History and Statistics > MODERN OLYMPIC GAMES

MODERN OLYMPIC GAMES

The original Olympic Games were celebrated as a religious festival from 776 B.C. until 393 A.D., when Roman emperor Theodosius I banned all pagan festivals (the Olympics celebrated the Greek god Zeus).

On June 23, 1894, French educator Baron Pierre de Coubertin, speaking at the Sorbonne in Paris to a gathering of international sports leaders, proposed that the ancient games be revived on an international scale.

The idea was enthusiastically received and the Modern Olympics were born. The first Olympics were held two years later in Athens, where 245 athletes from 14 nations competed in the ancient Panathenaic stadium to large and ardent crowds.

Americans captured nine out of 12 track and field events, but Greece won the most medals with 47.

The highlight was the victory by native peasant Spiridon Louis in the first marathon race, which was run over the same course covered by the Greek hero Pheidippides after the battle of Marathon in 490 B.C.

1900 – Paris

The success of the revived Olympics moved Greece to declare itself the rightful host of all future Games, but de Coubertin and the International Olympic Committee were determined to move the athletic feast around.

In France, however, the Games were overshadowed by the brand new Eiffel Tower and all but ignored by the organizers of the 1900 Paris Exposition.

Despite their sideshow status, the Games attracted 1,225 athletes from 26 nations and enjoyed more publicity, if not bigger crowds, than in Athens.

University of Pennsylvania roommates Alvin Kraenzlein, Irving Baxter and John Tewksbury and Purdue grad Ray Ewry dominated the 23 track and field events, winning 11 and taking five seconds and a third.

Kraenzlein remains the only track and fielder to win four individual titles in one year. Women were invited to compete for the first time and Britain's Charlotte Cooper won the singles and mixed doubles in tennis.

No gold medals were given out in Paris. Winners received silver medals with bronze for second place.

1904 - St. Louis

Originally scheduled for Chicago, the Games were moved to St. Louis and held in conjunction with the centennial celebration of the Louisiana Purchase.

The program included more sports than in Paris, but with only 13 nations sending athletes, the first Olympics to be staged in the United States had a decidedly All-American flavor—over 500 of the 687 competitors were Americans. Little wonder the home team won 80 percent of the medals.

The rout was nearly total in track and field where the U.S.–led by triple-winners Ray Ewry, Archie Hahn, Jim Lightbody and Harry Hillman–took 23 of 25 gold medals and swept 20 events.

The marathon, which was run over dusty roads in brutally hot weather, was the most bizarre event of the Games. Thomas Hicks of the U.S. won, but only after his handlers fed him painkillers during the race.

And an impostor nearly stole the victory when Fred Lorz, who dropped out after nine miles, was seen trotting back to the finish line to retrieve his clothes.

Amused that officials thought he had won the race, Lorz played along until he was found out shortly after the medal ceremony. Banned for life by the AAU, Lorz was reinstated a year later and won the 1905 Boston Marathon.

1906 - Athens

After disappointing receptions in Paris and St. Louis, the Olympic movement returned to Athens for the Intercalated Games of 1906.

The mutual desire of Greece and Baron de Coubertin to recapture the spirit of the 1896 Games led to an understanding that the Greeks would host an interim games every four years between Olympics.

Nearly 900 athletes from 20 countries came to Athens, including, for the first time, an official American team picked by the USOC.

As usual, the U.S. dominated track and field, taking 11 of 21 events, including double wins by Martin Sheridan (shot put and freestyle discus), Ray Ewry (standing high and long jumps) and Paul Pilgrim (400 and 800 meters). The previously unknown Pilgrim had been an 11th-hour addition to the team.

Verner Järvinen, the first Finn to compete in the Olympics, won the Greek-style discus throw and placed second in the freestyle discus. He returned home a national hero and inspired Finland to become a future Olympic power.

1908 - London

The fourth Olympic Games were certainly the wettest and probably the most contentious in history.

Held at a new 68,000-seat stadium in the Shepherds Bush section of London, the 1908 Games were played out under continually rainy skies and suffered from endless arguments between British officials and many of the other countries involved–especially the United States.

“The Battle of Shepherds Bush” began almost immediately, when the U.S. delegation noticed that there was no American flag among the national flags decorating the stadium for the opening ceremonies.

U.S. flag bearer and discus champion Martin Sheridan responded by refusing to dip the Stars and Stripes when he passed King Edward VII's box in the parade of athletes. “This flag dips to no earthly king,” Sheridan said. And it hasn't since.

The Americans, at least, got to march with their flag. Finland, then ruled by Russia, could not. Informed they would have to use a Russian flag, the furious Finns elected to march with no flag at all.

Once again the marathon proved to be the Games' most memorable event. Laid out over a 26-mile, 365-yard course that stretched from Windsor Castle to the royal box at Shepherds Bush, the race ended in controversy when leader Dorando Pietri of Italy staggered into the packed stadium, took a wrong turn, collapsed, was helped up by doctors, wobbled and fell three more times before being half-carried across the finish line by race officials.

