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History of the Modern Olympic Games

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In 1859, an Olympic-like event was first held in a square in Athens, then again in 1870 and 1875, with attendance topping 30,000 in 1870. However, these first events were all one-offs. 

In 1892, Pierre de Coubertin, a French educator and historian, proposed a regularly recurring Olympic event. His idea took hold and in 1894, the first meeting of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was held in Sorbonne, Paris. They agreed on an internationally rotating Olympic Games that would occur every four years.

Like ancient athletics, modern athletics is a religion, a belief, a passionate movement of the spirit that can range from ‘games to heroism.

-Pierre de Courbertin

In 1896, 14 countries competed in 43 different events in the first modern Olympic Games. The result was a big success. Athletes, fans and government officials were extremely enthusiastic about the future of the Games. 

Unfortunately, the 1900 and 1904 World’s Fairs relegated the Games to more of a sideshow at those events, instead of the grand international event that de Courbertin had envisioned. 

The Games regained their footing in 1908 and continued the four-year cycle known as an Olympiad until World War I, when the 1916 Games, which were to be held in Berlin, were cancelled. This happened again in 1940 and 1944 because of World War II. The Games have run on schedule ever since until 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the Games out of cycle to be held in July and August 2021. 

Over the last 125 years, the Games have continued to grow and evolve. The Tokyo Olympics will feature 41 different sports, including newcomers like surfing, sport climbing, and skateboarding. Athletes from 206 nations are expected to compete. Women will also represent nearly fifty percent of the athletes, and they promise to be the most sustainable Games to date. 

5 Facts about the Modern Olympic Games

  1. Women have competed in the modern Olympics nearly as long as the Games have been around. In 1900, there were female athletes in sailing, tennis, croquet, equestrian, and golf. 
  2. After Tokyo, the next two Olympic Games will be held in Paris (2024) and Los Angeles (2028). This will be the fifth time the U.S. has hosted theOlympic Games and the third for France.
  3. Only five countries have participated in every Olympics since 1896—France, Greece, Great Britain, Switzerland, and Australia. The U.S. chose not to participate in the 1980 Moscow Olympics because of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.
  4. Great Britain is the only nation to have won at least one gold medal at every Olympic Games.
  5. 2021 marks the first time that the Olympics will be held in an odd-numbered year.


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