Olympic History

The Olympic Games have come to be regarded as the world’s foremost sports competition and we look back on the most memorable moments.


Every Monday in the run-in to the Games, we will add a new link where you can see more details on each Games including:

- A collection of archived pictures

- The top three performers

- Three interesting facts

- The final medal table

Click the links to re-live the excitement.

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Athens hosted an attractive sports festival, although only 14 countries attended the first modern Games. The Greeks were rewarded for their initiative and enthusiasm when Spiridon Louis won the marathon to a tumultuous reception in the Panathinaiko stadium.

Nine sports were included with James Connolly, a New Yorker of Irish extraction, becoming the first modern Olympic champion with his victory in the triple jump.

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PARIS 1900

Staged as an appendage to the five-month World Exhibition, the Paris Games were an organisational shambles with the marathon finishing in disarray and discord.

French winner Michel Theato was unaware for 12 years that he was an Olympic champion. Meanwhile, the Americans disputed the decision, maintaining that their man Arthur Newton had not been overtaken after taking the lead at the halfway point.

Another American, Alvin Kraenzlein, was the outstanding athlete, winning the 60 metres, the 110 and the 200m hurdles, and the long jump. He set world records in each of the track events on grass in the Bois de Boulogne.

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Again the Games were a sideshow, this time to the World's Fair, with the grotesque addendum of an "Anthropology Day" during which various ethnic groups performed in so-called primitive sports such as mud-throwing.

The overwhelming majority of the athletes were American with James Lightbody winning the steeplechase, 800 metres and 1,500m. Archie Hahn won the 60, 100 and 200m.

Fred Lorz finished first in the marathon and was congratulated by President Theodore Roosvelt before it was discovered he had hitched a ride on a truck during the race.

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London was awarded the Games in place of Rome after the eruption of Vesuvius and once again the marathon provided high drama.

Italian Dorando Pietri was first into the stadium on a hot, sultry July day but was clearly disorientated, circling the track the wrong way and then collapsing.

He was helped across the line by officials which sparked a protest from the U.S. team, upheld when John Hayes was awarded the title.

Although a great success, the Games took place against a backdrop of acrimony and feuding between Britain and the United States.

The mutual antagonism came to a head when officials disqualifed American winner John Carpenter and ordered a rerun of the men's 400 metres. Carpenter and his two American team mates boycotted the rerun, leaving the sole remaining runner, Wyndham Halswelle of Britain, to jog unopposed to the title.

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The prolonged Scandinavian summer days and a splendid new stadium in the Swedish capital enhanced a memorable Games which featured possibly the best all-round athlete in Olympic history.

Jim Thorpe won five of the individual events in the decathlon and four in the now-discontinued pentathlon. Six months later his medals were stripped because he had received money for playing semi-professional baseball.

Hannes Kolehmainen, first of the great Finnish runners who were to dominate the long-distance events, finished first in the 5,000, 10,000 and the cross-country and Hawaii's Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, the father of surfing, won the first of two 100 metres freestyle titles.

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Although badly damaged during World War I, Antwerp rose to the challenge of an Olympics, albeit with spartan accommodation and facilities.

Paavo Nurmi, the most versatile distance runner in history, won gold medals in the 10,000 metres and the individual and team cross-country events athletes in an outstanding Finnish team who won 34 medals overall.

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PARIS 1924

Finn Nurmi was unstoppable, winning the 1,500 and 5,000 metres gold medals in Olympic record time although the finals were staged within the space of an hour.

On the following day, at the height of a Parisian heat wave, he won the individual cross-country while many of his opponents collapsed in distress.

Including team events, Nurmi was to finish his Olympic career with nine gold medals and believed he could have secured another had he been entered for the 10,000m in Paris.

Johnny Weissmuller won the men's 100 and 400m freestyle and Briton Harold Abrahams became the first European to win the men's 100m.

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Finns were again to the fore with Nurmi winning his final title in the 10,000 and his team mates winning the 1,500, 5,000 and all three places in the steeplechase.

Uruguay beat Argentina 2-1 in the soccer final, two years before securing the first World Cup. Dhyan Chand led the India field hockey team to the first of three gold medals.

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Film star glamour in Hollywood's golden age while the world struggled with the Great Depression drew a record 101,000 spectators to the opening ceremony at the Coliseum.

More than 1 million spectators attended a Games in which 19-year-old Babe Didrickson, a champion in any sport she turned her hand to, won the javelin and the 80 metres hurdles and finished second in the high jump.

