The Olympics are the most important world sporting event, involving many different sports and athletes from practically every nation, competing under their national flag. The summer games have been held every four years since 1896. The host city is selected by the International Olympic Committee six or seven years beforehand. The smaller-scale winter games are held every four years starting in 1924. Starting 1994, they come midway between the summer games.
The Olympics have pagan origins, but the predominantly Christian faith of the top athletes has become more apparent every four years, with an number vocally thanking God for their remarkable achievements.
The games are a source of national pride and international equality and sportsmanship. They are a very expensive proposition, costing the host billions of dollars—partially defrayed by television and tourist revenues. It is typical for strong local opposition to try to block a city from hosting the games.
The modern Olympics are named after an Ancient Greek sporting event that was held from 776 B.C. to A.D. 394.
According to a legend, Heracles built a temple to Zeus and wanted people to come and worship there, so he made a series of games to attract people. This event was so unifying that people started to count time by it.
In Greece itself a national program of Olympic Games, funded by Evangelos Zappas (1800–65), took place four times between 1859 and 1889, with limited success. The idea of a revival of the ancient games became popular in Europe thanks to Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937), the father of the modern Olympic movement.
Two events in 1889 moved de Coubertin: the International Exposition in Paris and his visit to North America. The Exposition demonstrated the power of a truly international spectacle; the latter revealed the widespread growth of interest in a variety of sports, from rowing and yachting to football and track and field. In addition, recent archaeological discoveries by Heinrich Schliemann and others, and a growing fascination with Olympia and Greece in general, pushed his ambitious project forward. Coubertin used a copy of the founding compromise (1880) of the Amateur Athletic Association, the British sports governing body for track and field, to bring together a diversity of different interests in relation to the games.
In 1896 the first of the modern Olympic Games was staged in Athens. Although a passionate French patriot, Coubertin was also a sincere and committed internationalist who envisaged the advent of a new era of progress and universal harmony in an interdependent and even eventually unified world that would nevertheless preserve its cultural diversity and heritage. An admirer of the model of the Swiss Confederation, he was active in a variety of fields, promoting his ideas through the creation of networks. Growing nationalism in Europe and especially the outbreak of World War I highlighted the limits of his vision and placed him in a major dilemma, but he continued to prioritize the promotion of his Olympic ideal.
Note: The term "Olympiad" is used by the International Olympic committee to refer to the four-year period in which the games are held, not to the games themselves. So, for instance, 1904 and 1906 were both the 3rd Olympiad (with 1906 not being recognized) and 1912 was the "Games of the 5th Olympiad". Then, World War I stopped the "Games of the 6th Olympiad" in 1916 and the Games of the 7th Olympiad were held in 1920.
|Most medals won||47 by Greece (10 Gold, 18 Silver, 19 Bronze)|
With the Greek king presiding, the opening ceremonies attracted large crowds. American athletes dominated many of the track and field events, but the emotional climax of the games was the unexpected victory of Spiridon Loues, a Greek, in the marathon. He instantly became a national hero. Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937) who created the Olympic Games, remained in the background but after the games he had to battle against Greek efforts to establish the Olympics permanently in Greece.
|Most medals won||104 by France (27 Gold, 40 Silver, 37 Bronze)|
1904 St. Louis
|Host country||United States of America|
|Most medals won||230 by the United States of America (75 Gold, 78 Silver, 77 Bronze)|
- Matthews, George R. America's First Olympics: The St. Louis Games of 1904 (2005) online edition
|Most medals won||40 by France (15 Gold, 9 Silver, 16 Bronze)|
In spring 1906 the Olympic Games took place in Athens; Coubertin had repeatedly announced them in the 'Revue Olympique' and later described them as 'brilliantly carried out.' For the first time, the nations marched into the stadium, athletes were chosen and sent by their national Olympic Committees, and gold, silver, and bronze medals were awarded at the winners' ceremony. The planned games for 1910 and 1914 were prepared but not implemented due to wars in the Balkans. By 1912 the 1906 Games had suffered a loss of status and have since been referred to as 'interim games.'
