AskDefine | Define Olympics

Dictionary Definition

Olympics n : the modern revival of the ancient games held once every 4 years in a selected country [syn: Olympic Games, Olympiad]

User Contributed Dictionary


Proper noun

the Olympics
  1. The Olympic Games.

Related terms


sport event
  • Czech: olympiáda
  • Japanese: オリンピック

Extensive Definition

The Olympic Games is an international multi-sport event subdivided into summer and winter sporting events. The summer and winter games are each held every four years (an Olympiad). Until 1992, they were both held in the same year. Since then, they have been separated by a two year gap.
The original Olympic Games (; Olympiakoi Agones) were first recorded in 776 BC in Olympia, Greece, and were celebrated until AD 393. Interest in reviving the Olympic Games proper was first shown by the Greek poet and newspaper editor Panagiotis Soutsos in his poem "Dialogue of the Dead" in 1833. Evangelos Zappas sponsored the first modern international Olympic Games in 1859. He paid for the refurbishment of the Panathinaiko Stadium for Games held there in 1870 and 1875. This was noted in newspapers and publications around the world including the London Review, which stated that "the Olympian Games, discontinued for centuries, have recently been revived! Here is strange news indeed ... the classical games of antiquity were revived near Athens".
The International Olympic Committee was founded in 1894 on the initiative of a French nobleman, Pierre Frédy, Baron de Coubertin. The first of the IOC's Olympic Games were the 1896 Summer Olympics, held in Athens, Greece. Participation in the Olympic Games has increased to include athletes from nearly all nations worldwide. With the improvement of satellite communications and global telecasts of the events, the Olympics are consistently gaining supporters. The most recent Summer Olympics were the 2004 Games in Athens and the most recent Winter Olympics were the 2006 Games in Turin. The upcoming games in Beijing are planned to comprise 302 events in 28 sports. As of 2006, the Winter Olympics were competed in 84 events in 7 sports.

Ancient Olympics

There are many myths surrounding the origin of the ancient Olympic Games. The most popular legend describes that Heracles was the creator of the Olympic Games, and built the Olympic stadium and surrounding buildings as an honor to his father Zeus, after completing his 12 labours. According to that legend he walked in a straight line for 400 strides and called this distance a "stadion" (Greek: "Στάδιον")- (Roman: "stadium") (Modern English: "Stage") that later also became a distance calculation unit. This is also why a modern stadium track is 400 meters in circumference — the distance a runner travels in one lap (1 stadium = 400 m). Another myth associates the first Games with the ancient Greek concept of ἐκεχειρία (ekecheiria) or Olympic Truce. The date of the Games' inception based on the count of years in Olympiads is reconstructed as 776 BC, although scholars' opinions diverge between dates as early as 884 BC and as late as 704 BC.
From then on, the Olympic Games quickly became much more important throughout ancient Greece, reaching their zenith in the 6th and 5th centuries BC. The Olympics were of fundamental religious importance, contests alternating with sacrifices and ceremonies honouring both Zeus (whose colossal statue stood at Olympia), and Pelops, divine hero and mythical king of Olympia famous for his legendary chariot race with King Oenomaus of Pisatis, and in whose honour the games were held. The number of events increased to twenty, and the celebration was spread over several days. Winners of the events were greatly admired and were immortalised in poems and statues. The Games were held every four years, and the period between two celebrations became known as an 'Olympiad.' The Greeks used Olympiads as one of their methods to count years. The most famous Olympic athlete lived in these times: the sixth century BC wrestler Milo of Croton is the only athlete in history to win a victory in six Olympics.
The Games gradually declined in importance as the Romans gained power in Greece. After Emperor Theodosius I proclaimed Christianity the religion of the Empire and banned pagan rites, the Olympic Games were outlawed as a pagan festival in 393 AD.
During the ancient times normally only young men could participate.
Even though the bearing of a torch formed an integral aspect of Greek ceremonies, the ancient Olympic Games did not include it, nor was there a symbol formed by interconnecting rings. These Olympic symbols were introduced as part of the modern Olympic Games.


In the early seventeenth century, an "Olympic Games" sports festival was run for several years at Chipping Campden in the English Cotswolds, and the present day local Cotswold Games trace their origin to this festival.
In 1850, an "Olympian Class" was begun at Much Wenlock in Shropshire, England. This was renamed "Wenlock Olympian Games" in 1859 and continues to this day as the Wenlock Olympian Society Annual Games. A national Olympic Games was organised by their founder, Dr William Penny Brookes, at Crystal Palace in London, in 1866.
Meanwhile, a wealthy Greek philanthropist called Evangelos Zappas sponsored the revival of the first modern international Olympic Games.

