In its purest form, the Olympic Games are a time when the world stops fighting, gathers together, and proceeds to try to show up every other country by beating them at sports. Essentially, it is a chance for friendly competition between nations for the greater glory of one's homeland. In reality, however, it can get pretty political. Just ask the residents of Moscow and Los Angeles about when they hosted the Olympics.
Originally from Ancient Greece, the games were revived as a concept in 1896.
The Ancient Olympics
Held from 776 BC to AD 393 in (appropriately enough) Olympia, Greece. As with the modern Olympic Games, they were held every four years or Olympiad; Greek historians used the Olympiad to keep track of the years, because it was the one event that all of Greece could be counted on to attend and could therefore be used to cross-reference dates in the innumerable calendars the city-states used (each state had its own calendar, and some had twonote Athens, for instance, had a twelve-month lunisolar festival calendar for religious and agricultural purposes, and a ten-month solar political calendar for managing state business.).
The Games were only open to free men who spoke Greek. (Although women could enter horses in the equestrian event.) Winners were given wreaths made of olive branches and became heroes to their hometowns, which often brought with it a considerable sum of money. Athletes competed in the nude; in fact, our word "gymnasium" comes from the Greek word "gymnos," meaning "naked".
Back in the day, Olympics were very big deals indeed; during the Olympic period, all wars were put on hold, armies were forbidden to enter Olympia, and the use of the death penalty was suspended. In contrast to the modern world, where the Olympics gets suspended in favour of warfare.
The Games were ultimately banned by Emperor Theodosius I, who established Christianity as the state religion of The Roman Empire and viewed the Olympics as a pagan festival.
The Modern Summer Olympics
Established by a group led by Pierre de Coubertin, the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896. Since then they have been held every four years, with the exception of 1916, 1940 and 1944, for fairly obvious reasons.
Originally a strictly amateur affair in the truest sense of the word; some early winners literally were just in town and decided to have a go. Jim Thorpe, who won two medals at the 1912 Stockholm Games, was actually stripped of them when it emerged he'd earlier played baseball semi-professionally. He got them back in 1983, thirty years after his death.
Events for the games have varied over the years, with some early events (like lacrosse and tug of war) not lasting and some more recent additions, like Badminton in 1992, Taekwondo in 2000 and Rugby Sevens from 2016.
One unique event for the games is the modern pentathlon consisting of five events, purportedly based on the experience of a 19th century cavalry soldier behind enemy lines:
Show jumping note The competitors don't know which horse they will ride until a few minutes before the competition starts, supposedly to mimic the idea of grabbing a strange horse from a nearby field. Hilarity Ensues as they try to make it through the course on a horse they may never have ridden before.
200m freestyle swimming
3km cross-country running.
The host city for any given Summer Olympics is chosen about seven years in advance by the International Olympic Committee with cities submitting detailed bids, which are voted on in a fairly complex process. Hosting the Olympics is a very expensive thing, although it does give you a nice stadium or three and some vastly improved city infrastructure when you're done.
The Summer Games
All Games are numbered as the "Games of the [Roman numeral] Olympiad", an Olympiad being a four-year cycle.
I — 1896: Athens, Greece: The very first Olympic Games. Irish-American runner James Brendan Connolly was the very first modern Olympic champion, by way of winning the triple jump. The highlight of the Games, however, was the first marathon, ran at the route said to have been taken by Greek soldier Pheidippides to relay news of the Greek triumph over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon, won by Greek water carrier Spyridon Louis, earning him a place in the Greek sporting pantheon.
II — 1900: Paris, France: Highlights include women participating for the first time, with Swiss sailor Hélčne de Pourtalčs becoming the first female champion, as well as American runner Alvin Kraenzlein winning the 60m relay (since discontinued after Saint Louis 1904), 110m hurdles, 200m hurdles and long jump — a record that stands to this day. Largely seen at the time as a sideshow to the Exposition Universelle (World's Fair) that Paris was hosting that year. Pierre de Coubertin remarked afterward that he was surprised that the "Olympic Moment" survived these games.
III — 1904: Saint Louis, Missouri, USA: A confusing, badly organized mess, with the Russo-Japanese War and the traveling keeping many Europeans away. Like Paris 1900, these were basically a sideshow for the big World's Fair that year — the Louisiana Purchase Exposition — and indeed, de Coubertin had been browbeaten into accepting St. Louis in lieu of Chicago, which actually won the hosting rights fair and square. The marathon was a farce and a half.note To summarize: the race day was brutally hot, and athletes had to dodge oncoming traffic. The judges mistakenly gave the gold medal to Frederick Lorz (USA), who dropped out nine miles away, and was just jogging to pick up his clothes, not realizing the mistake until after the medals ceremony. The actual winner, British-American Thomas Hicks, was doped with strychnine (the performance enhancer of the day) and had to be carried half-dead past the finish line. The race also included South African Len Tau, the first African in the Games, who placed ninth, but only because he was chased a mile off course by dogs (he worked as a sideshow freak during off-hours as a "savage", but he was actually a university student). Finally, there is Felix Carbajal, a Cuban postman running in homemade shorts, who, despite taking snack break at an orchard en route (the apples he ate gave him mild food poisoning, so he had to take a nap too), still came in fourth. In short, these were the Games that almost ended the Olympics!
1906: Athens, Greece: A special edition of the Games to celebrate its tenth anniversary, but is now retconned by the IOC as unofficialnote The thinking was that it would be the first games in a parallel four-yearly cycle with Athens as permanent host. Athens then changed its mind about the idea. You could almost call it a Poorly Disguised Pilot. Still, a lot of things we now take for granted began here, including the Parade of the Athletes, an Olympic Village, and the Closing Ceremonies. Prince George of Greece was involved in the organizing and some of the judging, and ran the last lap of the Marathon alongside the winner, Canadian Billy Sherring.
IV — 1908: London, England, United Kingdom: Included some rows over the American flag not being dipped before King Edward VII at the royal box, Italian marathoner Donaldo Pietri winning the event but later disqualified for going around the track the wrong way, and also the marathon length being standardized at 26 miles 385 yards (42.195 kilometers) because of royal requests to start the marathon at the Windsor Palace. Another highlight is American medley runner John Taylor becoming the first ever African-American champion.
V — 1912: Stockholm, Sweden: Saw the first arts competitions, a tradition kept up until London 1948. Japan also debuted as the first ever Asian nation at the Games. These Games also featured the first women's aquatics events, as well as the first pentathlon and decathlon, both won by Jim Thorpe (USA), the first Native American champion, and Finnish runner Hannes Kohlemainen setting records on the 5km, 10km and cross-country events.
VI — 1916: Berlin, Germany: Cancelled due to World War I.
VII — 1920: Antwerp, Belgium: First appearance of the Olympic Flag, the Oath and the doves. The losers of the First World War weren't invited. Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn set a record for becoming the oldest medalist ever, winning silver at 72 years old (he previously won gold on the previous two Games), and introduced the world to legendary Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi, who won three gold and one silver.
VIII — 1924: Paris, France: Not especially well known, except for the movie Chariots of Fire, which focused on Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, British runners who won the 400m and 100m, respectively. For those who would pry deeper, the Games featured Paavo Nurmi once again, as he tears through the competition with five golds, complementing his compatriots' domination of the track events. These Games also introduced the Olympic Motto and the idea of a Village in which athletes could interact and train with each other.
IX — 1928: Amsterdam, Netherlands: The Games that set several firsts, such as the first appearance of the Olympic Flame, the tradition of Greece starting the athletes' parade, the 400m oval which would become the standard for Olympic track events, and the sponsorship of Coca-Cola. Germany, banned in both 1920 and 1924, made its return. Austro-Hungarian-American swimmer Johnny Weissmuller won two gold medals, then went on to a film career as Tarzan, and Paavo Nurmi ended his career with a gold and a silver. Amsterdam 1928 also featured the first ever Asian gold medalist, Japanese triple jumper Mikio Oda.
X — 1932: Los Angeles, California, USA: First use of the victory podium. Not exactly notable except for people who watched Letters from Iwo Jima — one of its main characters is Takeichi Nishi, Japan's only equestrian gold medalist, who would later die as a soldier during the defense of Iwo Jima. Fellow Japanese swimmer Kusuo Kitamura also became the youngest ever Olympic champion at 14 years old.
XI — 1936: Berlin, Germany: "The Nazi Games" and the first to be broadcast on television. African-American runner Jesse Owens won four gold medals in a highly controversial games that saw a Spanish boycott, the first torch relay, and only "Aryans" being allowed to compete for Germany.
XII — 1940: Tokyo, Japan: Taken from Tokyo when the Second Sino-Japanese War began, then moved to Helsinki, Finland, then definitely cancelled after World War II began. An unofficial POW games was held in Stalag XIII-A though.
XIII — 1944: London, England, United Kingdom: Cancelled, also due to World War II. However, an unofficial POW games was held in Oflag II-C by the Polish prisoners with German permission.
XIV — 1948: London, England, United Kingdom: The "austerity games", with athletes housed in barracks. Germany and Japan, losers of World War II, were banned. These Games featured a breakthrough in women's sports through Dutch runner Fanny Blankers-Koen, then a 30-year-old mother of three, winning both the 100m, 200m, 80m hurdles and 4×100m relay.
XV — 1952: Helsinki, Finland: The only appearance of Saar, then not part of West Germany. These Games marked the debut of Israel as well as the USSR, in its first appearance since Tsarist Russia last competed in Stockholm 1912 (previously, Soviet leaders denounced the Games as "bourgeois" and created their own "Workers Olympics"). These Games featured an astonishingly successful performance by Hungarian athletes, as well as Czechoslovak runner Emil Zátopek winning both the 5km, 10km and marathon, as well as USA's Bob Mathias becoming the first to successfully defend his decathlon gold. Also among the athletes was British runner Roger Bannister, whose failure to win the 1500m event inspired him to train harder, leading him to ultimately become the very first runner to run a mile (1609 m) under four minutes in a 1954 race.
XVI — 1956: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia / Stockholm, Sweden: First games in the southern hemisphere. The equestrian events were held in Stockholm due to quarantine regulations. Australian athletes had a field day, courtesy of runners Betty Cuthbert and Bobby Morrow both winning the 100m, 200m and 4×100m, as well freestyle swimmers Murray Rose, the first to win multiple golds since Weissmuller (400m, 1500m and 4×200m), and Dawn Fraser at the 400m and 4×100m. The Games also featured the debut of Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, who won four gold and one each of silver and bronze, as well as American discus thrower Al Oerter, who would win the first of his four discus golds — the only athlete to do so.
XVII — 1960: Rome, Italy: The games featured American runner and polio survivor Wilma Rudolph winning three sprint medals. The Games also marks the debut of nineteen-year-old Cassius Clay — the boy who would become Muhammad Ali — through a gold medal at light-heavyweight boxing. Other highlights included Ethiopian marathoner Abebe Bikila running barefoot to become the first black African gold medalist, Australian runner Herb Elliott dominating the 1500m event, and Rafer Johnson defeating his Taiwanese friend Yang Chuan-kwang in perhaps one of the most dramatic decathlon finals in Olympic history, as well as Larisa Latynina three golds, two silvers and a bronze to her collection.
XVIII — 1964: Tokyo, Japan: First Games in Asia, the first broadcast live via satellite, and also the first in color for viewers in Japan and America. To emphasize Japan's message of postwar recovery, the Flame was lit by 19-year-old runner Yoshinori Sakai, who was born in 6 August 1945 — the day the atomic bomb destroyed his native Hiroshima. The Games featured Larisa Latynina capping her career with two each of gold, silver and bronze, making her one of the most successful Olympians ever with 9 gold, 5 silver and 4 bronze, for a total of 19 medals total — a record that stood until Michael Phelps broke it in 2012. Other highlights include Dawn Fraser's final gold at the 100m freestyle swimming (capping a 3-peat), Abebe Bikila becoming the first marathoner to successfully defend his Olympic gold, and Native American runner Billy Mills's astonishing win at the 10km event — the only American to do so.