Caught up in the drama of Pietri's agony, the cheering crowd hardly noticed that he was declared the winner just as second place runner, Johnny Hayes of the U.S., entered the stadium.

Pietri was later disqualified in favor of Hayes, but only after British and U.S. officials argued for an hour and fights had broken out in the stands.

1912 - Stockholm

The belligerence of 1908 was replaced with benevolence four years later, as Sweden provided a well-organized and pleasant haven for the troubled Games.

And then there were Jim Thorpe and Hannes Kolehmainen.

Thorpe, a 24-year-old American Indian who was a two-time consensus All-America football player at Carlisle (Pa.) Institute, won the two most demanding events in track and field–the pentathlon and decathlon. And he did it with ease.

“You sir,” said the Swedes' King Gustav V at the medal ceremony, “are the greatest athlete in the world.” To which Thorpe is said to have replied, “Thanks, King.”

Kolehmainen, a 22-year-old Finnish vegetarian, ran away with three distance events being run for the first time–the 5,000 and 10,000-meter races and the 12,000-meter cross-country run. He also picked up a silver medal in the 12,000-meter team race.

Ralph Craig of the U.S. was the only other winner of two individual track gold medals, taking both the 100 and 200-meter runs. The 100 final had seven false starts, one with Craig sprinting the entire distance before being called back.

Although Thorpe returned to the U.S. a hero, a year later it was learned that he had played semi-pro baseball for $25 a week in 1909 and 1910.

The IOC, with the full support of the American Olympic Committee, stripped him of his medals and erased his records.

The medals and records were restored in 1982, 29 years after Thorpe's death.

1920 - Antwerp

The Olympic quadrennial, scheduled for Berlin in 1916, was interrupted by World War 1, the so-called “War to End All Wars,” which had involved 28 countries and killed nearly 10 million troops in four years.

The four-year cycle of Olympiads–Berlin would have been the sixth–is still counted, however, even though the Games were not played.

Less than two years after the armistice, the Olympics resumed in Belgium, a symbolic and austere choice considering it had been occupied for four years by enemy forces.

Still, 29 countries (one more than participated in the war) sent a record 2,600 athletes to the Games. Germany and Austria, the defeated enemies of Belgium and the Allies, were not invited.

The United States turned in the best overall team performance, winning 41 gold medals, but the talk of the Games was 23-year-old distance runner Paavo Nurmi of Finland.

Nurmi won the 10,000-meter run and 8,000-meter cross-country, took a third gold in the team cross-country and silver in the 5,000-meter run. In all, Finland won nine track and field gold medals to break the U.S. dominance in the sport.

Elsewhere, Albert Hill of Britain made his Olympic debut at age 36 and won both the 800 and 1,500-meter runs.

World record holder Charley Paddock of the U.S. won the 100 meters, but was upset in the 200 by teammate Allen Woodring, who was a last-minute addition to the team.

And in swimming, the U.S. won 11 of 15 events, led by triple gold medalists Norman Ross and Ethelda Bleibtrey, defending men's 100-meter freestyle champion Duke Kahanamoku and 14-year old springboard diving champion Aileen Riggin.

The Antwerp Games were also noteworthy for the introduction of the Olympic oath – uttered for the first time by Belgium fencer Victor Bion – and the Olympic flag, with its five multicolored, intersecting rings.

1924 - Paris

Paavo Nurmi may have been the talk of Antwerp in 1920, but he was the sensation of Paris four years later.

It wasn't just that the “Flying Finn” won five gold medals, it was the way he did it. Running with a stopwatch on his wrist, Peerless Paavo captured the 1,500 and 5,000-meter finals within an hour of each other and set Olympic records in both.

Two days later, he blew away the field in the 10,000-meter cross-country run where the heat and an unusually difficult course combined to knock out 23 of 38 starters (Finland also won the team gold in the event).

And finally, the next day he led the Finns to victory in the 3,000-meter team race. His performance overshadowed the four gold medals of teammate Ville Ritola.

The gold medals won by British runners Harold Abrahams in the 100 meters and Eric Liddell in the 400 were chronicled in the 1981 Academy Award-winning film “Chariots of Fire.”

The movie, however, was not based on fact. Liddell, a devout Christian, knew months in advance that the preliminary for the 100 (his best event) was on a Sunday, so he had plenty of time to change plans and train for the 400. Also, he and Abrahams never competed against each other in real life.

Speaking of the movies, Johnny Weissmuller of the U.S. won three swimming gold medals in the 100 and 400-meter freestyles and the 4x200 freestyle relay. He would later become Hollywood's most famous Tarzan.

1928 - Amsterdam

“We are here to represent the greatest country on earth. We did not come here to lose gracefully. We came here to win–and win decisively.”

So ordered American Olympic Committee president Gen. Douglas MacArthur before the start of the 1928 Games. His athletes would deliver, easily winning the unofficial national standings for the third Olympiad in a row.

The U.S. men won eight gold medals in track and field, but were victorious in only one individual running race (Ray Barbuti in the 400 meters). In the sprints, Canada's Percy Williams became the first non-American to win both the 100 and 200.