|Host country||Great Britain|
|Most medals won||146 by Great Britain (56 Gold, 51 Silver, 39 Bronze)|
|Most medals won||65 by Sweden (24 Gold, 24 Silver, 17 Bronze)|
|Most medals won||94 by United States of America (41 Gold, 27 Silver, 26 Bronze)|
There was no Olympiad in 1916 due to World War I.
|Most medals won||99 by United States of America (45 Gold, 27 Silver, 27 Bronze)|
Italian fencer Oreste Puliti (1891-1958) was at the center of controversy during the 1924 Paris Olympic Games. Disqualified by a Hungarian judge from the individual saber event, Puliti and the Italian team appealed to a 'jury d'honneur,' which upheld the judge's decision. The entire incident, including a later saber duel on the Hungarian border between Puliti and the judge, reflects issues of national pride, conflicts between European schools of fencing, and the difficulties the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had dealing with sport-based international federations.
|Host country||The Netherlands|
|Most medals won||56 by the United States of America (22 Gold, 18 Silver, 16 Bronze)|
1932 Los Angeles
|Host country||United States of America|
|Most medals won||110 by United States of America (44 Gold, 36 Silver, 30 Bronze)|
|Most medals won||101 by Germany (38 Gold, 31 Silver, 32 Bronze)|
The Berlin games were the most controversial (before 1980) because the IOC was determined to promote its brand of internationalism in the face of Nazi mistreatment of Jews and political opponents.
For the IOC the Berlin Olympics represented its greatest achievement: legitimizing the Games as the world's premier sporting event. The Games were awarded to a democratic Germany in 1931—no one then expected the Nazis would be in charge. It was the first competition that fully reflected the emergence of sports as a mass phenomenon after the World War.
Key Olympics leaders, especially Avery Brundage in the U.S., de Coubertin in France, and Sir Noel Curtis Bennett in Britain, worked tirelessly to exclude political questions, emphasize pure athleticism, and frustrate an anti-Nazi boycott. Of 59 national Olympic Committees, 53 accepted the invitation to attend and 49 actually attended. Three million tickets were sold (compared to one million in 1932), with of course many people attending several events.Jesse Owens (1913-1980), the black American track and field star. Owens, who craved the chance to compete, resisted the NAACP's pleas that he support the boycott. He won four gold medals and was enthusiastically cheered in the face of Nazi propaganda about "Negro inferiority." The film "Olympia" (1938), made by Nazi producer-director Leni Riefenstahl set the modern standard for high quality documentaries, and prominently featured Owens.
At another level there was tension between traditional Christian ideals and Nazi paganism, as the Orthodox Church of Greece criticized the Nazi staging of the Olympic flame ceremonies. Pagan aspects of the ceremony as well as the worship of the body were linked to contemporary political movements at odds with Christianity, notably Communism and Nazism.
The games were canceled in 1938 when international tensions leading to World War II got out of hand. There never was a plan for a 1944 Olympics. These would have been the 12th and 13th Olympiads, respectively.
|Host country||Great Britain|
|Most medals won||84 by United States of America (38 Gold, 27 Silver, 19 Bronze)|
Despite some fears that Britain was too impoverished by World War II to host an international event, the Labor government, led by the efforts of Philip Noel-Baker (1889-1982), proceeded to relaunch the games following a 12-year hiatus. The goal was to tell the world that Britain was back. The press and the public generally saw the project as a success, one that reasserted Britain's international importance. The memory of the war meant that Germany and Japan were excluded. The emerging Cold War meant that the Soviet Union did not come.
|Most medals won||76 by United States of America (40 Gold, 19 Silver, 17 Bronze)|
|Most medals won||98 by Soviet Union (37 Gold, 29 Silver, 32 Bronze)|
This was the first Olympics held in the Southern Hemisphere.