XIX — 1968: Mexico City, Mexico: American runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos, gold and bronze winners at the 200m race, respectively, did a Black Power salute and got banned for life, while somebody got banned for drug use for the first time. The Games were also marred by student protests against the dictatorial government, which ended with the army being sent in to massacre protesters and civilians, ten days before the opening ceremony. On a lighter note, the Games feature the first woman to light the Olympic Flame, hurdler Enriqueta Basilio. American long jumper Bob Beamon also set a record at the long jump with 8.90m — an Olympic record that stands to this day. Other highlights included Tanzanian marathoner John Stephen Akhwari finishing last at the marathon, trudging on despite a dislocated knee.
XX — 1972: Munich, West Germany (now Germany): Tragically overshadowed by the murder of eleven Israeli athletes by terrorists. There was also some controversy about the men's basketball final. Particularly jarring since these Games were designed to be the "Serenity Games", a Lighter and Softer antidote to Berlin 1936's Nazi leanings, with garlanded children and everything pastel-hued, and a stadium that looked as if it was about to take off and fly. The very security guards even wore robin's egg blue.
XXI — 1976: Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Saw a 24-nation African boycott over New Zealand's national rugby union team touring South Africa, a guy win a gymnastics medal with a broken knee and the first perfect score in a gymnastics event by fourteen-year-old Nadia Comăneci from Romania. The scoreboards couldn't handle it. The Games were also notorious for Canada not winning a gold medal on its home Games, a streak that continued in Calgary 1988 but finally broken come Vancouver 2010.
XXII — 1980: Moscow, USSR (now Russia): The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan a year earlier saw a large-scale (65 nations) USA-led boycott of these Games, with some nations only parading under the Olympic Flag, so these Games were dominated by the USSR and East Germany. A lot of world records got broken, though. Even though the boycott was made on its behalf, Afghanistan ironically participated and later joined the 1984 boycott (it had a pro-Soviet regime at the time, after all). These were also the first games in which the opening and closing ceremonies became the expensive, full-blown, almost theatrical events we know today.
XXIII — 1984: Los Angeles, California, USA: A smaller, USSR-led Eastern boycott for this one, allowing America to earn its most medals since Saint Louis 1904. Also had a theme by John Williams that is still played by NBC to this day and a guy fly a jet-pack during the opening ceremonies, and the appearance of a fake UFO during the closing ceremonies. Widely considered the most financially successful Games, according to The Other Wiki.
XXIV — 1988: Seoul, South Korea: The attention the Games brought helped make South Korea a democracy, in an event that saw a very controversial boxing judgment. Also Ben Johnson was caught doping after winning gold in the 100 meters. During most opening ceremonies, doves of peace were released after the lighting of the Flame. In Seoul, they let the doves out before the torch came in, a number of confused doves perched on the rim of the Olympic Cauldron just before it was lit, and were burned to death on worldwide television; that's why this was the last Games at which live doves were released (future editions of the Games would use replicas). On a side note, one gymnast who was infamously snubbed when participants were selected for this games despite winning the National Championship in her home country went on to become an action star in the James Bond parody Spitfire. There was a boycott by North Korea, which had demanded that the Games be co-hosted by both Koreas. Albania and Cuba joined the North Korean boycott, but the less hardline communist countries competed.
XXV — 1992: Barcelona, Spain: Twelve of the states of the recently defunct USSR competed as a unified team and Yugoslav athletes competed as individuals. This marks the advent of the "Dream Team", the American basketball team composed of NBA superstars, including Michael Jordan, who already won a gold in 1984 as an amateur (as this is the first Games where professional basketball players are allowed). Also best-known for having probably the most memorable lighting of the Olympic Flame in history, featuring Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo firing a flaming arrow into the cauldron note If you watch the footage closely, the arrow actually goes over the cauldron and falls behind it, though a large cloud of unlit gas has been allowed to build up over the cauldron so that the passing arrow could set it alight; Rebollo deliberately aimed long because a burning arrow falling on the audience may not have been the best note to start an Olympiad on. Also featured the Olympics theme song "Barcelona", sung by Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé. First Olympics since 1960 to feature South Africa, which had previously been banned as punishment for apartheid.
XXVII — 2000: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia: Basketball fans probably remember that dunk by Vince Carter. Sydney 2000 was also dubbed the "Women's Games", celebrating 100 years of female participation (it was also the first Games to have women's weightlifting, and saw increased female participation, albeit then at 25% the number of men). The final torch relay was done entirely by women medalists from past Games, culminating with Aboriginal runner Cathy Freeman, silver medalist from Atlanta 1996, who would win her event, the 400m run.
XXVIII — 2004: Athens, Greece: Touted as the "Homecoming Games", this marks Greece's best performance since the inception of the games. However, these games were notable by the low number of attendance at the events, and eventually being one of the contributors to putting Greece into a crippling default later in the decade. These Games also served as the introduction to 19-year-old American swimmer Michael Phelps, who showed much promise with six golds and two bronzes.
XXIX — 2008: Beijing, China: A controversial Games, with more than one Torch runner getting attacked by pro-Tibet protesters and the Flame actually being deliberately put out three times in Paris by security. (Torch relay teams carry a backup lamp, also lit in Athens, for incidents like these.) The main event, though, passed without incident. Phelps set the record for the most medals in one Games at eight golds on all his events. This also marked the debut of 21-year-old Jamaican runner Usain Bolt, who set a 100m sprint record while showboating for the last 20 meters. Live But Delayed. The dazzling ceremonies of these Games will possibly not be beaten for a long, long time. The opening culminated with Li Ning, 1984 six-time medal-winning gymnast (3 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze) and China's most successful Olympian, literally running through the sky with the Torch in hand across a giant scroll which unrolled to reveal the stylized cauldron as he lit the Flame.
XXX — 2012: London, England, United Kingdom. This made London the first city to host the Games thrice, as well as the first Games where all 204 participating nations, including individual athletes from recently-dissolved Netherlands Antilles and newly-independent South Sudan, have female athletes. These Games boast Great Britain's best medal haul since 1908 (ending with a respectable third-place finish behind perennial board-leaders USA and China), Usain Bolt's continued domination of sprint events, and Michael Phelps surpassing Latynina's record with four golds and two silvers, marking a new world record of 22 medals (eighteen gold and two each of silver and bronze). The Opening Ceremonies, directed by Danny Boyle, will probably also go down in history as "the one where the Queen parachuted into the arena with James Bond; also there was something involving Kenneth Branagh in a top hat". Mention should also be made of the original cauldron design, comprising a loose assembly of 204 copper "petals" (one carried in by a member of each participating nation's team) with thin copper gas pipes as "stalks". Once lit these rose up to form a tight cluster so that the flames merged, symbolizing unity.
XXXI — 2016: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: The first games in South America. These games will come just two years after Brazil hosts The World Cup in 2014, so preparations are already well underway—or would be, if they weren't tied up in red tape.
XXXII — 2020: Tokyo, Japan: Tokyo will be the first Asian city to host the Games twice.
The Modern Winter Olympics
The Winter Olympic Games consist of multiple winter sport events and are held every four years, also excepting 1940 and 1944. The first winter games were held in 1924. Varying sports have been added since, but cross-country skiing, figure skating, ice hockey, Nordic combined, ski jumping, and speed skating have been in every Olympics since 1924. Today's games also feature snowboarding and luge.
The Winter Games were initially held during the same year as the Summer Olympics — and before World War II, in the same country. While there still tend to be fewer countries participating than in the Summer Games, the Winter Olympics have grown in popularity, and the International Olympic Committee decided in 1986 to off-set the Winter Games from the Summer ones. In 1992, both Summer and Winter Olympics were held, but in different nations. The next Winter Olympics were held in 1994, and the next Summer Olympics in 1996. This means that Winter Olympics are now held in the same years as soccer World Cups.
The Winter Games
Unlike the Summer Olympics, which count the Olympiad whether the games occurred in them or not, the Roman numerals of the Winter Olympics count only the games.
I — 1924: Chamonix, France: Originally called the "International Winter Sports Week" (and a part of Paris 1924), these Games were successful enough that the IOC decided to make the Winter Olympics more or less regular.
II — 1928: Saint Moritz, Switzerland: The first true Winter Olympics. The Games were also notorious for fluctuating weather — a blizzard at the opening ceremony, followed by warm weather for the rest of the tournament.
III — 1932: Lake Placid, New York, USA: The first Winter Games outside Europe, and the first time the host team beat perennial Winter Games board-leader Norway.
IV — 1936: Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany: Not as Nazi-ridden as the summer version, held in Berlin later that year, but the Germans still manage to come behind Norway in the medals table. These Games featured the debut of alpine skiing, and featured Britain's upset of Canada in men's ice hockey (a sport traditionally associated with the latter).
1940: Sapporo, Japan: Supposed to be the first Winter Games in Asia, only for Japan to resign from hosting duties due to the Second Sino-Japanese War, and ultimately cancelled due to World War II. The same city would later be awarded the 1972 edition.
1944: Cortina D'Ampezzo, Italy: Also cancelled due to World War II. The same town would later be awarded the 1956 edition.
V — 1948: Saint Moritz, Switzerland: The first Winter Games held in a different country from that year's Summer Games (although Saint Moritz and London are geographically closer than Lake Placid and Los Angeles). These Games featured Barbara Ann Scott, the only Canadian woman to win gold in figure skating, as well as Dick Button, American figure skater and the first to successfully pull off a double axel en route to a gold, and Henri Oreiller, French alpine skier and first to win a downhill event by a wide margin (4 seconds). Like London 1948, Japan and Germany, losers of World War II, were not invited.
VI — 1952: Oslo, Norway: As expected, Norway dominated these Games, among which is its most decorated athlete, trucker and speed skater Hjalmar Andersen, who won three of his four events. Emulating the summer versions, these Winter Games also introduced the passing of an Olympic flag from the mayor of the current host to that of the next host through the IOC president at the closing ceremonies (though recent Winter Games use replicas of the "Oslo flag"). These Games also featured the first Winter Olympic torch relay.
VII — 1956: Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy: Regaining hosting rights to the Games after the town lost the 1944 Games to World War II, these games were the first televised Winter Games, as well as the first to rely on corporate sponsorship. These Games marked the debut of Soviet winter athletes, who would tear through the medals table, particularly men's ice hockey, which they would dominate for the next three decades. Austrian alpine skier Toni Sailer also became the first athlete to sweep all three skiing events — downhill, slalom and giant slalom.
VIII — 1960: Squaw Valley (since named Olympic Valley), California (just across the state-line from Reno, Nevada, near Lake Tahoe), USA: The "austerity games" of the Winter Olympics, bobsledding and luge were omitted as it was considered too expensive to build a track. The opening ceremonies was directed by Walt Disney himself. Predating the "Miracle on Ice" 20 years later, the American ice hockey team win their first ice hockey gold medal at the expense of Canada and the Soviet Union, breaking the latter's dominion over the sport for the first time in many years. Soviet speed skater Lidiya Skoblikova also debuted with two gold medals, making her the most successful athlete of the Games, together with compatriot Yevgeny Grishin, who also won two golds in 1956.
IX — 1964: Innsbruck, Austria: Due to a dry spell earlier that year, the Austrian Army had to literally carve out the ice from high up the Alps. These Games marked the first time East and West Germany marched as one, and featured Lidiya Skoblikova adding four more golds (on all her events) to her collection.
