The Olympic Games in History

A brief look at humankind's most enduring sports spectacle

The Ancient Olympic Games

The Olympic Games were celebrated 320 times -- every four years -- in the sacred stadium at Olympia, Greece, beginning in 776 B.C. Though boxing and wrestling were added later, the first Olympic event was a sprint. The prize was an olive leaf and deification by poets, as well as recognition as a hero forever.



The Modern Olympic Games

Athens 1896

In 1892, French educator Baron Pierre de Coubertin proposes a renaissance of ancient Greek competition. In 1896, his dream is realized as England, Greece, Italy, Russia, Spain, Sweden and the United States open Games. James B. Connolly wins triple jump (the first medal in modern Olympic history); American flag is raised and Star Spangled Banner played, beginning tradition of honoring victor and his/her country.

Paris 1900

Games opened to women. First female winner: Charlotte Cooper of Great Britain in singles tennis. Margaret Abbot of Chicago wins a gold medal in golf. Alvin Kraenzlein of U.S becomes first to win 4 gold medals.

St. Louis 1904

Staged as part of St. Louis World's Fair, Games are reduced to exhibition because many European athletes refuse to travel to American Midwest. Boxing staged for time, U. S. wins all 7 weight classes.

London 1908

2,000 athletes compete, Britain dominates with 141 medals. Marathon -- 26 miles to Olympic stadium and 365 yards inside it -- is run for the first time at its current length.

Stockholm 1912

First use of electronic timing devices and a public address system. Jim Thorpe, an American Indian, wins both pentathlon and decathlon -- a feat that remains unmatched.

Berlin 1916

Games not celebrated because of World War I.

Antwerp 1920

Defeated in WWI, Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary and Turkey are not allowed to participate. Olympic flag unfurled for first time; its five colored rings (black, blue, yellow, green and red) incorporate at least one color found in flag of every nation on earth.

Paris 1924

44 nations send 3,000 competitors. Scotland's Eric Liddell wins 400-meter race, England's Harold Abrahams wins 100-meter. Their story becomes 1981 movie Chariots of Fire.

Amsterdam 1928

Slow-motion film techniques used to judge close finishes; women's track and field competitions held for first time. Mikio Oda wins men's triple jump to become Japan's first gold medalist. Johnny Weismuller of U.S. defends his 100-meter freestyle title.

Los Angeles 1932

16 world records and 33 Olympic records set -- 105,000 attend opening opening ceremonies, 65,000 go per day. Eddie Tolan of U.S. becomes first African-American to win Olympic gold.

Berlin 1936

Before 100,000 spectators, Jesse Owens wins 4 gold medals, he is one of six African-American stars on team that captures 12 gold medals. Olympic torch run is established -- more than 3,000 runners carry the flame between Olympia, Greece, and Berlin.

Tokyo 1940

Games not celebrated because of World War II.

London 1944

Games not celebrated because of World War II.

London 1948

Fanny Blankers-Koen of Netherlands is first woman to win 4 gold medals in a single Games. Bob Mathias of U.S., age 17, becomes youngest American Olympic decathlon champion.

Helsinki 1952

Soviet Union rejoins Games after 40-year absence. Mathias wins his second decathlon gold.

Melbourne 1956

11 world records, 36 Olympic records; Australian swimmers capture 8 of 13 golds in sweeping men's and women's freestyle events.

Rome 1960

83 nations, 5,000 athletes. Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia shatters world mark in marathon. Cassius Clay wins boxing title with soon-to-be legendary flamboyance.

Tokyo 1964

Japan invests $3 billion in preparation. Opening ceremonies broadcast via satellite to U. S. for first time. Larissa Latynina of Soviet Union dominates women's gymnastics. Native-American Billy Miles wins 10,000 meter run.

Mexico City 1968

American Bob Beamon leaps 29-feet-21/2 inches, shattering previous long jump record by almost two feet. Vera Caslavska of Czechoslovakia is first woman to win 4 individual golds in a Summer Games.

Munich 1972

Worldwide TV audience:1 billion. Mark Spitz wins 7 gold medals in swimming and sets 7 world records. Olga Korbut of Soviet Union wins 3 gold medals in gymnastics, Soviet Union defeates U.S. in basketball. But stunning tragedy overshadows games: Arab terrorists assassinate 9 athletes from Israeli team.

Montreal 1976

4'11", 88 pound Nadia Comanici becomes first Olympic gymnast to score a perfect 10 in competition; her 7 perfect scores result in 3 golds, 1 silver, 1 bronze. Edwin Moses of U. S. wins gold in 400 hurdles; American Bruce Jenner wins decathlon; Sugar Ray Leonard takes light welterweight boxing championship.

Moscow 1980

U.S. leads 50-nation boycott to protest Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. USSR gymnast Alexander Dityatin wins record 8 medals.

Los Angeles 1984

Despite Soviet boycott, record number of athletes and nations, 6 million spectators, and largest TV audience in history. American Joan Benoit wins first women's Olympic marathon. Carl Lewis wins 4 golds in track and field, matching Jesse Owens' long-standing record.

Seoul 1988

9,600 athletes, including American Florence Griffith Joyner, who captures 3 golds. Anthony Nesty of Surinam sets Olympic 100-meter butterfly record, the first Black swimming champion and Surinam's first medalist. Ben Johnson of Canada and 10 other competitors disqualified for using performance-enhancing drugs. Matt Biondi wins 7 gold medals in swimming; Greg Louganis earns golds in platform and springboard diving.

Barcelona 1992

More than 15,000 athletes, coaches and officials from 165 countries, including South Africa's first integrated team. Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia celebrate independence by competing for first time. U.S. "Dream Team," with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, easily dominates basketball. Carl Lewis takes two more golds in track and field.


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Last updated: 28 May 1996