Olympics Essay, Research Paper

The Olympic Games, an international sports competition, are held once every four years at a different site, where athletes from different nations compete against each other in a wide variety of sports. There are two classifications 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 in Nagano, Japan, while the Summer Olympics will next occur in 2000 in Sydney, Australia.

The Olympic Games are administered by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which is headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland. The IOC was created in Paris in 1894 as an independent committee selecting its own members but “to begin the process, however, Coubertin himself chose the first 15 members”(White 60). IOC members are officially considered to be “representatives from the IOC to their own nations, not delegates from their own countries to the IOC”(White 65). Most members are elected to the IOC after serving on the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) of their own countries. The first IOC members were all from either Europe or the Americas, with the exception of one representative from New Zealand. Currently, members from European and North American countries still account for a majority of the IOC membership. IOC members must retire at the end of the year in which they reach the age of 80, unless they were elected before 1966, in which case they can serve for life.

The IOC oversees such functions as determining the site of the Olympic Games, the establishment of worldwide Olympic policies, and the negotiation of Olympic television broadcast rights. The IOC works closely with the NOCs and with the International Amateur Athletic Federation (the international governing body for track and field), and other international sports federations (ISFs) to organize the Olympics. The ISFs are responsible for the “international rules and regulations of the sports they govern”(Gary 22). The IOC president, who is chosen by IOC members, is assisted by an executive board, several vice presidents, and a number of IOC commissions. The IOC’s first president, Demetrius Vik?las of Greece (served 1894-1896), was succeeded by Coubertin himself (1896-1925). The other IOC presidents have been Count Henri de Baillet-Latour of Belgium (1925-1942), J. Sigfrid Edstr?m of Sweden (1946-1952), Avery Brundage of the United States (1952-1972), Michael Morris, Lord Killanin, of Ireland (1972-1980), and Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain (1980-) .

In order to host the Olympics, a city must submit a proposal to the IOC, and after all proposals have been submitted, the IOC will vote. If no city is successful in gaining a majority in the first vote, the city with the fewest votes is eliminated, and voting continues with successive rounds, until a majority winner is determined. Typically the Games are awarded several years in advance in the hopes of allowing the winning city adequate time to prepare for the Games. In selecting the site of the Olympic Games, the IOC considers a number of factors, mainly among them is which city has, or promises to build, the best facilities, and which organizing committee seems most likely to stage the Games effectively as well as efficiently. The IOC also considers which parts of the world have not yet hosted the Games. For instance, Tokyo, the host of the 1964 Summer Games, and Mexico City, the host of the 1968 Summer Games, “were chosen in part to popularize the Olympic movement in Asia and in Latin America”(Gorman 69). Because of the growing importance of television worldwide, the IOC in recent years has also taken into account the host city’s time zone. Whenever the Games take place in the United States or Canada, American television networks are willing to pay significantly higher amounts for television rights because they can broadcast popular events live, in prime viewing hours.

Once the Games have been awarded, it is the responsibility of the local organizing committee-not the IOC or the NOC of the host city’s country-to finance them. This is often done with a portion of the Olympic television revenues and with corporate sponsorships, ticket sales, and other smaller revenue sources, such as commemorative postage stamps or proceeds from a national lottery. In many cases there is also some direct government support. Although many cities have achieved a financial profit by hosting the Games, the Olympics can be financially risky. Montreal, Canada, for example, spent a great deal of money preparing for the 1976 Summer Games which were due to “extensive design and construction costs for new facilities. When the proceeds from the Games were less than expected, the city was left with large debts”(White 28).

Although the Olympic Charter, the official constitution of the Olympic movement, proclaims that the Olympics are contests among individuals and not among nations, the IOC assigns to the various NOCs the task of selecting national Olympic teams. In most cases the NOCs do this by holding Olympic trials or by choosing athletes on the basis of their previous performances. From the start of the modern Olympic Games, “male amateur athletes of every race, religion, and nationality have been eligible to participate”(White 36). Although Coubertin “opposed the participation of women in the Olympics and no women competed in 1896″, a few female golfers and tennis players were allowed to participate in the 1900 Games (Gary 39). Female swimmers and divers were admitted to the 1912 Games, and female gymnasts and track-and-field athletes first competed at the 1928 Games. Women’s Olympic sports have grown significantly since then, and currently women account for approximately half of the members of teams, except in teams from Islamic nations, where the level of female participation is generally lower.

