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Olympic Games facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Olympic Rings.svg
Charter • IOC • NOCs • Symbols
Sports • Olympic Medals
Ancient Olympic Games
Summer Olympic Games
Winter Olympic Games
Paralympic Games
Youth Olympic Games
Greek statue discus thrower 2 century aC
Ancient Greek discuss thrower

The Olympic Games (French: Jeux olympiques) is an important international event featuring summer and winter sports. Summer Olympic Games and Winter Olympic Games are held every four years. Originally, the ancient Olympic Games were held in Ancient Greece at Olympia. The first games were in 776 BC. They were held every four years until the 6th century AC. The first "modern" Olympics happened in 1896 in Athens, Greece. Athletes participate in the Olympics Games to represent their country.

Over time the Olympics have become bigger. In old times, women were not allowed, but now there are women's events. The Winter Games were created for ice and snow sports. The Paralympic Games were created for athletes with physical disabilities. As well, the Olympics became bigger with the addition of the Youth Olympic Games for teenage athletes. World War I and World War II led to the cancellation of the 1916, 1940, and 1944 Games. As the decision-making body, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is responsible for choosing the host city for each Olympic Games. The IOC is also responsible for choosing what sports are in the games. The creator of modern Olympics is Baron Pierre de Coubertin.

The celebration of the Games includes many rituals and symbols, such as Olympic flag and torch, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies. The first, second, and third-place finishers in each event receive, respectively, gold, silver, and bronze medals.

Fun facts about the Olympics

Inge Sørensen, Hideko Maehata, Martha Genenger 1936
Inge Sørensen (in front) at Olympic Games 1936. She won a bronze medal at the age of 12.
  • Gold medals were only made of pure gold up to 1912. These days, they are made of silver and have a gold plating.
  • In 1908 the Olympics ran for 187 days
  • The Olympic flags rings represent the 5 continents of the world, which are Africa, America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania. The colours were chosen because they all appear on the flags of all the competing nations around the world.
  • In the 1912 Olympics there was a wrestling match that lasted 11 hours!
  • Electronic timing devices were first used in 1912.
  • At the opening ceremony, the host team always walks last in the Parade of Nations. The first country is always Greece, where the Olympics originated. The parade was first held in the 1908 Games in London.
  • No white person in history has ever run the 100 meters in under 10 seconds.
  • Michael Phelps holds the record of winning the most Olympic medals. He has won 28 medals, 23 Gold, 3 Silver and 2 Bronze.

Ancient Olympics

Stadium in Olympia, Greece

The Olympics of Ancient Greece featured mainly athletic but also combat and chariot racing events. During the Olympic Games all struggles among the participating city-states were postponed until the games were finished. The origin of these Olympics is shrouded in mystery and legend According to legend, it was Heracles who first called the Games "Olympic" and established the custom of holding them every four years. The most widely accepted date for the beginning of the Ancient Olympics is 776BC; based on inscriptions of the winners of a footrace held every four years starting then. The Ancient Games featured running events, a pentathlon (consisting of a jumping event, discus and javelin throws, a foot race and wrestling), boxing, wrestling, and equestrian events.

There is no agreement on when the Games officially ended, but many historians think it is 393AD, when the emperor Theodosius I declared that all Pagan religious practices should end. Another date might be 426AD, when the next emperor Theodosius II ordered the destruction of all Greek temples. After the Olympics stopped, they were not held again until the late 19th century.

The Growth of the Olympics

An attempt to copy the ancient Olympic Games was the L'Olympiade de la République, a national Olympic festival held annually from 1796 to 1798 in Revolutionary France. The competition had several sports from the ancient Greek Olympics.

Greek interest in bringing back the Olympic Games began with the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1821. It was first proposed by poet and newspaper editor Panagiotis Soutsos in his poem "Dialogue of the Dead", published in 1833. Evangelis Zappas, a wealthy Greek-Romanian philanthropist, first wrote to King Otto of Greece, in 1856, offering to fund a permanent revival of the Olympic Games. Zappas sponsored the first Olympic Games in 1859, which was held in Athens. Athletes from Greece and the Ottoman Empire participated. Zappas funded the restoration of the ancient Panathenaic stadium so that it could host all future Olympic Games.

Between 1862 and 1867, Liverpool held an annual Grand Olympic Festival. It was created by John Hulley and Charles Melly, with support from Dr. Brookes. These games were unfair in nature since only Men could compete. In 1865 Hulley, Dr. Brookes and E.G. Ravenstein founded the National Olympian Association in Liverpool, a forerunner of the British Olympic Association. Its articles of foundation provided the framework for the International Olympic Charter.