Japan dominated the men's swimming events in a sign that Olympic sports were spreading beyond their traditional heartlands in Europe, North America and the British Empire.

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Under the shadow of the swastika, Jesse Owens, a grandson of slave, won the 100 and 200 metres, the long jump and picked up a fourth gold medal in the 4x100 metres relay.

Jack Lovelock won the first of New Zealand's three Olympic 1,500m titles in world record time and Helen Stephens took the gold medal in the women's 100m and then firmly rejected Adolf Hitler's advances.

Politics also intruded in the men's marathon where the winner, Sohn Kee-chung, of Korea was forced to compete under the imposed name of Kietei Son after the Japanese invasion.

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London came to the rescue of the Games for a second time even though Britain was in a parlous economic state after World War Two.

Dubbed the 'Austerity Olympics', the Games still attracted more than 4,000 competitors from 59 countries, with Fanny Blankers-Koen of the Netherlands winning gold medals in the 100, 200, 80 metres hurdles and 4x100 relay.

Bob Matthias, 17, won the decathlon in the gloom as there were no floodlights in Wembley stadium. Hungarian southpaw Laszlo Papp took the middleweight boxing title, the first of three Olympic golds he was to win before becoming the communist country's first professional.

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Emil Zatopek of Czecholsovakia, his head rolling in apparent agony with every stride, won the 5,000-10,000 metres double then added a third gold medal in the marathon. His wife Dana won the women's javelin with an Olympic record.

Australian Majorie Jackson upstaged the Americans by winning the women's 100-200 sprint double and her team mate Shirley Strickland captured the 80m hurdles title in world record time. Hungarians took four of the five women's swimming titles at stake.

The Soviet Union made its first appearance at the Olympics which made the medals table an extension of the Cold War rivalry with the United States.

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The 18-year-old Betty Cuthbert succeeded her compatriot Jackson as the Olympic 100 and 200 metres champion while Strickland retained her hurdles title.

Australia, enjoying a golden decade across a wide range of sports, also dominated the swimming with eight gold medals.

Ukrainian sailor Vladimir Kuts gave the Soviet Union their first two men's athletics medals with a 5,000-10,000 metres double and American Bobby Morrow won the 100, 200 and 4x100 relay in the first sprint treble since Owens 20 years earlier.

Political antagonisms after Soviet troops crushed the Hungarian uprising spilled over into the pool where a water polo semi-final clash between the two countries degenerated into a bloodbath.

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ROME 1960

A stylish Games in the Eternal City featured a host of the world's greatest athletes at their peak at the start of a turbulent decade which was to be reflected in the world of sport.

German Armin Hary shot out of the blocks to win the 100 metres in an Olympic record 10.2 seconds while graceful American Wilma Rudolph captured the women's sprint double.

Australian Herb Elliott won the 1,500m in world record time while Abebe Bikila, a member of Emperor Haile Selassie's Imperial Guard, ran barefoot through the Roman night to win the men's marathon.

Cassius Clay, who was to embrace Muslim faith and change his name to Muhammad Ali, won the light-heavyweight boxing gold medal, and Danish yachtsman Paul Elvstrom captured a fourth consecutive gold medal in as many Games.

In an ominous portent of problems to come, traces of a stimulant were found in Danish cyclist Knud Enemark Jensen's blood after he collapsed and died during the 100 kms road race.

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TOKYO 1964

Japan staged the first Olympics in Asia a demonstration of their remarkable economic recovery following World War Two. Yoshinori Sakai, born on the day Hiroshima was destroyed by an atomic bomb, was chosen as the final torchbearer.

Bikila, this time wearing shoes, retained the marathon title and Billy Mills emerged from obscurity to defeat overwhelming favourite Ron Clarke in the 10,000 metres.

Ukrainian-born Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina collected a record 18th medal although she was relegated to second place in the all-round competition by Vera Caslavska.

American Don Schollander won four gold medals in the pool and Australian Dawn Fraser won her third consecutive 100 metres freestyle title. Fraser, the first woman to swim under 60 seconds, was later involved in an escapade in which a flag was stolen from the emperor's palace, a prank which earned her a four-year ban.

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Government troops killed at least 250 unarmed demonstrators before the Games opened, while Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos were sent home after they bowed their heads and raised clenched fists in a silent Black Power protest at the victory ceremony for the men's 200 metres.