Coubertin and the IOC intended from the start for the Olympics to be open only to amateurs. Amateurism was determined by adherence to the amateur rule, which was originally devised in the 19th century to “prevent working-class athletes from participating in sports such as rowing and tennis”(Gary 21). The amateur rule prevented athletes from earning any pay from activities in any way related to sports, and working-class athletes could not afford both to make a living and train for competition. Olympic rules about amateurism, however, have caused many controversies over the years. Such questions as whether an amateur could be “reimbursed for travel expenses, be compensated for time lost at work, be paid for product endorsements, or be employed to teach sports” have been raised, but they have not always been satisfactorily resolved by the IOC, leading to confusion about the definition of professionalism in different sports (White 79). By 1983 a majority of IOC members acknowledged that most Olympic athletes compete professionally in the sense that sports are their main activity. The IOC then asked each ISF to determine eligibility in its own sport, and over the next decade nearly all the ISFs abolished the distinction between amateurs and professionals, accepting so-called open Games. One of the most visible examples of the policy change came in 1992, when professional players from the National Basketball Association of the United States were permitted to play in the Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain.

The Olympic Games have always included a number of ceremonies, many of which emphasize the themes of international friendship and peaceful co-operation. 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(Gary 25). The opening ceremony has evolved over the years into a complex extravaganza, with music, speeches, and pageantry. The torch relay, in which the Olympic Flame symbolizes the “transmission of Olympic ideals from ancient Greece to the modern world and was introduced as part of the opening ceremony at the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin”(Gary 26). In the relay the torch is lit in Olympia, Greece, and is carried over several weeks or months to the Host City by a series of runners. After the last runner has lit the Olympic Cauldron 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”(Gary 27). 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”(Gorman 22). Medal ceremonies are also an important part of the Modern 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. Some critics have suggested that because the medal ceremony seems to contradict the IOC’s vow to internationalism, these national symbols should be replaced by the hoisting of the Olympic Flag and the playing of the official Olympic Hymn.

Originally there was another parade of nations during the closing ceremonies of the Games. At the end of the 1956 Summer Games in Melbourne, Australia, the athletes “broke ranks and mingled together to celebrate the occasion, and this custom is continued throughout subsequent games”(Gorman 24). After the athletes join in the main Olympic stadium in celebration, the president of the IOC invites the athletes and spectators to meet again at the site of the next Games. The IOC president then declares the Games officially over, and the Olympic Flame is extinguished.

While the exact origin is unknown, there have been many popular myths surrounding the beginning of the Ancient Olympic Games. Two of the more popular myths surround the legendary Hercules and a young hero named Pelops . The most common myth of the beginning of the Ancient Olympics is the story of the hero Pelops and was displayed prominently on the east pedimental sculptures of the Temple of Zeus. Pelops was a prince from Lydia in Asia Minor who sought the hand of Hippodamia, the daughter of King Oinomaos of Pisa. Oinomaos challenged his daughter’s suitors to a chariot race under the guarantee that any young man who won the chariot race could have Hippodamia as a wife. Any young man who lost the race would be beheaded, and the heads would be used as decoration for the palace of Oinomaos. With the help of his charioteer Myrtilos, Pelops devised a plan to beat Oinomaos in the chariot race. Pelops and Myrtilos secretly replaced the bronze linchpins of the King’s chariot with linchpins made of wax. When Oinomaos was about to pass Pelops in the chariot race, the wax melted and Oinomaos was thrown to his death. Pelops married Hippodamia and instituted the Olympic games to celebrate his victory. A different version of the myth refers to the Olympic games as funeral games in the memory of Oinomaos.

Another myth about the origin of the Olympic Games comes from the Tenth Olympian Ode of the poet Pindar. He tells the story of how Hercules, on his fifth labor, had to clean the stables of King Augeas of Elis. Hercules approached Augeas and promised to clean the stables for the price of one-tenth of the king’s cattle. Augeas agreed, and Hercules re-routed the Kladeos and Alpheos rivers to flow through the stables. Augeas did not fulfill his promise, however, and after Hercules had finished his labors he returned to Elis and waged war on Augeas. Hercules sacked the city of Elis and instituted the Olympic Games in honor of his father, Zeus. It is said that Hercules taught men how to wrestle and measured out the stade, or the length of the footrace.

Although the exact origin is unknown the Ancient Olympic Games were held in a sacred valley at Olympia in Elis near the western coast of Greece and the earliest recorded Olympic competition was in 776 B.C. So important were these contests that time was measured by the four-year interval between the Games with the term “Olympiad” describing this period. It is a well established fact that religious festivals in honor of Olympian Zeus had been observed in the sacred valley for several centuries previous to that remote date. The Greek Games were celebrated in the belief that “the spirits of the dead were gratified by such spectacles as delighted them during their earthly life”(Gorman 79). During the Homeric age, these festivals were “simply sacrifices followed by games at the tomb or before the funeral pyre”(White 49). Gradually they grew into religious festivals observed by an entire community and celebrated near the shrine of the god in whose honor they were instituted. The idea then developed that the gods themselves were present but invisible and delighted in the services and the contests.

