The Olympics have increased from a 42-event competition with fewer than 250 male competitors from 14 nations to a 300-event sporting celebration with over 10,000 competitors from 205 nations. Organizers for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing expected approximately 10,500 competitors to take part in the 302 events on the program for the games.
Five countries – Greece, Australia, France, Great Britain and Switzerland – have been represented at all Summer Olympic Games. The only country to have won at least one gold medal at every Summer Olympic Games is Great Britain, ranging from one gold in 1904, 1952 and 1996 to fifty-six golds in 1908.
For individual sports, competitors typically qualify through attaining a certain place in a major international event or on the IF's ranking list. There is a general rule that maximum three individual athletes may represent each nation per competition. National Olympic committees may enter a limited number of qualified competitors in each event, and the NOC decides which qualified competitors to select as representatives in each event if more have attained the benchmark than can be entered.
Nations most often qualify teams for team sports through continental qualifying tournaments, in which each continental association is given a certain number of sports in the Olympic tournament. Each nation may be represented by no more than one team per competition.
The United States has hosted four Summer Olympic Games, more than any other nation. The United Kingdom hosted the 2012 Olympic games, its third Summer Olympic Games, in its capital London, making London the first city to host the Summer Olympic Games three times. Australia, France, Germany and Greece have all hosted the Summer Olympic Games twice. Other countries that have hosted the Summer Olympics are Belgium, China, Canada, Finland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, the Soviet Union and Sweden. In 2016, Rio de Janeiro will host the first Summer Games in South America. Three cities have hosted two Summer Olympic Games: Los Angeles, Paris and Athens. Stockholm, Sweden, has hosted events at two Summer Olympic Games, having hosted the games in 1912 and the equestrian events at the 1956 Summer Olympics—which they are usually listed as jointly hosting. Events at the Summer Olympics have also been held in Hong Kong and the Netherlands, with the equestrian events at the 2008 Summer Olympics being held in Sha Tin and Kwu Tung, Hong Kong and two sailing races at the 1920 Summer Olympics being held in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. For the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tokyo, Japan will be the host city, hosting for the second time, the first being the 1964 Summer Games.
The modern Olympic Games were founded in 1894 when Pierre de Coubertin sought to promote international understanding through sporting competition. He based his Olympics on the Wenlock Olympian Society Annual Games, which had been contested in Much Wenlock since 1850. The first edition of de Coubertin's games, held in Athens in 1896, attracted just 245 competitors, of whom more than 200 were Greek, and only 14 countries were represented. Nevertheless, no international events of this magnitude had been organized before. Female athletes were not allowed to compete, though one woman, Stamata Revithi, ran the marathon course on her own, saying "[i]f the committee doesn't let me compete I will go after them regardless".
Despite many obstacles and setbacks, the 1896 Olympics were regarded as a great success. The Games had the largest international participation of any sporting event to that date. Panathinaiko Stadium, the first big stadium in the modern world, overflowed with the largest crowd ever to watch a sporting event. The highlight for the Greeks was the marathon victory by their compatriot Spiridon Louis, a water carrier. He won at the Olympics in 2 hours 58 minutes and 50 seconds, setting off wild celebrations at the stadium. The most successful competitor was German wrestler and gymnastCarl Schuhmann, who won four gold medals.
After the Games, Coubertin and the IOC were petitioned by several prominent figures including Greece's King George and some of the American competitors in Athens, to hold all the following Games in Athens. However, the 1900 Summer Olympics were already planned for Paris and, except for the 1906 Intercalated Games, the Olympics did not return to Greece until the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Four years later the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris attracted more than four times as many athletes, including 20 women, who were allowed to officially compete for the first time, in croquet, golf, sailing, and tennis. The Games were integrated with the Paris World's Fair and lasted over 5 months. It is still disputed which events exactly were Olympic, since few or maybe even none of the events were advertised as such at the time.
Dorando Pietri finishes the modern marathon at the current distance
Numbers declined for the 1904 Games in St. Louis, Missouri, United States, due in part to the lengthy transatlantic boat trip required of the European competitors, and the integration with the Louisiana Purchase ExpositionWorld's Fair, which again spread the event out over an extended period. In contrast with Paris 1900, the word Olympic was used for practically every contest, including those exclusively for school boys or for Irish-Americans.
