Summer Olympic Games

The Summer Olympic Games are an international multi-sport event held every four years, organised by the International Olympic Committee. The Olympics are the most prestigious of such events in the world, featuring a larger range of sports than others. Olympic victory is generally considered to be the most prestigious achievement in sports. Medals are awarded in each event, with gold for first place, silver for second and bronze for third, a tradition which started in 1904.

Competitors are entered by a National Olympic Committee (NOC) to represent their country of citizenship. National anthems and flags accompany the medal ceremonies, and some countries take their patriotism so far as to tabulate medal counts for each competing country, though the IOC does not place any value on these. In general only recognised nations are represented, but a few non-sovereign countries are allowed to take part. The special case of Taiwan was handled by having it compete as Chinese Taipei, to avoid the issue of Taiwanese independence.

Though the most diverse sporting event in the world, the Olympics are perhaps not the most popular. The football World Cup attracts more global interest, as measured by the larger television audience.


History of the modern summer Olympics

The early years

The modern Olympic Games were founded in 1894 when Pierre Fredi, Baron de Coubertin sought to promote international understanding through sporting competition. The first 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 organised before.

Four years later (in 1900) the Paris games attracted more than four times as many athletes, including 11 women, who were allowed to compete for the first time, in croquet 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.

Numbers declined again for the 1904 Games in St. Louis, USA, due in part to the lengthy transatlantic boat trip required of the European competitors, and the integration with the Louisiana Purchase Exposition World's fair, which again spread the event out over an extended period. In contrast with Paris 1900, the word Olympic was abused for many contests, such as those for school boys or for Irish-Americans.

There followed a smaller games in Athens in 1906, the first of an alternating series of games to be held in Athens. As it also turned out to be the last, the reason for the games is now sought in the "tenth birthday" of the games. These games are not currently recognised as being Olympic Games by the IOC, though most historians do see them as such. Anyway, they certainly positively contributed to the success of future games after the less successful 1900 and 1904 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). This distance was chosen to ensure that the race finished in front of the box occupied by the British royal family. The marathon had been 40 km for the first games in 1896, but was subsequently varied by up to 2 km due to local conditions such as street and stadium layout. Of the six Olympic games between 1900 and 1920, there were six different distances for the marathon.

The finish of the 1908 marathon itself was worth seeing. The Italian runner Dorando Pietri was first to enter the stadium, but was clearly in distress, and collapsed of exhaustion before he could complete the event. Helped over the finish line by concerned race officials, he was later disqualified and the gold medal awarded to John Hayes, who had trailed him by around 30 seconds.

The Games continued to grow, attracting 2,500 competitors to Stockholm in 1912, including the great all-arounder 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. They were reinstated in 1983, 30 years after his death.

The scheduled Berlin Games of 1916 were cancelled following the onset of World War I.

The interwar era

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 would involve 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 metre 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 benefitted greatly from the general prosperity of the times alongside the first appearance of sponsorship of the games, from Coca-Cola. This was in stark contrast to 1932 when the Los Angeles games were affected by the Great Depression, which contributed to the fewest competitors 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, the black sprinter and long jumper Jesse Owens won 4 gold medals. The tale of Hitler snubbing Owens at the ensuing medal ceremony is a fabrication.

The Games of 1940 and 1944 were cancelled due to World War II.

After WWII

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, Finland made a legend of an amiable Czech army lieutenant named Emil Ztopek, who was intent on improving on his single gold and silver medals from 1948. Having first won both the 10,000 and 5,000 metre races, he also entered the marathon, despite having never previously raced at that distance. Pacing himself by chatting with the other leaders, Ztopek led from about half way, slowly dropping the remaining contenders to win by two and a half minutes, and completed a trio both of wins and Olympic records.

The 1956 Melbourne Games were largely successful, barring a water polo match between Hungary and the Soviet Union, which political tensions caused to end as a pitched battle between the teams.

The 1960 Rome Games saw the arrival on the world scene of a young light-heavyweight boxer named Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali, who would later throw his gold medal away in disgust after being refused service in a whites only restaurant in his home town. Other performers of note in 1960 included Wilma Rudolph, a gold medallist in the 100 m, 200 m and 4x100 m 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 live on television, enabled by the recent advent of communication satellites, and helped introduce the world to colour television. The 1964 Games were thus a turning point in the global visibility and popularity of the Olympics.