Finland claimed four running titles, including Paavo Nurmi's victory in the 10,000 meters–his ninth overall gold medal in three Olympic Games. Teammate and arch-rival Ville Ritola placed second in the 10,000 and outran Nurmi in the 5,000.

These Games marked Germany's return to the Olympic fold after serving a 10-year probation for its “aggressiveness” in World War I.

It was also the first Olympics that women were allowed to participate in track and field (despite objections from Pope Pius IX).

And in swimming, the U.S. got double gold performances from Martha Norelius, Albina Osipowich and Johnny Weissmuller, as well as diver Pete Desjardins.

1932 - Los Angeles

Despite a world-wide economic depression and predictions that the 1932 Summer Olympics were doomed to failure, 37 countries sent over 1,300 athletes to southern California and the Games were a huge success.

Energized by perfect weather and the buoyant atmosphere of the first Olympic Village, the competition was fierce. Sixteen world and Olympic records fell in men's track and field alone.

In women's track, 21-year-old Babe Didrikson, who had set world records in the 80-meter hurdles, javelin and high jump at the AAU Olympic Trials three weeks before, came to L.A. and announced, “I am out to beat everybody in sight.”

She almost did too–winning the hurdles and javelin, but taking second in the high jump (despite tying teammate Jean Shiley for first) when her jumping style was ruled illegal.

Didrikson's heroics, along with American Eddie Tolan's double in the 100 and 200 meters and Italian Luigi Beccali's upset victory in the 1,500, were among the Games' highlights, but they didn't quite make up for the absence of Finland's famed distance runner Paavo Nurmi.

Just before the Games, the IOC said that Nurmi would not be allowed to participate in his fourth Olympics because he had received excessive expense money on a trip to Germany in 1929.

The ruling came as no surprise in the track world where it was said, “Nurmi has the lowest heartbeat and the highest asking price of any athlete in the world.”

The Japanese men and American women dominated in swimming, each winning five of six events. Helene Madison of the U.S. won two races and anchored the winning relay team.

1936 - Berlin

At the Big Ten Track and Field Championships of 1935, Ohio State's Jesse Owens equaled or set world records in four events: the 100 and 220-yard dashes, 200-yard low hurdles and the long jump.

He was also credited with world marks in the 200-meter run and 200-meter hurdles. That's six world records in one afternoon, and he did it all in 45 minutes!

The following year, he swept the 100 and 200 meters and long jump at the Olympic Trials and headed for Germany favored to win all three.

In Berlin, dictator Adolf Hitler and his Nazi followers felt sure that the Olympics would be the ideal venue to demonstrate Germany's oft-stated racial superiority.

He directed that $25 million be spent on the finest facilities, the cleanest streets and the temporary withdrawal of all outward signs of the state-run anti-Jewish campaign. By the time over 4,000 athletes from 49 countries arrived for the Games, the stage was set.

Then Owens, a black sharecropper's son from Alabama, stole the show by winning his three individual events and adding a fourth gold medal in the 4x100-meter relay.

The fact that four other American blacks also won did little to please Herr Hitler, but the applause from the German crowds, especially for Owens, was thunderous.

As it was for New Zealander Jack Lovelock's thrilling win over Glenn Cunningham and defending champ Luigi Beccali in the 1,500 meters.

Germany won only five combined gold medals in men's and women's track and field, but saved face for the “master race” in the overall medal count with an 89-56 margin over the United States.

The top female performers in Berlin were 17-year-old Dutch swimmer Rie Mastenbroek, who won three gold medals, and 18-year-old American runner Helen Stephens, who captured the 100 meters and anchored the winning 4x100-meter relay team.

Basketball also made its debut as a medal sport and was played outdoors. The U.S. men easily won the first gold medal championship game with a 19-8 victory over Canada in the rain.

1948 - London

The Summer Olympics were scheduled for Tokyo in 1940, but by mid-1938, Japan was at war with China and withdrew as host.

The IOC immediately transferred the Games to Helsinki and the Finns eagerly began preparations only to be invaded by the Soviet Union in 1939.

By then, of course, Germany had marched into Poland and World War II was on. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor two years later, and the bombs didn't stop falling until 1945.

Against this backdrop of global conflict, the Olympic Games were cancelled again in 1940 and '44. Many of the participants in the 1936 Games died in the war.

Eager to come back after two dormant Olympiads, the IOC offered the 1948 Games to London. Much of the British capital had been reduced to rubble in the blitz, but the offer was accepted and the Games went on–successfully, without frills, and without invitations extended to Germany and Japan. The Soviet Union was invited, but chose not to show.

The United States reclaimed its place at the top of the overall medal standings, but the primary individual stars were a 30-year-old Dutch mother of two and a 17-year-old kid from California.

Fanny Blankers-Koen duplicated Jesse Owens' track and field grand slam of 12 years before by winning the 100-meter and 200-meter runs, the 80-meter hurdles, and anchoring the women's 4x100-meter relay.