A series of smaller games were held in Athens in 1906. The IOC does not currently recognize these games as being official Olympic Games, although many historians do. The 1906 Athens games were the first of an alternating series of games to be held in Athens, but the series failed to materialize. The games were more successful than the 1900 and 1904 games, with over 900 athletes competing, and contributed positively to the success of future games.
The 1908 London Games saw numbers rise again, as well as the first running of the marathon over its now-standard distance of 42.195 km (26 miles 385 yards). The first Olympic Marathon in 1896 (a male-only race) was raced at a distance of 40 km (24 miles 85 yards). The new marathon distance was chosen to ensure that the race finished in front of the box occupied by the British royal family. Thus the marathon had been 40 km (24.9 mi) for the first games in 1896, but was subsequently varied by up to 2 km (1.2 mi) due to local conditions such as street and stadium layout. At the six Olympic games between 1900 and 1920, the marathon was raced over six different distances.
At the end of the 1908 marathon the Italian runner Dorando Pietri was first to enter the stadium, but he was clearly in distress, and collapsed of exhaustion before he could complete the event. He was helped over the finish line by concerned race officials, but later he was disqualified and the gold medal was awarded to John Hayes, who had trailed him by around 30 seconds.
The Games continued to grow, attracting 2,504 competitors, to Stockholm in 1912, including the great all-rounder Jim Thorpe, who won both the decathlon and pentathlon. Thorpe had previously played a few games of baseball for a fee, and saw his medals stripped for this breach of amateurism after complaints from Avery Brundage. They were reinstated in 1983, 30 years after his death. The Games at Stockholm were the first to fulfill Pierre de Coubertin's original idea. For the first time since the Games started in 1896 were all five inhabited continents represented with athletes competing in the same stadium.
The 1920 Antwerp games in war-ravaged Belgium were a subdued affair, but again drew a record number of competitors. This record only stood until 1924, when the Paris Games involved 3,000 competitors, the greatest of whom was Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi. The "Flying Finn" won three team gold medals and the individual 1,500 and 5,000 meter runs, the latter two on the same day.
The 1928 Amsterdam games were notable for being the first games which allowed females to compete at track & field athletics, and benefited greatly from the general prosperity of the times alongside the first appearance of sponsorship of the games, from Coca-Cola. The 1928 games saw the introduction of a standard medal design with the IOC choosing Giuseppe Cassioli's depiction of Greek goddess Nike and a winner being carried by a crowd of people. This design was used up until 1972.
The 1932 Los Angeles games were affected by the Great Depression, which contributed to the low number of competitors (the fewest since the St. Louis games). The 1936 Berlin Games were seen by the German government as a golden opportunity to promote their ideology. The ruling Nazi Party commissioned film-maker Leni Riefenstahl to film the games. The result, Olympia, was a masterpiece, despite Hitler's theories of Aryan racial superiority being repeatedly shown up by "non-Aryan" athletes. In particular, African-American sprinter and long jumper Jesse Owens won four gold medals. The tale of Hitler snubbing Owens at the ensuing medal ceremony is a myth. The 1936 Berlin Games also saw the reintroduction of the Torch Relay.
Due to World War II, the Games of 1940 (due to be held in Tokyo and temporarily relocated to Helsinki upon the outbreak of war) were cancelled. The Games of 1944 were due to be held in London but were also cancelled; instead, London hosted the first games after the end of the war, in 1948.
The first post-war Games were held in 1948 in London, with both Germany and Japan excluded. Dutch sprinter Fanny Blankers-Koen won four gold medals on the track, emulating Owens' achievement in Berlin.
At the 1952 Games in Helsinki the USSR team competed for the first time and immediately became one of the dominant teams. Finland made a legend of an amiable Czechoslovak army lieutenant named Emil Zátopek, who was intent on improving on his single gold and silver medals from 1948. Having first won both the 10,000 and 5,000 meter races, he also entered the marathon, despite having never previously raced at that distance. Pacing himself by chatting with the other leaders, Zátopek led from about half way, slowly dropping the remaining contenders to win by two and a half minutes, and completed a trio of wins.
