Olympiad in Greek means chronology, the interval of four years between two successive celebrations of the Olympian Games. The use of Olympiads as a convenient system of chronological reckoning appears chiefly in literature, beginning about 300 BC in the writings of the Greek historian Timaeus (circa 356-c. 260 BC). Although the Olympian Games were celebrated in Ancient Greece in much earlier times, the first Olympiad dates from 776 BC, the year in which the first official list of visitors was kept.


The Olympian games were the most famous of four national festivals of the Ancient Greeks. These games were celebrated in the summer every four years in the sanctuary of Zeus at the Ancient Greek cite Olympia.

Early in the year of the games, envoys were sent throughout the Greek world to invite the city-states to join in paying tribute to Zeus. The city-states thereupon dispatched depurations to vie with one another in the splendor of their equipment and the proficiency of their athletic feats. The competitions were open only to honorable men of Greek descent. Famous historical individuals that attended were Plato, Themistocles and Phillip II, king of Macedonia.

The order of events is not precisely known, but the first day of the festival was devoted to animal sacrifices. The second day began with footraces, for which the spectators gathered in the stadion, an oblong area enclosed by sloping banks of earth. On other days, wrestling, boxing and the pancratium, a combination of the two were held. In the first of these sports the object was to throw the antagonist to the ground three times. Boxing became more and more brutal. At first the pugilists wound straps of soft leather over their fingers as a means of deadening the blows, but in later times hard leather, sometimes weighted with metal was used. In the pancratium, the most rigorous of the sports, the contest continued until one or the other of the participants acknowledged defeat.

Horse racing, in which each entrant owned his horse, was confined to the wealthy but was nevertheless a popular attraction. After the horse racing came the pentathlon, a series of five events, sprinting, (long) jumping, javelin hurling, discus throwing and wrestling. The discus was a plate of bronze, probably lens shaped; the javelin was hurled with the aid of a strap wound about the shaft, producing a rotary motion for greater distance and accuracy. The jumping event was judged for distance, not for height. The closing event was a race run in armor. The victors were awarded crowns of wild olive, were celebrated by poets and often lived for the rest of their lives at public expense.

The Olympian Games, at their height in the 5th and 4th centuries BC, were suppressed in 394 AD by the Roman emperor Theodosius I.


Olympia is the ancient site of the Olympian Games, which were celebrated every four years by all Greeks. It is situated in a valley in Elis, in the western Peloponesse, Greece. It was not a town, but only a sanctuary with buildings associated with games and the worship of the gods. Olympia was a national shrine of the Greeks and contained many treasures of Greek art, such as temples, monuments, altars. theaters, statues and votive offerings of brass and marble. The Altis, or sacred precinct, enclosed a level space of about 200m (660ft) long by nearly 177m (580ft) broad. In this were the chief centers of religious worship, the votive buildings and buildings associated with the administration of the games.

The most celebrated was the Temple of Zeus, dedicated to the father of the gods. In this temple was a statue of Zeus made of ivory and gold, a masterpiece of the Athenian sculptor Phidias. Next to the Temple of Zeus ranked the Heraeum, dedicated to Hera, his wife. In that temple, probably the oldest Doric building known, stood the table on which were placed the garlands prepared for the victors in the games. The votive buildings included a row of twelve treasure houses and the Philippeum, a circular Ionic building dedicated by Philip II, king of Macedonia, to himself. Outside the Altis were the Stadium and the Hippodrome, where the contests took place, the Palaestra, or wrestling school, and the Gymnasium, where all competitors were obliged to train for at least one month.


The Olympic Games are the most widely known international athletic competition held every four years at a different site, "host city." A modified revival of the Olympian Games, the Olympic Games were inaugurated in the Spring of 1896, largely through the efforts of the French sportsman and educator Baron Pierre de Coubertin. This competition evolved into the Summer Olympics, the Olympic Games we know of today. Since the beginning of the games, as far back as 776 BC, several changes and modifications were made. God worship, music, oratory and theatrical performances, features of the ancient Olympian Games are no longer part of today's Olympics. The only feature still acknowledged, is the relay of the Olympic Torch.

The less popular Winter Olympics began in 1924 and have been held ever since in the same year as the Summer Olympics; however, as of 1994, the Winter Games alternate with the Summer Games in even numbered years.

Planning for the modern games began in 1894, with the founding of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC enlisted the aid of sports organizations and individuals of various countries, chiefly European at first. The committee drafted policy and selected Athens, Greece, as the site of the first Olympic Games. In theory, athletes of all nations are eligible to participate.


The IOC maintains headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, and currently recognizes186 national Olympic Committees, such as the United States Olympic Committee, (USOC) founded in 1900 and headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The site of the games is chosen, usually six years in advance, by the IOC. Atlanta, GA, was chosen as the site of the 1996 Summer Olympics.
The 2000 Summer Olympics will be held in Sydney, Australia. Athens, Greece was elected as the host city for the 2004 Olympic Games.


The first modern games, held in April 1896, attracted athletes from the United States, Great Britain and eleven other nations. Only 42 events in 9 sports were scheduled for these games.