Youth Olympic Games

The Youth Olympic Games (YOG) are planned to be a "junior" version of the Games, complementing the current "senior" Games, and will feature athletes between the ages of 14 and 18. The idea for such an event was envisioned in 2001 by IOC president Jacques Rogge, and at the 119th IOC session in Guatemala City in July 2007, the IOC approved the Games.
The Youth Games versions 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 a maximum of 3,500 athletes and 875 officials to participate at the summer games, while 970 athletes and 580 officials are expected at the winter games. It has been stated the IOC will "foot the bill" for the Youth Games.
The first host city will be Singapore in 2010; the bidding for the first Winter edition in 2012 is underway.

Olympic problems


The 1956 Melbourne Olympics were the first Olympics to be boycotted. The Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland refused to attend because of the repression of the Hungarian Uprising by the Soviet Union; additionally, Cambodia, Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon, boycotted the games due to the Suez Crisis.
In 1972 and 1976, a large number of African countries threatened the IOC with a boycott, to force them to ban South Africa, Rhodesia, and New Zealand. The IOC conceded in the first two cases, but refused in 1976 because the boycott was prompted by a New Zealand rugby union tour to South Africa, and rugby was not an Olympic sport. The countries withdrew their teams after the games had started; some African athletes had already competed. A lot of sympathy was felt for the athletes forced by their governments to leave the Olympic Village; there was little sympathy outside Africa for the governments' attitude. Twenty-two countries (Guyana was the only non-African nation) boycotted the Montreal Olympics because New Zealand was not banned.
Also in 1976, due to pressure from the People's Republic of China (PRC), Canada told the team from the Republic of China (Taiwan) that it could not compete at the Montreal Summer Olympics under the name "Republic of China" despite a compromise that would have allowed Taiwan to use the ROC flag and anthem. The Republic of China refused and as a result did not participate again until 1984, when it returned under the name "Chinese Taipei" and used a special flag.
In 1980 and 1984, the Cold War opponents boycotted each other's games. Sixty-five nations refused to compete at the Moscow Olympics in 1980 because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but 16 nations from Western Europe did compete at the Moscow Olympics. The boycott reduced the number of nations participating to only 81, the lowest number of nations to compete since 1956. The Soviet Union and 14 of its Eastern Bloc partners (except Romania) countered by skipping the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, arguing the safety of their athletes could not be guaranteed there and "chauvinistic sentiments and an anti-Soviet hysteria are being whipped up in the United States". The 1984 boycotters staged their own Friendship Games in July-August.
There have been growing calls for boycotts of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing in protest of China's poor human rights record and response to the recent disturbances in Tibet, Darfur, and Taiwan. There are also campaigns calling for Chinese goods to be boycotted.


One of the main problems facing the Olympics (and international sports in general) is doping, or performance enhancing drugs. In the early 20th century, many Olympic athletes began using drugs to enhance their performance. For example, the winner of the marathon at the 1904 Games, Thomas J. Hicks, was given strychnine and brandy by his coach, even during the race. As these methods became more extreme, gradually the awareness grew that this was no longer a matter of health through sports. In the mid-1960s, sports federations put a ban on doping, and the IOC followed suit in 1967.
The first and so far only Olympic death caused by doping occurred in 1960. At the cycling road race in Rome the Danish Knud Enemark Jensen fell from his bicycle and later died. A coroner's inquiry found that he was under the influence of amphetamines.
The first Olympic athlete to test positive for doping use was Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall, a Swedish pentathlete at the 1968 Summer Olympics, who lost his bronze medal for alcohol use. Seventy-three athletes followed him over the next 38 years, several medal winners among them. The most publicised doping-related disqualification was that of Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, who won the 100m at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, but tested positive for stanozolol.
Despite the testing, many athletes continued to use doping without getting caught. In 1990, documents were revealed that showed many East German female athletes had been unknowingly administered anabolic steroids and other drugs by their coaches and trainers as a government policy.
In the late 1990s, the IOC took initiative in a more organised battle against doping, leading to the formation of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 1999. The recent 2000 Summer Olympics and 2002 Winter Olympics have shown that this battle is not nearly over, as several medalists in weightlifting and cross-country skiing were disqualified due to doping offences. One innocent victim of the anti-doping movement at the Olympics was the Romanian gymnast Andreea Răducan who was stripped of her gold medal-winning performance in the All-Around Competition of the 2000 Sydney games. Test results indicated the presence of the banned-stimulant pseudophedrine which had been prescribed to her by an Olympic doctor. Raducan had been unaware of the presence of the illegal substance in the medicine that had been prescribed to her for a cold she had during the games.
During the 2006 Winter Olympics, only one athlete failed a drug test and had a medal revoked. The only other case involved 12 members with high levels of haemoglobin and their punishment was a five day suspension for health reasons.
The International Olympic Committee introduced blood testing for the first time during these games.