And Bob Mathias, just two months after graduating from Tulare High School, won the gold medal in the decathlon, an event he had taken up for the first time earlier in the year.

1952 - Helsinki

The Soviet Union returned to the Olympic fold in 1952 after a 40-year absence, a period of time that included a revolution and two world wars. Ironically, the Soviets chose to make their comeback in Finland, a country they had invaded twice during World War II.

This time it was the United States that was surprised by the Soviets, and the USA had to scramble on the last day of competition to hold off the USSR's assault on first place in the overall standings. It was the beginning of an all-consuming 36-year Cold War rivalry.

Despite the Soviets' impressive debut, it was a Communist from another Iron Curtain country who turned in the most memorable individual performance of the Games.

Emil Zátopek of Czechoslovakia, the 10,000-meter champion in London, not only repeated at 10,000 meters, but also won at 5,000 and in the marathon–an event he had never run before.

He also set Olympic records in each race and topped it off by watching his wife Dana Zátopková win the women's javelin.

Zátopek's unique triple was wildly applauded by the distance-minded Finns, but their greatest outburst came in the opening ceremonies when legendary countryman Paavo Nurmi, now 56, ran into the stadium with the Olympic torch and handed it off to another native legend Hannes Kolehmainen, now 62, who lit the flame to start the Games.

Also, Harrison Dillard of the U.S. won the 110-meter hurdles. In 1948, Dillard, the world's best hurdler, failed to qualify for the hurdles and won the 100-meter dash instead.

1956 - Melbourne

Armed conflicts in Egypt and Hungary threatened to disrupt the 1956 Games, which were scheduled to begin on November 22 (during the summer Down Under).

In July, Egypt seized the Suez Canal from British and French control. In October, Britain and France invaded Egypt in an attempt to retake the canal. Then in November, Soviet tanks rolled into Hungary to crush an anti-Communist revolt.

The only direct bearing these events had in Melbourne came when the Soviet water polo team met the Hungarians in the semifinals.

Hungary won 4-0, but the match turned ugly after a Hungarian player was pulled bleeding from the pool with a deep gash over his eye from a Soviet head butt.

A brawl quickly ensued involving both players and spectators and the police had to step in to prevent a riot.

Otherwise, the Soviets outmedaled the U.S. for the first time, cleaning up in gymnastics and winning their first track and field titles when Vladimir Kuts ran off with the 5,000 and 10,000 meters.

The American men won 15 track and field titles, including three golds for sprinter Bobby Morrow and Al Oerter's first victory in the discus.

Harold Connolly of the U.S. won the hammer throw and the heart of the women's discus champion, Olga Fikotová of Czechoslovakia. Their romance captured the imagination of the world and three months after the Games they were married.

Emil Zátopek, the Czech hero of Helsinki, returned to defend his marathon title but came in sixth. Winner Alain Mimoun of France had finished second to Zátopek three times in previous Olympic races.

1960 - Rome

Free of political entanglements, the 1960 Games attracted a record 5,348 athletes from 83 countries.

More importantly, it was the first Summer Games covered by U.S. television. CBS bought the rights for $394,000.

Rome was a coming-out party for 18-year-old Louisville boxer Cassius Clay. The brash but engaging Clay, who would later change his name to Muhammad Ali and hold the world heavyweight title three times, won the Olympic light heavyweight crown, pummeling Polish opponent Zbigniew Pietryskowsky in the final. Clay was so proud of his gold medal that he didn't take it off for two days.

Sprinter Wilma Rudolph and swimmer Chris von Saltza each won three gold medals for the U.S.

Rudolph, who was one of her father's 22 children and who couldn't walk without braces until she was nine, struck gold at 100 and 200 meters and anchored the winning 400-meter relay team.

Von Saltza won the 400-meter freestyle, placed second in the 100-free and anchored the winning 4x100-free and medley relays.

The U.S. men won nine track and field titles, including repeat gold medals for Lee Calhoun, Glenn Davis and Al Oerter. Rafer Johnson and C.K. Yang of Formosa, college teammates at UCLA, finished 1-2 in the decathlon.

Among the other stars in Rome were barefoot Ethiopian marathoner Abebe Bikila, Australia's Herb Elliott in the 1,500 meters, Soviet gymnasts Boris Shakhlin and Larissa Latynina.

Finally, the greatest amateur basketball team ever assembled represented the U.S. and won easily. The 12-man roster included Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Jerry Lucas, Walt Bellamy and Terry Dischinger–four of whom would become NBA Rookies of the Year from 1961-64.

1964 - Tokyo

Twenty-six years after Japan's wartime government forced the Japanese Olympic Committee to resign as hosts of the 1940 Summer Games, Tokyo welcomed the world to the first Asian Olympics.

The new Japan spared no expense – a staggering $3 billion was spent to rebuild the city – and was rewarded with a record-breaking fortnight.

Twelve world and six Olympic records fell in swimming alone, with Americans accounting for 13.

Eighteen-year-old Don Schollander led the way, winning two individual and two relay gold medals to become the first swimmer to win four events in one Games.

