From Ancient to Modern: The History of the Olympic Games

Most of the people cannot imagine how old the ancient Olympic Games actually are. According to historical records, the first edition of the Games can be traced back to 776 B.C. In ancient Greece the Games were dedicated to Zeus, the king of gods and ruler of Mount Olympus. At that time, the Games were linked to religious festivals honoring him. Besides the religious aspect, the ancient Games aimed also to create a good relationship between the Greek cities and build a place where young athletes could show their physical strength in a four-year rhythm. This four-year cycle was known as an Olympiad. The Games were held in the sanctuary of Olympia in the west of the Peloponnese peninsula and obtained their name from it.

To begin with, only Greek males were able to participate in the ancient Olympic Games – non-Greeks, murderers, slaves, vandals of religious properties and women were not. They were trained by professionals and had to assure that they were preparing for a number of months before the Games. To take care of their skin, the sportsmen first rubbed their bodies with olive oil and then dusted them with fine sand. This method helped to protect them against sunlight and to regulate their body temperature. To support and watch the men competing, people from all over the Hellenic world came. The Games were so successful, that the one-day event was later extended more than once. The longest period over which the Games were held was five days.

The very first and only event until 728 B.C. was the stadion foot race. More and more events followed and the name of the winners were recorded. The importance was victory; times and distances were not recorded. Other events that were part of the ancient Olympic Games include the following:

Diaulos A foot race of two-stadium lengths.
Dolichos A long-distance foot race of seven to twenty-four-stadium lengths
Pentathlon It consisted of five parts: running, jumping, discus throw, javelin, wrestling.
Boxing Straps of leather around the hands should give protection. Later, metal pieces were added. Serious injuries and deaths could occur.
Pankration A mix of boxing and wrestling but with the extensive use of other technics and few rules including no gouging and biting.
Wrestling Throwing your opponent three times to the ground leads to victory.
Hoplitodromos A foot race in armor (helmet, shield, greaves) of two to four-stadium lengths.
Tethrippon A four-horse chariot race of 12 circuits in the Hippodrome.
Keles A horse race of six circuits.
Apene A two-mules chariot race.
Kalpe A trotting horse race for mares only.
Synoris A two-horse chariot race of eight circuits in the Hippodrome.

The winner received a victory crown made of wild olive leaves The olive branches were always cut from a unique sacred tree. These gifts were very valuable, since it was said that the wild olive trees of Olympia had originally been planted by Hercules. However, the most relevant aspect was glory and fame of the triumphant sportsmen. Returning to their home, they were welcomed as heroes bringing honor and prestige to their town.


The End of the Ancient Olympic Games and the Revival

After the Roman Empire conquered the country in the 2nd century, the ancient Olympic Games still continued until the reign of Emperor Theodosius I. In 393 A.D. he banned all “pagan” festivals and the Olympics ended after more than 11 centuries. Vandalism, floods and earthquakes destroyed Olympia completely. In 1766 the site was rediscovered and over decades more archaeological digs of the once blooming Olympia were found.

Ruins of Olympia. (credits:

In 1896 the first modern Olympic Games that had been the brainchild of Pierre de Coubertin took place in Athens, Greece with 14 nations and 241 sportsmen competing in 43 events. The recently founded International Olympic Committee decided to the keep on organizing the Olympic Games with rotating host-cities. In the following years the Olympic Games were however not very international. Even though the number of participants rose over time, the athletes mostly came from the same countries. 1924 marks a special year since from these VIII Olympic Games on the competitions can be called international as around 3.000 participants from 44 nations represented their countries. In the same year the first Olympic Winter Games were held to feature sports on ice and snow. In 1960 the first edition of the Paralympic Games for athletes with physical disabilities took place in Rome a few days after the closing of the Olympic Summer Games.

American track field athlete Jesse Owens during the Games in 1936. (credits:

The following timeline lists all Olympic Summer and Winter Games of the modern era. From 1924 the Olympic Summer and Winter Games took place in the first year of the four year Olympiad period but from 1994 onward the Winter Games have taken place in the third year. Only in the case of the Summer Games, they have been numbered consecutively even when no Games took place during World War I and World War II (1916, 1940 and 1944).

1896 Athens Greece First Modern Olympic Games
1900 Paris, France Women competed for the first time
1904 St Louis, USA First time that gold, silver and bronze medals were systematically awarded for the first, second and third places
1908 London, UK
1912 Stockholm, Sweden Competitors from all 5 continents
1916 Berlin, Germany Cancelled, World War I
1920 Antwerp, Belgium First time appearance at the Olympic Games of the Olympic flag
1924 Chamonix, France Olympic Winter Games
1924 Paris, France Olympic Summer Games
1928 St Moritz, Switzerland Olympic Winter Games
1928 Amsterdam, Netherlands Olympic Summer Games – A symbolic fire is lit for the first time
1932 Lake Placid, USA Olympic Winter Games
1932 Los Angeles, USA Olympic Summer Games
1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany Olympic Winter Games
1936 Berlin, Germany Olympic Summer Games – first televised Olympics
1940 Tokyo, Japan/Helsinki, Finland Cancelled, World War II
1940 Sapporo, Japan Cancelled, World War II
1944 London, UK Cancelled, World War II
1944 Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy Cancelled, World War II
1948 St Moritz, Switzerland Olympic Winter Games
1948 London, UK Olympic Summer Games
1952 Oslo, Norway Olympic Winter Games
1952 Helsinki, Finland Olympic Summer Games
1956 Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy Olympic Winter Games
1956 Melbourne, Australia Olympic Summer Games
1960 Squaw Valley, USA Winter Olympics
1960 Rome, Italy Olympic Summer Games
1964 Innsbruck, Austria Olympic Winter Games
1964 Tokyo, Japan Olympic Summer Games
1968 Grenoble, France Olympic Winter Games
1968 Mexico, Mexico Olympic Summer Games
1972 Sapporo, Japan Olympic Winter Games
1972 Munich, Germany Olympic Summer Games
1976 Innsbruck, Austria Olympic Winter Games
1976 Montreal, Canada Olympic Summer Games
1980 Lake Placid, USA Olympic Winter Games
1980 Moscow, Soviet Union Olympic Summer Games
1984 Sarajevo, Yugoslavia Olympic Winter Games
1984 Los Angeles, USA Olympic Summer Games
1988 Calgary, Canada Olympic Winter Games
1988 Seoul, South Korea Olympic Summer Games
1992 Albertville, France Olympic Winter Games
1992 Barcelona, Spain Olympic Summer Games
1994 Lillehammer, Norway Olympic Winter Games
1996 Atlanta, USA Olympic Summer Games
1998 Nagano, Japan Olympic Winter Games
2000 Sydney, Australia Olympic Summer Games
2002 Salt Lake City, USA Olympic Winter Games
2004 Athens, Greece Olympic Summer Games
2006 Turin, Italy Olympic Winter Games
2008 Beijing, China Olympic Summer Games
2010 Vancouver, Canada Olympic Winter Games
2012 London, UK Olympic Summer Games
2014 Sochi, Russia Olympic Winter Games
2016 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Olympic Summer Games
2018 PyeongChang, South Korea Olympic Winter Games

Sources:<This article was written by an official college student reporter of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games, WINNERS. Some contents might be different from official position of the Organizing Committee.>

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