World records tumbled in the thin air of the Mexican capital with Americans Jim Hines in the 100, Smith in the 200 and Lee Evans in the 400 setting fresh marks.

Another American, Bob Beamon, leaped into the history books with an astonishing long jump of 8.90 metres, a mark which was to stand for 23 years.

Dick Fosbury introduced the now standard "Fosbury flop" to the high jump, clearing the bar back first to win the gold medal, and Al Oerter won a fourth consecutive discus title.

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Eight members of the pro-Palestine Black September group broke into the athletes' village in a raid which led to the deaths of 11 Israeli athletes.

After a 34-hour break the Games continued but the threat of terrorist attacks has haunted international sport since.

American Mark Spitz won a record seven gold medals in the pool and a tiny 17-year-old Belarussian gymnast Olga Korbut captivated a global television audience, performing the first back flip on the uneven bars.

The U.S. men's basketball team, previously unbeaten in Olympic competition, were defeated by the Soviet Union in the last three seconds of the final.

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A New Zealand rugby tour of white-ruled South Africa sparked a walkout by black African nations, the first of three successive political boycotts which were to blight the Games.

The Montreal Games also imposed a huge burden on the Canadian taxpapers and the debt was not finally paid off until 2006.

Fourteen-year-old Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci recorded the first perfect score 10.0 with her performance on the uneven bars during the women's all-round competition and ended the Games with seven faultless scores.

Pole Irena Szewinska won the women's 400 metres, her seventh Olymic medal in five events, and the powerfully built Cuban Alberto Juantorena completed a men's 400-800 double.

U.S. swimmers dominated the men's events and East Germany won 11 out of 13 of the women's. As they had failed to win a single medal four years earlier, suspicions were openly voiced that their performances were drug-assisted, suspicions that were confirmed in documents discovered after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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A massive celebration to demonstrate the superiority of the communist system was disrupted through a U.S.-led boycott after the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan the previous year.

British athletes were discouraged from attending the Games but not banned which gave Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett the opportunity to consummate one of the great sporting rivalries on the ultimate stage.

Coe, who had taken a second off Juantorena's world record in the previous year, ran a tactically inept race in the 800 to finish behind Ovett.

Ovett was now the overwhelming favourite to emulate Juantorena's double four years earlier but this time Coe was determined to show he was a racer as well as a record-breaker and a ferocious sprint finish ensured the gold.

Miruts Yifter won the 5,000-10,000 double for Ethiopia and Cuba's Tefilo Stevenson claimed a third heavyweight boxing title.

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The Soviet Union predictably retaliated for their Moscow humiliation by boycotting the second Games in the 'city of angels', which did not upset a jingoistic home crowd in the least.

They cheered Carl Lewis as he won the same four gold medals as Owens and revelled in Joan Benoit's victory in the first women's Olympic marathon.

In the absence of the East Germans, Valerie Brisco-Hooks won the 200-400 double and Ed Moses, unbeaten in 104 previous races, displayed his enduring excellence by winning the 400 metres hurdles.

Mary Lou Retton became an instant heroine and attracted a flood of endorsements when she won the women's individual all-round event and Moroccan Nawal El Moutawakel became the first woman from an Islamic nation to win an Olympic title with victory in the 400 metres hurdles.

Californian Mary Decker, a double gold medallists at the first world championships the previous year, tumbled to the track after colliding with Zola Budd in the 3,000 metres. The barefoot Budd, running for Britain under a flag of convenience because her native South Africa was still banned, left the arena in tears to a chorus of boos and whistles.

Coe, who had been afflicted by a serious viral illness, became the first man to retain the Olympic 1,500 title. His compatriot Daley Thompson retained the decathlon crown after an epic confrontation with Germany's world record holder Juergen Hingsen.

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SEOUL 1988

Potential tensions with North Korea, a potentially serious threat, dissipated sufficiently to allow the Games to go ahead peaceably.

The Games were then embroiled in the biggest doping scandal to hit the Olympics yet when Canadian Ben Johnson tested positive for the steroid stanozolol after defeating Lewis in world record time in the 100 metres final.

Following his abrupt departure from Seoul, media attention focused on Florence Griffith-Joyner, whose 100 and 200 metres world records set in 1988 have not subsequently been approached let alone broken. Griffith-Joyner, who never failed a dope test, retired suddenly the following year after random drugs testing was introduced and died 10 years later.