Politics interfered with the Olympics on several occasions, the most well-known of which was the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, where the games were used as propaganda by the German Nazis. At this Olympics, a true Olympic spirit was shown by Luz Long, who helped Jesse Owens (a black athlete) to win the long jump, at the expense of his own silver medal. The Soviet Union did not participate in the Olympic Games until the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki. Instead, the Soviets organized an international sports event called Spartakiads, from 1928 onward. Many athletes from Communist organizations or close to them chose not to participate or were even barred from participating in Olympic Games, and instead participated in Spartakiads.
A political incident on a smaller scale occurred at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Two American track-and-field athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, performed the Black Power salute on the victory stand of the 200-meter track and field race. In response, the IOC's autocratic president Avery Brundage told the USOC to either send the two athletes home, or withdraw the complete track and field team. The USOC opted for the former.
The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran specifically orders its athletes not to compete in any olympic heat, semi-final, or finals that includes athletes from Israel. At the 2004 Olympics, an Iranian judoka who had otherwise earned his place, did not compete in a heat against an Israeli judoka.


Despite what Coubertin had hoped for, the Olympics did not bring total peace to the world. In fact, three Olympiads had to pass without Olympics because of war: due to World War I the 1916 Games were cancelled, and the summer and winter games of 1940 and 1944 were cancelled because of World War II.
Terrorism has also become a recent threat to the Olympic Games. In 1972, when the Summer Games were held in Munich, West Germany, eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage by terrorist group Black September in what is known as the Munich massacre. A bungled liberation attempt led to the deaths of the nine abducted athletes who had not been killed prior to the rescue as well as that of a policeman, with five of the terrorists also being killed.
During the Summer Olympics in 1996 in Atlanta, a bombing at the Centennial Olympic Park killed two and injured 111 others. The bomb was set by Eric Robert Rudolph, an American domestic terrorist, who is currently serving a life sentence at Supermax in Florence, Colorado.
The 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City were the first Olympic Games since the September 11, 2001 attacks. Olympic Games since then have required an extremely high degree of security due to the fear of possible terrorist activities.

Olympic Movement

A number of organizations are involved in organizing the Olympic Games. Together they form the Olympic Movement. The rules and guidelines by which these organizations operate are outlined in the Olympic Charter.
At the heart of the Olympic Movement is the International Olympic Committee (IOC), currently headed by Jacques Rogge. It can be seen as the government of the Olympics, as it takes care of the daily problems and makes all important decisions, such as choosing the host city of the Games, and the programme of the Olympics.
Three groups of organisations operate on a more specialised level:
At present, 202 NOCs and 35 IFs are part of the Olympic Movement. OCOGs are dissolved after the celebration of each Games, once all subsequent paperwork has been completed.
More broadly speaking, the term Olympic Movement is sometimes also meant to include everybody and everything involved in the Olympics, such as national sport governing bodies, athletes, media, and sponsors of the Olympic Games.


