Olympic Games 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 Viklas 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 Edstrm 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 ” …