The Olympic Games is an international multi-sport event established for both summer and winter games. There have been two generations of the Olympic Games; the first were the Ancient Olympic Games (Greek: Ολυμπιακοί Αγώνες; [Olympiakoi Agones] (help•info)) held at Olympia, Greece. The second, known as the Modern Olympic Games, were first revived by the Greek philanthropist Evangelis Zappas in 1859 in Athens, Greece.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was founded in 1894 on the initiative of a French nobleman, Pierre Frédy, Baron de Coubertin. The IOC has become the governing body of the "Olympic Movement," a conglomeration of sporting federations that are responsible for the organization of the Games. The evolution of the Olympic Movement has forced the IOC to adapt in several ways. For example, the original ideal of the pure amateur athlete had to change under the pressure of corporate sponsorships and political regimes. The modern Olympics feature the Summer Games and Winter Games. The Paralympic and Youth Olympic Games are variations on the modern Olympic movement. Participation in the Games has increased to the point that nearly every nation on Earth is represented. This growth has created numerous challenges; including political boycotts, the use of performance enhancing drugs, bribery of officials, and terrorism. While the Olympic Movement is forced to address issues never before conceived by Coubertin, the Olympics continue to grow in the face of these challenges.
The Games encompass many rituals and symbols that were established during their infancy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most of these traditions are displayed in the opening and closing ceremonies, and the medal presentations. Despite the complexity of the modern Games, the focus remains on the Olympic motto: "Citius Altius Fortius" — "Faster, Higher, Stronger".
There are many myths surrounding the origin of the ancient Olympic Games; the most popular of which identifies Heracles and his father Zeus as the progenitors of the Games. According to the legend, Zeus held sporting events in honor of his defeat of Cronus, and succession to the throne of heaven. Heracles, being his eldest son, defeated his brothers in a running race and was crowned with a wreath of wild olive branches. It is Heracles who first called the games Olympic, and established the custom of holding them every four years. The legend diverges at this point. One popular story claims that after Heracles completed his 12 labors, he went on to build the Olympic stadium and surrounding buildings as an honor to Zeus. After the stadium was complete, he walked in a straight line for 200 strides and called this distance a "stadion" (Greek: στάδιον, Latin: stadium, "stage"), which later also became a unit of distance. Another myth associates the first Games with the ancient Greek concept of Olympic truce (ἐκεχειρία, ekecheiria). The most widely held estimate for the inception of the Ancient Olympics is 776 BC.
From then on, the Olympic Games quickly became very important throughout ancient Greece. They reached their zenith in the 6th and 5th centuries BC. The Olympics were of fundamental religious importance. They featured sport events and ritual sacrifices honoring both Zeus (whose colossal statue stood at Olympia), and Pelops, divine hero and mythical king of Olympia. Pelops was famous for his legendary chariot races with King Oenomaus of Pisatis. Winners of the events were admired and immortalized in poems and statues. The Games were held every four years, known as an Olympiad. The Greeks used Olympiads 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.
Olympic champions were treated as conquering heroes. Statues were erected in their honor both in Athens and their home towns. Gradually though, the Games declined in importance as the Romans gained power and influence in Greece. In 393 AD Emperor Theodosius I, who re-asserted Christianity as the official religion of the Empire, outlawed all pagan observances including the Olympic games. The Olympics were not held again until their rebirth 1,500 years later.
Revival of the Modern Games
Although the revival of the Olympic Games began in the mid-19th Century; multi-sport events with titles such as "Olympick" or "Olympian" Games had been held as far back as the 16th Century. These events included an Olympick Games that convened for several years at Chipping Campden in the English Cotswolds. The present day Cotswold Games trace their origin to this festival. Another example of European attempts to emulate the Olympic Games was a European Olympic Festival held annually from 1796–1798, L'Olympiade de la République, held in France. The competition included several disciplines from the ancient Greek Olympics. The 1796 Games marked an introduction of the metric system into sport.
An Olympian Class was begun at Much Wenlock in Shropshire, England in 1850, which was renamed Wenlock Olympian Games in 1859 and continues to this day as the Wenlock Olympian Society Annual Games. A national Olympic Games in Great Britain was organized by, Dr William Penny Brookes, at Crystal Palace in London, in 1866.
Greek interest in reviving the Olympic Games began after the independence of Greece from the Ottoman Empire, and was first proposed by poet and newspaper editor Panagiotis Soutsos (see Alexandros Soutsos) in his poem "Dialogue of the Dead", published in 1833. Evangelis Zappas, a wealthy Greek philanthropist, sponsored the modern revival of the ancient Olympic Games. The first modern international Olympic Games was held in an Athens city square in 1859 with participants from Greece and the Ottoman Empire. Later Zappas paid for the refurbishment of the ancient Panathenian Stadium. Two Olympic Games were held in this stadium; one in 1870, followed by a second in 1875.
