The Olympic Games


The Olympic Games are an international sports competition which are held every four years in a different city. Thousands of athletes from all over the world compete against each other in individual and team sports. Over 1 billion people watch the games on TV.

The first Olympic Games were held in Greece in 776 B.C. They were called the ancient games and lasted until the 4th century A.D. The modern games began in 1896, when the Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin revived the games to bring peace and friendship to the young people all over the world.

Today, there are summer and winter games. Up to 1994 both games were held in the same year, but now they are staged two years apart from each other.

Opening ceremony of the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo
Image: Rede do EsporteCC BY 3.0 BR,
via Wikimedia Commons

Ceremonies and Symbols of the Olympic Games

The Olympic Games begin with the opening ceremony . Athletes from all the participating nations march into the stadium. Greece comes in first, because it was the first nation to hold the Olympics, and the host nation comes in last.

The Olympic flag is raised and a chosen athlete lights the Olympic flame . It is a symbol of spirit , knowledge, and life. The fire comes from Olympia , a small town in Greece and many runners transport the flame in a torch relay to the site of the games. It burns from the opening ceremony until the end of the games.

The Olympic rings were created in 1913 and represent the five continents (Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia, and the Americas).

All athletes must take the Olympic oath . One of them has to promise that all athletes will give their best and compete in a fair way.

After each event, medals are given to the first three athletes. They receive gold, silver and bronze medals. Their flags are raised and the national anthem of the winner’s country is played.

Arrival of the Olympic torch in London
Image: WikiLaurentCC BY-SA 3.0,
via Wikimedia Commons

Olympic flag with rings
Image: Sam from Vancouver, CanadaCC BY 2.0,
via Wikimedia Commons

The International Olympic Committee (IOC)

The IOC (International Olympic Committee) is the organisation that governs the games. It decides which sports and events are held at the games. The IOC also selects the host city for the summer and winter games, at least seven years before they take place. Cities that want the games must show that

  • they have enough stadiums for all events
  • they have enough room for all the athletes
  • they can provide safety for the athletes
  • they can transport athletes and spectators from one event to another
  • they can build an Olympic village where all athletes live during the games

How Athletes Take Part

Normally, each country decides for itself which sportsmen and –women are allowed to take part. Athletes must qualify for the games by winning or doing well in competitions before the Olympic Games start.

Athletes, who are sent to the games by their country, must be a citizen of that country. For years, only amateurs were able to participate in the games, but today, most athletes are professionals, who earn their money through sport.

Most governments give their team money so that it can take part in the games.

US track team qualification for the 2016 Olympic Games
Image : jenaragon94 / CC BY 2.0

The Ancient Olympic Games

The ancient Olympic Games were celebrated at Olympia, Greece every four years. They were held in honour of the god Zeus. In the early games, only Greek men were allowed to participate. The games consisted of sports like footraces , wrestling , boxing , the pentathlon and horse racing. The last event of the games was usually a chariot race .

When the Romans conquered Greece in 140 B.C. the games started to lose their religious meaning and in 393 the Roman emperor banned the event.

The Modern Summer and Winter Games

The Summer Games are held during the summer season of the host country. They last for 16 days. Today, there are more than 270 events during the games. Over 15,000 athletes from 200 nations take part. Summer Games are held in leap years.

Because of the coronavirus outbreak in 2020, the Olympic Games in Tokyo were held in the following year.

The first separate Winter Games were held in Chamonix, France in 1924. They usually take place in February in the even years between the Summer Games. Today, the Winter Olympics include over 60 events. Athletes from more than 60 countries participate .

2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City
Image: debairdCC BY-SA 2.0,
via Wikimedia Commons

Politics and the Olympic Games

In the past, the Olympic Games have been disturbed by political issues . In 1936 the IOC chose Berlin as the site for the 1936 Summer Games. A few years later, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party rose to power and Hitler used the games to show Germany’s power .

In 1968 two Black American runners protested against their government and raised their fists when the American national anthem was played.

In 1980 the USA—and many other countries—didn’t send athletes to the games in Moscow because the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan a year before. In return , the Russians and other Communist countries refused to take part in the 1984 games in Los Angeles.

The worst day in Olympic history came on September 5th, 1972 during the Munich games. Eight Palestinian terrorists broke into the Olympic village and killed two Israeli athletes. 9 others were taken hostage . They wanted the Israeli government to release over 400 Arab prisoners in Israel . During a battle with German policemen, all hostages and the terrorists were killed.

Berlin Olympiade 1936

Opening ceremony of the 1936 Berlin Olympics
Image: Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-P017045 / Frankl, A. / CC-BY-SA 3.0CC BY-SA 3.0 DE,
via Wikimedia Commons

The Olympic Games Today

The Olympic Games have become very successful over the past years. More and more people are able to watch them on TV and television stations are spending more money for the rights to broadcast the games. The IOC earns more money than ever before. With this money, they help athletes in poorer countries.

Drugs have become a big problem. Some athletes take drugs before and during the games in order to help their muscles grow. When they are caught, they are disqualified and their medals are taken away from them.