Modernity clashed with traditionalism when Melbourne, Australia, hosted the 1956 summer Olympics. Journalists speculated that the expected floods of American tourists, accustomed to central heating and prompt room service, would react coldly to the traditional Aussie hotel routine of getting out of bed on to the chilly linoleum, and tip-toeing across the floor to the old-time wash basin and jug. What would sophisticated Frenchmen make of a city where all bars closed at 6 PM? Melbourne, the sophisticates feared, would be regarded as a hick town, too provincial and too staid to be entrusted with the hosting of a world event. A small but vocal minority of Labor politicians and welfare workers opposed the Games as an unjustifiable extravagance; in rural Victoria the folk saw the event as yet another treat for city people. Traditional clergymen feared the approach of that iniquitous institution, the 'Continental Sunday'. However the Chamber of Commerce won the day, hailing the Olympics as a boost to tourism and investment. Modernist architects and designers embraced the Games as their chance to bring local taste before the bar of international opinion. The Olympic Pool, for example, won praise for its high originality and imagination. The hotels were modernized, upper middle class residents took in visitors, and even the Japanese—the hated foes of the 1940s, were made welcome. In the event the preparations transformed and upgraded Melbourne's self-image as a bastion of modernity, and the rest of the world paid little attention.
|Most medals won||103 by Soviet Union (43 Gold, 29 Silver, 31 Bronze)|
IOC began the practice of posting list of illegal drugs that are totally banned for use by Olympic athletes, and using drug tests to enforce the ban.
|Most medals won||96 by Soviet Union (30 Gold, 31 Silver, 35 Bronze)|
The games demarcated the end of Japan's wounded psyche from World War II. Attendance by its former enemies meant that all was forgiven, if not forgotten.
1968 Mexico City
|Most medals won||107 by United States of America (45 Gold, 28 Silver, 34 Bronze)|
|Host country||West Germany|
|Most medals won||99 by Soviet Union (50 Gold, 27 Silver, 22 Bronze)|
West Germany sponsored the 1972 Olympics as an affirmation of its peaceful reintegration into the family of nations. The world community was horrified by the Munich massacre when Palestinian terrorists captured a team of Israeli athletes on global television; eleven Israeli hostages were murdered; five of the eight Arab terrorists were killed in a blaze of gunfire with police.
Two international celebrities emerged. American swimmer Mark Spitz won seven gold medals, surpassing the record of five set in the 1920 games by Italian fencer Nedo Nadi. In women's gymnastics, 17-year-old Olga Korbut, an 84-pound Russian, dazzled spectators with her golden performances.
|Most medals won||125 by Soviet Union (49 Gold, 41 Silver, 35 Bronze)|
The notable performance of these Games was that of Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, who scored the first perfect 10 in a gymnastic routine at an Olympic games.
|Host country||Soviet Union|
|Most medals won||195 by Soviet Union (80 Gold, 69 Silver, 46 Bronze)|
The Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980 were one of the largest international events organized in a Communist country, and the arrival of teams from capitalist nations was a matter of international legitimacy for the regime. The Soviets had high expectations of the games as a unique opportunity to present themselves to a worldwide audience. The effective staging of the Moscow Games was intended to demonstrate the power and strength of Communism not only within the Soviet Union but also to non socialist countries. To the stunned humiliation of the Soviets, the United States and all its allies boycotted Moscow as punishment for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
1984 Los Angeles
|Host country||United States of America|
|Most medals won||174 by United States of America (83 Gold, 61 Silver, 30 Bronze)|
These games were also controversial because of the Soviet bloc's (except Romania) boycott under Soviet claims of insufficient security, but was seen by many Americans as retaliation for the U.S.' 1980 boycott of Moscow's Games. This also led to the McDonald's marketing gaffe with their "If the US Wins, You Win" promotional game for the Olympics.
|Host country||South Korea|
|Most medals won||132 by Soviet Union (55 Gold, 31 Silver, 46 Bronze)|
The games heralded the emergence of a democratic system in South Korea, and the recognition of one of the first Third World countries to break into the top ranks of industrialized, modern nations.
