The Olympic Games include the Summer Olympic Games, the Winter Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games for athletes with physical disabilities, and the Youth Olympic Games for teenage athletes. However, the term is most commonly used to convey the Summer Olympic Games held every four years. It is a major international event in which thousands of athletes participate in a variety of competitions.
Originally, the ancient Olympic Games were held in Olympia, Greece, from the 8th century BC to the 5th century AD. However, since the founding of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1894 by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the IOC has become the governing body of the Olympic Movement, whose structure and actions are defined by the Olympic Charter. The Olympic Movement currently comprises international sports federations (IFs), National Olympic Committees (NOCs), and organizing committees for each specific Olympic Games.
The IOC, as the decision-making body, is responsible for choosing the host city for each Olympic Games. The IOC also determines the Olympic program, consisting of the sports to be contested at each Olympic Games. The organizing and funding a celebration of the Games consistent with the Olympic Charter is the responsibility of the host city. The celebration of the Games encompasses many rituals and symbols, such as the Olympic flag and torch, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies. The first, second, and third place finishers in each event receive gold, silver or bronze Olympic medals, respectively. The IOC does not keep statistics of medals won, but National Olympic Committees and the media record medal statistics as a measure of success.
The first Olympic Games held under the auspices of the IOC were hosted in the Panathenaic stadium in Athens in 1896. These Game brought together 14 nations and 241 athletes who competed in 43 events The IOC planned that the modern Olympics would rotate international’) and as such decided to hold the second Games in Paris. However, Olympic Games held at the Paris Exposition in 1900 and at the World Fair at St. Louis in 1904 were side-shows. The Games at Paris did have a stadium; however this was the first time women took part in the games. The St. Louis Games hosted 650 athletes, but 580 were from the United States.
The subsequent Games marked the beginning of a rise in both the popularity and the size of the Olympics. As a result, the Games have grown to about 10,500 competitors from 204 countries at the 2008 Summer Olympics. The IOC 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 set up their own National Olympic Committees. 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.
The Olympic symbol, better known as the Olympic rings, consists of five intertwined rings and represents the unity of the five inhabited continents (considering North and South America as a single continent). The coloured version of the rings—blue, yellow, black, green, and red- over a white field forms the Olympic flag. These colours were chosen because every nation had at least one of them on its national flag. The flag was adopted in 1914 but flown for the first time only at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium. It has since been hoisted during each celebration of the Games.[84‘
The Olympic motto is Citius, Aldus, Fortius, a Latin expression meaning ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’. Coubertin’s ideals are further expressed in the Olympic creed: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”
Months before each Games, the Olympic flame is lit in Olympia in a ceremony that reflects ancient Greek rituals. A female performer ignites a torch by placing it inside a parabolic mirror which focuses the sun’s rays. She then lights the torch of the first relay bearer, thus initiating the Olympic torch relay which carries the flame to the host city’s Olympic stadium. Though the flame has been an Olympic symbol since 1928, the torch relay was introduced at the 1936 Summer Games, as part of the German government’s attempt to promote its National Socialist ideology.
The Olympic mascot, an animal or human figure representing the cultural heritage of the host country, was introduced in 1968. It has played an important part on the Games identity promotion since the 1980 Summer Olympics, when the Russian bear cub Misha reached international stardom. The mascots of the most recent Summer Olympics, in Beijing, were the Fuwa, five creatures that represent the five Feng Shui elements important in Chinese culture.
Most of the rituals conducted at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games were established at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp. The ceremony typically starts with the hoisting of the host country’s flag and a performance of its national anthem. The host nation then presents artistic displays of music, singing, dance, and theatre which are representative of its culture. After the artistic portion of the ceremony, the athletes parade into the stadium grouped by nation.
Greece is traditionally the first nation to enter in order to honour the origins of the Olympics. Nations then enter the stadium alphabetically according to the host country’s chosen language, with the host country’s athletes being the last to enter. Finally, the Olympic torch is brought into the stadium and passed on until it reaches the final torch carrier often a well-known and successful Olympic athlete from the host nation who lights the Olympic flame in the stadium’s cauldron.
A medal ceremony is held after each Olympic event is concluded. The winner, second and third-place competitors or teams stand on top of a three-tiered rostrum to be awarded their respective medals. After the medals are given out by an IOC member, the national flags of the three medalists are raised while the national anthem of the gold medalist’s country plays. For every Olympic event, the respective medal ceremony is held, at most, one day after the event’s final.
After all sporting events have concluded, a closing ceremony of the Olympic Games takes place. Flag-bearers from each participating country enter the stadium, followed by the athletes who enter together, without any national distinction. Three national flags are hoisted while the corresponding national anthems are played: the flag of Greece, to honour the birthplace of the Olympic Games; the flag of the current host country, and the flag of the country hosting the next Olympic Games. The Games are officially closed, and the Olympic flame is extinguished.
During the Games most athletes and officials are housed in the Olympic village. This village is intended to be a self-contained home for all the Olympic participants. It is furnished with cafeterias, health clinics, and even locations for religious expression. The Olympic Games program consists of 26 sports, 30 disciplines and nearly 300 events. For example, wrestling is a Summer Olympic sport, comprising two disciplines: Greco-Roman and Freestyle.
It is further broken down into fourteen events for men and four events for women, each representing a different weight class. The 2016 and 2020 Games will return to the maximum of 28 sports given the addition of rugby and golf.
The Olympic Games have often been bogged by controversies. The 1936 Berlin Games were boycotted by the Olympic Council of Ireland, while the 1956 Melbourne Olympics were boycotted by the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Cambodia, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and China. In 1972 and 1976, the IOC had to ban South Africa and Rhodesia as a large number of African countries threatened the IOC with a boycott. Twenty African countries, joined by Guyana and Iraq withdrew from the Montreal Games, after a few of their athletes had already competed.
Taiwan did not participate until 1984, when it returned under the name of Chinese Taipei and with a special flag and anthem. In 1980 and 1984, the Cold War opponents boycotted each other’s Games. Among other things that mar the image of Olympic Games is the use of performance enhancing drugs by athletes.
By 2016, the Olympic Games will have been hosted by 44 cities in 23 countries, but by cities outside Europe and North America on only eight occasions. Since the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, the Olympics have been held in Asia or Oceania four times, a sharp increase compared to the previous 92 years of modern Olympic history. The 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro will be the first for a South American country. No bids from countries in Africa have ever succeeded. The countries that sent the most athletes to the 2008 Summer Olympics are China with 639, the United States with 596, and Russia with 455 athletes.
The United States has hosted four Summer Olympics, more than any other nation. The United Kingdom has been the host of two Games, and will host its third Olympics in 2012 in London, making London the only city ever to host three times. Germany, Australia, France, and Greece are the other nations to have hosted the Summer Olympics twice.
The Games have grown in scale to the point that nearly every nation is represented. Such growth has created numerous challenges, including boycotts, doping, bribery of officials, and terrorism. Every four years, the Olympics and its media exposure provide unknown athletes with the chance to attain national, and in particular cases, international fame. The Games also constitute a major opportunity for the host city and country to promote and showcase themselves to the world.