X — 1968: Grenoble, France: The edition that made the Winter Olympics a household word in American media, not the least because of extensive coverage from ABC and the popularity of such figures as French alpine skier Jean-Claude Killy, who won all three of his events, and figure skater Peggy Fleming, the only American gold medalist in these Games (who also heralded the renaissance of the sport in the USA following a plane crash seven years earlier that killed the entire US team en route to the World Championships in Prague). These Games were also the first time the IOC ordered drug and gender testing for athletes.
XI — 1972: Sapporo, Japan: Like Cortina D'Ampezzo, Sapporo regained hosting rights after surrendering the 1940 edition due to the Sino-Japanese War (which was ultimately cancelled). These Games were the first in Asia, as well as the first time Japan had ever won gold in any Winter Games, with a podium sweep by Yukio Kasaya (gold), Akitsugu Konno (silver) and Seiji Aochi (bronze) on the 70m ski jump as their only medals.
XII — 1976: Innsbruck, Austria: The Games were originally awarded to Denver, Colorado, but locals voted down a bond issue to fund necessary construction, and the IOC turned initially to runner-up candidate (and eventual host-city come 2010) Vancouver, BC, which declined due to short notice, and then to the hosts of twelve years earlier. To this day, Denver remains the only city to decline hosting the Games. Given the financial effect of the Games being hosted in Montreal that same year, one could hardly blame them. The main highlight of these Games was the dramatic victory of Austrian alpine skier Franz Klammer over his Swiss rival Bernhard Russi.
XIII — 1980: Lake Placid, New York, USA: Famous for the "Miracle on Ice", in which the motley American ice hockey team defeated the heavily favored Soviet team (which had beaten them 10-3 two weeks prior), 4-3, en route to a gold medal finish against Finland. Other highlights include Swedish skier Ingemar Stenmark winning two gold medals on the slalom and giant slalom and American speed skater Eric Heiden winning all five events, making him the most successful Olympian in both these Games and perhaps in the history of the Winter Olympics.
XIV — 1984: Sarajevo, Yugoslavia (now Bosnia and Herzegovina): British ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean skated to Bolero and promptly earned the only perfect set of marks ever given to anyone in the sport, and featured the first black African winter Olympian in the form of Senegalese skier Lamine Gučye. These games had a rather sad postscript years later when Yugoslavia broke up violently, and images of tanks parked in the rink where Torvill and Dean danced became iconic images of the conflict.
XV — 1988: Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Canadian figure skater Elizabeth Manley is best remembered for her silver-winning performance in the long program. Also famous for Jamaica participating in the bobsled, where it was seen as unusual for a tropical country to be competing in a winter sport (the theory was that having sprinters on the team would get the sled off to a fast start, providing a competitive edge down the rest of the track). The highlights of the Games, though, were the triple-gold performances of Finnish ski jumper Matti Nykänen and Dutch speed-skater Yvonne van Gennip, as well as two from Italian alpine skier Alberto Tomba, en route to becoming the first in his sport to win medals on three consecutive Winter Games, and one from American speed skater Bonnie Blair. While Canada remained without (official) gold on its home Games (other than two on demonstration sports, including that by short-track speed-skater Sylvie Daigle), surplus revenue from viewers and sponsors, which more than compensated for these Games being the costliest to run (at C$829 million) at the time, helped turn Calgary into Canada's premier winter sports center — and helped break its dry spell come Vancouver 2010.
XVI — 1992: Albertville, France: Last Winter Games held at the same year as the Summer Games. Most of the venues for these Games, including the ceremonies stadium, were temporary. The Games featured the Norwegians' domination of male cross-country skiing events, Alberto Tomba's second giant slalom gold, Bonnie Blair's two-gold-medal performance, and breakthrough medal finishes of the USA's Kristi Yamaguchi (gold), Japan's Midori Ito (silver), and New Zealand's Annelise Coberger (silver). Yamaguchi and Ito became the first figure skaters of Asian descent to win medals, while alpine skier Coberger became the first medalist from the Southern Hemisphere. The ceremonies were choreographed by Philip Decouffle and were very similar to that of Cirque du Soleil, with acrobats performing on a very tall central mast along with many other dazzling feats.
XVII — 1994: Lillehammer, Norway: First Winter Games held in a different year from the Summer Games. Widely considered the best Winter Games, featuring an opening ceremony on a ski jump venue, whose climax was skier Stein Gruben going downhill with the Torch before the Cauldron was lit by Crown Prince Haakon, whose father, King Harald V, and grandfather, Olav V, were themselves Olympians. The Games featured the domination of women's cross-country events by Italy's Manuela Di Centa and Russia's Lyubov Yegorova, with 5 and 4 medals, respectively, a heartstopping victory of Italy over Norway in the men's 4×10km cross-country event by just 0.4 second, and American speed skater Dan Jansen, long considered a favorite but beleaguered by failure ever since 1988, when he had to compete even as he was mourning his older sister Jane, who died of leukemia hours before his first event, finally winning the 1000m event. A tabloid-friendly scandal involving rival American figure skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding provided fodder for comedians and sketch comedy shows for months; Harding never lived it down.
XVIII — 1998: Nagano, Japan: The first Winter Games featuring women's ice hockey, curling and snowboarding. It was also the first time NHL players were allowed to play in men's ice hockey. The bobsled track used for these games was notable for having a portion that sloped uphill. The Games featured 15-year-old American figure skater Tara Lipinski beating compatriot Michelle Kwan to become the youngest individual champion in the history of the Winter Olympics and Austrian skier Hermann Maier, who survived a hard fall days before the Games, winning the Super-G and giant slalom events.
XIX — 2002: Salt Lake City, Utah, USA: Notable for a bribery controversy, the disclosure of which forced several IOC members to resign; the same scandal led to the appointment of a certain Boston-based financier named Mitt Romney to head the Organizing Committee, which he leveraged into his run for Governor of Massachusetts and later the Presidency. The scores of a figure-skating judge were also thrown out, resulting in two couples being awarded gold medals for pairs skating. And American speed skater Apollo Ohno's first gold was awarded after South Korea's Kim Dong-sung was disqualified, resulting in over 16,000 threatening emails to the IOC's website, which shut the site down for almost nine hours (it also didn't help that Ohno is half-Japanese). Nevertheless, from a financial and sporting perspective, these Games were one of the most successful. These Games featured Canada's first men's ice hockey gold since 1952, Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjřrndalen winning all four men's events, and speed skating providing the first gold medals for China, courtesy of Yang Yang (A) in women's competitions, and Australia (and, for that matter, the entire southern hemisphere), courtesy of Steven Bradbury's unlikely come-from-dead-last finish after everybody else crashed out on the final turn Also noteworthy for being the first games (outside of St. Moritz) to feature Skeleton, a sliding sport described as being "Like luge, but face-down and head-first". Also the first ever Olympics to feature Skeleton competing on the same track as bobsled and luge (St. Moritz had a separate skeleton track) US Men's Skeleton athlete Jimmy Shea took gold, being America's first ever third-generation Olympian.
XX — 2006: Turin, Italy (identified as "Torino"): The Games featured Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko setting a world record for the largest margin of victory in his event (10 points), Apollo Ohno winning his second short track speed skating event (and this time without much controversy), and Italian cross-country skier Giorgio Di Centa, younger brother of Manuela, winning both the 4×10km and 50km events (the latter which held its medals ceremony at the closing ceremony, in the presence of his sister). This also marks the last public performance of legendary Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti, who performed "Nessun Dorma" at the end of the opening ceremony — a year before he died of pancreatic cancer.
XXI — 2010: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: The Winter Games that ended Canada's dry spell when it comes to gold medals on Games it hosts, starting with Alexandre Bilodeau in men's moguls, followed by thirteen others, culminating in a heart-stopping overtime victory of Canada over the USA in the nation's most beloved sport, ice hockey. This broke the record for most golds at a single games, which had been previously shared by Norway and the Soviet Union. Also the first Games to present the Olympic and Paralympic mascots together as a single group instead of having separate, unrelated mascots.
XXII — 2014: Sochi, Russia: An unusual choice for Winter Olympic host city, being both a winter and summer resort town. Also the first Games under current IOC president, 1976 fencing gold medalist Thomas Bach. While the runoff was fraught with controversy, due to allegations of corruption, outrage over anti-gay laws, and a staggering $51B cost (far surpassing Beijing 2008's $44B, which, as a summer edition, had more events and, all things said, is not terribly over-expensive), the main event itself went without a hitch. The Games featured a near-total domination of speed skating events by the Dutch, Canada becoming the first back-to-back men's ice hockey champion since the Soviet Union, childhood friends Meryl Davis and Charlie White winning the USA's first ice dancing gold, and Ole Einar Bjřrndalen winning the 10km sprint and mixed relay, becoming the most decorated Winter Olympian ever with 8 golds, 4 silvers and 1 bronze.
XXIII — 2018: Pyeongchang County, South Korea (identified as "PyeongChang"): The first Winter Olympics in Asia outside Japan. Also counts as a "Throw the Dog a Bone" moment for the South Korean ski resort after coming up short at the 2010 and 2014 bids.
XXIV — 2022: To be decided on an IOC meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on July 31, 2015. Two cities are in contention: Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing, China (for ice events, with Zhangjiakou in Hebei province for snow events). Should Almaty win, it will become the first Games in Central Asia; if Beijing, it would become the first city to host both Summer and Winter editions.
The Paralympic Games
"Mind, Body, Spirit" / "Spirit In Motion"
Like the Olympics, but for athletes with disabilities. Held after the Olympics, in the same venues. It is not, however, organized by the IOC but by the International Paralympic committee, founded 1989, and has its own logo - three arcs rather than five rings. The name means that they run parallel to the Olympic Games, not that it's for the paralysed. Do not confuse them with the Special Olympics, which is a competition for mentally handicapped athletes that's styled after the Olympics but unaffiliated. Also does not include either parachuting or paragliding which are events in the World Games, which tries to be like the Olympics for non-Olympic sports. Most of the sports are about the same as the Olympics but there are a few that are exclusive to the Paralympics, such as boccia, wheelchair rugby, and goalball. Now has its own page!
Presidents of the International Olympic Committee
Demetrius Vikelas (1835-1908; presided 1894-1896), Greek businessman appointed by De Coubertin to preside over the revival of the Games.
Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937; presided 1896-1925), French teacher and founder of the modern Olympic Games.
Godefroy de Blonay (1869-1937; presided 1916-1919), Swiss nobleman who presided over the IOC in lieu of De Coubertin, who was away on conscription during World War I.
Juan Antonio Samaranch (1920-2010; presided 1980-2001), Spanish businessman under whose administration the Games saw increased commercial funding.
Jacques Rogge (b. 1942; presided 2001-2013), Belgian opthalmologist and former Olympic rower from 1968 to 1976, becoming the first actual Olympian to hold the post. His administration featured stricter anti-doping regulations and increased closeness to the athletes.
Thomas Bach (b. 1953; presided 2013-present), German lawyer, former Olympic fencer and member of the gold-winning 1976 men's foil team, and head of the German Olympic Committee until his election to this post, making him the first Olympic medalist (and a gold medalist) to hold this position.
Million Dollar Legs, a largely forgotten W.C. Fields classic, is all about getting Ruritanian citizens to participate in the 1932 Olympics.
Chariots of Fire (technically not fiction, but they did take a few liberties ...)
Rainbow Six involves a plot to start a global plague via the air conditioning at the Sydney opening ceremony. Clancy failed to realise the games actually took place in the late winter/early spring of Australia.
Miranda Frost in Die Another Day won a gold medal at Sydney by default when her opponent died of a steroids overdose arranged by Gustav Graves.
Animalympics a 1980 animation originally broadcast it's Winter Games segment on NBC TV, but the summer edition was canceled after the boycott. Latter reorganized into a film, but the summer half still suffered from the lack of completed animation.
A Young Justice storyline was set at the "Sydney World Games". The story involved the former Arrowette entering the archery competition, and Zandia (an island nation whose population consists entirely of supervillains taking advantage of its lack of extradition laws) entering, so Cassie was competing against Merlyn and Artemis.
