Facts about the Olympics

Here we will share interesting and fun facts about the Olympics. 

The Olympics 2020, which are the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in Japan, will be held from 23 July 2021 to 8 August 2021. For info about the Olympics 2020, please see our special page here.

Modern Olympic Games

The first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in the summer of 1896. In 1894 Pierre de Coubertin had presented his ideas for an international sports competition to promote international understanding. He founded the International Olympic Committee in 1894. The first multi-sports event was then called Games of the Olympiade and was the biggest international event at that time! 

Olympic Games first were only held in summer and since 1924 Olympic Games are also held in winter. Summer and Winter Olympic Games are held every four years. The Summer Olympics and the Winter Olympics alternate every two years which means the Summer Olympic Games are spaced four years apart and always come in between the Winter Olympic Games. In 2020 the Summer Olympics are held while in 2022 the Winter Olympics will take place.

The Olympics are held in different cities every time. 19 Countries have hosted the Olympics since 1896. Some cities or countries have hosted the Olympics multiple times. The most Summer and Winter Olympics were hosted in the USA while London/UK is the only city that hosted three Summer Olympics.

The first Summer Olympic Games in 1896 were held with fourteen participating countries. Then 200 of the 241 sportsmen were from Greece and there were 43 sports events held in 9 sports.

The first countries to take part in these games were Greece, the USA, Germany, France, Great Britain, Hungary, Austria, Australia, Denmark and Switzerland.

Competitions in 1896 were held in sports disciplines: athletics, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, shooting, swimming, tennis, weightlifting and wrestling.

No women were allowed to compete at the first Olympic Games, although one woman from Greece, 30-year-old Stamata Revithi, joined in the marathon event on her own. 

Facts about the Olympics
The first Olympics

The first and so-called ancient Olympic Games were held in Greece more than 2,800 years ago.

Ancient Olympic Games - image by Sebos/shutterstock

The games, originally named 'Olympiad', take their name from the region of Olympia in Greece. The Olympiads then included athletic events as well as an arts festival and were meant to be celebrations to worship the Greek gods. The Greek goddess which is depicted on the Olympic medals is thus Nike, the goddess of victory. There were regular intervals between the events and the ancient games were all held in Greece. 

The ancient Olympic Games, the 'Olympiads' were last held in 393 AD.

Read more about Olympic Games Firsts on our special page here.

Facts about the Olympics
Olympic Symbols

There are various Olympic symbols, some of these are permanent such as the Olympic flag or the Olympic flame.

  • The Olympic Flag spots five intertwined rings on white background. The five rings that are linked with each other symbolise the unity and solidarity of the five continents - Africa, America (North and South America) Asia, Oceania and Europe. The Olympic Flag is white with these five rings in blue, yellow, black, green and red. The flag was first flown at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp/Belgium. 
  • The Olympic Flame is always lit at the Temple of Hera in Olympia and follows an ancient ritual where the Olympic Flame is lit and also captured in a torch that is used for a torch relay. The newly lit torch is used in the Olympic torch relay then follows a path through participating countries and is a standard routine in the time leading to the opening of the sports events. The route depends on the theme and interests of the host country. 
Tokyo Olympics 2020 mascots - image by Octavio Acosta Carlock/shutterstock.com;Miraitowa and Someity
  • The Olympic mascots are designed by the host country to represent a virtue or cultural trait of the host country and the event. The mascots for the Olympics 2020 are Mairaitowa and for the Paralympics  a pink mascot called Someity. Both characters have special superpowers.

Facts about the Olympics
Olympic Motto

The Motto is Citius - Altius - Fortius (in Latin) which means 'Faster - Higher - Stronger'. The motto was officially adopted in 1924 as the Motto of the Olympics.

The Olympic guiding principle is to take part in the Games but it is not only to win. "The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

The ultimate goals are the creation of friendships and "solidarity through fair play as well as the wish for a better world and peaceful harmony between the countries."

Each Olympic games have a specific motto too. The unique motto of the 2020 Olympic Summer Games in Japan is 'Discover Tomorrow'.

Facts about the Olympics
Olympic Medal Facts

Here are 10 fascinating Olympic Medal Facts for you:

  1. The first, second and third placed athlete of an event will win a gold, silver or bronze medal respectively. The tradition of awarding gold, silver and bronze medals was introduced in 1904.
  2. In the ancient Olympics winners were not given medals but were awarded with an olive wreath and also in the first two modern Olympic Games in 1896 and 1900 winners only received silver medals and an olive branch.
  3. While the sportsmen of Greece won the most medals in the first Olympics in 1896, The USA won the most gold medals (11) at that time.
  4. The USA lead the all-time medal table with 1022 gold medals, 795 silver medals and 705 bronze medals. The USA lead the All-time medal table already 17 times.
  5. The UK had the most successful games in 1908 in London with 146 medals, this talley they have not topped yet.
  6. The most decorated Olympian is swimmer Michael Phelps from the USA who won in total 28 medals including 23 gold medals. He participated in the swimming events from 2004 - 2016.
  7. Michael Phelps, swimmer from the USA, was the first to win eight gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Games. 
  8. Olympic gold medals were only made of solid gold until the 1912 Olympics. Today, gold medals are made out of silver and are gold-plated with about 6g of gold while silver medals are made out of pure silver and bronze medals are mainly made out of copper.
  9. Medals weigh roughly 500 grams or 1 pound.
  10. The value of a medal depends on the current market value of the used metal. As a gold medal only is about 1% gold and the silver prize is significantly lower than gold, the value of a medal is only about 400 - 600 US dollar/ 300 - 460 British pounds . Many countries  also award prize money to Olympic medal winners.

Facts about the Olympics
Cancellations and Boycotts

The 2020 Olympics were postponed one year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and will take place from 23 July 2021 to 8 August 2021.

There were three cancellations of the Summer Olympic Games due to the world wars. 

  • The 1916 Summer Olympics were cancelled for World War I
  • 1940 and 1944 Olympic Games were cancelled during World War II.

Boycotts by different countries happened throughout history. 

  • The 1980 Olympic games in Moscow/ UdSSR (today Russia) were boycotted by 66 countries including the USA, Canada, West Germany and Japan due to the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1979. 
  • The following 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles/ USA were then boycotted by the Soviet Union and its allies in "Eastern Block" countries of Europe.

Facts about the Olympics
Related Pages

Facts about the Olympics | Resources

  • The International Olympic Committee. "Olympic Medals." Olympic.org. Last accessed 20 April 2021
  • The International Olympic Committee. "Tokyo 2020." Olympic.org. Last accessed 20 April 2021
  • The International Olympic Committee. "Olympic House." Olympic.org. Last accessed 20 April 2021

Images on the Facts about the Olympics page: Tokyo Olympics Header Image: Chaay_Tee/ shutterstock.com; torch: KirillS/ shutterstock.com; Mascots: Octavio Acosta Carlock/ shutterstock.com; Logo: Krovop58/ shutterstock.com; Medal: olympic.org

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