Most Olympic Games have been held in European and North American cities; only a few games have been held in other places, and all bids by countries in South America and Africa have failed. Many believe the games should expand to include locations in poorer regions. Economists point out that the massive infrastructure investments could springboard cities into earning higher GDP after the games. However, many host cities regret the high costs associated with hosting the games as a poor investment.
In the past, the IOC has often been criticised for being a monolithic organisation, with several members remaining a member at old age, or even until their deaths. The leadership of IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch especially has been strongly criticised. Under his presidency, the Olympic Movement made great progress, but has been seen as autocratic and corrupt. Samaranch's ties with the Franco's regime in Spain and his long term as a president (21 years, until he was 81 years old) have also been points of critique.
In 1998, it became known that several IOC members had taken bribes from the organising committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, in exchange for a vote on the city at the election of the host city. The IOC started an investigation, which led to four members resigning and six being expelled. The scandal set off further reforms, changing the way in which host cities are elected to avoid further bribes. Also, more active and former athletes were allowed in the IOC, and the membership terms have been limited.
The same year (1998), four European groups organized the International Network Against Olympic Games and Commercial Sports to oppose their cities' bids for future Olympic Games. Also, an Anti-Olympic Alliance had formed in Sydney to protest the hosting of the 2000 Games. Later, a similar movement in Vancouver and Whistler, British Columbia organized to protest the hosting of the 2010 Winter Games. These movements were particularly concerned about adverse local economic impact and dislocation of people to accommodate the hosting of the Olympics.
A BBC documentary aired in August 2004, entitled Panorama: "Buying the Games", investigated the taking of bribes in the bidding process for the 2012 Summer Olympics. The documentary claimed it is possible to bribe IOC members into voting for a particular candidate city. In an airborne television interview on the way home, the Mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoë, specifically accused the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the London Bid Committee (headed by former Olympic athlete Sebastian Coe) of breaking the bid rules with flagrant financial and sexual bribes. He cited French President Jacques Chirac as a witness but President Chirac gave rather more guarded interviews. In particular, Bulgaria's member Ivan Slavkov, and Muttaleb Ahmad from the Olympic Council of Asia, were implicated. They have denied the allegations. Mayor Delanoë never mentioned the matter again. Others have alleged that the 2006 Winter Olympics were held in Turin because officials bribed the IOC and so Turin got the games and Sion, Switzerland (which was the favorite) did not.
The Olympic Movement has been accused of being overprotective of its symbolism (in particular, it claims an exclusive and monopolistic copyright over any arrangement of five rings and the term "olympics"), and have taken action against things unrelated to sport, such as the role-playing game Legend of the Five Rings. It was accused of homophobia in 1982 when it successfully sued the Gay Olympics, an event now known as the Gay Games, to ban it from using the term "olympics" in its name.

Olympic symbols

The Olympic movement uses many symbols, most of them representing Coubertin's ideas and ideals. The Olympic Rings are the most widely used symbol. These five intertwined rings represent the unity of the five inhabited continents (with the Americas regarded as one continent). The five colored rings on a white field form the Olympic Flag. The colors, white, red, blue, green, yellow, and black, were chosen such that each nation has at least one of these colors in its national flag. The flag was adopted in 1914, but the first Games at which it was flown were Antwerp, 1920. It is hoisted at each celebration of the Games.
The Olympic Motto is "Citius, Altius, Fortius", a Latin phrase meaning "Swifter, Higher, Stronger". Coubertin's ideals are probably best illustrated by 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."
Prior to each Games, the Olympic Flame is lit in Olympia, Greece and brought to the host city by runners carrying the torch in relay. There it plays an important role in the opening ceremonies. Though the torch fire has been around since 1928, the relay was introduced in 1936 as part of the then German government's attempt to promote their 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 of the games since 1980 with the debut of Misha, a Russian bear.
French and English are the official languages of the Olympic movement.