The 1966 comedy film Walk, Don't Run is set at the '64 Tokyo Games and features Cary Grant in his last film role.
A sixth-season Mash episode has the 4077th staff celebrating the '52 Helsinki Games (and getting in shape) by holding their own "Olympics" competition.
Steven Spielberg's Munich depicts the Munich 1972 massacre and the retaliation by the Israeli secret services.
QWOP has you playing as an athlete for a small nation striving to compete in the Olympics. "Ideally you will run 100 metres...but our training program was under-funded." By "under-funded", the game means that the titular athlete struggles with basic walking.
The Simpsons had an episode where Springfield made a bid to host the Games. Years later a sign gag read "SPRINGFIELD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT: Built For the Olympics We Didn't Get".
Also see Pseudolympics for when works make references to silly Olympic-like events.
The Olympics provide examples of:
Accidental Athlete: In 1900, the Dutch rowers brought a French boy to replace their too-heavy coxswain. They won the gold medal, but to this day no one knows who the kid was.
Always Male: Gradually being averted as women's sports are being added, including boxing in 2012 and ski jumping (finally) in 2014. Greco-Roman wrestling is one of the events still for men only. In addition, the IOC later announced that it will suspend nations that forbid women from participating.
Also some more conservative Muslim countries. Notably in 2012, Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Qatar broke their streak and fielded women for the first time, contributing to every delegation having both male and female athletes.
The Atoner: Cian O'Connor, an Irish showjumper who won the gold in 2004, but had his medal stripped after his horse failed a dope test, returned in 2012 to take the bronze on a different horse.
Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: The closing ceremonies at Sochi in 2014 ended with the return of Mischa the Bear from the 1980 Moscow Games, accompanied by Hare and Snow Leopard.
The London 2012 opening ceremonies featured a "nightmare sequence" with a group of children being attacked by 50-foot tall literature villains like Voldemort and Captain Hook.
While it didn't attack, Vancouver 2010's opening ceremony featured a huge bear made of lights, and it seems that every summer Olympics opening ceremony since Barcelona featured giant puppets.
Atlanta 1996's opening had a giant Thunderbird that represented The American Civil War and the destruction wrought thereby.
The conclusion for the opening ceremonies at Lillehammer in '94 featured a gigantic egg which became an Earth globe and hatched a glittering dove, as thousands of silver dove-shaped balloons were released.
Munich '72 had 'The Flying Rainbow' (or 'The Olympic Rainbow') at the closing ceremonies. This was a piece of installation art created by Otto Piene. It had five helium-filled polythene tubes in the Olympic colors, each one 600 meters (almost two thousand feet) long. Piene has installed different versions of these lovely things all over the world.
You can pretty much count on this to happen in most every opening ceremony.
Awesome, but Impractical: You could argue that much of the architecture created to host Olympic events falls into this category, as there are few sporting events other than the Olympics that draw enough spectators to merit such enormous stadia; many Olympic facilities lay neglected or falling into ruin all over the world. The Beijing stadium hasn't had any real tenants since the Olympics, although it has hosted several recent Supercoppa Italiana games (a pre-season soccer game between the champions of Italy's Serie A league and Coppa Italia tournament), will be hosting the 2015 World Championships in Athletics, and will also be the anchor for new retail and entertainment facilities, and was even used as a winter amusement park!.
London is determined to avert this fate, with the main stadium designed in such a way that it can easily be converted into a more practical 25,000 capacity stadium once the games are over, but only time will tell how successful their approach will be.
However, London's plans for the Olympic Stadium changed. The stadium will still be downsized, but only to 60,000. West Ham United, currently of the Premier League, will take over the stadium. Since the track will remain in place, the stadium will also host the 2017 World Championships in Athletics.
Atlanta also averted the trope to an extent. The main stadium was intended only to be used for the Olympics and Paralympics, and was specifically designed to be converted to a baseball park for the Atlanta Braves. The local organizing committee paid for the conversion.
The Men's Marathon medal ceremony is given pride of place during the closing ceremonies.
Badass Grandpa: Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn, who won his first Olympic gold medal at the age of 60. He competed at three Olympics (1908, 1912 and 1920) and won his last medal (a silver) when he was 72 years old. Swahn still holds the record as the oldest Olympic gold medallist (64 years old) and the oldest Olympic medallist of all time.
Be Careful What You Say: Especially on Twitter. Early in the 2012 Games, three athletes were singled out for controversial and/or racist tweets. Two of those athletes were summarily expelled from the Games.
Best X Ever: Former President Juan Antonio Samaranch had a tradition of saying "This was the best Olympics ever!" at the end of each closing ceremony (with the exception of the Atlanta 1996 games, which, as mentioned above, were marred by security and other organisation problems).
Big Applesauce: As seen above, New York City has never hosted the Olympics though virtually every other city of its stature has. Rumor has it that New York was all but guaranteed the 2012 Games if they approved funding for the West Side Stadium, but when that fell through - so did the bid.
Russia has made no attempts to hide the fact that they are monitoring everything in 2014.
Blessed with Suck: The Olympic host city must often construct multiple venues for sports which may not be all that popular in their nation, often at enormous expense. After the Sochi games topped $50 Billion, support for the 2022 Winter Olympics bids eroded and multiple European cities withdrew entirely.
Broke the Rating Scale: Nadia Comăneci scored the first 10.0 in gymnastics history. The electronic scoreboard didn't even have that — you would've thought the poor girl kept scoring 1.0's. (To hammer this point home, no one had ever hit the elusive "perfect ten" in competition, ever. Out of eight routines, seven of Nadia's were scored as perfect tens. By the time she was through, the sport of gymnastics had been forever changed.)
Brooklyn Rage: Native New Yorker Teddy Atlas is NBC's primary color commentator for boxing. In the 2012 games, he repeatedly blasted the judges for "ridiculous" decisions that were turning the sport into a "joke." Indeed, the apex of this came in the fight between Azerbaijan's Abdulhamidov and Japan's Shimuzu, where the former was knocked six times in the final round without ever receiving a standing count.note Azerbaijan was caught red-handed by English newspapers in a Pay-for-Gold Medals scheme mere weeks before the games, adding to this. Teddy was so infuriated when Abdulhamidov won that he continued railing on the judges all throughout the subsequent fights, to the point where Atlas and his partner were asked to leave the ringside because they were disturbing the judges.
At the opening ceremony of Vancouver 2010, only three of the four "arms" of the indoor Olympic Cauldron rose from the floor of the BC Place Stadium, leaving Catriona LeMay Doan unable to light her portion. The closing ceremony mocks the malfunction by having a mime "manually lift" the missing arm, before "summoning" LeMay Doan, allowing her to finally light her arm of the indoor Cauldron.
Also from Sochi 2014's closing ceremony, the animatronic Polar Bear sheds a Single Tear after "blowing" out the Olympic Flame, reminiscent of an image of a tearful Misha during the closing ceremony of Moscow 1980, moments before a balloon rendition of it was flown away.
Canon Discontinuity: The games displayed art competitions complete with medals from 1912 to 1948. Today, the IOC considers them unofficial.
Clothes Make the Superman: The rollout of "Sharkskin" swimsuits in the 2000 games was hugely controversial — they used technology which dramatically reduced water resistance and several world records were shattered. They were also prohibitively expensive for small nations. In the 2008 Olympics, they were rendered absolutely obsolete by swimsuits featuring polyurethane panels, which caused pretty much every record to be completely shattered. As of 2012's Olympics, all non-porous suits (the polyurethane ones) were banned, and it was easy to tell, as far fewer than usual records were broken.
Cold War: It's widely stated that the Olympics were a suitable replacement for the lack of actual battles between the capitalist West and the communist East. Bonus for boycotts in the Moscow and Los Angeles Games. Even now, 20 years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, judges' scoring can still reflect Cold War loyalties.
Color-Coded for Your Convenience: When the athletes don't wear the national colors (see Wearing a Flag on Your Head), they will use different ones — red and blue for boxing and wrestling, white and blue for judo. Subverted in fencing, where both wear white (but the piste lights up green or red when a fencer makes contact).
Conspicuous CG: The Beijing opening ceremonies featured mostly computer-generated fireworks, since there were helicopters hovering above.
Crack Defeat: The 1988 games provided a former Trope Namer from boxing: Roy Jones, Jr. was controversially beaten by Si-Hun Park by decision in a gold medal bout that saw Jones dominate his South Korean opponent.
Curb-Stomp Battle: Many, though the 1992 "Dream Team" US Men's basketball team has to stand out for crushing all its opponents by more than 30 points.
At the 2012 Olympics just prior to the Mens 100m final one happened in the stands when a drunk spectator threw a bottle at the competitors. Said spectator just so happened to be sitting beside a Dutch Olympian called Edith Bosch who had won bronze for her nation in the 70kg Judo, her twitter feed later stated "A drunken spectator threw a bottle onto the track! I HAVE BEATEN HIM .... unbelieveable". While Lord Sebastian Coe, member of the House of Lords in British Parliament, President of the London Organizing Committee of Olympic Games, himself a veteran Olympic gold medalist (1500 meters in Moscow 1980 and Los Angeles 1984), said "I think the expression is Ippon"
Dark Horse Victory: Plenty to choose from, but the 1992 Olympics provided the former Trope Namer in Robert Zmelik of Czechoslovakia, who won the decathlon...after American audiences had been treated to an ad campaign hyping "Dan (O'Brien, who eventually didn't qualify) vs. Dave (Johnson, who took the bronze)."
Also, when Grindr crashed as soon as the delegations arrived. Some say it was just because Grindr tends to crash every now and then, or that it was because of the crowd that came in, but one can’t help but wonder...
There's an American in Afghanistan who wants to build up a water polo team in time for the 2016 games. More here. There's also a women's boxing team preparing for 2012, but there's no problem because they can wear head coverings in the ring.
American runner Lopez Lomong, who was abducted as a young child in Sudan and forced to become a Child Soldier. After seeing dozens of other children die in the training camp, Lopez and some of his friends escaped under the cover of darkness, running almost nonstop for 3 days and nights until they crossed the Kenyan border. His Olympic ability to run literally saved his life.
Japanese gymnast Shun Fujimoto: he competed in the 1976 Olympics and helped his team winning the gold, with a broken knee. He injured himself during a floor exercise and fearing that the team would not win if he withdrew, hid his injury and competed his final two events of the day. On rings, Fujimoto scored a 9.7, after landing his full-twisting double back dismount onto a broken kneecap...
Tanzanian athlete John Stephen Akhwari fell and dislocated his knee while running the marathon at the 1968 Olympics. After receiving medical attention, Akhwari decided to finish the race, limping into the Olympic stadium long after the other competitors had finished. When asked why he had decided to continue running, Akhwari replied: "My country did not send me 10,000 miles just to start the race; they sent me to finish the race."
American runner Manteo Mitchell broke his leg halfway through running the first leg of the 4x400m relay semi-final at the 2012 games. Not only did he keep running and finish his leg, he helped his team qualify for the final with the fastest time.
Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: One Boris Onishchenko, a Ukranian fencer who played for the Soviet Union's modern pentathlon team during the 1976 games, was found to be using an epee that had been tampered with and was disqualified from the fencing event for cheating. The epee was jury-rigged with a remote control device hidden in the hilt. At the press of a button, it would record a hit and electronically transmit it to the scoreboard, even when no hit was genuinely scored. The rigged epee was confiscated by the referee and judges for examination, while Boris went on to win eight of his nine matches without it using an ordinary epee — thus proving he didn't even need to cheat.
Disturbed Doves: Part of the tradition during opening ceremonies is the release of doves symbolizing peace. Usually this happens after the Flame is lit. Unfortunately, during Seoul 1988 they were released immediately between the singing of the Olympic Hymn and the arrival of the Torch, at which point some perched on the cauldron and ended up being burnt as it was ignited. In reaction to animal rights groups' negative feedback, subsequent Games would only use replicas (albeit the last time live doves were used was in Barcelona 1992).