Dr. Brookes copied the sports which were in the Olympics held in Athens in 1859 in future Wenlock Olympian Games (Brookes created this first as a class in 1850 and then as an event in 1856.). In 1866, a national Olympic Games in Great Britain was organized by Dr. Brookes at London's Crystal Palace.

The Panathinaiko Stadium hosted Olympics in 1870 and 1875. Thirty thousand spectators attended that Games in 1870, although no official attendance records are available for the 1875 Games. In 1890, after attending the Olympian Games of the Wenlock Olympian Society, Baron Pierre de Coubertin created the International Olympic Committee. Coubertin built on the ideas and work of Brookes and Zappas with the aim of creating an Olympic Games that would occur every four years in a different country. He presented these ideas during the first meeting of the newly created International Olympic Committee (IOC). This meeting was held from June 16 to June 23, 1894, at the Sorbonne University in Paris. On the last day of the meeting, it was decided that the first Olympic Games, to be controlled by the IOC, would take place two years later in Athens. The IOC elected the Greek writer Demetrius Vikelas as its first president.

1896 Games

Stamp of Greece. 1896 Olympic Games. 2l
Stamp from first Olympic stamp set
1896 Olympic opening ceremony
The opening ceremony in the Panathinaiko Stadium

The first Games held under the IOC was hosted in the Panathenaic stadium in Athens in 1896. These Games brought 14 nations and 241 athletes who competed in 43 events. Zappas and his cousin Konstantinos Zappas had left the Greek government money to fund future Olympic Games. This money was used to pay for the 1896 Games. George Averoff paid for the refurbishment of the stadium in preparation for the Games. The Greek government also provided money, which was paid back through the sale of tickets. Money was also paid back through the sale of the first Olympic commemorative stamp set.

The Greek officials and public were excited about hosting these Games. This feeling was shared by many of the athletes, who even demanded that Athens be the host of the Olympic Games on a permanent basis. The IOC did not approve this request. The IOC stated that each games would be held in a different country.

Changes and adaptations

Following the success of the 1896 Games, the Olympics entered a period of stagnation that threatened their survival. The Olympic Games held at the Paris Exposition in 1900 and the World's Fair at St. Louis in 1904 were side-shows. The Games at Paris did not have a stadium, however this was the first time women took part in the games. The St. Louis Games hosted 650 athletes, but 580 were from the United States. The homogeneous nature of these celebrations was a low point for the Olympic Movement. The Games rebounded when the Intercalated Games (so-called because they were the second Games held within an Olympiad, a period of time lasting four years) were held in Athens. These Games are not officially recognized by the IOC and no Intercalated Games have been held since. These Games were hosted at the Panathenaic stadium in Athens. The games attracted an international field of participants and generated great public interest.

Between 1912 and 1948 art competitions were a part of the Olympics. Medals were awarded for works of art inspired by sport, divided into five categories: architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture. The juried art competitions were abandoned in 1954 because artists were considered to be professionals, while Olympic athletes were required to be amateurs. The competitions were part of the original intention of the Olympic Movement.

Winter Games

Bundesarchiv Bild 102-05472, St. Moritz, Winterolympiade
Ice hockey game during the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz

The Winter Olympics were created for snow and ice sports that were not part of the Summer Games. Figure skating (in 1908 and 1920) and ice hockey (in 1920) were Olympic events at the Summer Olympics. At the 1921 Olympic Congress, in Lausanne, it was decided to hold a winter version of the Olympic Games. A winter sports week (actually 11 days) was held in 1924 in Chamonix, France. The IOC ruled that the Winter Olympic Games be celebrated every four years on the same year as the summer games. This pattern continued until the 1992 Games in Albertville, France. After this, beginning with the 1994 Games, the Winter Olympics were held on the third year of each Olympiad.

Youth Games

Starting in 2010, Youth Games help to develop young athletes for the Olympic Games. Athletes between the ages of 14 and 18 compete. The Youth Olympic Games were created by IOC president Jacques Rogge in 2001 and approved during the 119th meeting of the IOC. The first Summer Youth Games were held in Singapore from 14–26 August 2010. The first Winter Games was hosted in Innsbruck, Austria, in 2012. These Games are shorter than the Olympic Games. The summer version will last twelve days and the winter version will last nine days. The IOC will allow 3,500 athletes and 875 officials to take part at the Summer Youth Games. 970 athletes and 580 officials will take part at the Winter Youth Games. The sports to be played will be the same as at the Olympic Games.