Olympic ceremonies


Apart from the traditional elements, the host nation ordinarily presents artistic displays of dance and theatre representative of that country.
Various traditional elements frame the opening ceremonies of a celebration of the Olympic Games. The ceremonies typically start with the hoisting of the host country's flag and the performing of its national anthem. The traditional part of the ceremonies starts with a "parade of nations" (or of athletes), during which most participating athletes march into the stadium, country by country. One honoured athlete, typically a top competitor, from each country carries the flag of his or her nation, leading the entourage of other athletes from that country.
Traditionally (starting at the 1928 Summer Olympics) Greece marches first, because of its historical status as the origin of the Olympics, while the host nation marches last. (Exceptionally, in 2004, when the Games were held in Athens, Greece marched last as host nation rather than first, although the flag of Greece was carried in first.) Between these two nations, all other participating nations march in alphabetical order of the dominant language of the host country, or in French or English alphabetical order if the host country does not write its dominant language in an alphabet which has a set order. In the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, both Spanish and Catalan were official languages of the games, but due to politics surrounding the use of Catalan, the nations entered in French alphabetical order. The XVIII Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan saw nations entering in English alphabetical order since the Japanese language grouped both China and Chinese Taipei together in the Parade of Nations.
After all nations have entered, the president of the host country's Olympic Organising Committee makes a speech, followed by the IOC president who, at the end of his speech introduces the representative of the host country who declares the Games open by reciting the formula: «I declare open the Games of ... (name of the host city) celebrating the ... (number of the Olympiad) Olympiad of the modern era.» (There is a similar recital for the Winter Games.)
Before 1936, the Opener often used to make a short Speech of Welcome before declaring the Games open. However, since 1936 when Adolf Hitler opened both the Garmisch Partenkirchen Winter Olympics and the Berlin Summer Olympics, the Openers have unswervingly stuck to that formula.
Despite the Games having been awarded to a particular city and not to the country in general, the Opener is usually – but not always – the host country's Head of State. There have been many cases where someone other than the host country's Head of State opened the Games. The first example was at the Games of the II Olympiad in Paris in 1900, when there wasn't even an Opening Ceremony. There are five examples from the United States alone where the Games were not opened by the Head of State.
Next, the Olympic Flag is carried horizontally (since the 1960 Summer Olympics) into the stadium and hoisted as the Olympic Anthem is played. The flag bearers of all countries circle a rostrum, where one athlete (since the 1920 Summer Olympics) and one judge (since the 1972 Summer Olympics) speak the Olympic Oath, declaring they will compete and judge according to the rules. However, some Opening Ceremonies have continued to include doves in other forms; for example, the 2002 Winter Olympics featured skaters holding kite-like cloth dove puppets.
Opening ceremonies have been held outdoors, usually on the main athletics stadium, but those for the 2010 Winter Olympics will be the first to be held indoors, at the BC Place Stadium.


Various traditional elements also frame the closing ceremonies of an Olympic Games, which take place after all athletic events have concluded. Flag bearers from each participating country enter the stadium in single file, but behind them march all of the athletes without any distinction or grouping of nationality – a tradition that began at the 1956 Summer Olympics at the suggestion of Melbourne schoolboy John Ian Wing, who thought it would be a way of bringing the athletes of the world together as "one nation". (In 2006, the athletes marched in with their countrymen, then dispersed and mingled as the ceremonies went on).
Three national flags are hoisted on flagpoles one at a time while the corresponding national anthems are played: The flag of Greece is raised on the middle pole honoring the birthplace of the Olympic Games, the flag of the host country on the lefthand pole, and then the flag of the country hosting the next Summer or Winter Olympic Games, on the righthand pole. (Exceptionally, in 2004, when the Games were held in Athens, only one Greek flag was raised.)
In what is known as the "Antwerp Ceremony" (because the tradition began in 1920), the mayor of the city that organized the Games transfers a special Olympic Flag to the president of the IOC, who then passes it on to the mayor of the city hosting the next Olympic Games. Nine sports were on the original Olympic programme in 1896: athletics, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, weightlifting, shooting, swimming, tennis, and wrestling. If the 1896 rowing events had not been cancelled due to bad weather, they would have been included in this list as well.
At the most recent Winter Olympics, 15 disciplines in seven sports were featured. Of these, cross country skiing, figure skating, ice hockey, Nordic combined, ski jumping, and speed skating have been featured on the programme at all Winter Olympics. In addition, figure skating and ice hockey also have been contested as part of the Summer Games before the introduction of separate Winter Olympics.
In recent years, the IOC has added several new sports to the programme to attract attention from young spectators. Examples of such sports include snowboarding and beach volleyball. The growth of the Olympics also means that some less popular (modern pentathlon) or expensive (white water canoeing) sports may lose their place on the Olympic programme. The IOC decided to discontinue baseball and softball beginning in 2012. Cricket and Rugby union used to be in the Olympic Games but were discontinued; a revival is now seen as possible.
Rule 48.1 of the Olympic Charter requires that there be a minimum of 15 Olympic sports at each Summer Games. Following its 114th Session (Mexico 2002), the IOC also decided to limit the programme of the Summer Games to a maximum of 28 sports, 301 events, and 10,500 athletes. The Olympic sports are defined as those governed by the International Federations listed in Rule 46 of the Olympic Charter. A two-thirds vote of the IOC is required to amend the Charter to promote a Recognised Federation to Olympic status and therefore make the sports it governs eligible for inclusion on the Olympic programme. Rule 47 of the Charter requires that only Olympic sports may be included in the programme.
The IOC reviews the Olympic programme at the first Session following each Olympiad. A simple majority is required for an Olympic sport to be included in the Olympic programme. Under the current rules, an Olympic sport not selected for inclusion in a particular Games remains an Olympic sport and may be included again later with a simple majority. At the 117th IOC Session, 26 sports were included in the programme for London 2012.
Until 1992, the Olympics also often featured demonstration sports. The objective was for these sports to reach a larger audience; the winners of these events are not official Olympic champions. These sports were sometimes sports popular only in the host nation, but internationally known sports have also been demonstrated. Some demonstration sports eventually were included as full-medal events.