South Korean leaders hoped for both increased economic development and a heightened sense of national identity. Tangible economic results, including the growth of the telecommunications industry, seemed positive, as did the less concrete social, cultural, and political aspects of the games: democratic reforms in South Korea, better relations with Communist countries, and a boost in the nation's collective sense of self-confidence.
|Most medals won||112 by Unified Team (ex USSR) (45 Gold, 38 Silver, 29 Bronze)|
The breakup of the Communist Soviet Union led to the establishment of a 'Unified Team (ex USSR)' in its place.
|Host country||United States of America|
|Most medals won||101 by United States of America (44 Gold, 32 Silver, 25 Bronze)|
Expected to be awarded to Athens (on what would have been the centennial of the modern Olympics, first held in Athens in 1896), in a surprise the Games were awarded instead to Atlanta, primarily due to the involvement of ex-Mayor and former UN Ambassador Andrew Young.
The Unified Team (ex USSR) dissolved and the ex-members of the Soviet Union participated as their own national teams.
These games were marred by the Centennial Olympic Park bombing, where one spectator was killed, 111 were wounded and one other guest died of a heart attack. Security guard Richard Jewell was first hailed as a hero for finding the bomb and calling the police, then later named as a suspect in planting it, then, after his name was printed in many newspapers as a suspect, exonerated in October, 1996. Jewell filed lawsuits against several of the news outlets, including NBC television network, which paid him $500,000. Much of the money that Richard didn't pay in legal and income tax fees he used to buy his mother a new house.
|Most medals won||94 by United States of America (37 Gold, 24 Silver, 33 Bronze)|
The Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956 were well handled, but few international tourists came to Australia for it. By contrast when Sydney, Australia, hosted the 2000 Summer Olympic Games, it gained global attention for an efficiently organized world-class event. Prince Philip, representing Queen Elizabeth II The Queen opened the 1956 games but neither was invited in 2000, as the spirit of republicanism was too strong. However, many of the hoped-for legacies failed to materialize. General levels of participation in physical activity and sport did not rise, although passive spectator ship including television watching did. Many of the costly Australian facilities built for the games remain underutilized in their wake. While in the short term, some of the economic and political goals were achieved, and a new and better method to collect and disseminate knowledge about games preparation was established, such events remain problematic in their long-term effects on local, populations, societies, and environments.
|Most medals won||102 by United States of America (36 Gold, 29 Silver, 27 Bronze)|
|Most medals won||110 by United States of America (36 Gold, 38 Silver, 36 Bronze)|
The International Olympic Committee awarded the bid to Beijing despite political pressures of which it was aware – namely human rights abuses and media censorship within the nation. The international community noted this and did not forget.
The Games played host to the 28 summer sports currently on the Olympic program. Approximately 10,500 athletes participated in the Games with around 20,000 accredited media bringing the Games to the world.
|Most medals won||26 by Canada (14 Gold, 7 Silver, 5 Bronze)|
After not having won any official sport gold medals in either of the two prior Olympics it hosted (1976 Summer in Montreal and 1988 in Calgary) Canada would go on to set a record with 14 gold medals at a Winter Olympics, and became the first host country to top the gold medal count since Norway in 1952.
|Host country||United Kingdom|
|Most medals won||104 by United States of America (46 Gold, 29 Silver, 29 Bronze)|
The 2012 Summer Olympics were in London, United Kingdom, from July 27 through August 12. During the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, the pagan origins of the Olympics have been replaced by faith-based achievement by the participating athletes.
|Most medals won||33 by Russia (13 Gold, 11 Silver, 9 Bronze)|
2016 Rio de Janeiro
|Most medals won||122 by USA (46 gold, 37 silver, 38 bronze)|
Marred by fears of a pandemic (due to the lack of proper infrastructure in the city).
|Host country||South Korea|
|Most medals won||39 by Norway (14 gold, 14 silver, 11 bronze)|
After having lost two prior bids (2010 and 2014) Pyeongchang was finally awarded the Winter Games on its third bid. This was the first of three consecutive Olympic Games to be held in Asia.