At the 1960 Rome Games a young light-heavyweight boxer named Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali, arrived on the scene. Ali would later throw his gold medal away in disgust after being refused service in a whites-only restaurant in his home town of Louisville, Kentucky. Soviet women's artistic gymnastics team members won 15 of 16 possible medals. Other performers of note in 1960 included Wilma Rudolph, a gold medalist in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 4 × 100 meters relay events.
The 1964 Games held in Tokyo are notable for heralding the modern age of telecommunications. These games were the first to be broadcast worldwide on television, enabled by the recent advent of communication satellites. The 1964 Games were thus a turning point in the global visibility and popularity of the Olympics. Judo debuted as an official sport, and Dutch judoka Anton Geesink created quite a stir when he won the final of the open weight division, defeating Akio Kaminaga in front of his home crowd.
Performances at the 1968 Mexico Citygames were affected by the altitude of the host city, specifically the long jump, in which American athlete Bob Beamon jumped 8.90 meters. Beamon's world record would stand for 23 years. The 1968 Games also introduced the now-universal Fosbury flop, a technique which won American high jumper Dick Fosbury the gold medal. Politics took center stage in the medal ceremony for the men's 200 meter dash, where Tommie Smith and John Carlos made a protest gesture on the podium against the segregation in the United States; their political act was condemned within the Olympic Movement, but was praised in the American Civil Rights Movement.
Politics again intervened at Munich in 1972, with lethal consequences. A Palestinian terrorist group named Black September invaded the Olympic village and broke into the apartment of the Israeli delegation. They killed two Israelis and held 9 others as hostages. The terrorists demanded that Israel release numerous prisoners. When the Israeli government refused their demand, a tense stand-off ensued while negotiations continued. Eventually the captors, still holding their hostages, were offered safe passage and taken to an airport, where they were ambushed by German security forces. In the firefight that followed, 15 people, including the nine Israeli athletes and five of the terrorists, were killed. After much debate, it was decided that the Games would continue, but proceedings were obviously dominated by these events. Some memorable athletic achievements did occur during these Games, notably the winning of a then-record seven gold medals by United States swimmer Mark Spitz, Lasse Virén (of Finland)'s back-to-back gold in the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters (defeating American distance running great Steve Prefontaine in the former), and the winning of three gold medals by 16-year-old Soviet gymnastic sensation Olga Korbut - who thrilled the world with an historic backflip off the high bar. Korbut, however, failed to win the all-around, losing to her teammate Ludmilla Tourischeva.
There was no such tragedy in Montreal in 1976, but bad planning and fraud led to the Games' cost far exceeding the budget. The Montreal Games were the most expensive in Olympic history, until the 2008 Summer Olympics, costing over $5 billion (equivalent to $20 billion in 2006). For a time, it seemed that the Olympics might no longer be a viable financial proposition. In retrospect, the belief that contractors (suspected of being members of the Montreal Mafia) skimmed large sums of money from all levels of contracts while also profiting from the substitution of cheaper building materials of lesser quality, may have contributed to the delays, poor construction and excessive costs. In 1988, one such contractor, Giuseppe Zappia "was cleared of fraud charges that resulted from his work on Olympic facilities after two key witnesses died before testifying at his trial." There was also a boycott by African nations to protest against a recent tour of apartheid-run South Africa by the New Zealand national rugby union team. The Romanian gymnast Nadia Comăneci won the women's individual all around gold medal with two of four possible perfect scores, thus giving birth to a gymnastics dynasty in Romania. Another female gymnast to earn the perfect score and three gold medals there was Nellie Kim of the USSR. Lasse Virén repeated his double gold in the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters, making him the only athlete to ever win the distance double twice.
Following the Soviet Union's 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, 66 nations, including the United States, Canada, West Germany, and Japan, boycotted the 1980 games held in Moscow. The boycott contributed to the 1980 Games being a less publicised and less competitive affair, which was dominated by the host country.