Amateurism and professionalism

see Amateurism The ethos of English public schools greatly influenced Pierre de Coubertin. The public schools had a deep involvement in the development of many team sports including all British codes of football as well as cricket and hockey.
The English public schools of the second half of the 19th century had a major influence on many sports. The schools contributed to the rules and influenced the governing bodies of those sports out of all proportion to their size. They subscribed to the Ancient Greek and Roman belief that sport formed an important part of education, an attitude summed up in the saying: mens sana in corpore sano – a sound mind in a healthy body. In this ethos, taking part has more importance than winning, because society expected gentlemen to become all-rounders and not the best at everything. Class prejudice against "trade" reinforced this attitude. The house of the parents of a typical public schoolboy would have a tradesman's entrance, because tradesmen did not rank as the social equals of gentlemen. Apart from class considerations there was the typically English concept of "fairness," in which practicing or training was considered as tantamount to cheating; it meant that you considered it more important to win than to take part. Those who practiced a sport professionally were considered to have an unfair advantage over those who practiced it merely as a "hobby."
The International Olympic Committee invited a representative of the Headmasters' Conference (the association of headmasters of the English public schools) to attend their early meetings. The Headmasters' Conference chose the Reverend Robert Laffan, the headmaster of Cheltenham College, as their representative to the IOC meetings. He was made a member of the IOC in 1897 and, following the first visit of the IOC to London in 1904, he was central to the founding of the British Olympic Association a year later.
In Coubertin's vision, athletes should be gentlemen. Initially, only amateurs were considered such; professional athletes were not allowed to compete in the Olympic Games. A short-lived exception was made for professional fencing instructors. This exclusion of professionals has caused several controversies throughout the history of the modern Olympics.
1912 Olympic pentathlon and decathlon champion, Jim Thorpe, was disqualified when it was discovered that he played semi-professional baseball prior to winning his medals. He was restored as champion on compassionate grounds by the IOC in 1983. Swiss and Austrian skiers boycotted the 1936 Winter Olympics in support of their skiing teachers, who were not allowed to compete because they earned money with their sport and were considered professionals.
It gradually became clear to many that the amateurism rules had become outdated, not least because the self-financed amateurs of Western countries often were no match for the state-sponsored "full-time amateurs" of Eastern bloc countries. Nevertheless, the IOC, led by President Avery Brundage, held to the traditional rules regarding amateurism. In the 1970s, after Brundage left, amateurism requirements were dropped from the Olympic Charter, leaving decisions on professional participation to the international federation for each sport. This switch was perhaps best exemplified by the American Dream Team, composed of well-paid NBA stars, which won the Olympic gold medal in basketball in 1992. As of 2004, the only sport in which no professionals compete is boxing (though even this requires a definition of amateurism based on fight rules rather than on payment, as some boxers receive cash prizes from their National Olympic Committees); in men's football (soccer), the number of players over 23 years of age is limited to three per team.
Advertisement regulations are still very strict, at least on the actual playing field, although "Official Olympic Sponsors" are common. Athletes are only allowed to have the names of clothing and equipment manufacturers on their outfits. The sizes of these markings are limited.

