History of the Olympics: The Modern Olympic Games
In an effort to rekindle the spirit of the ancient Olympics of Greece, which had been abolished as a pagan cult by Christian Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I in 393 A.D., the modern Olympic Games were initiated in 1896.
Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a French educator, is honored as the man who introduced the plan to revive the Olympics. Under his exacting direction, the International Olympic Committee was formed in June of 1894. The Baron de Coubertin was heavily involved in all aspects of the Games’ inception and presided personally over the Olympic Committee for some 30 years. He is responsible for writing the Olympic Charter and Protocol, the Athletes’ Oath, and the guidelines for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games. In accordance with his desires, his heart remains interred at Olympia, Greece, in a monument that commemorates the Olympics’ renewal.
The first Olympics in this modern era were held in Athens, Greece, as a result of the persuasive recommendation of Demetrius Vikelas, a Greek representative of the Pan-Hellenic Gymnastic Club who had come to Paris as a participant in the planning for the new Olympics.
Following the Athens Games of 1896, the Olympics were held in Paris in 1900, which place and time had been Pierre de Coubertin’s original plan for the first Olympics. Successive cities hosting the Games of the Olympiad, as they are officially called, include: St. Louis, 1904; London, 1908; Stockholm, 1912; Antwerp, 1920; Paris, 1924; Amsterdam, 1928; Los Angeles, 1932; Berlin, 1936; London, 1948; Helsinki, 1952; Melbourne, 1956; Rome, 1960; Tokyo, 1964; Mexico City, 1968; Munich, 1972; Montreal, 1976; Moscow, 1980; Los Angeles, 1984; Seoul, 1988; Barcelona, 1992; Atlanta, 1996; Sydney, 2000; Athens, 2004.
An Olympiad refers to the four-year period that starts with the opening of the Olympics in one city and ends upon the opening of the Olympics in another. The Games of the summer Olympiad currently include: aquatics (diving, swimming, synchronized swimming, and water polo), archery, athletics (track and field), badminton, baseball, basketball, boxing, canoeing/kayaking, cycling, equestrian events, fencing, football, gymnastics, handball, hockey, judo, modern pentathlon (developed by de Coubertin and incorporating shooting, fencing, swimming, show jumping, and running), rowing, sailing, shooting, softball, table tennis, Taekwondo, tennis, triathlon (combining swimming, cycling, and running), volleyball, weightlifting, and wrestling.
The first Winter Olympics were held in 1924 in Chamonix, France, almost by accident. The International Olympic Committee had decided on hosting an “International Sports Week 1924,” and the event was so popular in hindsight that it was officially renamed the First Olympic Winter Games. One interesting fact to note about these first Winter Games was that in all the matches played by the Canadian ice hockey team, only three points were scored against them; by contrast, they scored a total of 110 goals. Besides ice hockey, the current Winter Olympics sports categories include biathlon (featuring both skiing and shooting), bobsleigh, curling, luge, skating, and skiing.
Subsequent host cities for the Winter Olympics have been: St. Moritz, 1928; Lake Placid, 1932; Garmisch-Partenkirchen, 1936; St. Moritz, 1948; Oslo, 1952; Cortina d’Ampezzo, 1956; Squaw Valley, 1960; Innsbruck, 1964; Grenoble, 1968; Sapporo, 1972; Innsbruck, 1976; Lake Placid, 1980; Sarajevo, 1984; Calgary, 1988; Albertville, 1992; Lillehammer, 1994; Nagano, 1998; Salt Lake City, 2002. In the beginning the Winter Games were held in the same year as the Summer Games, but later it was decided that the Winter Games should take place in the second year of the Olympiad. This ruling first went into effect for Lillehammer in 1994, two years after the Albertville Games.
Besides the scheduling change for the Winter Olympics, only a few other exceptions to the standard four-year rule have come into play. No Olympics took place in 1916 because of World War I, and World War II prevented the Olympics from being held during 1940 and 1944. It is ironic that these two years saw no Olympics, considering the fact that right before the war started, the 1936 Games were held in Berlin, where Adolf Hitler tried to exploit the event to justify his ideas about the alleged superiority of the Aryan race. Further irony can be found in the fact that an African-American athlete, Jesse Owens, won four gold medals in that Olympics. Meanwhile, his German competitor, Luz Long, ended up befriending him in full view of the Nazis and the world.
There are many sports which do not yet qualify for inclusion in the Olympics; nevertheless it is interesting to note that they are recognized by the International Olympic Committee so long as International Federations that administer them comply with established regulations including the Olympic Movement Anti-Doping Code. Such sports include air sports, bandy, billiards, boules, bowling, bridge, chess, ballroom dancing, golf, karate, korfball, life saving, motorcycle racing, mountaineering and climbing, netball, orienteering, pelote basque, polo, powerboating, racquetball, roller sports, rugby, squash, surfing, sumo, tug of war, underwater sports, water skiing, and wushu.