Olympic Games History

The Olympic Games are a highly-watched sporting event in the world. With a rich history, exciting stories, impressive records, well known athletes, and eyes from all over the world watching the action, there are countless interesting and fun facts about the Olympics. Check them out below!


The Olympic Games originated in the Greek city of Olymipia, about 3000 years ago. While there were athletic competitions taking place, the Olympics were more of a religious festival, which honored Zeus, the King of Greek Gods. The Games were held in Olympia in honor of Zeus for around 12 centuries! They are known today as the Ancient Olympic Games. 

Some of the modalities in the Ancient Olympic Games are quite similar to what we have in the Modern Olympic Games. Athletes would compete in events such as track and field, long jump, and wrestling. Others were discontinued, but still resemble current Olympic events, like chariot racing.

With a tradition of over 1000 years, the Olympic Games were well established in ancient Greece. However, in A.D. 393, the Christian Theodosius, Emperor of the Roman Empire that had conquered Greece, called for a ban of all "Pagan" religious celebrations, and included the Olympics in his list. It was a long time before another edition of the Games would be held.

1500 years after the Olympic Games were banned, it would take a French man to revive the Greek tradition, and he started what would evolve to become the Olympic Games as they are today. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a young physical educator, was determined to create a modern version of the Olympics after a trip to Greece. Coubertin is thought of as the father of the modern-day Olympics.

The first edition of the Olympic Games in the modern era was held in Athens, in the country where the tradition was born. It was decided that the event would take place every four years, as it was in ancient Greece. In this first edition, athletes from 12 countries competed in 43 different events.

While the first Olympic Games in 1896 were considered a success, the two subsequent editions, held in Paris and Saint Louis respectively, were not. The events were poorly organized and marketed, a far cry from the mega events we see today. Thankfully, the 1912 edition was much better, which allowed for the continuation of the event.

Despite being considered a failure, the 1900 Olympics were an important edition of the Games. For the first time ever, female athletes were allowed to compete. A total of 22 women competed in Paris in tennis, sailing, golf, and croquet. That was still far from the number of men that competed, 975 athletes. Ever since, women have conquered a much bigger space in Olympic competitions.


The Olympic Games have a motto: "Citius, Altius, Fortius." The phrase, which is in Latin, translates to "Faster, Higher, Stronger." The motto represents the objective of the Olympics to elevate people to their best, not only in the physical sense, but also in education and morality. The phrase was chosen by Pierre de Coubertin himself.

In Ancient Greece, there was an important tradition that all conflicts needed to stop 7 days prior, during, and 7 days after the Olympic Games. Such tradition is called today as the Olympic Truce. Today, the IOC has a partnership with the UN regarding the Olympic Truce. With the partnership, the IOC and the UN aim to promote and maintain peace and harmony, common goals for both organizations. 

Despite the Olympic Truce tradition and the ideals of peace and harmony, the Olympic Games have been influenced by political differences and international conflicts several times. Due to World War I, the 1916 edition of the Games was cancelled. The same happened 1940 and 1944 because of World War II. More recently, the Americans boycotted the 1980 Summer Games held in Moscow, due to their conflict with the Soviet Union. The Soviets would do the same four years later, when the Games were held in Los Angeles.

The Olympic Torch

One of the key symbols of the Olympic Games is the Olympic torch. The symbolism of the Olympic torch and its flame comes not surprisingly from ancient Greece. For the Greeks, fire was a divine element, so they had ever-burning fires in front of their temples, including in Olympia, where the Games were originally held. Today, the fire represents the good values and positivity associated with the element throughout the years. It also transports the Olympic spirit and excitement for the Games wherever it goes. 

The torch tradition starts with its fire being lit in Olympia, using the sun's rays, as it was done in ancient Greece. From that moment on, a relay starts, where people around the world will carry the flame from Olympia all the way to the Olympic stadium in the city where Games are being hosted, wherever that may be in the world. When it arrives, at the Opening Ceremony, the last torchbearer, usually a very significant Olympic athlete or personality from the country that is hosting the Games, will light the Olympic Cauldron with the fire, which will burn for the entirety of the Games, until being put out at the Closing Ceremony.

Opening Ceremony

The Olympic Opening Ceremony is a celebration that marks the start of the Olympic Games. It is one of the most awaited events in the Olympics, being globally televised. In it, the host city has a chance to show the world some of its culture through music and colorful and exciting performances. Overall, it is just a big, beautiful, and exciting party celebrating the Olympics, the athletes, and fans.

In addition to the celebrations and presentations, there are also many official protocols and symbolic acts during the Opening Ceremony. First, all the athletes who are going to be competing in the following days parade into the stadium following the flag of the country they represent. Traditionally, the host nation's delegation is the last to enter the stadium. The IOC president will give a speech, followed by the host nation's chief of state, who will officially declare the Games open. Athletes, coaches, and referees will take the Olympic oath; the Olympic Flag is brought into the stadium and raised, and doves symbolizing peace are released. One of the last acts is the lighting of the cauldron with the Olympic Flame, a very significant and important moment.

The Olympic Flag

Probably the most recognizable Olympic symbol is the Olympic flag, or more specifically, the Olympic Rings. The symbol, five interlocking rings of different colors, represents the five continents in which the Olympic movement is active. The colors (blue, green, red, yellow, black) were chosen because all the countries in the world had at least one of those colors in their flags at the time. The flag was designed by Pierre de Coubertin, and presented to the world in 1920.

The Medals

Winning an Olympic medal is already something really impressive. However, some athletes have been so great that they won many in their careers. The athlete with the most Olympic medals is American swimmer Michael Phelps, who has a total of 28 total medals. Among the women, Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina sits at the top, with 15 total medals. 

The medals for which athletes compete in the Olympics are unquestionably one of the most beautiful prizes in all of sports. Medals are especially designed for each edition of the Games. Nonetheless, they must all follow certain guidelines and be approved by the IOC. For the Summer Olympics, the medal must have the image of the Greek goddess of victory in front of the Panathinaikos Olympic Stadium, the Olympic Rings, and the name of the Games. For the Winter Olympics, guidelines are less strict, and thus medals tend to be more different.

Youth Olympic Games

In addition to the Summer and Winter Olympics, the IOC also organizes the Youth Olympic Games (YOG), held for the first time in 2010, in Singapore. Athletes from 15 to 18 years of age participate in the YOG, which follows a structure similar to the traditional Olympics. They also have a Summer edition and Winter edition, with many of the same events. The YOG are also hosted every four years. Many of today's Olympic champions and athletes have participated in the YOG.