Olympic Movement

Siege cio
IOC headquarters in Lausanne

The Olympic Movement includes a large number of national and international sporting organizations and federations. As the group in charge of the Olympic Movement, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is responsible for selecting the host city. Overseeing the planning of the Olympic Games. Changing the sports involved. Agreeing sponsorship and broadcasting rights.

The Olympic Movement is made of three major elements:

  • International Federations (IFs) are the governing bodies that supervise a sport at an international level. For example, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) is the IF for football (soccer), and the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) is the international governing body for volleyball. There are 35 IFs in the Olympic Movement, representing each Olympic sport.
  • National Olympic Committees (NOCs) represent and regulate the Olympic Movement within each country. For example, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) is the NOC of the United States. There are currently 205 NOCs recognized by the IOC.
  • Organizing Committees for the Olympic Games (OCOGs) are the temporary groups responsible for the organization of a specific Olympic Games. Each group is dissolved (taken apart) after each Games, once the final report is delivered to the IOC.

French and English are the official languages of the Olympic Movement. The other language used at each Olympic Games is the language of the host country.


The Olympic logo also known as the Olympic rings, consists of five intertwined rings and represents the unity of the five inhabited continents (America, Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe). The colored version of the rings—blue, yellow, black, green, and red—over a white field forms the Olympic flag. The flag was adopted in 1914 but flown for the first time at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium. The flag has since been flown during every Games. The Olympic motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius, a Latin expression meaning "Faster, Higher, Stronger".

Before each Games, the Olympic flame is lit in Olympia in a ceremony that reflects ancient Greek rituals. A female performer, acting as a priestess, lights a torch with the use of the sun. The woman then lights the torch of the first relay bearer. Starting the Olympic torch relay that will carry the flame to the host city's Olympic stadium. The flame has been an Olympic symbol since 1928 and the torch relay was introduced at the 1936 Summer Games.

The Olympic mascot was introduced in 1968. The mascot is either an animal or human figure representing the cultural heritage of the host country.



Opening ceremony of the 1984 Olympics
A scene from the opening ceremony of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles

As mandated by the Olympic Charter, various elements frame the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Most of these rituals were established at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp. The ceremony typically starts with the hoisting of the host country's flag and a performance of its national anthem. The host nation then presents artistic displays of music, singing, dance, and theater representative of its culture.

After the artistic portion of the ceremony, the athletes parade into the stadium grouped by nation. Greece is traditionally the first nation to enter in order to honor the origins of the Olympics. Nations then enter the stadium alphabetically according to the host country's chosen language. The host country's athletes are always the last to enter. During the 2004 Summer Olympics, which was hosted in Athens, Greece. The Greek flag entered the stadium first and last. When it came in to the stadium for the second time it was followed by the athletes. Speeches are then given formally opening the Games. Finally the athletes oath said. Following this the Olympic torch is brought into the stadium and passed on until it reaches the final torch carrier who lights the cauldron.


Athletes gather in the stadium during the closing ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics

The closing ceremony of the Olympic Games takes place after all sporting events have concluded. Flag-bearers from each participating country enter the stadium. They are followed by the athletes who enter together without any national distinction. Three national flags are hoisted while the corresponding national anthems are played. The flag of Greece to honor the birthplace of the Olympic Games. The flag of the current host country. The flag of the country hosting the next Summer or Winter Olympic Games is also flown. The president of the organizing committee and the IOC president make their closing speeches. The Games are officially closed and the Olympic flame is put out. In what is known as the Antwerp Ceremony (as this tradition was started in Antwerp), the mayor of the city that organized the Games transfers a special Olympic flag to the president of the IOC. The president then passes it on to the mayor of the city hosting the next Olympic Games. After these compulsory elements, the next host nation briefly introduces itself with artistic displays of dance and theater representative of its culture.

Medal presentation

A medal ceremony during the 2008 Summer Olympics

A medal ceremony is held after each Olympic event is concluded. The winner, second and third-place competitors or teams stand on top of a three-tiered rostrum to be awarded their respective medals. After the medals are given out by an IOC member, the national flags of the three medalists are raised while the national anthem of the gold medalist's country plays.


Usain Bolt Olympics Celebration
Usain Bolt after winning the Men's 100m at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and breaking the world record.

The Olympic Games program consists of 26 sports, 30 disciplines and nearly 300 events. For example, wrestling is a Summer Olympic sport, comprising two disciplines: Greco-Roman and Freestyle. It is broken down into fourteen events for men and four events for women. Each event represents a different weight class. The Summer Olympics program includes 26 sports, while the Winter Olympics program features 15 sports.