At the 1972 Munich opening ceremonies, the doves were released in the proper sequence. However, one of them hit the stadium's glass roof and fell dead at the feet of the horrified Brazilian team.
Lillehammer 1994: Balloon doves, with a larger one emerging from an egg. Atlanta 1996: 100 paper dove-shaped kites flown by children across the track. Nagano 1998: Balloon doves released after the lighting of the Flame and the oaths. Sydney 2000: A projection of a large dove on a large piece of cloth draped over the athletes as pre-makeover Vanessa Amorosi performs "Heroes Live Forever". Salt Lake 2002: Dove-shaped cloth kites flown by ice skaters at the end of Sting's performance of "Fragile" with cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Athens 2004: Images of doves in flight on three LCD rings which previously displayed names of the stopovers of the Olympic Flame. Torino 2006: A human formation in the shape of a dove, created by 28 acrobats dangling onto a net. Beijing 2008: A fireworks array at the top of the stadium, representing a dove in flight, following a dance production featuring women emulating the flight of doves with their hands. Vancouver 2010: A projection of doves in flight at the floor of the BC Place Stadium, followed by a projection on four pieces of cloth hanging from the top of the stadium, as lesbian singer k.d. lang (Kathryn Dawn Lang) performs a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah". London 2012: 75 cyclists wearing wings and helmets shaped like doves' heads circling the stadium, both as a nod to the modern bicycle being a Scottish invention, and to honor Bradley Wiggins, the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France only five days before the opening ceremony, to a cover version of The Beatles' "Come Together" by Arctic Monkeys. Sochi 2014: Ballerinas spinning with white LED strings emulating doves in flight, to the tune of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake Suite".
Due to the Dead: Typically averted. The IOC generally frowns upon any statement for the dead (such as the Norwegian cross-country skiers wishing to wear armbands for Astrid Jacobsen who died shortly before Sochi, or stickers for Sarah Burke, who pushed for getting the skiing superpipe event for Sochi but died back in 2012) because they might be taken as a political statement, though they provide exceptions for memorials related to the Games themselves (such as London 2012's "Abide With Me" production, in tribute to those who died in the July 7, 2005 bombings — a day after London won its hosting bid; an 11-gun salute at Munich's 1972 closing ceremonies to honor the Israeli athletes who died in the terrorist attack, and again in 2012 for the fortieth anniversary; and Vancouver 2010's opening ceremony being dedicated to Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died in a training accident hours before the ceremonies).
Eiffel Tower Effect: Besides the host city being expected to build at least one new stadium, TV coverage will include sweeping helicopter shots of their existing trademark structure.
During the 2000 closing ceremonies, it didn't escape comment that there were athletes in that year's Games born before Sydney's Opera House was completed and opened (1974) while Athens' Parthenon was already a centuries-old ruin during the time of Christ.
Every Year They Fizzle Out: A few teams and athletes have every title except the Olympic Gold (most notably the Brazilian football and the Italian volleyball).
Brazil's soccer performance in London is especially notable because everyone was treating it as a foregone conclusion; Brazil are hosting both the next World Cup and Olympic Games, they pretty much coasted to the final and everyone, Brazil foremost amongst them, just assumed that the final would basically amount to a Brazilian masterclass in football. This sense of smug superiority lasted about 40 seconds, the time it took Mexico to score the first of 2 goals that would go unanswered by Brazil. In the end everyone felt the Mexicans were the better team on the day.
Exposed to the Elements: A few sports (track and field, beach volleyball) in the Summer Olympics have athletes in clothes that don't help in case of extreme heat, rain or wind — in fact, a world record in athletics can be annuled (though the result is still valid) if the wind is too strong itbasically helps. It's averted in the Winter Olympics aside from the opening and closing ceremonies.
Fanservice: It's basically 2 weeks of people in peak physical condition (well except that one Judoka from Guam) getting hot and sweaty so what's not to like, especially for Amazon Chasers.
From the late 1980s on, female track and field uniforms have started tending towards the Stripperific, with lots of Bare Your Midriff in effect. Some male competitors have taken to ripping their own shirts off in celebration of victory. So you basically have a lot of people built like Greek deities showing a lot of hot sweaty flesh off on camera.
Handicapped Badass: Aside from competitors in the Paralympics, there are also some examples from the Olympic Games, e.g. legally blind Im Dong-hyun's record-breaking archery score.note Despite what you think might be obvious, Olympic archery isn't actually about being able to see the target as it is about muscle memory: since the distance and angle are always the same, all you have to do is be at the right place, and the main factor from that point is pulling the string to exactly where it needs to be—not a millimeter more or less.
South African runner Oscar "The Blade Runner" Pistorius became the first double-amputee Olympic athlete in 2012. His attempt to get into the Beijing Olympics were thwarted by the idea that his blade-like running legs gave him an advantage (they don't since they're not robotic according to a prosthetic scientist (who does have robotic legs) featured in Oscar's 60 Minutes profile).
Hungarian shooter Károly Takács — after his shooting hand (his right) was mangled in a grenade accident during army training, Takács secretly learned how to shoot with his left hand and proceeded to win gold in the 25m rapid fire pistol event twice in a row (at London 1948 and Helsinki 1952).
Another Hungarian, Oliver Halassy, won two golds and one silver (1928, 1932 and 1936) despite his left leg being amputated below the knee.
And the earliest case, American gymnast George Eyser, who had a wooden leg, and won six medals (half of them golden) at St. Louis 1904 Summer Olympics.
He-Man Woman Hater: Kinda... Pierre de Coubertin left the IOC because he thought female athletes were a betrayal to the Olympic ideal (the Ancient Greece games had only men).
Take That: In Sydney 2000, the Olympic Torch ran its last stage by seven of Australia's most successful female athletes (also a tribute to a hundred years of women's participation in the Games)... four-time gold-medalist runner Betty Cuthbert (in a wheelchair pushed by fellow runner, three-time silver-medalist runner Raelene Boyle), eight-medal swimmer Dawn Fraser, seven-medal runner Shirley Strickland, 1972 five-time medalist swimmer Shane Gould and 1988 gold-winning hurdler Debbie Flintoff-King... before handing it off to 1996 silver-medal runner Cathy Freeman (notable for being of Aboriginal descentnote and a Take That to conservative Australian officials for refusing to apologize and make reparation for the Stolen Generations — Freeman's grandmother was among those who were taken) as a women's chorus sang. If there is such a thing as a Crowning Moment of Goddessness, this was it. Freeman herself would win her gold during these Games.
London 2012 marked the first time that all the participating countries sent at least one female athlete.
Sports that have doubles versions* other than mixed doubles tennis, of course have this on lock, but certainly the most iconic pair in recent years are three-time beach volleyball gold medalists Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings. To the point where Kerri said without a hint of self-consciousness that she is absolutely "married to Misty".
Against all odds, best friends McKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross, who'd been best friends since age five and dreamed about the Olympics almost as long, both made the 2012 Women's Gymnastics Team, winning gold with Team USA. Maroney has said that she doesn't "have a memory that doesn't involve Kyla."
Home Field Advantage: It's been noted that the host country often earns more medals than in Games where they're not hosting. The stats thrown around during London 2012 is that the host's medal haul goes up by 50%.
There is also an unambiguous set of advantages that home nations get in being able to put teams and competitors into every single sport and event, meaning they will usually field a disproportionately large contingent of athletes.
Subverted by Canada in 1976, who became the first host nation to finish the games without any gold medals.
Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee sprinter running in the 2012 Olympics men's 400m was eliminated in the semi-finals. He regardless became a headline because of his disability. At least...
Broken Pedestal: ...until he was accused of killing his girlfriend. Whether he really did it or not, or if it was accidental or not if he did, the episode became a huge black stain on his reputation.
Hey, It's That Guy!: Deliberately invoked with the choice of lighters of the Olympic Flame and, to a lesser extent, carriers of the Olympic Flag, who mostly tend to be accomplished Olympians and/or symbolic entities.
Lighters of the Olympic Flame (and some prior runners):
Oslo 1952: Eigil Nansen, grandson of world-renowned polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen. Helsinki 1952: Paavo Nurmi and Hannes Kolehmainen, winners of 9 and 4 gold medals, respectively, and two of Finland's most successful runners. Tokyo 1964: Yoshinori Sakai, 19-year-old runner born on the day the atomic bomb destroyed his native Hiroshima. Mexico City 1968: Enriqueta Basilio, sprinter and the first woman to light the Flame. Montreal 1976: Stéphane Préfontaine and Sandra Henderson, two teenagers symbolizing Canada's French and English legacies, respectively. Moscow 1980: Sergei Belov, basketball player and part of the controversial 1972 gold medal team. Los Angeles 1984: Rafer Johnson, 1960 decathlon gold medalist and the first African-American to light the Flame. Earlier the Flame was brought in by Gina Hempill, granddaughter of Jesse Owens. Seoul 1988: Chung Sun-Man, schoolteacher; Sohn Mi-Chung, dancer; and Kim Won-Tak, marathoner. They represent Culture, Art and Sport, respectively. Earlier runners are: Sohn Kee-Chung, 1936 marathon gold medalist (who competed as "Kitei Son" for Japan, which then occupied the peninsula); and Im Chun-ae, runner competing at these games. Albertville 1992: Michel Platini, football superstar and current president of UEFA, together with seven-year-old local Alpine skier François-Cyrille Grange, whose younger brother Jean-Baptiste would win the 2009 FIS Alpine Ski World Cup slalom event. Barcelona 1992: Antonio Rebollo, archer and Paralympian from 1984 to 1992, winning two silvers and a bronze. Earlier runners are: Herminio Menéndez, canoe boater, 1975 world champion, and winner of 1 bronze and 2 silvers; and Juan Antonio San Epifanio "Epi", member of the 1984 silver-winning men's basketball team. Lillehammer 1994: Haakon, Crown Prince of Norway, in honor of his father and grandfather, both Olympians. Earlier runners are: Reidar Liaklev, 1948 gold medalist at men's speed skating; Brit Pettersen Tofte, 1984 women's cross-country skiing gold medalist and Lillehammer native; Stein Gruben, downhill skier (who performed the famous downhill jump in lieu of Ole Gunnar Fidjestřl, 1988 ski jumping bronze medalist, who injured himself days earlier practicing the jump); and Catherine Nottingnes, blind cross-country skier. Atlanta 1996: Muhammad Ali, 1960 boxing gold medalist and one of the greatest boxers of all time. Earlier runners are: Evander Holyfield, 1984 boxing bronze medalist turned professional and Atlanta native; Voula Patoulidou, Greek 1992 hurdles gold medalist; and Janet Evans, 4-time swimming champion. The Flame approached the stadium by way of Al Oerter, 4-time discus gold medalist from 1956 to 1968. Nagano 1998: Midori Ito, 1992 skating silver medalist. Earlier runners are: Chris Moon, British landmine survivor and activist, accompanied by children representing