The modern Olympic Games or Olympics (French: Jeux olympiques) are leading international sporting events featuring summer and winter sports competitions in which thousands of athletes from around the world participate in a variety of competitions. The Olympic Games are considered the world’s foremost sports competition with more than 200 nations participating. The Olympic Games are normally held every four years, alternating between the Summer and Winter Olympics every two years in the four-year period.
Their creation was inspired by the ancient Olympic Games (Ancient Greek: Ὀλυμπιακοί Ἀγῶνες), held in Olympia, Greece from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1894, leading to the first modern Games in Athens in 1896. The IOC is the governing body of the Olympic Movement , with the Olympic Charter defining its structure and authority.
The evolution of the Olympic Movement during the 20th and 21st centuries has resulted in several changes to the Olympic Games. Some of these adjustments include the creation of the Winter Olympic Games for snow and ice sports, the Paralympic Games for athletes with disabilities, the Youth Olympic Games for athletes aged 14 to 18, the five Continental games (Pan American, African, Asian, European, and Pacific), and the World Games for sports that are not contested in the Olympic Games. The IOC also endorses the Deaflympics and the Special Olympics. The IOC has needed to adapt to a variety of economic, political, and technological advancements. The abuse of amateur rules by the Eastern Bloc nations prompted the IOC to shift away from pure amateurism, as envisioned by Coubertin, to the acceptance of professional athletes participating at the Games. The growing importance of mass media has created the issue of corporate sponsorship and general commercialisation of the Games. World wars led to the cancellation of the 1916, 1940, and 1944 Olympics; large-scale boycotts during the Cold War limited participation in the 1980 and 1984 Olympics; and the 2020 Olympics were postponed until 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Olympic Movement consists of international sports federations (IFs), National Olympic Committees (NOCs), and organising committees for each specific Olympic Games. As the decision-making body, the IOC is responsible for choosing the host city for each Games, and organises and funds the Games according to the Olympic Charter. The IOC also determines the Olympic programme, consisting of the sports to be contested at the Games. There are several Olympic rituals and symbols, such as the Olympic flag and torch, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies. Over 14,000 athletes competed at the 2016 Summer Olympics and 2018 Winter Olympics combined, in 35 different sports and over 400 events. The first, second, and third-place finishers in each event receive Olympic medals: gold, silver, and bronze, respectively.
The Games have grown so much that nearly every nation is now represented. This growth has created numerous challenges and controversies, including boycotts, doping, bribery, and a terrorist attack in 1972. Every two years the Olympics and its media exposure provide athletes with the chance to attain national and sometimes international fame. The Games also provide an opportunity for the host city and country to showcase themselves to the world
The Ancient Olympic Games were religious and athletic festivals held every four years at the sanctuary of Zeus in Olympia, Greece. Competition was among representatives of several city-states and kingdoms of Ancient Greece. These Games featured mainly athletic but also combat sports such as wrestling and the pankration, horse and chariot racing events. It has been widely written that during the Games, all conflicts among the participating city-states were postponed until the Games were finished. This cessation of hostilities was known as the Olympic peace or truce. This idea is a modern myth because the Greeks never suspended their wars. The truce did allow those religious pilgrims who were travelling to Olympia to pass through warring territories unmolested because they were protected by Zeus. The origin of the Olympics is shrouded in mystery and legend; one of the most popular myths identifies Heracles and his father Zeus as the progenitors of the Games.According to legend, it was Heracles who first called the Games “Olympic” and established the custom of holding them every four years. The myth continues that after Heracles completed his twelve labours, he built the Olympic Stadium as an honour to Zeus. Following its completion, he walked in a straight line for 200 steps and called this distance a “stadion” (Greek: στάδιον, Latin: stadium, “stage”), which later became a unit of distance. The most widely accepted inception date for the Ancient Olympics is 776 BC; this is based on inscriptions, found at Olympia, listing the winners of a footrace held every four years starting in 776 BC. The Ancient Games featured running events, a pentathlon (consisting of a jumping event, discus and javelin throws, a foot race, and wrestling), boxing, wrestling, pankration, and equestrian events. Tradition has it that Coroebus, a cook from the city of Elis, was the first Olympic champion.
The Olympics were of fundamental religious importance, featuring sporting events alongside ritual sacrifices honouring both Zeus (whose famous statue by Phidias stood in his temple at Olympia) and Pelops, divine hero and mythical king of Olympia. Pelops was famous for his chariot race with King Oenomaus of Pisatis. The winners of the events were admired and immortalised in poems and statues. The Games were held every four years, and this period, known as an Olympiad, was used by Greeks 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.
The Olympic Games reached the height of their success in the 6th and 5th centuries BC, but then gradually declined in importance as the Romans gained power and influence in Greece. While there is no scholarly consensus as to when the Games officially ended, the most commonly held date is 393 AD, when the emperor Theodosius I decreed that all pagan cults and practices be eliminated Another date commonly cited is 426 AD, when his successor, Theodosius II, ordered the destruction of all Greek temples.
Various uses of the term “Olympic” to describe athletic events in the modern era have been documented since the 17th century. The first such event was the Cotswold Games or “Cotswold Olimpick Games”, an annual meeting near Chipping Campden, England, involving various sports. It was first organised by the lawyer Robert Dover between 1612 and 1642, with several later celebrations leading up to the present day. The British Olympic Association, in its bid for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, mentioned these games as “the first stirrings of Britain’s Olympic beginnings”.
L’Olympiade de la République, a national Olympic festival held annually from 1796 to 1798 in Revolutionary France also attempted to emulate the ancient Olympic Games. The competition included several disciplines from the ancient Greek Olympics. The 1796 Games also marked the introduction of the metric system into sport.
In 1834 and 1836, Olympic games were held in Ramlösa (Olympiska spelen i Ramlösa), and an additional in Stockholm, Sweden in 1843, all organised by Gustaf Johan Schartau and others. At most 25,000 spectators saw the games.
In 1850, an Olympian Class was started by William Penny Brookes at Much Wenlock, in Shropshire, England. In 1859, Brookes changed the name to the Wenlock Olympian Games. This annual sports festival continues to this day. The Wenlock Olympian Society was founded by Brookes on 15 November 1860.
Between 1862 and 1867, Liverpool held an annual Grand Olympic Festival. Devised by John Hulley and Charles Melly, these games were the first to be wholly amateur in nature and international in outlook, although only ‘gentlemen amateurs’ could compete.The programme of the first modern Olympiad in Athens in 1896 was almost identical to that of the Liverpool Olympics. In 1865 Hulley, Brookes and E.G. Ravenstein founded the National Olympian Association in Liverpool, a forerunner of the British Olympic Association. Its articles of foundation provided the framework for the International Olympic Charter. In 1866, a national Olympic Games in Great Britain was organised at London’s Crystal Palace.
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