Performances at the 1968 Mexico City games were affected by the altitude of the host city. No event was affected more than the long jump. In a previously tight competition, US athlete Bob Beamon jumped 8.90 m, destroying the world record and, in the words of fellow competitor and then-reigning champion Lynn Davies, "making the rest of us look silly." Beamon's world record would stand for 23 years. The 1968 Games also saw the introduction of the now-universal Fosbury flop, a technique which won American high jumper Dick Fosbury the gold medal. Politics took centre 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 USA; 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. An extreme Palestinian terrorist group named Black September invaded the Olympic village and held several members of the Israeli weightlifting team hostage, and killed two of them. The terrorists demanded that Israel release numerous Arab prisoners. When the Israelis refused to make concessions, 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 remaining nine Israeli athletes and all but one 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 record seven gold medals by United States swimmer Mark Spitz, and the winning of three gold medals by 16-year-old Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut.

There was no such tragedy in Montreal in 1976, but bad planning led to the Games' cost far exceeding the budget. For a time, it seemed that the Olympics might no longer be a viable financial proposition. There was also a boycott by African nations to protest a recent tour of apartheid South Africa by a New Zealand rugby side. The Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci won every individual women's gymnastics gold medal with a succession of perfect scores.

1980s and beyond

Following the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan, over 50 nations, including the United States, Canada, West Germany and Japan, boycotted the 1980 games held in Moscow. Notably, Great Britain and Greece did not withdraw. This 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 much of Eastern Europe, reciprocated by boycotting the Los Angeles games. These games were perhaps the first games of a new era. The games were again viable, but had become more commercial. Again, the games lost a measure of their appeal by the absence of one of the superpowers.

The 1988 Seoul games were sadly tainted when many of the athletes 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 outcry reached its zenith when Ben Johnson, the Canadian winner of the men's 100 m sprint, was discovered to be a steroid user and disqualified. There was an additional scandal in the boxing ring, where Korean fighters were awarded dubious decisions by the judges. This culminated in local light-middleweight Park Si-hun being awarded the gold medal despite being conclusively outboxed in the final by American Roy Jones, Jr.. This decision in particular would lead to a total overhaul of the judging process before the next games.

On the bright side, drug testing and regulation authorities were catching up with the cheating that had been endemic in athletics for some years. The 1992 Barcelona Games were cleaner, although not without incident. In evidence there was increased professionalism amongst Olympic athletes, exemplified by U.S. basketball's "Dream Team". 1992 also saw the reintroduction to the Games of several smaller European states which had been incorporated into the USSR since World War II.

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 particular with reference to Salt Lake City's bid to host the Winter Olympic Games. It was also widely rumoured that the Coca-Cola company was highly influential in the 1996 Games being hosted by their home city of Atlanta, Georgia. In the stadium in 1996, the highlight was 200 m runner Michael Johnson annihilating the world record in front of a home crowd. Canadians savoured Donovan Bailey's record-breaking gold medal run in the 100-metre 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 U.S. television. The atmosphere at the Games was marred however when a bomb exploded during the celebration in Centennial Park. (In June 2003, the principal suspect in this bombing, Eric Robert Rudolph, was captured.)

A new millennium

The 2000 Games were held in Sydney, Australia, and showcased individual performances by local favourite Ian Thorpe in the pool, Briton Steve Redgrave who won a rowing Gold medal in an unprecedented fifth consecutive Olympics, and Cathy Freeman, whose triumph in the 400 m united a packed stadium and provided a bridge between white and aboriginal Australians. Eric "the Eel" Moussambani, a swimmer from Equatorial Guinea, had a memorably slow 100 m freestyle swim that showed that, even in the commercial world of the twentieth century, some of de Coubertin's original vision still remained.

2004 saw the games return to their birthplace, in Athens, Greece. Many doubted the city would be ready to host the games in time. Also, as these were the first games after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, there were many fears about terrorist attacks taking place. Greece spent at least $7.2 billion on the Games, including $1.5 billion on security alone -- an enormous sum that will take many years, if not decades, to pay off. Yet, none of those fears became a reality. The games were appreciated for their excellent quality, from the point of view of their organisation, hospitality, the excellence of the competition, and the image transmitted worldwide.

The future

The 2008 Summer Olympics are to be held in Beijing, China.

List of modern Summer Olympic Games

See also

External links

cs:Letn Olympijsk hry da:Sommer-OL de:Olympische Sommerspiele el:Θερινοί Ολυμπιακοί Αγώνες id:Olimpiade musim panas it:Olimpiadi estive ja:夏季オリンピック lv:Vasaras Olimpiskās Spēles nl:Olympische Zomerspelen no:Olympiske sommerleker pl:Letnie Igrzyska Olimpijskie


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