the participating nations; Masako Chiba, runner and 1997 IAAF World Championships bronze medalist at the 10,000m relay; the gold-winning 1992 nordic combined team (Reiichi Mikata, Takanori Kono and Kenji Ogiwara); and Hiromi Suzuki, 1997 IAAF World Championships gold medalist at the marathon. Sydney 2000: Cathy Freeman, 1996 athletics silver medalist who would go on to win gold at these Games. Also symbolic in that she is Aboriginal. Earlier runners are all women, celebrating 100 years of women's participation in the Olympics: Betty Cuthbert (on wheelchair) and Raelene Boyle, athletics medalists (4 golds for Cuthbert, 3 silvers for Boyle); Dawn Fraser, swimmer and winner of 4 each of gold and silver from 1956 to 1964; Shirley Strickland, runner and 7-time medalist (3 each of gold and bronze, and 1 silver); Shane Gould, swimmer and winner of 3 golds and 1 each of silver and bronze; and Debbie Flintoff-King, 1988 athletics champion. The Flame approached the stadium by way of Herb Elliott, 1960 gold medalist at the 1500m run. Salt Lake City 2002: The 1980 American ice hockey team that stunned the heavily-favored Soviets en route to a gold. Earlier runners are: Peggy Fleming and Scott Hamilton, figure skaters and gold medalists in 1968 and 1984, respectively; Phil Mahre and Bill Johnson, 1984 gold medalists at the slalom and downhill, respectively; Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen, speed skaters and winners of 5 and 1 golds, respectively; Jim Shea, Jr., skeleton skier who would later win his event, together with his father Jim Sr., in honor of his grandfather Jack, 2-time speed skating champion, who died days before the ceremonies; and Picabo Street and Cammi Granato, 1998 gold medalists in alpine skiing and ice hockey, respectively. Athens 2004: Nikolaos Kaklamanakis, 1996 windsurfing gold medalist who would win silver at these Games. Earlier runners are: Nikos Galis, basketball legend and member of the 1987 FIBA EuroBasket championship team; Mimis Domazos, football veteran and one of Greece's greatest footballers; Voula Patoulidou; Kakhi Kakhiashvili, Greek-Georgian weightlifter and 3-time gold medalist; and Ioannis Melissanidis, 1996 gymnastics champion. Turin 2006: Stefania Belmondo, 1992-2002 Olympic skier, winner of five bronzes, three silvers and two golds, and one of Italy's most successful Olympians. Early runners are: Alberto Tomba, Alpine skier and winner of 3 golds and 2 silvers; the gold-winning 1994 men's cross-country relay team (Marco Albarello, Giorgio Vanzetta, Maurilio De Zolt and Silvio Fauner); Piero Gros, 1976 slalom gold medalist; and Deborah Compagnoni, alpine skier and winner of 3 golds and 1 silver. Beijing 2008: Li Ning, 1984 gymnast (one bronze, two silvers and three golds) and China's most successful Olympian. Earlier runners are: Xu Haifeng, 1984 shooter and China's very first gold medalist; Gao Min, 2-time diving champion and the first back-to-back Chinese medalist; Li Xiaoshuang, 2-time gymnastics champion; Zhan Xugang, 1996-2000 weightlifting champion; Zhang Jun, 2-time badminton doubles champion; Chen Zhong, 2-time taekwondo champion; and Sun Jinfang, volleyball player and member of the gold-winning 1982 FIVB World Championship team. Vancouver 2010: Catriona LeMay Doan, 1998-2002 speedskater, winner of one bronze and two golds, and Canada's first back-to-back gold medalist; Steve Nash, basketball superstar, 2005-2006 NBA MVP and philanthropist; Nancy Greene, 1968 gold-and-silver-winning alpine skier and senator; and Wayne Gretzky, ice hockey superstar and executive director for Canada's gold-winning 2002 hockey team. Earlier the Flame was brought in by Rick Hansen, Paralympic wheelchair runner (1 bronze, 2 silvers and 3 golds from 1980 to 1984) and activist for spinal injury research. London 2012: Seven teenage athletes nominated by seven of Britain's greatest athletes, in keeping with London 2012's theme of "inspiring a generation": Callum Airlie (Shirley Robertson, sailor and 2000-2004 gold medalist), Jordan Duckitt (Duncan Goodhew, swimmer and 1980 bronze-and-gold medalist), Desiree Henry (Daley Thompson, 1980-1984 decathlon gold medalist), Katie Kirk (Mary Peters, 1972 pentathlon gold medalist), Cameron MacRitchie (Steve Redgrave, rower and winner of one team bronze from 1988 and five individual golds on all his appearances from 1984 to 2000), Aidan Reynolds (Lynn Davies, 1964 long jump gold medalist) and Adelle Tracey (Kelly Holmes, runner, 2000 bronze medalist and 2004 2-time gold medalist); earlier, Redgrave received the Flame from a motorboat driven by David Beckham, football superstar (and East London native) who played for Manchester United of the English Premier League, Real Madrid of Spain's La Liga, AC Milan of Italy's Serie A, Los Angeles Galaxy of USA's Major League Soccer, and Paris Saint-Germain of France's Ligue 1. Redgrave's entrance featured an "honor guard" of 500 construction workers behind the Olympic Park, and the handover of the six other torches was witnessed by over 260 living British medalists from way back in 1948, the last time London held the games. Sochi 2014: Irina Rodnina, 3-time figure skating gold medalist (1972, 1976 and 1980) and one of the greatest pairs dancers of all time, and Vladislav Tretiak, ice hockey superstar, 4-time medalist (3 golds in 1972, 1976 and 1984, and 1 silver in 1980) and one of the most powerful goalkeepers ever. Earlier runners are: Maria Sharapova, tennis superstar, Grand Slam winner and 2012 silver medalist, as well as a Sochi resident during her childhood; Yelena Isinbayeva, pole vaulter and winner of 2 golds and 1 bronze (2004-2012); Aleksandr Karelin, wrestler and winner of 3 golds and 1 silver; and Alina Kabaeva, 2004 rhythmic gymnastics gold medalist.
Carriers of the Olympic Flag:
Sydney 2000: Bill Roycroft, equestrian and winner of 1 gold in 1960 and 2 bronzes in 1968 and 1876; Murray Rose, swimmer and winner of 4 golds and 1 each of silver and bronze between 1956 and 1960; Liane Tooth, member of the gold-winning 1988 and 1996 field hockey teams; Gillian Rolton, 1992-1996 equestrian gold medalist; Marjorie Jackson, runner and 2-time gold medalist in 1952; Lorraine Crapp, swimmer and winner of 2 each of gold and silver between 1956 and 1960; Michael Wenden, freestyle swimmer and winner of 2 golds and 1 each of silver and bronze in 1968; and Nick Green, rower and gold medalist in 1992 and 1996. Salt Lake 2002: John Glenn, American astronaut and former senator (Americas); Desmond Tutu, South African Anglican archbishop, human rights activist, and leader of the anti-apartheid movement alongside Nelson Mandela (Africa); Kazuyoshi Funaki, Japanese skier and 1998 two-time gold medalist (Asia); Lech Walesa, former president of Poland (Europe); Cathy Freeman, Australian runner and gold medalist and lighter of the Olympic Flame in 2000 (Oceania); Jean-Claude Killy, French skier and three-time 1968 gold medalist (Sport); Steven Spielberg, award-winning director (Culture); and Jean-Michel Cousteau, French environmentalist and son of legendary marine explorer Jacques Cousteau (Environment). Torino 2006: Sophia Loren, Italian actress and "Patroness of the Ceremonies"; Isabel Allende, Peruvian novelist and a pioneer of the magical realism genre; Nawal el Moutawakel, Moroccan runner, IOC member, and the first Muslim woman to win a gold medal in 1984; Susan Sarandon, American actress and liberal activist; Wangari Maathai, Kenyan environmentalist and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner; Manuela Di Centa, Italian skier and winner of 7 medals (2 gold, 2 silver and 3 bronze); Maria Mutola, Mozambiquan runner, 2000 gold medalist, and one of the few Olympians to compete in six consecutive Games (1988-2008); and Somaly Mam, Cambodian women's rights activist. Beijing 2008: Zhang Xielin, table tennis player; Pan Duo, mountaineer; Zheng Fengrong, high jumper and the first Chinese woman to hold a world record (1.77m in 1957); Yang Yang (A), speed skater and China's first Winter Olympic gold medalist (2 from 2002, including 2 silvers in 1998 and 2002 and a bronze in 2006); Yang Ling, 1996-2000 shooting gold medalist; Mu Xiangxiong, swimmer; Xiong Ni, diver and winner of 3 golds and 1 each of silver and bronze from 1988 to 2000; and Li Lingwei, badminton player and 4-time IBF World Championships medalist (3 golds, 1 silver). Vancouver 2010: Bobby Orr, ice hockey superstar and one of the youngest Hall of Fame inductees in 1979 at age 31; Anne Murray, musician and the first Canadian female solo singer to top song charts in the United States; Jacques Villeneuve, F1 racer, the only Canadian to win the Indianapolis 500, and one of three racers with trophies in both the Indy 500, CART and F1 World Championships; Betty Fox, mother of the late cancer research activist Terry Fox; Donald Sutherland, veteran actor and narrator for some segments of the opening ceremonies; Barbara Ann Scott, Canada's only female figure skating gold medalist in 1948; Roméo Dallaire, retired general, humanitarian and leader of the ill-fated UN mission to Rwanda; and Julie Payette, astronaut and member of NASA's Discovery and Endeavour missions in 1999 and 2009, respectively, as well as a member of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). London 2012: Doreen Lawrence, Jamaican-British writer and founder of an anti-racism foundation named after her son Stephen, a victim of hate crime in 1993; Haile Gebrselassie, Ethiopian runner, 1996-2000 10km gold medalist, and crusader against poverty; Sally Becker, British humanitarian and founder of Operation Angel, which personally helped save children in Bosnia and Kosovo during The Yugoslav Wars; Ban Ki-moon, former South Korean foreign affairs minister and current Secretary-General of the United Nations; Leymah Gbowee, Liberian activist and founder of a women's pressure group which helped end its civil war in 2003; Shami Chakrabarti, British activist and director of human rights group Liberty; Daniel Barenboim, Argentine-born Israeli conductor and co-founder of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (with his late Palestinian friend, academic Edward Said), which brings together Arab and Jewish youths; and Marina Silva, Brazilian environmentalist, advocate for the preservation of the Amazon, and a United Nations Champion of the Earth (also a nod to Rio de Janeiro, the next host city); the eight were briefly joined (to enormous cheers from the crowd) by Muhammad Ali, now a frail 70-year-old and supported by his wife Lonnie. Sochi 2014: Chulpan Kamapova, ethnic Tatar actress and philanthropist; Lidiya Skoblikova, speed skater and the first 6-time Winter Olympic gold medalist (2 in 1960, 4 in 1964); Anastasia Popova, journalist during the Syrian Civil War; Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space; Viacheslav Fetisov, ice hockey player, 3-time medalist (2 golds in 1984 and 1988, and 1 silver in 1980), and one of the first Soviet players to enter the NHL; Valery Gergiev, conductor for the London Symphony Orchestra; Alan Enileev, gamer and 2006 World Cyber Games champion at the Need for Speed: Most Wanted category; and Nikita Mikhalkov, filmmaker, actor, and head of the Russian Cinematographers' Union.
Misplaced Nationalism: Nationalism is quite a serious matter when it comes to the Olympics. Rooting for your countrymen can be subject to you being trolled on the internet, especially if you root for a high medal nation like the United States or China.
The Europe and North American-dominated winter Olympics are slowly becoming this, with a skier from Africa (nicknamed "The Snow Leopard"), a French male figure skater who was born in South America, African-American speed skater Shani Davis, Japanese-American figure skater Mirai Nagasu, a Japanese pairs skater who defected to Russia (Japan is more focused on individual skaters, not pairs), a trio of half-Japanese-half-Caucasian siblings ice dancing for Japan and Georgia, Cheltzie Lee — a half-Chinese-half-African-American female figure skater from Australia, and quite a few African-born Germans in the 2010 Vancouver games. Past games included the famous Jamaican Bobsled Team, a female African-American bobsledder, Japanese-American ice-skater (and fellow Dancing With The Stars champion, along with Anton Apolo Ohno)) Kristi Yamaguchi, Chinese-American ice skater Michelle Kwan, and French-African figure skater Surya Bonaly, who did impressive (but illegal and non-point-earning) one-legged back-flips in her performances.