In 1984 the Soviet Union and 13 Soviet allies reciprocated by boycotting the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Romania, notably, was one of the nations in the Eastern Bloc that did attend the 1984 Olympics. These games were perhaps the first games of a new era to make a profit. The games were again viable, but had become more commercial. Again, without the participation of the Eastern European countries, the 1984 Games were dominated by their host country. The Games were also the first time mainland China (People's Republic) participated.
The 1988 games, in Seoul, were very well planned but the games were tainted when many of the athletes, most notably men's 100 metres winner Ben Johnson, failed mandatory drug tests. Despite splendid drug-free performances by many individuals, the number of people who failed screenings for performance-enhancing chemicals overshadowed the games.
The 1992 Barcelona Games featured increased professionalism among Olympic athletes, exemplified by US basketball's "Dream Team". The 1992 games also saw the reintroduction to the Games of several smaller European states which had been incorporated into the Soviet Union since World War II. These games also saw gymnast Vitaly Scherbo equal the record for most individual gold medals at a single Games set by Eric Heiden in the 1980 Winter Games, with five.
By then the process of choosing a location for the Games had itself become a commercial concern; allegations of corruption rocked the International Olympic Committee. In the Atlanta games in 1996, the highlight was 200 meters runner Michael Johnson annihilating the world record in front of a home crowd. Canadians savored Donovan Bailey's record-breaking gold medal run in the 100-meter dash. This was popularly felt to be an appropriate recompense for the previous national disgrace involving Ben Johnson. There were also emotional scenes, such as when Muhammad Ali, clearly affected by Parkinson's disease, lit the Olympic torch and received a replacement medal for the one he had discarded in 1960. The latter event took place not at the boxing ring but in the basketball arena, at the demand of US television. The atmosphere at the Games was marred, however, when a bomb exploded during the celebration in Centennial Olympic Park. In June 2003, the principal suspect in this bombing, Eric Robert Rudolph, was arrested.
The 2000 Games were held in Sydney, Australia, and showcased individual performances by local favorite Ian Thorpe in the pool, Briton Steve Redgrave who won a rowing gold medal in an unprecedented fifth consecutive Olympics, and Cathy Freeman, an Indigenous Australian whose triumph in the 400 meters united a packed stadium. Eric "the Eel" Moussambani, a swimmer from Equatorial Guinea, had a memorably slow 100 meter freestyle swim that showed that, even in the commercial world of the twentieth century, some of de Coubertin's original vision still remained. The Sydney Games were also memorable for the first appearance of a joint North and South Korean contingent (to a standing ovation) at the opening ceremonies, even if they competed as different countries. Controversy did not escape the 2000 Games in Women's Artistic Gymnastics, in which the vaulting horse was set to the wrong height during the All Around Competition. Several athletes faltered, including RussianSvetlana Khorkina, who had been favored to win gold after qualifying for the competition in first place.
In 2004 the Games returned to their birthplace in Athens, Greece. Greece spent at least $7.2 billion on the Games, including $1.5 billion on security alone. Nonetheless, the Men's Gymnastics events were mired in controversy when it was discovered that Korean gymnast Yang Tae Young had been incorrectly credited with a lower start value, which placed him third behind American Paul Hamm, who won the competition. Later in the event finals, fans halted the Men's High Bar competition with chants of disapproval following the release of the score for Russian Alexei Nemov. Allegations of corrupt judging also marred the event finals in men's still rings. Although unfounded and wildly sensationalized reports of potential terrorism drove crowds away from the preliminary competitions of the first weekend of the games (14–15 August), attendance picked up as the games progressed. Still, a third of the tickets failed to sell. The Athens Games witnessed all 202 NOCs participate with over 11,000 participants.
