic ideals and the olympic events were overshadowed by the world exhibition.

In 1906, ten years after the first Olympic Games, Athens arranged the Intercalated Games. The Intercalated Games are not recognized by the International Olympic Committee and the Games are not included in our Olympian Database project.

The 1908 Olympic Games were awarded to Rome, but a violent volcanic eruption from Mount Vesuvius caused the Italians to refuse. Instead, London took over the Games and with more than 2000 participants and great audience interest at the new White City Stadium it marked the Olympic Games as an established fact.

The Games in 1912 were held in Stockholm with great success, both in terms of events and audience. Over a million spectators watched the Games. The 1916 Games were supposed to be held in Berlin, but the Games were cancelled due to World War I.

The relay therefore continued to Antwerp in 1920. It was in Antwerp that the Olympic flag with the five rings was used for the first time, just as the Olympic oath was introduced. With effect from 1924 it was decided to arrange separate Olympic Winter Games, and the Olympic Games have from this time been divided into Summer Games and Winter Games.

Olympic Winter Games
Before 1924, winter sports (ice hockey and figure skating) had been on the Olympic program a few times. Likewise, the IOC had repeatedly discussed the possibilities of holding independent winter games. In connection with the planning of the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1916, the German organizers also had plans for separate ski games.

In June 1922, the French Olympic Committee organized a conference attended by representatives of skiing, skating and ice hockey. Here, with the support of the IOC, it was decided to hold an International Winter Sports Week, which was subsequently held in Chamonix, France's famous winter sports resort near Mont Blanc.

The program in Chamonix included seven sports: bobsledding, ice hockey, figure skating, speed skating, nordic combination, cross-country skiing and ski jumping. In total, there were competitions in 14 disciplines.

The event was a success, and the Winter Sports Week was subsequently named in 1925 by the IOC to be the first independent Olympic Winter Games. At the same time it was decided to arrange the Winter Olympics every four years, in parallel with the Summer Games.

The second Olympic Winter Games were held in St. Moritz, Switzerland in February 1928. In 1936 IOC awarded the 1940 Olympic Winter Games to the city of Sapporo in Japan. When the Japan-China war began in 1938 the games were transferred to St. Moritz in Switzerland. However due to controversies between the IOC and the Swiss organizing committee the Games were withdrawn again. In the spring of 1939 the IOC gave the Games to Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany. Three months later the Second World War began and the 1940 Winter Games were cancelled. Also the planned 1944 Winter Games in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy were cancelled due to the war.

In 1986 the IOC decided to change the schedule of the Olympic Games so that Summer Games and Winter Games should be held in different years. According to that decision the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France were followed by the next Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway in 1994.

Olympic Summer Games
Since 1924, the Summer Olympics have been held every four years with few exceptions. At the IOC Session in 1936, the hosting of the XII Olympic Games in 1940 was handed over to Tokyo. In 1938 however Japan invaded China, thereby involving the country in a protracted war. In July 1938, the Japanese had to announce that due to the war they would not be able to hold the Olympic Games in 1940.

The IOC decided to move the arrangement of the Summer Games to Helsinki. After the outbreak of World War II, Soviet troops moved into Finland in November 1939, so the plans for the Olympic Games in Helsinki had to be abandoned. Following this, it was decided to completely cancel the Olympic Games in 1940. The planned Olympic Games in London in 1944 were also canceled as a result of World War II.

In 1996, the IOC was able to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first Olympic Games in the modern era in 1896 in Athens. The Centennial Games were held in Atlanta, Georgia. The Games in Atlanta became, in many ways, the Games of Records. For the first time in history, more than 10,000 athletes participated in the Olympic Games. 197 nations were represented at the Games - 30 nations more than in Barcelona four years earlier. The development compared to the first games in 1896 was overwhelming.

In 2020, the four-year gap between the Summer Games was broken for the last time so far, as it was decided to postpone the Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo to 2021 due to the Corona pandemic.

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