Later these festivals lost their local character and became Pan-Hellenic. Four of these festivals, Olympian, Pythian, Nemean, and Isthmian, had attracted world wide attention but the one held at Olympia was by far the most important consecrated to the Olympian Zeus. The Olympic Games became the greatest festival of a mighty nation. Once every four years “trading was suspended, the continuously warring states and the fighting tribes laid down their arms, and all of the people went forth in peace to pay tribute to the manhood of its nation”(Gorman 82). The immediate site of the Games, the Stadium of Olympia, lay towards the northeast of the Altis beyond Mount Kromion. It was an oblong area that was “about 643 feet in length and about 97 feet wide. It consisted of four sloping heights, two at the sides and two at the ends. The one at the north had been cut into a hill, while the other had been artificially formed by earth that had been taken from the arena. The spectators sat on the grassy slopes which accommodated more than 40,000″(White 50).

For the first 13 Olympiads, the competition consisted of “a single race of 200 yards, approximately the length of the stadium”(Gorman 84) The race was called the “Stade” from which our word “stadium” was derived. The first recorded victor in 776 B.C. was “Coroebus of Elis, a cook”(Gorman 84). The athletes of Elis maintained an unbroken string of victories until the 14th Olympiad at which time a second race of two lengths of the stadium was added. In the 15th Olympiad, an endurance event was added in which the athletes “went 12 times around the stadium, about 4 1/2 kilometers”(Gorman 85). The athletes competed in groups of four, which were determined by “drawing lots with the winners meeting the other winners until a final race was run”(Gorman 86).

In 708 B.C., the Pentathlon and Wrestling events were introduced. In 688 B.C., Boxing; in 680 the Four Horse Chariot Race; in 648 the Pancration (a fierce combination of boxing and wrestling), and in 580 the Armed Race where the men traversed the stadium twice while heavily armed. In the pentathlon, those who jumped a certain distance qualified for the spear throwing; the four best then sprinted the length of the stadium, the three best then threw the discus, and the two best then engaged in a wrestling match to the finish.

The early rewards were “simple crowns of wild olive, but, by the 61st Olympiad, it was permitted in Olympia to erect statues in honor of the victors”(Gary 72). However, the athletes had to win three times before the statues could be made in their likeness. Later, it was often the practice to make “a breach in the walls of the city through which the victorious athletes returned”(Gary 73).

In the fifth century before the Common Era, the Games reached their climax; and they were already showing their first sign of decay. Trying for records and specialization claimed the interest of the crowd. The invasion of the Macedonians put an end to the Greek city-states and, relieved of the political controversies, they devoted themselves entirely to the Olympic Games. Instead of training their growing youth like the Greeks, they merely hired athletes and nationalized them. During the middle of the second century before the Common Era, Greece came under the domination of the Romans, who permitted the Games to continue but they had little interest in them. Centuries passed and the Games still continued but the high Olympic ideals were entirely discarded and profit alone provided the incentive. In “393 A.D., the Emperor Theodosius forbade the Games altogether”(Gorman 102) but they had survived a period of “nearly 300 Olympiads or approximately 1200 years”(Gary 78).

Full credit for the revival of the Olympic Games in the modern era must go to Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who was “born in Paris, Jan. 1, 1863 and who died at Geneva, Sept. 2, 1937″(Gary 89). Very early in life he showed a taste for the study of “literature, history, and the problems of education and sociology”(Gary 90). At the age of 17 he began to scrutinise the weaknesses of his people who were trying to recover hope and self-respect following the Franco-Prussian War. He concluded that “three monarchies, two empires, and three republics during a single century are not indicative of stability in the French character”(Gary 92). The solution, he believed rested in the development of the individual.

Coubertin had sufficient means to travel, he therefore visited England and America where he studied organised athletics conducted by students. He observed that “competing for a place on an athletic team

developed qualities of character whereas the attitude in French schools was that games destroyed study”(Gorman 118). He was convinced that he should devote his entire time and energy to securing a reform in his own country. He decided to start at the bottom because, as he expressed it, “the foundation of real human morality lies in mutual respect-and to respect one another it is necessary to know one another”(Gary 92)

Coubertin was not an athlete but he chose athletics as his field. The first major sport with which he associated himself was rowing, but when he attempted to bring the British oarsmen to France or send the French oarsmen to compete at Henley, he found that the “British and French conceptions of amateurism were not the same”(Gorman 120). This gave him the idea of bringing together educators, diplomats, and sports leader for the purpose of developing a universal understanding of amateurism so that the athletes of all nations might meet on an equal basis.