The impact of the Olympics as setting a world standard spread to the underdeveloped world. The Committee for International Olympic Aid was founded by the developed nations in 1961 to help fund Third World countries so they could join the Olympic family. The National Olympic Committees of these new countries gained some measure of control over the development of sport on the international level and, in conjunction with individual international sports federations, shifted the overall balance of power within the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
In the 1920s Egyptians of all classes were captivated by news of the Egyptian national football (soccer) team's performance in international competitions. Success or failure in the Olympic football tournaments of 1924 and 1928 was not just evaluated in terms of sport; rather, they were understood against the backdrop of Egyptian independence and a desire to be seen as modern by their European opponents. Moreover, it suggests that Egyptians also saw these competitions as a way to distinguish themselves from the premodernity of other African countries.
The impact on China was seen in China's participation in the 1932, 1936, and 1948 Olympics. The idea of 'tiyu' (physical education and/or sports) was introduced into China at the turn of 20th century, but from early on, its advocates saw it as a way to strengthen one's body and to get rid of the humiliating label of "Sick Man of Asia," a derogatory term imposed on the Chinese by foreign powers. In response, a desire to save face and free China from foreign control and to gain an equal place in the world led the Nationalist government to seize the opportunity to promote modern sports and physical education. Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT leadership realized that 'tiyu' was not only a vehicle by which they could strengthen the sense of nationalism but also one by which they could promote an international presence. China implemented a number of measures, ranging from improving physical education, establishing official institutions, to promoting a 'war-like spirit' among citizens. 'Tiyu' also became part of Chiang Kai-shek's "New Life Movement," a nation-building effort to create modern citizens. The article concentrates on how sports became a venue in which China tried to engage the outside world. China's participation in the three Olympic Games before 1949, in spite of its negligible impact on sports per se, demonstrated China's motivation to use sports to win international recognition and to renew nationalism at home. The same spirit, now backed by an economically powerful nation, motivated China in 2008.
Organized men's field hockey began in India in the 1880s. Following World War I, the Indian national team rose to international prominence, winning the 1928 Olympic gold medal in Amsterdam without surrendering a single goal. The Indian squad won gold in every Olympics through 1956 and again in 1964. India dominated in other international tours as well. The ability to bring together players from various social classes and diverse ethnic groups proved to be a key element of their success.
The Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), under the leadership of Elwood Brown, partnered with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) under Pierre de Coubertin to bring Olympic ideals and participation to Latin America. Following the 1922 Latin American Games in Rio de Janeiro, IOC member Henri de Baillet-Latour toured the region, helping countries establish national Olympic committees and prepare for future competition. In some countries, such as Brazil, sporting and political rivalries hindered progress as opposing factions battled for control of international sport. The 1924 Olympic Games in Paris and the 1928 games in Amsterdam saw greatly increased participation from Latin American athletes.
After the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) had repeatedly opposed including women's athletics in their official program in the early 1920s, the Fédération Sportive Féminine Internationale (FSFI) was founded in 1921. One year later it organized a Women's Olympiad in Paris with great success. As a result, the IOC accepted five women's athletic events in the program of the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam. FSFI, under the leadership of Alice Milliat (1884-1957), sought to increase women's participation in sports, in particular the Olympic Games. The FSFI successfully sponsored the Women's Games in the years between the wars. However, the group faced considerable opposition from the aristocratic male leaders of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and from Siegfried Edström, president of the International Amateur Athletic Federation, who wanted to maintain male domination in sports. The FSFI collapsed in 1936, despite having created international momentum for female athletic competition, as richer, more powerful sports organizations refused to allow women to continue to participate in sporting events.
The fact that a few women collapsed on the grass after crossing the finishing line after the eight-hundred-meter race at the 1928 games, won by Germany's Lina Radke with a new world record, was used as an argument against women's athletics and women's sport in general. Officials, journalists, and doctors were not convinced of women's mental and physical ability to cope with the stresses of competitive sports. In a vote the IOC only just avoided abandoning women's athletics, but the eight-hundred-meter race was taken out of the program. Thirty years later the middle-distance race was restored to the Olympic program, again after intensive discussions.
Irreligious countries and unsportsmanlike conduct via doping and other misconduct
See also: Irreligion and unsportsmanlike conduct
There are a number of notable cases of irreligious countries engaging in unsportsmanlike conduct such as doping (see: Irreligion and unsportsmanlike conduct).
