Olympic Games, international sports competition, held every four years at
a different site, in which athletes from different nations compete against each
other in a variety of sports. There are two types of Olympics, the Summer Olympics
and the Winter Olympics. Through 1992 they were held in the same year, but beginning
in 1994 they were rescheduled so that they are held in alternate even-numbered
years. For example, the Winter Olympics were held in 1994 and the Summer Olympics
in 1996. The Winter Olympics were next held in 1998, and the Summer Olympics
occured in 2000. n1k17ko
After they had achieved national independence from Turkey in 1829, the Greeks
sought repeatedly to revive the Olympian Games in order to emphasize their ancient
heritage. Their Games, which were limited to ethnic Greeks, were unsuccessful,
were staged sporadically, and gained little international attention. They ceased
entirely in 1889. Coubertin succeeded in his effort to reestablish the Games
primarily because his conception of the Games was international rather than
nationalistic. Although earlier in his career he had been interested in sports
as a way to improve the military preparedness of France, he eventually envisioned
them as an instrument to overcome conflicts among nations.
Coubertin had begun developing his ideas for an international sports competition
in the 1880s. In 1894 he invited delegates to come to Paris to discuss amateur
sports at an international athletic congress. The conference hosted 78 delegates
from nine countries. During the conference Coubertin used art and music with
classical themes to influence the delegates. When he surprised them with a proposal
to revive the Olympian Games of classical times, they voted unanimously to begin
the modern cycle. Coubertin wanted the Olympic Games to feature both ancient
and modern sports. The discus event, for instance, symbolized continuity with
the past, because the ancient Greeks had practiced the sport. Bicycle races,
on the other hand, which were a more recent sporting innovation, represented
modernity. The marathon race was meant to commemorate the distance from the
town of Marathon to Athens run by a Greek soldier in 490 BC to announce a Greek
victory over the invading Persians, which was slightly less than the current
marathon distance of 42.2 km . (The longest race of the ancient Olympics was
about 1000 m) .
Instability in the Greek government threatened preparations for the 1896 Games,
but Coubertin traveled to Athens and enlisted support from the Greek royal family
to help organize the event.
The program for the 1896 Games, comprising only summer events (the Winter Olympics
were not established until 1924), included about 300 athletes from fewer than
15 countries competing in 43 events in nine different sports. In contrast, the
program 100 years later for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, included
more than 10,000 athletes from more than 190 countries competing in 271 events
in 29 different sports.
The Olympic Games have always included a number of ceremonies, many of which
emphasize the themes of international friendship and peaceful cooperation. The
opening ceremony has always included the parade of nations, in which the teams
from each nation enter the main stadium as part of a procession. The Greek team
always enters first, to commemorate the ancient origins of the modern Games,
and the team of the host nation always enters last. The opening ceremony has
evolved over the years into a complex extravaganza, with music and speeches.
It is eagerly anticipated and well attended. The torch relay, in which the Olympic
Flame symbolizes the transmission of Olympic ideals from ancient Greece to the
modern world, was introduced as part of the opening ceremony at the 1936 Summer
Games in Berlin. In the relay the torch is lit in Olympia, Greece, and is carried
over several weeks or months from there to the host city by a series of runners.
After the last runner has lit the Olympic Flame in the main Olympic stadium,
the host country’s head of state declares the Games officially open, and
doves are released to symbolize the hope of world peace.
Two other important ceremonial innovations had appeared earlier at the 1920
Games in Antwerp, Belgium. The Olympic Flag, with its five interlocking rings
of different colors against a white background, was flown for the first time.
The five rings represent unity among the nations of Africa, the Americas, Asia,
Australia, and Europe. Another innovation occurring in 1920 was the first reciting
of the Olympic Oath, taken in the name of all the athletes by a member of the
host’s team. The oath asserts the athletes’ commitment to the ideals
of sportsmanship in competition.
Medal ceremonies are also an important part of the Games. After each individual
event during the Games, medals are awarded in a ceremony to the first-, second-,
and third-place finishers. The ceremony occurs after each event, when these
competitors mount a podium to receive gold (actually gold-plated), silver (silver-plated),
and bronze medals. While the national flags of all three competitors are hoisted,
the national anthem of the winner’s country is played.