The second Summer Olympics (1900) took place in Paris France. Saint Louis, Missouri, was the games site in 1904. A special Olympic competition, not of the regular cycle, was held in Athens Greece, in 1906. Subsequent sites were London, England (1908) Stockholm, Sweden (1912) Antwerp, Belgium, (1920) Paris, France (1924) Amsterdam, Netherlands (1928) Los Angeles, California (1932) Berlin, Germany (1936) London, England (1948) Helsinki, Finland (1952) Melbourne, Australia (1956) Rome, Italy (1960) Tokyo, Japan (1964) Mexico City, Mexico (1968) Munich, Germany (1972) Montreal, Canada (1976) Moscow, Russia (1980) Los Angeles, California (1984) Seoul, South Korea (1988) Barcelona, Spain (1992) Atlanta, Georgia (1996) and Sydney, Australia (2000). The Olympic Games scheduled for Berlin in 1916 were canceled because of World War I, and those scheduled for 1940 and 1944 were canceled because of World War II.






1896 Athens 14 43 245
1900 Paris 19 86 1078
1904 Saint Louis 13 89 689
1908 London 22 107 2035
1912 Stockholm 28 102 2437
1920 Antwerp 29 152 2607
1924 Paris 44 126 2972
1928 Amsterdam 46 109 2884
1932 Los Angeles 37 117 1333
1936 Berlin 49 129 3936
1948 London 59 136 4092
1952 Helsinki 69 149 5492
1956 Melbourne 67 145 3178
1960 Rome 83 150 5313
1964 Tokyo 93 163 5133
1968 Mexico City 112 172 5498
1972 Munich 121 195 7121
1976 Montreal 92 198 6043
1980 Moscow 80 203 5283
1984 Los Angeles 140 221 6802
1988 Seoul 159 237 8473
1992 Barcelona 169 257 9368
1996 Atlanta 197 271 10332
2000 Sydney 199
2004 Athens 202
2008 Beijing      
* Indicates games not celebrated Courtesy of the IOC

Political contentions have increasingly interfered with an avowed aim of the modern Olympics, that of fostering amity. In the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Adolf Hitler refused to recognize the achievements of Jesse Owens, an African American who won four gold medals. The 1972 games, held in Munich, West Germany (now part of the united Federal Republic of Germany) were marked by a tragedy growing out of political conditions in the Middle East. Members of an Arab guerrilla organization killed two Israeli athletes and took nine hostages, who were later killed, along with five of the guerrillas and a West German policeman, in a gun battle with police at a Munich airport. Olympic activities were suspended for a day to hold memorial services for the murdered Israeli athletes. The 1976 games, held in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, were also marked by political issues. The host Canadian government refused to allow the Taiwanese team to carry its flag, or have its national anthem played at the games. The Taiwanese thereupon withdrew. A second issue involved most of the black African nations. They demanded that New Zealand be excluded from the Olympics, because one of its rugby teams had recently played in South Africa, whose racial policies these black African nations opposed. When their demand was refused and not met, 31 nations withdrew their teams from the competition in support of the black African nations.

The United States, after much debate, withdrew from the 1980 games, held in Moscow, Russia, in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. About 64 other nations also boycotted the 1980 games. The USSR, citing doubts about security measures, withdrew from the 1984 games in Los Angeles, California, along with 15 other mainly socialist nations that followed. A record 159 nations participated in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. The only political controversy at these games centered around North Korea's unsuccessful bid to serve as a co host. The 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, reflected a changed political landscape. The 169 participating nations and territories, included the Unified Team (with athletes from 12 former Soviet republics) a reunited Germany and South Africa, which was allowed to compete for the first time since 1960.

After the games of 1904, which had little international significance because most of the contestants were from the United States, more and more nations have entered teams in the Olympics. The total number of participating athletes has also grown, from 245 who competed in Athens in 1896, to 8473 who competed in Barcelona in 1992. At the same time, the Olympic trials, elimination games conducted every four years under the auspices of the various national Olympic committees, have become increasingly important in amateur athletics.


Since the first Olympics of the modern cycle, the number of women in Olympic competition and the number of sports and events open to competition at the games have increased. Excluding the sports competitions of the Winter Olympics, the number of medal sports at the 1992 Olympics totaled 28.


Archery, badminton, baseball, basketball, boxing, canoeing-kayaking, cycling, equestrian sports, fencing, field hockey, gymnastics, handball, judo, modern pentathlon, rowing, shooting, soccer, table tennis, tennis, track and field, volleyball, weightlifting, wrestling and yachting.

A third significant development has been the progressively superior performance by successive generations of Olympic athletes.


An elaborate ceremony traditionally opens the Olympic Games. The athletes parade into the stadium, led by the Greek team, in honor of the founding the Olympic Games, with the host nation marching in last. The Olympic Hymn is then played and the official Olympic Flag (five interlocking rings on a white background) is raised. A runner then enters the stadium bearing the Olympic Torch, initially lit by the rays of the sun at Olympia, Greece, and carried to the present site by a relay of runners. The ceremony closes with the release of doves, symbolizing the free spirit of the games.

Courtesy of the IOC

During the games, medal ceremonies are held to honor medal winners in each event. The first-, second- and third-place finishers stand on a podium and receive gold, silver and bronze medals respectively. Flags from the athletes' countries are raised (the gold metal winner's higher than the other two) and the national anthem of the country of the first-place medallist is played.


The Olympic Games are competitions of individual athletes, not of nations, and the IOC does not keep national scores. However, the media of all nations report national standings according to one of two scoring systems. In the point system of scoring, 10 points are credited for first-place in the various events, 5 points for second-place, 4 points for third-place, 3 points for fourth-place, 2 points for fifth-place and 1 point for sixth-place. The other scoring system, lists the number of medals won by each nation's competitor.


Avery Brundage


The International Olympic Committee

The National Broadcasting Company

Sydney 2000

Copyright Mickey Kalellis © 1997.

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