Sharon Stouder collected three golds and a silver for the U.S. women, but the most remarkable performance of all belonged to Australian Dawn Fraser, who won the 100-meter freestyle for the third straight Olympics.

In track and field, Al Oerter of the U.S. won the discus for the third straight time. His record toss was one of 25 world and Olympic marks broken.

Another fell when Billy Mills of the U.S. electrified the Games by coming from behind for an upset win in the 10,000 meters. New Zealander Peter Snell, the defending 800-meter champion, won both the 800 and 1,500 (last done in 1920).

Sprinter Bob Hayes of the U.S. equaled the world record of 10 seconds flat in the 100 meters, but stunned the crowd with a sub-nine second, come-from-behind anchor leg to lead the U.S. to set a world record in the 4x100 meters.

Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia became the first runner to win consecutive marathons. The remarkable Betty Cuthbert of Australia, who won three sprint gold medals in Melbourne, came back eight years later at age 26 to win the 400.

And Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina won six medals for the third Olympics in a row.

1968 - Mexico City

The Games of the Nineteenth Olympiad were the highest and most controversial ever held.

Staged at 7,349 feet above sea level where the thin air was a major concern to many competing countries, the Mexico City Olympics were another chapter in a year buffeted by the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the Democratic Convention in Chicago, and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Ten days before the Olympics were scheduled to open on October 12, over 300 Mexico City university students were killed by army troops when a campus protest turned into a riot.

Still, the Games began on time and were free of discord until black Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who finished 1-3 in the 200-meter run, bowed their heads and gave the Black Power salute during the national anthem as a protest against racism in the U.S.

They were immediately thrown off the team by the United States Olympic Committee.

The thin air helped shatter records in every men's and women's race up to 1,500 meters and may have played a role in U.S. long jumper Bob Beamon's incredible gold medal leap of 29 feet, 21/2 inches –beating the existing world mark by nearly two feet.

Other outstanding American performances included Al Oerter's record fourth consecutive discus title, Debbie Meyer's three individual swimming gold medals, the innovative Dick Fosbury winning the high jump with his backwards “flop” and Wyomia Tyus becoming the first woman to win back-to-back golds in the 100 meters.

1972 - Munich

On September 5, with six days left in the Games, eight Arab commandos slipped into the Olympic Village, killed two Israeli team members and seized nine others as hostages.

Early the next morning, all nine were killed in a shootout between the terrorists and West German police at a military airport.

The tragedy stunned the world and stopped the XXth Olympiad in its tracks. But after suspending competition for 24 hours and holding a memorial service attended by 80,000 at the main stadium, 84-year-old outgoing IOC president Avery Brundage and his committee ordered “the Games must go on.”

They went on without 22-year-old swimmer Mark Spitz, who had set an Olympic gold medal record by winning four individual and three relay events, all in world record times. Spitz, an American Jew, was an inviting target for further terrorism and agreed with West German officials when they advised him to leave the country.

The pall that fell over Munich quieted an otherwise boisterous Games in which American swimmer Rick DeMont was stripped of a gold medal for taking asthma medication and track medalists Vince Matthews and Wayne Collett of the U.S. were banned for life for fooling around on the victory stand during the American national anthem.

The United States also lost an Olympic basketball game for the first time ever (they were 62-0) when the Soviets were given three chances to convert a last-second inbound pass and finally won, 51-50. The U.S. refused the silver medal.

Munich was also where 17-year-old Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut and 16-year-old swimmer Shane Gould of Australia won three gold medals each and Britain's 33-year-old Mary Peters won the pentathlon.

1976 - Montreal

In 1970, when Montreal was named to host the Summer Olympics '76, organizers estimated it would cost $310 million to stage the Games.

However, due to political corruption, mismanagement, labor disputes, inflation and a $100 million outlay for security to prevent another Munich, the final bill came to more than $1.5 billion.

Then, right before the Games were scheduled to open in July, 32 nations, most of them from black Africa, walked out when the IOC refused to ban New Zealand because its national rugby team was touring racially segregated South Africa.

Taiwan also withdrew when Communist China pressured trading partner Canada to deny the Taiwanese the right to compete as the Republic of China.

When the Games finally got started they were quickly stolen by 14-year-old Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, who scored seven perfect 10s on her way to three gold medals.

East Germany's Kornelia Ender did Comaneci one better, winning four times as the GDR captured 11 of 13 events in women's swimming. John Naber (4 gold) and the U.S. men did the East German women one better when they won 12 of 13 gold medals in swimming.

In track and field, Cuba's Alberto Juantorena won the 400 and 800-meter runs, and Finland's Lasse Viren took the 5,000 and 10,000. Viren missed a third gold when he placed fifth in the marathon.

Four Americans who became household names during the Games were decathlon winner Bruce Jenner and three future world boxing champions–Ray Leonard and the Spinks brothers, Michael and Leon.

1980 - Moscow

Four years after 32 nations walked out of the Montreal Games, twice that many chose to stay away from Moscow–many in support of an American-led boycott to protest the December 1979, Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Unable to persuade the IOC to cancel or move the Summer Games, U.S. President Jimmy Carter pressured the USOC to officially withdraw in April.