- Buchanan, Ian, and Bill Mallon. Historical Dictionary of the Olympic Movement (2nd ed. 2006) 366pp. excerpt and text search
- Gerlach, Larry, ed. The Winter Olympics: From Chamonix to Salt Lake City (2004) 330pp
- Guttman, Allen. The Olympics, a history of the modern games. (2nd ed. 2002) excerpt and text search
- MacAloon, John J. This Great Symbol: Pierre de Coubertin and the Origins of the Modern Olympic Games (2008)
- Miller, David. Athens to Athens: The Official History of the Olympic Games and the IOC, 1894-2004 (2008) 528p.
- Pelle, Kimberly D. Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement (2nd ed. 2004) 602pp. excerpt and text search
- Preuss, Holger. The Economics of Staging the Olympics: A Comparison of the Games, 1972-2008 (2006) excerpt and text search
- Schaffer, Kay, and Sidonie Smith, eds. The Olympics at the Millennium: Power, Politics and the Games (2000), 318pp; postmodern essays
- online books and articles from Questia
- Thierry Terret, et al., "The Puliti Affair and the 1924 Paris Olympics: Geo-political Issues, National Pride and Fencing Traditions," International Journal of the History of Sport 2007 24(10): 1281-1301
- Christopher Hilton, Hitler's Olympics: The 1936 Berlin Olympic Games (2005) 244pp.; Arnd Kruger and William Murray, eds. The Nazi Olympics. Sport, Politics and Appeasement in the 1930s, (2003) 260pp.
- Jeremy Schaap, Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics, (2007) 272 pp.
- Peter Beck, "The British Government and the Olympic Movement: The 1948 London Olympics," International Journal of the History of Sport 2008 25(5): 615-647
- Graeme Davison, "Welcoming the World: The 1956 Olympic Games and the Re-Presentation of Melbourne," Australian Historical Studies 1997 28(109): 64-76 in EBSCO
- See David Maraniss, Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World (2007)
- Brian Bridges, "The Seoul Olympics: Economic Miracle Meets the World," International Journal of the History of Sport 2008 25(14): 1939-1952
- International Olympic Committee, Official source: Olympic Records, World Records, Olympic Medalists - Olympic.org 
- Kristine Toohey, "The Sydney Olympics: Striving for Legacies - Overcoming Short-Term Disappointments and Long-Term Deficiencies." International Journal of the History of Sport 2008 25(14): 1953-1971; Helen Jefferson Lenskyj, "Sydney 2000, Olympic Sport and the Australian Media, "Journal of Australian Studies (1999) pp 76+ online at Questia
- Sports Reference, LLC. 2008 Beijing Summer Games: Olympics at Sport-Reference.com" 
- see Official 2010 site
- Ian Henry and Mansour Al-tauqi, "The Development of Olympic Solidarity: West and Non-west (Core and Periphery) Relations in the Olympic World," International Journal of the History of Sport 2008 25(3): 355-369
- Shaun Lopez, "Football as National Allegory: 'Al-ahram' and the Olympics in 1920s Egypt," History Compass 2009 7(1): 282-305
- Guoqi Xu, "Sports in China's Internationalization and National Representation: China's Participation in 1932, 1936 and 1948 Olympic Games," Chinese Historical Review 2008 15(1): 1-24; Guoqi Xu, Olympic Dreams: China and Sports, 1895-2008 (2008).
- Boria Majumdar, "The Golden Years of Indian Hockey: 'We Climb the Victory Stand'", International Journal of the History of Sport, 2008 25(12): 1592-1611
- Cesar R. Torres, "The Latin American 'Olympic Explosion' of the 1920s: Causes and Consequences," International Journal of the History of Sport 2006 23(7): 1088-1111
- Florence Carpentier, and Jean-Pierre Lefèvre, "The Modern Olympic Movement, Women's Sport and the Social Order During the Inter-war Period," International Journal of the History of Sport 2006 23(7): 1112-1127