The 2008 Summer Olympics were held in Beijing, People's Republic of China. This Olympics was the subject of much controversy, especially following the March Tibetan riots. Human rights activists unsuccessfully called for a boycott, and some even compared the 2008 Olympics to the 1936 ones held in Nazi Germany. Several new events were held, including the new discipline of BMX for both men and women. For the first time, women competed in the steeplechase. The fencing program was expanded to include all six events for both men and women. Women had not previously been able to compete in team foil or saber events (although women's team épée and men's team foil were dropped for these Games). Marathon swimming events, over the distance of 10 km (6.2 mi), were added. In addition, the doubles events in table tennis were replaced by team events. American swimmer Michael Phelps set a record for gold medals at a single Games with eight, and tied the record of most gold medals by a single competitor previously held by both Heiden and Scherbo. Another major star of the Games was Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, who became the first male athlete ever to set world records in the finals of both the 100 and 200 metres in the same Games. Equestrian events were held in Hong Kong.
London held the 2012 Summer Olympics, becoming the first city to host the Games three times. In his closing address the IOC President, Jacques Rogge described the Games as "Happy and Glorious". They certainly were for the host nation who won 29 Gold Medals, the best haul for Great Britain since the 1908 Games in London. It was also notable that the United States returned to the top of the medal table after China dominated in 2008. The International Olympic Committee had removed baseball and softball from the 2012 program. On a commercial level the Games were successful as they were the first in history to completely sell out every ticket with as many as 1 million applications for 40,000 tickets for both the Opening Ceremony and the 100m Men's Sprint Final. Such was the demand for tickets to all levels of each event, there was controversy when seats set aside for sponsors and National Delegations went unused in the early days. A system of reallocation was put in place so the empty seats were filled throughout the Games.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, will host the 2016 Summer Olympics, becoming the third city in the Southern Hemisphere to host the Olympic Games (after Melbourne, Australia, in 1956 and Sydney, Australia, in 2000), and the first South American city to host the Olympics. In October 2009, the IOC included golf and rugby sevens as part of the Olympic program for Rio de Janeiro. Tokyo, Japan, will host the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Forty-two different sports, spanning 55 different disciplines, have been part of the Olympic program at one point or another. Twenty-eight sports have comprised the schedule for three of the recent games, 2000, 2004, and 2008 Summer Olympics. Due to the removal of baseball and softball, there was a total of 26 sports in the 2012 Games.
Summer Olympic sports are divided into categories based on popularity, gauged by six categories: television viewing figures (40%), internet popularity (20%), public surveys (15%), ticket requests (10%), press coverage (10%), and number of national federations (5%). The category determines the share the sport's International Federation receives of Olympic revenue. Sports that are new to the 2016 Olympics (rugby and golf) have been placed in Category E.
The current categories are:
Category A: athletics, aquatics, gymnastics.
Category B: basketball, cycling, football (soccer), tennis, and volleyball.
^A: The IOC site for the 1900 Olympic Games gives erroneous figure of 95 events, while the IOC database for the 1900 Olympic Games lists 85 ones. Probably this discrepancy in IOC data is consequence that the figure 95 just derived from the "1900 Olympic Games — Analysis and Summaries" publication of Bill Mallon, who used his own determination of which sports and events should be considered as Olympic. ^B: The IOC site for the 1904 Olympic Games gives erroneous figure of 91 events, while the IOC database for the 1904 Olympic Games lists 94 ones. Probably this discrepancy in IOC data is consequence that the figure 91 just derived from the "1904 Olympic Games — Analysis and Summaries" publication of Bill Mallon, who used his own determination of which sports and events should be considered as Olympic. ^C: The IOC site for the 1920 Olympic Games gives erroneous figure of 154 events, while the IOC database for the 1920 Olympic Games lists 156 ones. ^D: Owing to Australian quarantine laws, 6 equestrian events were held in Stockholm several months before the rest of the 1956 Games in Melbourne, 5 nations from 72 competed in the equestrian events in Stockholm, but did not attend the Games in Melbourne. ^E: The IOC site for the 1956 Olympic Games gives figure of 145 events, however actually there was 151 (145 events in Melbourne and 6 equestrian events in Stockholm).
Note: Although the Games of 1916, 1940, and 1944 had been cancelled, the Roman numerals for those Games were still used because the Summer Games' official titles count Olympiads, not the Games themselves, per the Olympic Charter. This contrasts with the Winter Olympic Games, which ignore the cancelled Winter Games of 1940 & 1944 in their numeric count.