Host Cities of the Olympic Games

Summer Games Winter Games
1896 Athens, Greece
1900 Paris, France
1904 St. Louis, USA
1908 London, England
1912 Stockholm, Sweden
1920 Antwerp, Belgium
1924 Paris, France Chamonix, France
1928 Amsterdam, Netherlands St. Moritz, Switzerland
1932 Los Angeles, USA Lake Placid, USA
1936 Berlin, Germany Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
1948 London, England St. Moritz, Switzerland
1952 Helsinki, Finland Oslo, Norway
1956 Melbourne, Australia
Stockholm, Sweden
Cortina, Italy
1960 Rome, Italy Squaw Valley, USA
1964 Tokyo, Japan Innsbruck, Austria
1968 Mexico City, Mexico Grenoble, France
1972 Munich, Germany Sapporo, Japan
1976 Montreal, Canada Innsbruck, Austria
1980 Moscow, Soviet Union Lake Placid, USA
1984 Los Angeles, USA Sarajevo, Yugoslavia
1988 Seoul , South Korea Calgary, Canada
1992 Barcelona, Spain Albertville, France
1994 Lillehammer, Norway
1996 Atlanta, USA
1998 Nagano, Japan
2000 Sydney, Australia
2002 Salt Lake City, USA
2004 Athens, Greece
2006 Turin, Italy
2008 Beijing, China
2010 Vancouver, Canada
2012 London, United Kingdom
2014 Sotchi, Russia
2016 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
2018 PyeongChang , South Korea
2020 Tokyo, Japan (held in 2021)
2022 Beijing, China
2024 Paris, France
2026 Cortina, Italy
2028 Los Angeles, USA

Magic Moments of the Olympic Games


Jim Thorpe wins the pentathlon and the decathlon and becomes the world’s greatest all-round athlete. The medals are taken away from him after it is discovered that he has played baseball before the Olympics. In 1982 the IOC gave the medals back to Thorpe’s family.


Paavo Nurmi , the „Flying Finn“ , wins five gold medals in track and field.


The African American Jesse Owens wins four gold medals in track and field at the Berlin games. This is embarrassing to Adolf Hitler , who wants to prove that the German people are better than all the rest.


Austrian skier Toni Sailer wins all races in the Olympic skiing events —French skier Jean Claude Killy does the same in 1968.


Abebe Biklia of Ethiopia runs the fastest marathon ever—wearing no shoes . It is the third marathon he has ever run and he is the first African to win an Olympic gold medal.


Bob Beamon leaps 8.9 metres in the long jump. This world record holds for over 20 years.


The USA’s Mark Spitz becomes the world’s most successful swimmer—winning seven gold medals.


Romanian-born Nadia Comaneci gets the first perfect score in gymnastics : 10.0.


Dutch speed skater Eric Heiden becomes the first athlete to win five gold medals in a single Olympic Games. The United States ice hockey team wins the gold medal for the first time after the sport has been dominated by the Russians for the past years.


Ben Johnson sets a new world record in the 100 metre dash, but is then disqualified after the IOC discovers that he has taken steroids.


For the first time, professional basketball players are allowed to compete at the Olympics. America’s “Dream Team” with Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan win easily.

Jesse Owens wins the long jump at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
Image: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R96374 / CC-BY-SA 3.0CC BY-SA 3.0 DE,
via Wikimedia Commons

Nadia Comăneci at the 1980 Olympics
Image: Unknown (Comitetul Olimpic si Sportiv Roman),
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

US basketball “Dream Team” at the 1992 Olympic Games
Image: National Archives at College Park – Still Pictures,
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Weightlifting is a sport as old as mankind. You need a combination of power and strength, speed and concentration as well as timing. Women were allowed to lift weights for the first time at the 2000 Olympics.

Lidia Valentín from Spain at the 2012 Olympics
Image: Simon QCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Athletics is about running faster, jumping higher and throwing further than other athletes. It is the heart of the games. Today , the most popular events are athletic: the 100 m dash, the long jump or the marathon.

Usain Bolt wins the 100 m dash at the 2008 Olympics
Image: PhotoBobilCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In today’s Olympics, men and women compete in 16 events each. The fastest swimmers compete in the freestyle race. There are also relay races for 4 swimmers.

400 meter relay race at the 2008 Olympics
Image: Jmex60CC BY-SA 3.0,
via Wikimedia Commons

The Dutch were the first to skate across frozen rivers and canals. Very quickly the sport spread to other parts of Europe and North America. Today there are two main skating events : speed skating and figure skating.

Speed Skating at the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz
Image: Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-05456 / CC-BY-SA 3.0CC BY-SA 3.0 DE,
via Wikimedia Commons

Equestrian events were held for the first time in 1900. In the past only military officers could take part. Today there are three disciplines: Jumping, dressage and eventing.

Equestrian sports at the 2012 Olympics
Image: Ian PattersonCC BY 2.0,
via Wikimedia Commons

Gymnastics have a long and proud history. The sport goes back to the ancient games , where young men were prepared for war.

Today athletes compete on the floor, pommel horse, balance beam, rings etc..

Gymnast on parallel bars
Image: Pavel Ryčl, Attribution,
via Wikimedia Commons



Jigsaw Puzzle

Writing Task

Sports Today, a well-known magazine especially made for the younger generation, wants to know what young people think about the Olympic Games and has decided to organize an essay competition. The winner will be awarded a two-week trip to the next Olympic Summer Games.

You have decided to take part and send in an essay.

In your essay you should 

  • describe how important the Olympic Games as a global event are
  • explain what the advantages and disadvantages of holding such mega events are
  • give reasons why or why not the games are good for the host country or host city

Write an essay of 300 – 400 words. !

Image : blende12 on Pixabay , Public Domain

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