Athletes trained in this Olympia facility in its ancient heyday.
Main article: Ancient Olympic Games
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 is 400 meters in circumference length (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 Games quickly became much more important throughout ancient Greece, reaching their zenith in the sixth and fifth 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, 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. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Olympic Games were seen as a pagan festival and in discord with Christian ethics, and in 393 AD the emperor Theodosius I outlawed the Olympics, ending a thousand-year tradition.
During the ancient times normally only young men could participate. Competitors were usually naked, not only as the weather was appropriate but also as the festival was meant to be, in part, a celebration of the achievements of the human body. Upon winning the games, the victor would have not only the prestige of being in first place but would also be presented with a crown of olive leaves. The olive branch is a sign of hope and peace.
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 "Olympick 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. They were a local sports event with extraordinary sports, such as shin-kicking.
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.
Main articles: Summer Olympic Games and Winter Olympic Games
The 1956 Melbourne Olympics were boycotted by the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland, 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 2 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.
Countries that boycotted the 1976 (yellow), 1980 (blue) and 1984 (red) games
In 1980 and 1984, the Cold War opponents boycotted each other's games. The United States and 64 other 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".
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 Sydney 2000 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.
In October 2007, American sprinter Marion Jones admitted to having taken steroids before the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics. As a result of these admissions, Jones accepted a two-year suspension and forfeiture of all medals, results, points and prizes earned after September 1, 2000.
The International Olympic Committee introduced blood testing for the first time during these games.
Main article: Politics in the Olympics
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.
In a political policy move that flouts the spirit of the Olympic movement, 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 refused to compete in a heat against an Israeli judoka, but did so surreptitiously to avoid the possibility of Iran being removed from the games for political intrigue (the athlete deliberately didn't make weight.) The Iranian returned home to a hero's welcome.
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 canceled, and the summer and winter games of 1940 and 1944 were canceled 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 Palestinian 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.
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 non-westerners 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 investmentPanorama: "Buying the Games"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.
Main article: Olympic symbols
The Olympic movement uses many symbols, most of them representing Coubertin's ideas and ideals. The best known symbol is probably that of the Olympic Rings. These five intertwined rings represent the unity of five inhabited continents (with America regarded as one single continent). They appear in five colors on a white field on the Olympic Flag. These colors, white (for the field), red, blue, green, yellow, and black were chosen such that each nation had 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 official Olympic Motto is "Citius, Altius, Fortius", a Latin phrase meaning "Swifter, Higher, Stronger". Coubertin's ideals are probably best illustrated by the Olympic Creed:
<dl><dd>"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."</dd></dl>
The Olympic Flame is lit in Olympia 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.
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 two official languages of the Olympic movement.
Opening ceremonies climax with the lighting of the Olympic Flame. For lighting the torch, modern games feature elaborate mechanisms such as this cauldron-spiral-cauldron arrangement lit by the 1980 U.S. Olympic ice hockey team at the 2002 Winter Olympics.
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,
 Finally, the Torch is brought into the stadium, passed from athlete to athlete, until it reaches the last carrier of the Torch, often a well-known athlete from the host nation, who lights the fire in the stadium's cauldron. The Olympic Flame has been lit since the 1928 Summer Olympics, but the torch relay did not start until the 1936 Summer Olympics. Beginning at the post-World War I 1920 Summer Olympics, the lighting of the Olympic Flame was for 68 years followed by the release of doves, symbolizing peace. This gesture was discontinued after several doves were burned alive in the Olympic Flame during the opening ceremony of the 1988 Summer Olympics. 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.
Closing (In 2006, the athletes marched in with their countrymen, then dispersed and mingled as the ceremonies went on).
Three national flags are each hoisted onto flagpoles one at a time while their respective national anthems are played: The flag of Greece on the righthand pole (again honoring the birthplace of the Olympic Games), the flag of the host country on the middle pole, and finally the flag of the host country of the next Summer or Winter Olympic Games, on the lefthand pole. (Exceptionally, in 2004, when the Games were held in Athens, only one flag of Greece was raised.)
In what is known as the "Antwerp Ceremony" (because the tradition started during the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp), 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 next city to host the Olympic Games. The receiving mayor then waves the flag eight times. There are three such flags, differing from all other copies in that they have a six-coloured fringe around the flag, and are tied with six coloured ribbons to a flagstaff:
A problem was posed by this tradition at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy. The flag was passed from Setgio Chiamparino, the mayor of Turin, to Sam Sullivan, the mayor of Vancouver. Unfortunately, Sullivan is a paraplegic so he waved the flag by holding it in one hand and turning his wheelchair back and forth eight times.
After these traditional elements, the next host nation introduces itself with artistic displays of dance and theatre representative of that country. This tradition began with the 1976 Games.
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 formally closes the Olympics, by saying:
The Olympic Flame is extinguished, and while the Olympic anthem is being played, the Olympic Flag that was hoisted during the opening ceremonies is lowered from the flagpole and horizontally carried out of the stadium.
After medals are awarded and presented for a particular event, the flags of the nations of the three medalists would be raised. The flag of the gold medalist's country would be in the center and always raised the highest while the flag of the silver medalist's country would be on the left to the observer and the flag of the bronze medalist's country would be on the right, both at lower elevations to the gold medalist's country's flag. The flags would be raised to the national anthem of the gold medalist's country.
This format of medal presentation is also seen in other multi-sporting events such as the Southeast Asian Games, the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games.
Main article: Olympic sports
Currently, the Olympic program consists of 35 different sports, 53 disciplines and more than 400 events. The Summer Olympics includes 28 sports with 38 disciplines and the Winter Olympics includes 7 sports with 15 disciplines. 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, seven sports were conducted, or 15 if each sport such as skiing and skating is counted. 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.
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
<dl><dd>Further information: Amateurism</dd></dl>
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 sanoRobert 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 held to the traditional rules regarding amateurism. In the 1970s, 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 loose definition of amateurism, as some boxers receive cash prizes from their NOCs); 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
Ray Ewry is the only competitor with ten modern Olympic titles, but two of them are from the 1906 Intercalated Games, which are presently not included in the official records, where he is surpassed by a number of people, including four with nine gold medals each.
Main article: Lists of Olympic medalists
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  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 44 times for the USA and 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, United States, Canada, Germany, Austria and Italy.
Olympic Games host cities
By 2010, the Olympic Games will have been hosted by 41 cities in 22 countries. In 2012, London will become the first city to have hosted the Olympic Games three times.
The number in parentheses following the city/country denotes how many times that city/country had then hosted the games. This table excludes modern international Olympic Games held before the foundation of the International Olympic Committee.