Many western governments, like West Germany and Japan, followed suit and withheld their athletes. But others, like Britain and France, while supporting the boycott, allowed their Olympic committees to participate if they wished.

The first Games to be held in a Communist country opened in July with 80 nations competing and were dominated by the USSR and East Germany.

They were also plagued by charges of rigged judging and poor sportsmanship by Moscow fans who, without the Americans around, booed the Poles and East Germans unmercifully.

While Soviet gymnast Aleksandr Dityatin became the first athlete to win eight medals in one year, the belle of Montreal, Nadia Comaneci of Romania, returned to win two more gold medals and Cuban heavyweight Teofilo Stevenson became the first boxer to win three golds in the same weight division.

In track and field, Miruts Yifter of Ethiopia won at 5,000 and 10,000 meters, but the most thrilling moment of the Games came in the last lap of the 1,500 meters where Sebastian Coe of Great Britain outran countryman Steve Ovett and Jurgen Straub of East Germany for the gold.

1984 - Los Angeles

For the third consecutive Olympiad, a boycott prevented all member nations from attending the Summer Games.

This time, the Soviet Union and 13 Communist allies stayed home in an obvious payback for the West's snub of Moscow in 1980. Romania was the only Warsaw Pact country to come to L.A.

While a record 140 nations did show up, the level of competition was hardly what it might have been had the Soviets and East Germans made the trip. As a result, the United States won a record 83 gold medals in the most lopsided Summer Games since St. Louis 80 years before.

The American gold rush was led by 23-year old Carl Lewis, who duplicated Jesse Owens' 1936 track and field grand slam by winning the 100 and 200 meters and the long jump, and anchoring the 4x100 meter relay. Teammate Valerie Brisco-Hooks won three times, taking the 200, 400 and 4x100 relay.

Sebastian Coe of Britain became the first repeat winner of the 1,500 meters since Jim Lightbody of the U.S. in 1906. Other repeaters were Briton Daley Thompson in the decathlon and U.S. hurdler Edwin Moses, who won in 1976 but was not allowed to defend his title in '80.

Romanian gymnast Ecaterina Szabó matched Lewis' four gold medals and added a silver, but the darling of the Games was little (4-foot-83/4), 16-year-old Mary Lou Retton, who won the women's All-Around with a pair of 10s in her last two events.

The L.A. Olympics were the first privately financed Games ever and made an unheard of profit of $215 million. Time magazine was so impressed it named organizing president Peter Ueberroth its Man of the Year.

1988 - Seoul

For the first time since Munich in 1972, there was no organized boycott of the Summer Olympics. Cuba and Ethiopia stayed away in support of North Korea (the IOC turned down the North Koreans' demand to co-host the Games, so they refused to participate), but that was about it.

More countries (159) sent more athletes (9,465) to South Korea than to any previous Olympics. There were also more security personnel (100,000) than ever before given Seoul's proximity (30 miles) to the North and the possibility of student demonstrations for reunification.

Ten days into the Games, Canadian Ben Johnson beat defending champion Carl Lewis in the 100-meter dash with a world record time of 9.79. Two days later, however, Johnson was stripped of his gold medal and sent packing by the IOC when his post-race drug test indicated steroid use.

Lewis, who finished second in the 100, was named the winner. He also repeated in the long jump, but was second in the 200 and did not run the 4x100-relay.

Teammate Florence Griffith Joyner claimed four medals–gold in the 100, 200 and 4x100-meter relay, and silver in the 4x400 relay. Her sister-in-law, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, won the long jump and heptathlon.

The most gold medals were won by swimmers–Kristin Otto of East Germany (6) and American Matt Biondi (5).

Otherwise, Steffi Graf added an Olympic gold medal to her Grand Slam sweep in tennis, Greg Louganis won both men's diving events for the second straight time, and the U.S. men's basketball team had to settle for third place after losing to the gold medal-winning Soviets, 82-76, in the semifinals.

1992 - Barcelona

The year IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch brought the Olympics to his native Spain marked the first renewal of the Summer Games since the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the reunification of Germany in 1990.

A record 10,563 athletes from 172 nations gathered without a single country boycotting the Games. Both Cuba and North Korea returned after 12 years and South Africa was welcomed back after 32, following the national government's denunciation of apartheid racial policies.

While Germany competed under one flag for the first time since 1964, 12 nations from the former Soviet Union joined forces one last time as the Unified Team.

This was also the year the IOC threw open the gates to professional athletes after 96 years of high-minded opposition. Basketball was the chief beneficiary as America's popular “Dream Team” of NBA All-Stars easily won the gold.

Carl Lewis earned his seventh and eighth career gold medals with a third consecutive Olympic win in the long jump, and an anchor-leg performance on the American 4x100-meter relay team that helped establish a world record.

Gail Devers of the U.S., whose feet had nearly been amputated by doctors in 1990 as a result of radiation treatment for Graves' disease, won the women's 100 meters.