The Soviet teams were always multinational, as they consisted of athletes from formerly sovereign nations that had been absorbed into the Soviet Union. The Unified Team of the 1992 Olympics are perhaps the best example, as it was exactly what it sounded like: the combined athletes of almost all the former Soviet Socialist Republics that had gained independencenote The exceptions were the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. These countries had been independent until being swallowed up by the USSR early in World War II, and gained virtually immediate recognition by the IOC once they had reestablished independence. being allowed to compete together one last time after the fall of the Soviet Union, since none of these countries (aside from perhaps Russia) had been able to set up their own Olympic committees. The former Yugoslavia is another excellent example.
Old Media Playing Catch-Up: NBC's US Olympic Coverage is often Live But Delayed by many, many hours (around 16 hours for the Beijing opening ceremonies) until the American prime time where the most advertising dollars are. NBC has persuaded the International Olympic Committee to schedule more popular events live at times more acceptable to American primetime schedules to avoid spoilers, but even then, the network still screws the West Coast by delaying it by three hours anyway, with very few exceptions. As of the London 2012 Games, they now stream events live online (albeit with extreme amounts of ads and lots and lots of buffering), but there are still enough issues that "#nbcfail" became a rather popular Twitter tag that year.
The big events aren't shown live; they're instead saved for the primetime package. This was even done for the Vancouver 2010 games, where the time zone difference was exactly the same as if (for example) the Super Bowl had been held on the West Coast — except that since events occurred throughout the day, the issue of delay was even less of an issue.note The last time the Super Bowl was held on the West Coast was 2003; the 2016 Super Bowl will be held in Santa Clara, CA, near San Francisco. On top of that, said package tends to spread events out over the entire airing; they show the performances of those with lower ranks at 7:00, and don't show the medal contenders until a couple minutes before midnight. In events like ice skating where one athlete goes at a time, if you want to watch others, you have to stay in front of your television for 5 hours and HOPE that in between the commercials, other sports, and random garbage, NBC was nice enough to include non-Americans. NOT. FUN.
The opening and closing ceremonies have their own issues. For one, having them covered like a news or sports event rather than just turning the cameras on and letting the show unfold. With London 2012's opening ceremony, NBC defended themselves by saying that such a show needed "context", but the commentators were... not particularly helpful, let's say. Also, in the closing ceremonies for 2010, 2012, and 2014; they cut away from the show for both news (OK, news is kind of understandable) and a special debut of a new series, picking up the ceremony's afterparty again an hour later. The 2012 opening ceremonies also edited out a performance of the hymn "Abide With Me" in favor of an interview with swimmer Michael Phelps; NBC denied knowing the segment was a tribute to the people who died in the July 7, 2005 bombings in London, but they cut it anyway asunsuitable for American audiences. Meanwhile, that year's and 2014's closing ceremonies each had nearly an hour edited out for time (which in Sochi amounted to over a third of the entire thing), which was especially egregious since both were preceded by an hour to hour-and-a-half that was used for a retrospective before airing the ceremony proper.
On top of that, NBC has absolutely no live coverage of the Paralympics. All we're getting is five highlight shows, along with a 90-minute retrospective... which will air a week after the closing ceremonies.
On the other side of the pond, however, The BBC managed to completely and utterly avert this trope with comprehensive coverage (they set up a temporary channel for every sport! Although not without a little financial help) web streaming, a top notch web site and more. Apparently people from over the world were trying to find ways around the iPlayer region lockouts because the BBC coverage was just so much better than what was being shown in other countries. The effort and slick execution put into their coverage has rightly earned Auntie huge praise.
Only a Flesh Wound: Athletes have competed and won medals with injuries that would leave them perfectly justified in curling up into whimpering balls of pain.
Gymnast Kerri Strug was the last gymnast to vault on the American team rotation in the 1996 Atlanta Games. She was following up a two-fall showing by Dominique Moceanu — and she proceeded to fall on her rear on her first vault, badly spraining her ankle. Well, Kerri, and team coach Bela Károlyi, note After the first vault, Strug asked Károlyi "Do we need this?" and he said, "Kerri, we need you to go one more time. We need you one more time for the gold. You can do it, you'd better do it." weren't about to stand for that. Despite intense pain in what proved to be a third-degree lateral sprain and severe tendon damage, she calmly walked back to the end of the runway, vaulted again, and stuck her landing on one foot.note She actually landed briefly on both feet, then picked up her injured foot and remained upright on her good foot, hopping to turn around for the traditional salutes to the judges.Her courageous vault sealed the first US women's team gold in Olympic history. Then she quite understandably curled up into a whimpering ball of pain; the image of Kerri sinking to her knees in agony would go on to become the most iconic of the Games. Kerri explains some of the background and her rationale here.
At the 2010 Olympics, Slovenian cross-country skier Petra Majdic takes a brutal spill in practice, falling about ten feet down a hill into a gully. She comes out for the qualifying run and qualifies collapsing in pain and unable to stand after. After returning from x-rays at the hospital, she wins her quarterfinal, then gets a lucky loser spot in the semis to qualify for the final, all in abject agony. Four races, five broken ribs, and one pneumothorax later, she came out of it all with a bronze medal.
In the 2006 Turin Olympics, Chinese figure skater Zhang Dan fell while attempting a quadruple salchow jump during the free skate program, injuring her leg as a result. But her and her partner Zhang Hao decided to continue the program and they had enough points to finish with a silver medal.
In the 2012 men's 4x400 relay, Manteo Mitchell was halfway through his 400 meter lap when he literally heard his left leg bone snap in half. He still managed to finish the last half of his leg in a good enough time for the US relay team to qualify for the finals.
Canadian figure skater Elvis Stojko competed in the 1998 Olympics even though he had a serious groin injury and was feeling weak from a recent bout with the flu. He couldn't even take painkillers because this might have made him fail a drug test. He doubled over in agony at the end of his free program, but he had skated well enough to win the silver medal.
Canadian rower Silken Laumann was injured in a training accident ten months before the 1992 Summer Olympics. Her ankle was badly fractured and her calf muscles and ligaments were torn in several places. Doctors initially thought she might lose her leg and that even if she didn't, her rowing career was clearly over. But they had underestimated her; not only did she compete in the Olympics, she won a bronze medal. It probably didn't surprise many Canadians when she was chosen as the flag bearer for the Closing Ceremony.
Opposing Sports Team / Designated Villain: Team USA. While some of America's athletes are still rooted on and gain a fandom from other countries, not many become too pleased when the US wins the Gold Medal Count...but rejoice if they reach second or less in the gold medal count. And then there's the overall vs gold debate like was mentioned above. It is not uncommon; and pretty ironic, to see this hatedom root for another "superpower" like China or Russia just to see the US lose.
An older sports writer commented on this after the 1984 Los Angeles games. He said the U.S. attitude had been that of a bullying child who was bigger than all the other kids, winning all the prizes at its own birthday party and then prancing around crowing "I won, I won!"
Part of the attitude is caused by the fact that who wins or loses is not just based on athletes' "heart" or "will to win" but on resources. In the superpower nations, billions are devoted to the care and training of athletes. A runner from Honduras may have just as much Olympic spirit as one from the U.S., but the U.S. one has the advantage of better nutrition, superior coaching and training areas, and can devote all her time to practicing, while the Honduras one just doesn't have that kind of infrastructure. When Honduras does win, it becomes a Take That.
A classic example would be Usain Bolt's (and Jamaica overall) phenomenal performance in Beijing, where numerous commentators simply could not comprehend that someone from a "tiny, poor nation with a population of only 2.5 million" (something repeated ad nauseum) could pull this off without the resources that a US athlete had.
For Americans themselves, it's currently China that gets this treatment a lot. While China and the United States tend to be strong in fairly different sports, where they DO actually compete on even footing head-to-head you can expect something to eventually be made of China's harsh methods of raising and training its athletes and/or accusations of doping or underage performers to fly.
Not to mention that The Soviet Union and The U.S.A. were this to each other for decades, and it shaped both of their sporting cultures for the better part of the 20th Century. Even in retrospectives recapping significant events from the Olympic games of the past, the narration will often talk about it almost exactly as if it is a sports movie. The Soviet Union and particularly East Germany were (and in retrospect to past Olympics still are) often also regarded in this light in a number of other Western bloc countries due to very well documented steroid abuse programs that they were running at the time.
Of course, we must mention the 1936 German team. Who could possibly be better sports villains than actual Nazis?
Overshadowed by Awesome: At the Los Angeles 1984 Games, the US men's gymnastics team won gold. Nobody cared, because Mary Lou Retton won the individual all-around (a US first) over her Romanian rival Ekaterina Szabo by scoring perfect tens on floor and vault. Sorry, guys!
Passing the Torch: The Olympic Torch Relay is the Ur Example and Trope Namer, though unlike our trope definition it usually isn't explicitly passed from an older to a younger generation. The closing ceremonies' traditional handoff from the current host city to the next one also qualifies.
Two places the generational part was invoked were in Tokyo 1964 and London 2012, both of which had the final runners to receive their torches be young athletes. Tokyo had a 19-year-old runner who was born on the day of the Hiroshima bombings, and London had seven teen athletes nominated by veteran Olympians.
Pintsized Powerhouse: In events with weight classes, the lighter competitors are this. For instance, the women's weightlifting can have 5-foot tall women hoisting more than double their weight over their heads and making it look easy.
Female gymnasts. Most barely break five feet tall, if that. And yet they manage to fling themselves around, over, and through heavy objects with strength that would make a Green Beret proud.
Pop-Up Texting: The British pop-culture segment of the London 2012 opening ceremony showed these as it portrayed young people going out for a night on the town, phones in hand, keeping in contact with each other, and culminating with two of them getting a Relationship Upgrade on not-Facebook.
Pregnant Badass: At least four pregnant women have competed in the Olympics. The most recent of them, Malaysian shooting champion Nur Suryani Mohamed Tahibi, competed in the London 2012 Olympics while eight months pregnant. It can now be said that at least one woman has won a gold medal while pregnant (albeit very, very early pregnancy). Only after the event did fans learn that beach volleyball legend Kerri Walsh Jennings had been five weeks pregnant during the 2012 London Games. She and partner Misty May-Treanor won gold for the third consecutive Summer Olympics.
Pretentious Latin Motto: Citius, Altius, Fortius, meaning "Faster, Higher, Stronger." It was proposed by Pierre de Coubertin in 1894 with the founding of the International Olympic Committee and was introduced in the 1924 Paris Olympic Games. De Coubertin got the inspiration from his fellow atheltics enthusiast Henri Didon.
Product Placement / Product Displacement: While the Olympics themselves are an increasingly commercial affair, athletes are forbidden from wearing any logos other than their own country's and the equipment manufacturers' trademark. In fact, until fairly recently you couldn't show the trademark, either. Jean-Claude Killy raised considerable controversy in 1968 by failing to hide the Head mark on his skis in post-competition photos (Hunter S. Thompson wrote about it at length, and was one of the first to suggest that maybe it wasn't such a big deal — and perhaps the whole "amateurism" thing was just a huge joke and a scam designed to make rich people feel better about losing). Some people still believe he was paid.
Several members of the USA Men's Basketball 1992 "Dream Team" (the first with all professional players) came out for the medal ceremony draped in American Flags. This was to cover up the Reebok sponsor's logo on their official Olympics warmup suits; they had exclusive contracts with Nike or Converse to only wear items with their logo on it, but couldn't not wear the official garments.
Similarly, the Brazilian Olympic Committee was sponsored by local brand Olympikus, but the soccer confederation is sponsored by Nike, needing deals to use Nike apparel. Then Nike became the NOC sponsor, but 8 other brands were seen among the 2012 delegation (i.e. Olympikus for volleyball, Asics for handball).
It gets a little weird with the snowboarders since the logos on the undersides of their board are gigantic compared to tiny Nike swooshes and Adidas "leaves".