Olympic sports are governed by international sports federations (IFs) recognized by the IOC as the global supervisors of those sports. There are 35 federations represented at the IOC. Changes can happen to the list of sports in the Olympics. Sports can be added or removed from the list on the basis of a two-thirds majority vote of the members of the IOC.

The 114th IOC meeting, in 2002, limited the Summer Games program to a maximum of 28 sports, 301 events, and 10,500 athletes. Three years later, at the 117th IOC Session, the first major change to the list was performed. This resulted in the removal of baseball and softball from the list of sports for the 2012 London Games. Since there was no agreement in the promotion of two other sports, the 2012 program will feature just 26 sports. The 2016 and 2020 Games will return to the maximum of 28 sports given the addition of rugby and golf.

Amateurism and professionalism

Nagano 1998-Russia vs Czech Republic
Professional NHL players were allowed to participate in ice hockey starting in 1998 (1998 Gold medal game between Russia and the Czech Republic pictured).

The exclusion of professionals caused several controversies throughout the history of the modern Olympics. The 1912 Olympic pentathlon and decathlon champion Jim Thorpe was stripped of his medals when it was discovered that he had played semi-professional baseball before the Olympics. His medals were restored by the IOC in 1983 on compassionate grounds. As class structure evolved through the 20th century, the definition of the amateur athlete as an aristocratic gentleman became outdated. The advent of the state-sponsored "full-time amateur athlete" of the Eastern Bloc countries further eroded the ideology of the pure amateur, as it put the self-financed amateurs of the Western countries at a disadvantage. Nevertheless, the IOC held to the traditional rules regarding amateurism.

Beginning in the 1970s, amateurism requirements were gradually phased out of the Olympic Charter. After the 1988 Games, the IOC decided to make all professional athletes eligible for the Olympics, subject to the approval of the IFs. As of 2004, the only sport in which no professionals compete is boxing, although even this requires a definition of amateurism based on fight rules rather than on payment, as some boxers receive cash prizes from their National Olympic Committees. In men's football (soccer), only three professional players over the age of 23 are eligible to participate per team in the Olympic tournament.

Host nations and cities

Winter olympics all cities
Map of Winter Olympics locations. Countries that have hosted one Winter Olympics are shaded green, while countries that have hosted two or more are shaded blue.

The host city for an Olympic Games is chosen seven years ahead of the event. The process of selection is carried out in two phases that span a two-year period. The process starts when a city wanting to host the games applies to its country's Olympic group. If more than one city from the same country gives a proposal to its NOC, the national group chooses which city will run for host. The first step once the deadline passes (To tell the IOC that you want to hold the Games), is to ask the cities to complete a questionnaire which covers many key points in the organization of the Olympic Games. The evaluation of the filled questionnaires by a group provides the IOC with an idea of each cities project and their potential to host the Games. On the basis of this evaluation, the IOC chooses the applicants that will proceed to the candidature stage.

Once the candidate cities are chosen, they must give to the IOC a bigger presentation of their project as part of a candidature file. Each city is analyzed by an evaluation group. This group will also visit the cities. The group give a report on its findings one month prior to the IOC's final decision. During the interview process the candidate city must also guarantee that it can fund the Games. The IOC members gathered in the meeting have the final vote on the host city.

By 2016, the Olympic Games will have been hosted by 44 cities in 23 countries. The United States has hosted four Summer and four Winter Olympics, more than any other nation. Among Summer Olympics host nations, the United Kingdom has been the host of three Games, and hosted its third Olympics in 2012 in London. Germany, Australia, France, and Greece are the other nations to have hosted the Summer Olympics twice. Among host cities, only Los Angeles, Paris, Athens and London have played host to the Olympic Games more than once, with each holding that honor twice. With the 2012 Games that took place in London, the British capital holds the distinction of hosting the modern Olympics Games three times, more than any other city. Paris will be the second city to host the modern Olympics Games three times in 2024, while Los Angeles will be the third city in 2028.

In the Winter Olympics, France has hosted three Games, while Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Japan, and Italy have hosted twice. The most recent Games were held in Pyeongchang, South Korea's first Winter Olympics and second overall. The next Winter Games will be in Beijing, China in 2022, which will be the first time this nation has hosted.

And Youth Olympic Games in a separate list.