Coubertin realized that to capture the attention of disinterested persons he would have to originate something spectacular. He began to dream of a revival of the Olympic Games. At a meeting of the Athletic Sports Union at Sorbonne in Paris, Nov. 25, 1892, be first publicly announced the Olympic Games idea. Speaking at the conference, Coubertin said, “Let us export oarsmen, runners, fencers; there is the free trade of the future-and on the day when it shall take place among the customs of Europe the cause of peace will have received a new and powerful support”(Gorman 125).

However, his proposal to revive the Olympic Games went for naught as his auditors failed to grasp the significance of the idea. His next opportunity came in the spring of 1894 at an international congress which he had assembled for the purpose of studying the questions of amateurism. At this meeting, official delegates from France, England, the United States, Greece, Russia, Sweden, Belgium, Italy, and Spain, were in attendance. Hungary, Germany, Bohemia, Holland and Australia sent proxies or letters. Seven questions concerning the problem of amateurism were on the agenda and Coubertin took the liberty of adding an eighth, “Regarding the possibility of the revival of the Olympic Games”(Gorman 125). Coubertin imparted his enthusiasm so well that it was “unanimously agreed on June 23, 1894 to revive the Games and an International Committee was formed to look after their development and well-being”(Gorman 130).

Two years later in 1896 Greece celebrated in the rebuilt stadium of Athens the first Olympic Games of the present cycle and from this beginning, the world’s greatest athletic spectacle was established. Only the ceaseless labor, the tenacity and the perseverance of Baron de Coubertin accomplished and perfected this great work. Its main organization benefited from his methodical and precise mind and from his wide understanding of the aspirations and needs of youth. In fact, Coubertin was “the sole director of the Games in regards to their form and character; the Olympic Charter and Protocol and the athlete’s oath were his creation, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games”(Gary 95). In addition, until 1925, he personally presided over the IOC, assuming single-handed all the administrative and financial duties. The work of Coubertin was, above all, a work of peace but there is one basic fact, almost universally misunderstood which is that peace is not the major aim of the Olympic Games.

“Peace,” Coubertin hoped and believed, “would be furthered by the Olympic Games . . .

but peace could be the product only of a better world; a better world could be brought

about only by better individuals; and better individuals could be developed only by the

give and take, the buffeting and battering, the stress and strain of fierce competition.”

Although they were founded as part of a vision of world peace, once the modern Olympic Games became a truly important international event they also became a stage for political disputes. The most controversial Olympics were the Berlin Games of 1936. The IOC had voted in 1931 to hold these Games in Berlin, before IOC members could have known that the Nazi movement would soon control the country. When it became known in the early 1930s that under the rule of the Nazis, German Jewish athletes were being barred from the 1936 German team which was in violation of the Olympic Charter, many Americans demanded a boycott of the 1936 Games. The boycott movement failed because Avery Brundage, head of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) at the time, was convinced by German officials that “Jewish athletes would be permitted to try out for the German team”(Gary122). In fact, only two Jewish athletes were named to the 1936 German Olympic team, and both were of mixed religious backgrounds.

There have been several boycotts of the Olympics by various countries. In 1956 the Egyptian, Lebanese, and Iraqi teams boycotted the Melbourne Games to protest the invasion of Egypt by the United Kingdom, France, and Israel that had occurred earlier that year. Major boycotts of the Olympics occurred in 1976, 1980, and 1984. In 1976 many African nations demanded that New Zealand be excluded from the Montreal Games because its rugby team had played against South Africa, then under the rule of supporters of apartheid, the official policy of racial segregation followed in that country from 1948 to the early 1990s. When the IOC resisted the demands of the African countries with the argument that rugby was not an Olympic sport, athletes from 28 African nations were called home by their governments.

The issue in the 1980 boycott of the Moscow Games was the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 by the USSR. Although American President Jimmy Carter forced the USOC to “refuse the invitation to attend the Moscow Games, many other NOCs defied their governments’ requests that they boycott the Games”(Gary 124). Once Carter acted to spoil the Moscow Games and after “62 nations did boycott the Games” it became clear that the USSR and its allies would retaliate with another boycott at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. Although Romania did send a team to Los Angeles, 16 of the USSR’s other allies boycotted the Los Angeles Games.