Other track and field athletes stumbled, however. After Olympic favorite and world champion Dan O'Brien failed to even make the U.S. team, Dave Johnson, the new favorite, settled for the bronze.

Ukrainian pole-vaulter Sergey Bubka, who had dominated the sport for the past decade, was the heavy favorite, but he failed to clear any height.

China's Fu Mingxia, 13, won the women's platform diving gold, becoming the second-youngest person to win an individual gold medal.

In gymnastics, Vitaly Scherbo of Belarus, competing for the Unified Team, won six golds. Cuba made its Olympic return rewarding, capturing seven boxing golds as well as the gold in baseball.

1996 - Atlanta

The Atlanta Games were certainly the largest (a record 197 nations competed), most logistically complicated Olympics to date and perhaps the most hyped and over commercialized as well.

Despite all the troubles that organizers faced, from computer scoring snafus and transportation problems to a horrific terrorist attack, these Olympics had some of the best stories ever.

The Games began so joyously with Muhammad Ali, the world's best-known sports figure now stricken by illness, igniting the Olympic cauldron.

Sadly, just eight days later horror was the prevailing mood after a terrorist's bomb ripped apart a peaceful Friday evening in Centennial Olympic Park.

In the explosion, one woman was killed, 111 people were injured and the entire world was reminded of the terror and tragedy of Munich in 1972.

As they did in '72, the Games would go on. In track and field, Michael Johnson delivered on his much-anticipated, yet still startling, double in the 200 and 400 meters.

One thing that many didn't foresee is that he would be matched by France's Marie-Jose Perec, who converted her own 200-400 double, albeit with much less attention.

Carl Lewis pulled out one last bit of magic to win the long jump for the ninth gold medal of his amazing Olympic career. Donovan Bailey set a world record in the 100 and led Canada to a win over a faltering U.S. team in the 4x100 relay.

The U.S. women's gymnastics squad took the team gold after Kerri Strug hobbled up and completed her final gutsy vault in the Games' most compelling moment.

Swimmer Amy Van Dyken became the first American woman to win four golds in a single Games. Ireland's Michelle Smith won three golds (and a bronze) of her own, but her victories were somewhat tainted by controversy surrounding unproven charges of drug use.

The USA fared well in team sports also. The men's basketball “Dream Team” was back and, predictably, stomped the competition on its way back to the winners' podium. Also the U.S. women won gold at the Olympic debut of two sports–softball and soccer.

2000 - Sydney

A record 10,651 athletes (4,069 of them women) from 199 nations participate; the only nation excluded is Afghanistan. North and South Korea enter the stadium under one flag.

Australian Aboriginal Cathy Freeman lights the cauldron at the start of the game, and goes on to win the 400m race.

British rower Steven Redgrave becomes the first athlete to win gold medals in five consecutive Olympics.

The U.S. softball team defends its title; Michael Johnson does the same in the 400m race.

Seventeen-year-old Ian Thorpe of Australia wins four medals (three gold) in swimming, breaking his own world record in the 400m freestyle.

Russian gymnast Alexei Nemov takes home six medals, as he had done in Atlanta in 1996.

Eric "the Eel" Moussambani of Equatorial Guinea is this year's lovable loser, taking 112.72 seconds in the 100m freestyle swim. This is more than twice as long as Pieter van den Hoogenband's gold-winning performance.

There are 165 events for men, 135 for women, and 12 mixed events. Women are excluded from boxing and baseball; men are excluded from synchronized swimming, rhythmic gymnastics, and softball.

The United States, the Russian Federation, and the People's Republic of China lead the medal-winners.

Note: All references to Marion Jones have been removed from this page. This follows the decision made by the International Olympic Committee in 2008 to erase her record and strip her of her medals.

2004 - Athens

While the preparations for the Athens games were marred by construction delays and an epic race to complete venues before the opening ceremonies, the game's return to their historic home ended as a surprising success.

Participation records were once again broken, with 201 nations and 10,625 athletes taking part in 301 different events.

Nearly as compelling as the competitions were the historic venues used for the games. Panathenaic Stadium, which served as the main site for the inaugural modern Olympics in 1896, was the home to the archery competition.

It was also the finishing point for the marathon, which began in the actual city of Marathon, the staring point of Pheidippides, the Greek soldier who completed the world's first marathon in 490 B.C. when he was sent to inform the Athenians of the Greeks victory over the Persians.The shot put was held in Olympia, home of the ancient games.

American swimmer Michael Phelps emerged as the face of the games. He tied the Olympic record by winning eight medals, six of them gold.

Americans also dominated on the track, sweeping the top three spots in both the men's 200-meter dash and 400-meter dash, with Shawn Crawford and Jeremy Wariner each earning gold, respectively.

In the 100-meter dash, Justin Gatlin took home the gold medal with a time of 9.85. He was followed closely by three other competitors also under 10 seconds, making the event the most competitive track event in Olympic history. In the women's 400-meter hurdles, upset winner Fani Halkia delighted the home crowd.