Olympic champions and medalists

The athletes (or teams) who place first, second, or third in each event receive medals. The winners receive "gold medals". (Though they were solid gold until 1912, they are now made of gilded silver.) The runners-up receive silver medals, and the third-place athletes bronze medals. In some events contested by a single-elimination tournament (most notably boxing), third place might not be determined, in which case both semi-final losers receive bronze medals. The practice of awarding medals to the top three competitors was introduced in 1904; at the 1896 Olympics only the first two received a medal, silver and bronze, while various prizes were awarded in 1900. However, the 1904 Olympics also awarded silver trophies for first place, which makes Athens 1906 the first games that awarded the three medals only. In addition, from 1948 onward athletes placing fourth, fifth and sixth have received certificates which became officially known as "victory diplomas;" since 1976 the medal winners have received these also, and in 1984 victory diplomas for seventh- and eighth-place finishers were added, presumably to ensure that all losing quarter-finalists in events using single-elimination formats would receive diplomas, thus obviating the need for consolation (or officially, "classification") matches to determine fifth through eighth places (though interestingly these latter are still contested in many elimination events anyway). Certificates were awarded also at the 1896 Olympics, but there they were awarded in addition to the medals to first and second place. Commemorative medals and diplomas — which differ in design from those referred to above — are also made available to participants finishing lower than third and eighth respectively. At the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, the first three were given wreaths as well as their medals.
Because the Olympics are held only once every four years, the public and athletes often consider them as more important and valuable than world championships and other international tournaments, which are often held annually. Many athletes have become celebrities or heroes in their own country, or even world-wide, after becoming Olympic champions.
The diversity of the sports, and the great differences between the Olympic Games in 1896 and today make it difficult to decide which athlete is the most successful Olympic athlete of all time. This is further complicated since the IOC no longer recognises the Intercalated Games which it originally organised. When measuring by the number of titles won at the Modern Olympic Games, the following athletes may be considered the most successful.

Medals per country

The IOC does not publish lists of medals per country, but the media often does. A comparison between countries would be unfair to countries with fewer inhabitants, so some have made calculations of medals per number of inhabitants, such as!OpenDocument for the 2004 Olympics and for a few more. A problem here is that for a very small country, gaining just one medal could mean the difference between the very top and the very bottom of the list (a point illustrated by the Bahamas' per capita number one position in 2004). On the other hand, a large country may not be able to send a number of athletes that is proportional to its size because a limit is set for the number of participants per country for a specific sport.
A comparison of the total number of medals over time is further complicated by the fact that the number of times that countries have participated is not equal, and that many countries have gained and lost territories where medal-winning athletes come from. A point in case is the USSR, which not only participated relatively rarely (18 times, versus 45 times for the UK), but also ceased to exist in 1991. The resulting Russian Federation is largely, but not entirely equal to the former USSR. Also, one would have to use population statistics at the time.
The IOC medal tally chart is based on the number of gold medals for country. Where states are equal, the number of silver medals (and then bronze medals) are counted to determine rankings. Since 1996, the only countries that have appeared in the top 10 medal tallies for summer Olympics have been the Russian Federation, United States, China, France, Germany, Australia and Italy. Since 1994, the only countries that have appeared in the top 10 medal tallies for winter Olympics have been Norway, the Russian Federation, the United States, Canada, Germany, Austria, South Korea, Switzerland, France and Italy.

Olympic Games host cities

By 2010, the Olympic Games will have been hosted by 41 cities in 22 countries. The upcoming 2008 Summer Olympics will be held in Beijing, and the 2010 Winter Olympics will be held in Vancouver. The number in parentheses following the city/country denotes how many times that city/country had then hosted the games, with said exclusions.
This table does not include the "Olympic Games" organized by Evangelos Zappas prior to the IOC's creation in 1894. It does list the "Intercalated Games" of 1906, but it is not included in the counts as the IOC no longer considers them to be official Olympic Games.
1 Originally awarded to Chicago, but moved to St. Louis to coincide with the World's Fair
2 Cancelled due to World War I
3 Cancelled due to World War II
4 Equestrian events were held in Stockholm, Sweden.
5 Equestrian events to be held in Hong Kong SAR.