City Country Year Continent Summer Winter Opening
Athens  Greece 1896 Europe S005I 6 April 1896 15 April 1896
Paris  France 1900 S005II 14 May 1900 28 October 1900
St. Louis  United States 1904 North America S005III 1 July 1904 23 November 1904
London  United Kingdom 1908 Europe S005IV 27 April 1908 31 October 1908
Stockholm  Sweden 1912 S005V 6 July 1912 22 July 1912
Berlin  German Empire 1916 S006VI Cancelled due to WWI
Antwerp  Belgium 1920 S007VII 14 August 1920 12 September 1920
Chamonix  France 1924 W001I 25 January 1924 5 February 1924
Paris  France S008VIII 5 July 1924 27 July 1924
St. Moritz  Switzerland 1928 W002II 11 February 1928 19 February 1928
Amsterdam  Netherlands S009IX 28 July 1928 12 August 1928
Lake Placid  United States 1932 North America W003III 4 February 1932 15 February 1932
Los Angeles  United States S010X 30 July 1932 14 August 1932
Garmisch-Partenkirchen  Germany 1936 Europe W004IV 6 February 1936 16 February 1936
Berlin  Germany S011XI 1 August 1936 16 August 1936
1940 Asia
W005aV Cancelled due to WWII
Cortina d'Ampezzo  Italy 1944 Europe W005bV
London  United Kingdom S013XIII
St. Moritz  Switzerland 1948 Europe W005cV 30 January 1948 8 February 1948
London  United Kingdom S014XIV 29 July 1948 14 August 1948
Oslo  Norway 1952 W006VI 14 February 1952 25 February 1952
Helsinki  Finland S015XV 19 July 1952 3 August 1952
Cortina d'Ampezzo  Italy 1956 W007VII 26 January 1956 5 February 1956
S016XVI 22 November 1956
10 June 1956
8 December 1956
17 June 1956
Squaw Valley  United States 1960 North America W008VIII 18 February 1960 28 February 1960
Rome  Italy Europe S017XVII 25 August 1960 11 September 1960
Innsbruck  Austria 1964 W009IX 29 January 1964 9 February 1964
Tokyo  Japan Asia S018XVIII 10 October 1964 24 October 1964
Grenoble  France 1968 Europe W010X 6 February 1968 18 February 1968
Mexico City  Mexico North America S019XIX 12 October 1968 27 October 1968
Sapporo  Japan 1972 Asia W011XI 3 February 1972 13 February 1972
Munich  West Germany Europe S020XX 26 August 1972 11 September 1972
Innsbruck  Austria 1976 W012XII 4 February 1976 15 February 1976
Montreal  Canada North America S021XXI 17 July 1976 1 August 1976
Lake Placid  United States 1980 W013XIII 13 February 1980 24 February 1980
Moscow  Soviet Union Europe S022XXII 19 July 1980 3 August 1980
Sarajevo  Yugoslavia 1984 Europe W014XIV 7 February 1984 19 February 1984
Los Angeles  United States North America S023XXIII 28 July 1984 12 August 1984
Calgary  Canada 1988 W015XV 13 February 1988 28 February 1988
Seoul  South Korea Asia S024XXIV 17 September 1988 2 October 1988
Albertville  France 1992 Europe W016XVI 8 February 1992 23 February 1992
Barcelona  Spain S025XXV 25 July 1992 9 August 1992
Lillehammer  Norway 1994 W017XVII 12 February 1994 27 February 1994
Atlanta  United States 1996 North America S026XXVI 19 July 1996 4 August 1996
Nagano  Japan 1998 Asia W018XVIII 7 February 1998 22 February 1998
Sydney  Australia 2000 Oceania S027XXVII 15 September 2000 1 October 2000
Salt Lake City  United States 2002 North America W019XIX 8 February 2002 24 February 2002
Athens  Greece 2004 Europe S028XXVIII 13 August 2004 29 August 2004
Turin  Italy 2006 W020XX 10 February 2006 26 February 2006
Beijing  China 2008 Asia S029XXIX 8 August 2008 24 August 2008
Vancouver  Canada 2010 North America W021XXI 12 February 2010 28 February 2010
London  United Kingdom 2012 Europe S030XXX 27 July 2012 12 August 2012
Sochi  Russia 2014 Europe W022XXII 7 February 2014 23 February 2014
Rio de Janeiro  Brazil 2016 South America S031XXXI 5 August 2016 21 August 2016
Pyeongchang  South Korea 2018 Asia W023XXIII 9 February 2018 25 February 2018
Tokyo  Japan 2020 S032XXXII 23 July 2021 8 August 2021
Beijing  China 2022 W024XXIV 4 February 2022 20 February 2022
Paris  France 2024 Europe S033XXXIII 26 July 2024 11 August 2024
MilanCortina d'Ampezzo  Italy 2026 W025XXV 6 February 2026 22 February 2026
Los Angeles  United States 2028 North America S034XXXIV 21 July 2028 6 August 2028
Brisbane  Australia 2032 Oceania S035XXXV 23 July 2032 8 August 2032

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