Boxing was bedevilled by appallingly prejudiced judging with New Zealand referee Keith Walker jostled by local officials after awarding a decision against a South Korean and there was a spate of positive tests in the weightlifting.

On the plus side, Kenyan men won the 800, 1,500, 5,000 and steeplechase titles. American Greg Louganis retained his springboard diving title with stitches inserted his head after hitting after the board in the preliminaries.

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The Catalan capital, a city of architectural marvels, laid on a stylish Games based on the hill of Montjiuc overlooking the harbour.

South Africa were re-admitted to the Games leading to an unforgettable women's 10,000 final where black athlete Derartu Tulu of Ethiopia defeated white South African Elana Meyer. The pair held hands on a lap of honour.

Lewis failed to qualify for the American 100 metres team, an event won by Briton Linford Christie, but retained the long jump title and ran a sizzling final leg on the winning 4x100 relay team. Belarusian Vitali Scherbo won six of the eight men's gymnastics titles, including four in a single day.

High on Montjuic, 13-year-old Chinese Mingxia Fu entranced spectators to become the youngest Olympic diving champion. Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird celebrated the arrival of U.S. NBA professionals to the Games by helping the 'Dream Team' cruise to the gold medal.

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The Games were afflicted by logistical problems, most notably transport, after a bomb explosion in Centennial Park which killed two people and injured more than 100.

The overt commercial hustling was also distasteful but the true Olympic spirit ultimately triumphed with Muhammad Ali, his hands trembling with the effects of Parkinson's syndrome, lighting the flame through sheer force of will.

Michael Johnson won an unprecedented 200-400 double, emitting a mighty roar of triumph after smashing his own world record in the shorter event.

Donovan Bailey upstaged the Americans by setting a world record in the men's 100 metres final then anchoring the Canadian team to victory in the 4x100 relay.

Lewis, who again missed qualifying for the 100 metres, defied the years and his younger rivals to win a fourth long jump gold.

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Sydney represented a fresh start for the International Olympic Committee after four members were expelled and several others sanctioned in a bribes-for-votes scandal over the allocation of the 2002 Winter Olympics to Salt Lake City.

A sunburnt continent welcomed the Games with new world enthusiasm and Cathy Freeman signalled the reconciliation of the native aboriginals with the European settlers by lighting the Olympic flame. Under intense pressure she then delivered the 400 metres title her nation had demanded.

Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie outsprinted his great Kenyan rival Paul Tergat to win the 10,000 metres by the narrowest of margins and British rower Steve Redgrave won a fifth successive Olympic title.

Marion Jones failed in her goal of going one better than Owens and Lewis with five gold medals, finishing with the 100-200 double and a relay gold.

During the Games it was revealed that her then husband C.J. Hunter, the world shot put champion, had tested positive four times for the steroid nandronlone. After years of denial Jones finally confessed she had been using the designer drug THG at the time of the Sydney Games and was stripped of all her medals and results.

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Serious doubts that Athens would be ready in time were finally allayed, only for yet another doping scandal to blight the Olympics, this time on the eve of the opening ceremony.

Kostas Kenteris, the defending 200 metres champion, and his training partner Katerina Thanou, the 100 silver medallist behind Jones in Sydney, both missed a scheduled doping test and were withdrawn from the Games. Kenteris had been selected to light the Olympic flame.

Thereafter the Games ran smoothly with the shot put competitions staged at ancient Olympia and the men's marathon on the final day concluding in the 1896 Olympic stadium.

Moroccan 1,500 metres world record holder Hicham El Guerrouj finally won the Olympic title at his third attempt and added the 5,000 gold for good measure.

Britain's Kelly Holmes, whose career had been disrupted by injury, also recorded a memorable double with victory in the 800 and 1,500 metres.

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China laid on the most extravagant opening ceremony yet for a Games designed to demonstrates its burgeoning economic and political might.

Fears about possible terrorism, athletes' protests following the disruption of the torch relay by pro-Tibet supporters and air quality proved unfounded and the Games provided a stage for the best sprinter and swimmer in Olympic history.

Competing in the "Bird's Nest" stadium, Usain Bolt shattered the world 100 and 200 metres records and led the Jamaican team to a further world record in the 4x100 metres relay. In the pool, Michael Phelps won a record eight gold medals and set six world records.

Russian Yelena Isinbayeva increased her own world pole vault record to 5.05 metres.

The hosts won the most gold medals with the United States topping the overall medals table.

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