  • Historical dictionary of the Olympic movement
  • The Golden Book of the Olympic Games
  • Dishonored Games: Corruption, Money, and Greed at the Olympics
  • The Complete Book of the Summer Olympics, Sydney 2000 Edition
  • The Complete Book of the Winter Olympics, Salt Lake City 2002 Edition
  • The Complete Book of the Summer Olympics, Athens 2004 Edition
  • The Complete Book of the Winter Olympics, Turin 2006 Edition
  • The Economics of Staging the Olympics: A Comparison of the Games 1972-2008
Olympics in Arabic: ألعاب أولمبية
Olympics in Aragonese: Chuegos Olimpicos
Olympics in Asturian: Xuegos Olímpicos
Olympics in Azerbaijani: Olimpiya oyunları
Olympics in Bengali: অলিম্পিক গেমস
Olympics in Min Nan: Olympia Ūn-tōng-hoē
Olympics in Banyumasan: Olimpiade
Olympics in Bosnian: Olimpijske igre
Olympics in Breton: C'hoarioù Olimpek
Olympics in Bulgarian: Олимпийски игри
Olympics in Catalan: Jocs Olímpics
Olympics in Czech: Olympijské hry
Olympics in Welsh: Gemau Olympaidd Modern
Olympics in Danish: Olympiske lege
Olympics in German: Olympische Spiele
Olympics in Estonian: Nüüdisaegsed olümpiamängud
Olympics in Modern Greek (1453-): Ολυμπιακοί Αγώνες
Olympics in Spanish: Juegos Olímpicos
Olympics in Esperanto: Olimpiaj ludoj
Olympics in Basque: Olinpiar Jokoak
Olympics in Extremaduran: Huegus Olímpicus
Olympics in Persian: بازی‌های المپیک
Olympics in French: Jeux Olympiques
Olympics in Western Frisian: Olympyske Spullen
Olympics in Irish: Cluichí Oilimpeacha
Olympics in Scottish Gaelic: Na h-Olympics
Olympics in Galician: Xogos Olímpicos
Olympics in Korean: 올림픽
Olympics in Hindi: ओलम्पिक खेल
Olympics in Croatian: Olimpijske igre
Olympics in Indonesian: Olimpiade
Olympics in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Jocos Olympic
Olympics in Icelandic: Ólympíuleikarnir
Olympics in Italian: Giochi Olimpici
Olympics in Hebrew: המשחקים האולימפיים
Olympics in Georgian: ოლიმპიური თამაშები
Olympics in Swahili (macrolanguage): Michezo ya Olimpiki
Olympics in Latin: Olympia (certamina)
Olympics in Latvian: Olimpiskās spēles
Olympics in Luxembourgish: Olympesch Spiller
Olympics in Lithuanian: Olimpinės žaidynės
Olympics in Limburgan: Olympische Speule
Olympics in Hungarian: Olimpiai játékok
Olympics in Macedonian: Олимпијада
Olympics in Malayalam: ഒളിമ്പിക്സ്
Olympics in Marathi: ऑलिंपिक
Olympics in Malay (macrolanguage): Sukan Olimpik
nah:Olimpicayoh neahuiltiloni
Olympics in Dutch: Olympische Spelen
Olympics in Japanese: 近代オリンピック
Olympics in Norwegian: Olympiske leker
Olympics in Norwegian Nynorsk: Olympiske leikar
Olympics in Narom: Gammes Olŷmpiques
Olympics in Uzbek: Olimpiya oʻyinlari
Olympics in Piemontese: Gieugh olìmpich modern
Olympics in Polish: Igrzyska olimpijskie
Olympics in Portuguese: Jogos Olímpicos
Olympics in Romanian: Olimpism
Olympics in Quechua: Ulimpiku pukllaykuna
Olympics in Russian: Олимпийские игры
Olympics in Samoan: Ta'aloga Olimipeka
Olympics in Sicilian: Jòcura Olìmpici
Olympics in Simple English: Olympic Games
Olympics in Slovenian: Olimpijske igre
Olympics in Serbian: Олимпијске игре
Olympics in Serbo-Croatian: Olimpijske igre
Olympics in Finnish: Olympialaiset
Olympics in Swedish: Olympiska spelen
Olympics in Tamil: ஒலிம்பிக் விளையாட்டுக்கள்
Olympics in Tatar: Olímpia Uyınnarı
Olympics in Telugu: ఒలింపిక్ క్రీడలు
Olympics in Thai: กีฬาโอลิมปิก
Olympics in Vietnamese: Thế vận hội
Olympics in Turkish: Olimpiyat Oyunları
Olympics in Ukrainian: Олімпійські ігри
Olympics in Venetian: Xoghi Ołinpeghi
Olympics in Walloon: Djeus olimpikes
Olympics in Yoruba: Idije Olympiki
Olympics in Chinese: 奥林匹克运动会
Olympics in Slovak: Olympijské hry (moderné)

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Highland games, Olympiad, Olympic games, bout, carousel, concours, contest, derby, encounter, engagement, field day, fight, game, games, go, gymkhana, joust, match, matching, meet, meeting, rally, regatta, rencontre, test, the Olympics, tilt, tournament, tourney, track meet, trial
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