From the 1940s to the 1980s, the IOC also had to deal with the political problems caused by divided nations. One example was the dilemma concerning the Chinese Olympic team, which developed in 1949 after the political division of China into the People’s Republic of China on the mainland and the Republic of China on the island of Taiwan. The issue was whether the Chinese people would be represented by a team from the mainland or by a team from Taiwan. In 1952 the IOC decided to invite both Chinas, but this decision led to decades of boycott by the government of mainland China, which did not send a team to the Olympics until the Lake Placid Games in 1980.

Another political issue arose in 1949, because of the formal political division of Germany that year into East Germany and West Germany. This division created the question of whether there was to be one German team or two. The IOC tried to solve this problem by insisting on a combined German team. Negotiations lasted several years, and this solution was first tested at the Melbourne Games in 1956; it lasted until the Munich Games in 1972, for which two teams were formed. There continued to be two German teams until 1992, by which time the countries had reunited. The IOC also had to cope with racial segregation in South Africa. The IOC voted in 1968 to exclude the South African team from Olympic competition in order to bring pressure on the government to give up its policy of apartheid. The South Africans were not readmitted until the Barcelona Games in 1992-by which time apartheid had been discontinued.

Violence has also occurred at the Olympic Games. In the midst of the 1972 Munich Games, the Olympic movement experienced its most tragic hour. A band of Palestinian terrorists made their way into the Olympic village, murdered two members of the Israeli team, and took nine hostages. When the IOC, meeting in emergency session, learned that a gunfight had broken out and that all nine hostages were dead, along with five of the terrorists, the Games were suspended for a day. The IOC’s controversial decision to resume the Games that year was endorsed by the Israeli government.

Having survived a century of warfare and political turmoil, the Olympic Games have become very successful in recent years, gaining more popularity and generating more money than ever before. A great deal of this popularity and wealth is due to the development of satellite communications and global telecasts. Not only can more and more people see the Games, but the opportunity developed to sell television rights to the Games for hundreds of millions of dollars. With their share of this income, organizing committees can now stage spectacular Games without fear of the huge indebtedness incurred by Montreal’s organizing committee in 1976. With more money, the IOC can also subsidize the development of sports in less affluent nations. In return for their money, however, television networks have gained a strong influence on when, where, and how the Olympics will take place. The Olympic movement has also become dependent on multinational corporations, who pay millions of dollars to become official sponsors of the game and to use Olympic symbols in their advertisements which has led to the mass commercialization of the Olympic movement. However Pierre de Coubertin’s dream has lasted over 25 Olympiads and will no doubt continue remain in the hearts of the world with the Olympic ideals carrying on well into the future.

The Games of the Olympiads and The Cities of the Olympic Games


I1896Athens, Greece

II1900Paris, France

III1904St. Louis, USA

IV1908London, England

V1912Stockholm, Sweden

VI1916Cancelled due to W.W.I

VII1920Antwerp, Belgium

VIII1924Paris, France1924IChamonix, France

IX1928Amsterdam, The Netherlands1928IISt. Moritz, Switzerland

X1932Los Angeles, USA1932IIILake Placid, USA

XI1936Berlin, Germany1936IVGarmish-Partenkirchen, Germany

XII1940Cancelled due to W.W.II1940Cancelled due to W.W.II

XIII1944Cancelled due to W.W.II1944Cancelled due to W.W.II

XIV1948London, England1948VSt. Moritz, Switerland

XV1952Helsinki, Finland1952VIOslo, Norway

XVI1956Melbourne, Australia1956VIICortina D’Ampezzo, Italy

XVII1960Rome, Italy1960VIIISquaw Valley, U.S.A.

XVIII1964Tokyo, Japan1964IXInnsbruck, Austria

XIX1968Mexico City, Mexico1968XGrenoble, France

XX1972Munich, Germany1972XISapporo, Japan

XXI1976Montreal, Canada1976XIIInnsbruck, Austria

XXII1980Moscow U.S.S.R1980XIIILake Placid, U.S.A.

XXIII1984Los Angeles, USA1984XIVSarajevo, Yugoslavia

XXIV1988Seoul, South Korea1988XVCalgary, Canada

XXV1992Barcelona, Spain1992XVIAlbertville, France

XXVI1996Atlanta U.S.A1994XVIILillehammer, Norway

XXVII2000Sydney, Australia1998XVIIINagano, Japan


Gary, Austin. (1986). Development of the Olympic Games. New York: Houghton-Mifflin.

Gorman, David. (1998) A Detailed Account of the Olympic Games. New York: Basic Books.

Miller, Andrew. (1994). Olympic Stories. London: Sage Publishers.

White, Matt.

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