The French historian Baron Pierre de Coubertin, was searching for a reason for the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871). He theorized that the French soldiers had not received proper physical education. In 1890 he attended the Olympian Games of the Wenlock Olympian Society, and decided that a large-scale revival of the Olympic Games was achievable. Until that time, attempts to revive a modern version of the Olympic games had met with various amounts of success at the local (one or at most two participating nations) level.
Coubertin built on the ideas of Brookes and Zappas. His aim was to internationalize the Olympic Games. He presented these ideas at the Olympic Congress at the Sorbonne University in Paris, France, held from June 16 to June 23, 1894. On the last day of the congress, it was decided that the first multinational Olympic Games would take place in 1896 in Athens. To organize the Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was established, with the Greek writer Demetrius Vikelas as its first president. The IOC's modern Olympic Movement was established, and a Games were planned for 1896, to be hosted in the country of their origin; Greece.
There were fewer than 250 athletes at the first Olympic Games. The Panathenian Stadium used for Zappas' Games of 1870 and 1875 was refurbished a second time in readiness for the 1896 Games. This first modern Olympics had nine disciplines: Athletics, Cycling, Fencing, Gymnastics, Shooting, Swimming, Tennis, Weightlifting, and Wrestling; the rowing events were cancelled due to bad weather. The Greek officials and public were very enthusiastic about hosting the inaugural Games, and offered to host the Olympic Games permanently. The IOC decided differently, however, and the second Olympic Games took place in Paris, France. It was at the Paris Games that women were first allowed to compete.
Changes and Adaptations
After the initial success of the 1896 Games, the Olympics struggled. The celebrations in Paris (in 1900) and St. Louis (in 1904) were overshadowed by the World's Fair exhibitions, which were held at the same times and locations. The St. Louis Games, for example, hosted 650 athletes, but 580 of these athletes were from the United States. The homogenous nature of these Games was a low point for the Olympic Movement. The Games rebounded when the 1906 Intercalated Games (so–called because they were the second Games held within the third Olympiad) were held in Athens. The Intercalated Games are not officially recognized as an Olympic Games, and no later Intercalated Games have been held. These Games attracted a broad international field of participants, and generated great public interest. This marked the beginning of a rise in both the popularity and the size of the Games.
While figure skating had been an Olympic event at both the London Games and the Antwerp Games, and ice hockey had also been held at the Antwerp Games, the IOC wanted equity between the winter and summer sports. At the 1921 Congress in Lausanne, the IOC decided to hold a winter version of the Olympic games. The first Winter Olympics was held in 1924 in Chamonix, France. The IOC made the Winter Games a permanent fixture in the Olympic Movement in 1925 and mandated that they be celebrated every four years on the same year as their Summer counterpart. This tradition held until the 1992 Games in Albertville, France. Beginning with the 1994 Games the Olympic games have alternated on different four year cycles. Hence the most recent Winter Games were held in 2006, while 2008 marked the latest celebration of the Summer Games.
In 1948 Sir Ludwig Guttman, determined to innovate new ways to rehabilitate soldiers after World War II, organized a multi–sport event between various hospitals to coincide with the 1948 London Olympics. Guttman's event, known then as the Stoke Mandeville Games, became an annual sports festival. Over the next 12 years Guttman and others continued their efforts to use sports as an avenue to healing. For the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, Guttman brought 400 athletes to compete in the "Parallel Olympics"–the first Paralympics. The Paralympics have been held in every Olympic year since 1960. The host city for the Olympics has also hosted the Paralympics since the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.
The Youth Olympic Games (YOG), were conceived by IOC president Jacques Rogge in 2001, and approved by the IOC at the 119th IOC session in Guatemala City in July 2007. The Youth Games will be shorter: the summer version will last at most twelve days; the winter version will last a maximum of nine days. The IOC will allow no more than 3,500 athletes and 875 officials to participate at the summer games, and 970 athletes and 580 officials at the winter games. The sports contested at these games will be the same as those scheduled for the traditional Games, but with a limited number of disciplines and events. The estimated cost for the games is $30 million for the summer and $15–$20 million for the winter games. The first host city for the summer games will be Singapore in 2010; the first host city for the winter games in 2012 will be Innsbruck, Austria.
From the 241 participants representing 14 nations in 1896, the Games have grown to 10,500 competitors from 204 countries at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. The scope and scale of the Winter Olympics is much smaller. For example, Turin, Italy hosted 2,508 athletes from 80 countries competing in 84 events during the 2006 Winter Olympics. As participation in the Olympics has grown, so has its profile in the international media. At the Sydney Games in 2000, an estimated 3.7 billion viewers watched the games on television, and the official website of the Sydney Olympics generated over 11.3 billion hits.
The number of participating countries is noticeably higher than the 193 countries that currently belong to the United Nations. The International Olympic Committee allows nations to compete that do not meet the strict requirements for political sovereignty that other international organizations demand. As a result, colonies and dependencies are permitted to host their own Olympic teams and athletes even if such competitors also hold citizenship in another member nation. Examples of this include territories such as Puerto Rico, Bermuda, and Hong Kong; all of which compete as separate nations despite being legally a part of another country.