In recent years, the organizing committees have gone to great lengths to ensure that there are no references to any non-sponsor in and around venues. These range from the typical "rename the venue for the duration of the Games" situations (i.e. GM Place becoming "Canada Hockey Place", or London's O2 Arena becoming "The North Greenwich Arena"), to even putting tape over the logos on bathroom fixtures.
Even worse is their campaign against ambush marketing; for the 2012 Olympics, there is a very strict law criminalizing non-sponsors creating an "association" with the games in order to "protect" official sponsors. This means a special form of trademark protection during the games to any individual words and imagery relating to the games (Don't you dare mention "London" and "2012" in the same sentence. Or even "sports" for that matter). And just when you thought it couldn't get any worse; they even have special "brand police" too! (This gets funny when you factor in their issues with getting enough actual security.) On a side note, the restaurant chain Little Chef is still able to offer its Olympic Breakfast (on its menu since 1994) owing to a Grandfather Clause.
Sponsor exclusivity got frighteningly pervasive in London — nobody was allowed to sell chips in the Olympic zones except for McDonald's (an IOC sponsor), to the fury of Londoners (and Britons in general, in sympathy). The rule did permit chips to be sold as part of fish and chips...but as any Brit can tell you:
Indignant Englishman: But what if I want sausages and chips? Or a pie and chips? Or a greasy chip butty?
IE: Those are OK, I suppose, but they're just not the same! And what are you doing encouraging McDonald's anyway? You're the Olympics! Shouldn't you be opposed to chips on principle?
Pyrrhic Victory: Winning an Olympic bid usually means that it will bankrupt a city. The most extreme cases have been Montreal and Athens.
But not always. Barcelona, for example, came out from hosting the Games with a largely improved infrastructure. And most of the American stadiums (Atlanta, Lake Placid, Los Angeles, etc.) have been quite profitable as professional or collegiate sporting venues. Atlanta's Olympic village and revamped neighborhoods are now used by Georgia Tech as dormitories, collegiate apartments, and downtown parks.
The Rival/Fandom Rivalry: Rivalries are huge in sports, and the Olympics are no exception. Some notables include USA vs. the Soviet Union, USA vs. Russia, USA vs. China, USA vs. Canada, Norway vs. Sweden, Australia vs. New Zealand, Nancy Kerrigan vs. Tonya Harding, Maria Riesch vs. Lindsey Vonn, any Korean Speedskater vs. Apolo Anton Ohno, etc...
And prior to that her mother, Princess Anne, the Queen's daughter competed as a member of the British Equestrian Team in the 1976 Olympics.
Another one in the equestrian is HRH Prince Abdullah al-Saud; grandson of the King of Saudi Arabia, and Olympic bronze medallist.
A few other royals have been involved in Olympic events over the years, typically the more "aristocratic" ones (like equestrian, sailing, and rowing). The highest ranking of these is Juan Carlos I of Spain, who competed as Juan Carlos de Borbón in the Dragon class sailing event in 1972 Games (three years before he took the throne), in which he and his partner took 15th.
Sadistic Choice: For Muslim athletes: Honor the fast of Ramadan (where even water is forbidden during the day) or compete in the Olympics? Some do both, others will fast after the games (there are good authorities supporting both opinions). Fortunately, Ramadan isn't always in the summertime. Particularly pleasant, however, is when the Games are in the Southern Hemisphere during Ramadan during Southern Hemisphere winter, as they get a shorter fast when they would normally have a long one.
While the Summer Olympics overlapping with Ramadan is rarely pleasant, this was particularly exacerbated in 2012 by London's extreme northerly latitude (51 degrees north),note And then the Egyptian men's football team had to play a game in Glasgow (55 degrees north) on 1 August... which is high enough that daylight — and thus the fast — lasts just under 16 hours at the height of summer (i.e. when the games are held). For Muslim Britons, this has caused a measure of Fantastic Religious Weirdness — many fast shortened hours (typically a 12-hour fast regardless of sunrise or sunset). As for the athletes....
Second Place Is for Winners: Subverted in the 2012 games, when several women's badminton teams were ejected from the contest entirely for throwing matches to earn an easier opponent in the second round. Played straight the same year, when the Japanese women's soccer team played for a draw to trade a tougher seed in the next match but avoid a 300 mile trip to Glasgow. And it worked: They defeated Brazil 2-0.
In 1998, an interviewer asked Team-USA figure-skater Michelle Kwan how it felt to "lose the gold".
At times, Third Place Is For Winners (despite many considering the bronze a consolation, their winners are usually much happier for just winning something!). See Tom Daley's reaction after winning a bronze in the 10m platform!
The Croatian Men's Basketball team had this attitude at the 1992 Games, as they were up against the Dream Team: the US Men's team that included the best players in the NBA for the first time. The Croatians had no illusions of winning against the likes of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, and were saying how it was such an honor to win the silver medal before the final game even started.
Serious Business: The Medal Count. Officially, the IOC does not recognize a ranking of participating countries at the Olympic Games; mainly because the games are supposed to be about the best athletes, not the best countries, although they publish medal tables for informational purposes, showing the total number of medals earned by athletes representing each country. Regardless, many still consider it official and take it very seriously.
Even worse, there is a medal count controversy about what medal count table to use. The IOC and most countries use gold first ranking system while the US and Canada use the total medal count. The difference in ranking system received scant notice, since in most Olympics, the country that led in total medals also led in the gold count. However in 2008, China and the U.S. bucked this trend, topping the gold and total medal tallies respectively. China largely sided with using the less common American standard to judge their performance from the start of the games onwards, and thus felt they came in second to the Americans despite winning a whopping 15 more gold medals. This happened again in 2010, although with Canada in place of China. Critics and Anti-Americanists (even some gloating Canadians when they won the gold medal count, even though they also use the total medal table) accused the US of spinning the medal count, even though the Americans have used the Overall Medal Count for years. Even Jacques Rogge had to step in say that the medal counts are unofficial.
Australians like to boast that their 1896 Olympic team was the most successful ever, with every team member winning two gold medals. This is true, in a Mathematician's Answer kind of way: Australia's team that year consisted of a runner named Edwin Flack.
Sigil Spam: The Olympic Rings logo gets put everywhere. Also the participating countries' national flags.
Special Guest: Opening and closing ceremonies usually include appearances by celebrities and other iconic people from the host country. London 2012's opening ceremonies even featured two fictional British icons, James Bond (played by Daniel Craig) and Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson); plus it had a couple nods to Doctor Who.note the TARDIS is heard during the 1970s montage, to the line "We gotta get outta this place" — and one of the decorative sets (not an actual jump) in the equestrian events was a red police call box sitting next to a park bench.
Sore Loser: Perhaps the most notorious example in Olympic history comes from the 2008 Beijing games, where Taekwondo competitor Angel Matos kicked a referee after losing his gold medal bout. He was banned for life for this incident, even though many felt he had legitimate grievances with the standard of refereeing of the match.
Suspiciously Apropos Music: The athletes' parade during London 2012's opening ceremony played several contemporary hits, from Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" to The Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" (appropriately enough while Fiji enters) and even Irish rock band U2's "Where the Streets have No Name" and "Beautiful Day", as well as electronic pop hits Underworld, which directed the music throughout the ceremonies. When Team Great Britain entered, the PA plays David Bowie's "Heroes". This segment was also book-ended by The Chemical Brothers' "Galvanize". Given that Danny Boyle was the London 2012 artistic director, all the music used was highly thematic. The theme song from Chariots of Fire (itself a film about two British Olympians during Paris 1924) would also be played during all medal ceremonies, while "Heroes" would override the song whenever British athletes win gold medals.
Take a Third Option: The International Wushu Federation pushed for the inclusion of the sport for the 2008 Beijing games. Instead of including it officially (which would mean a lot of work) or rejecting it outright, the IOC allowed the organizing committee to organize a tournament in parallel with the games.
Tasty Gold: Atheletes often do this with medals they win; it makes for a great photo-op.
Bill Maher lampshaded a reason why doing so at the '08 Olympics would be unwise
Training from Hell: All of the athletes must undergo some form of this to be in peak condition for the sporting events.
Turn Coat: It's not rare to see someone abandoning its native country for an Olympic spot (e.g. the 2008 male beach volleyball bronze medal match was between a Brazilian team and a Georgian team... composed of Brazilians!note using the names "Geor"/"Gia").
Inverted in 2008, when NBA superstar Yao Ming played for his native China.
Also in 2008, Uzbek gymnast Oksana Chusovitina, having moved to Germany to procure medical care for her son's leukemia and obtaining German citizenship, competed for her adopted nation.
The Unexpected: Any time an outsider invades the field, such as a streaker in a football game in 2000, and a crazed priest who pushed the Brazilian who lead the 2004 marathon to the sidewalk (where a huge Greek then helped him get free), probably costing him the gold medal — he ended with a bronze.
The Bloodbath of Melbourne in the 1956 water polo tournament between Hungary and the Soviet Union, who had invaded Hungary weeks before.
Un Installment: Given "Olympiad" is the four year gap, the Games which didn't happen because of the World Wars still count.
Only in the Summer Games, officially titled "Games of the [insert Roman numeral] Olympiad". The numbering scheme for the Winter Games (officially "[Insert Roman numeral] Winter Olympic Games") counts only the Games themselves (specially as one time, the gap was of only two years).
Wearing a Flag on Your Head: While not true of every country, many national teams will dress their athletes in very flag-like colors or motifs. Team USA wears a lot of stars, Team Canada wears a lot of maple leaves, etc., etc.
The 2012 Team GB uniforms across most sports have a very prominent Union Jack motif (except it's in shades of blue and the only red is in the emblem).
Averted by Australia: Australian athletes wear mostly green and gold, Australia's national colours, but these colours appear nowhere on the Australian flag (which is blue, red and white). This is because, instead of the flag, they choose to honor their national flower, the Golden Wattle.
Similarly New Zealand (whose flag looks very similar to Australia aside from a different constellation of red stars) prefer to wear their national colours of black and silver instead. Black, which is prominent in the culture of the country's indigenous Māori people, is also notable as the main colour of the national rugby union team, the All Blacks. The silver comes from the silver fern (Cyathea dealbata), the national "flower". The New Zealand association football (soccer) teams buck the trend and wear white (also an official Māori colour), because black uniforms were originally reserved for referees.
Similarly averted by the Netherlands: They were predominantly orange despite the Dutch flag being a standard red-white-blue tricolour. Mainly because the Dutch monarchy's official color is orange, and the royal family is, rather appropriately, called "Orange".
Another aversion is Italy, which usually wears blue for the same reason as the Netherlands wearing orange, to honor their monarchy — even though Italy's been a republic for quite a long time now. German athletes may sometimes wear white (because the pre-Nazi German flag had the color along with black and red; the gold replaced it after the fall of the Nazis).
And South Africa presents a subversion: its flag has six colors, but the representing colors are two: green and yellow.
In fencing, wearing the your flag on your face mask seems somewhat popular, and most nations have their flag on one of their legs.
Wham Episode: Muhammad Ali's appearance at the 1996 Games' Opening Ceremony saw him racked by advanced Parkinson's disease due to the head trauma of his boxing career. This so shocked America that it is considered one of the major turning points in the popularity of the entire sport.
Also the terrorist attacks: another also in Atlanta, the Centennial Park bombing, and the infamous Munich massacre 24 years prior. Other deaths were less proeminent.
Worst News Judgment Ever: Part of the NBCFail; they like to include extra stories related to either the host country or some aspect of the Games themselves, but sometimes it gets out of hand when viewers just want to see the events. For example, in London 2012: a five-minute or less bit on something related to James Bond? Okay, fine. A half-hour feature on the '92 basketball Dream Team one night and a full-hour feature on Britain in World War II the next? Not fine.