Inspirational stories were not hard to come by in Athens. Indeed, the Iraqi soccer team overcame adversity to advance to the semifinals, and U.S. gymnast Paul Hamm won gold in the all-around competition despite an early fall.

Swimmer Jenny Thompson became the most decorated U.S. Olympian, winning her 12th medal as a member of the 400-meter medley relay.

The Argentine men's basketball team defeated Italy to win the gold medal, becoming the first non-U.S. team to win the title since professionals were allowed to play in 1992.

While the games turned out to be more successful than many imagined, they were not without flaws. Many of the venues were awash with empty seats during major events, a stark contrast to previous games.

Also, 24 athletes tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, a reminder that today's drug culture is inescapable, even in the ancestral home of the Olympics.

Despite these problems, Athens will be remembered for mixing remarkable athletic achievement with historic reminders of the heritage and spirit of the game.

The legacy of the games is sure to live on in Athens, as Olympic construction modernized the city in a way that would have been impossible otherwise, bringing new venues, roadways, public transportation systems, and even a new international airport.

2008 - Beijing

American swimmer Michael Phelps and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt rewrote the record books on Planet Olympia in Beijing.

Competition took place in a world of its own while host China's communist government ruled outside as if Olympic values had never come to town.

When it was all over and China had dominated the medal table rather than improved its human rights record The New York Times said the nation's leaders deserved "the final gold medal - for authoritarian image management."

"Beijing got what it wanted out of this globally televised spectacular. It reaped a huge prestige bonanza that it will surely use to promote its international influence and, we fear, further tighten its grip at home," the newspaper said in an editorial.

Olympic supremo Jacques Rogge named the Games "truly exceptional" after mainly refraining from criticism on China during the August 8-24 show.

China naturally patted itself on the shoulder for the staging of the Games, even more as its athletes dethrone the United States atop the final tally with a record medal haul.

But it also cried 1.3 billion tears when poster boy Liu Xiang limped out of the 110m hurdles.

Gigantic state-of-the-art venues such as the Bird's Nest and Water Cube were the stage for 11,249 athletes from 204 countries competing in 302 medal events. They recorded 43 world records and hundreds of other records.

Phelps, 23, was the king of the pool as he won eight gold medals with seven world record results, surpassing Mark Spitz' seven golds at one Games from 1972 and improving his overall golden tally to an Olympic record 14 - five more than anyone else in the Games' 112-year history.

While the world tried to find superlatives the American swimming wonder remained modest.

"I don't know what makes me different - it beats me. I do what I love. I love to compete and I love to swim. I have very, very high goals that I have set for myself and that's what really motivates me and keep me going strong," Phelps said in an interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

But the records didn't only tumble in the Water Cube as athletics in the Bird's Nest located just opposite also saw new milestones.

Bolt, 22, redefined the sprint when he won the 100m in 9.69 seconds, the 200m in 19.30 seconds and helped the 4x100 relay team to 37.10 seconds, a feat never achieved before the Beijing Games.

"You have Einstein. You have Isaac Newton. You have Beethoven. You have Usain Bolt. It's not explainable how and what they do," said Jamaican athletics coach Stephen Francis.

Bolt was joined as three-time gold medallist by British cyclist Chris Hoy, Australian swimmer Stephanie Rice and Chinese gymnast Zou Kai.

There was national glory galore as China became only the third nation other than the US and the Soviet Union to top the Olympic medal table, following Britain in 1908 and Germany 1936, both also hosts at the time.

The regular sweep of table tennis golds, seven of eight diving golds, multiple gymnastics success and first ever boxing golds allowed China to end the Games with 51 gold 21 silver and 28 bronze for a total 100 medals.

The US had more overall medals with 110 on a 36-38-36 breakdown, with Russia third on 23-21-28 (72) and Britain getting their best haul in a century with 19-13-15 (47) for fourth place in a first showing of what the team could do at home in London 2012.

But there was more to the Games, most notably the hug and kiss between medal-winning shooters Natalia Paderina of Russia and Georgia's Nino Salukvadze three days into the hostilities of their countries.

"I think this kind of sportsmanship and brotherhood is really remarkable," said Rogge.

German weightlifter Matthias Steiner tearfully kissed a picture of his late wife Susann after winning the super-heavyweight gold medal.

"She is always with me, in the hours before the competition, she's there," said Steiner, whose wife died in a car crash in July 2007.

On the downside were the infamous kick of Cuban taekwondo fighter Angel Matos at the referee and several doping offences highlighted by Ukraine's Lyudmila Blonska who was stripped of her heptathlon silver and faces a life ban as a second-time offender.

The IOC conducted a record 5,000 tests and 39 positive cases were recorded in the month before Olympic testing. Rogge spoke of a growing deterrent effect which also comes from new rules that Olympic doping offenders are barred from the next Games.

Some cases are still pending and the IOC also plans to conduct retests for the latest generation of the blood booster EPO.

But there were reportedly hiccups in the procedures observed by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which meant more bad news news for the IOC which according to many had stood helpless amid China's Olympic propaganda effort.
 
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