Olympics: history and origins of the Olympic Games, from Antiquity to the present day

Published by Graziella de Sortiraparis, Caroline de Sortiraparis · Photos by Cécile de Sortiraparis · Published on March 6th, 2024 at 08:45 p.m.
As Paris hosts the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games from July 26 to September 8, 2024, do you know the history and origins of the famous Olympics? We tell you.

The Paris 2024 Olympic Games are fast approaching. But do you know how old the Olympic Games are, and when the modern Games were created? Here's a look at the history and origins of the Olympics, which are still as fascinating as ever.

The ancient Olympic Games

As with so many other events and festivals, you have to go back a long way to understand the history of the Olympic Games. So far back, in fact, that it's difficult to date the beginning of the Olympic Games precisely. But the history of the Games can be traced back to antiquity, with its roots in Greece. According to existing written records, the first Games were held in 776 BC, as part of a religious festival in honour of Zeus.

At that time, the Greeks did not count time in years, but in Olympiads. An Olympiad corresponded to four years, the length of time between editions of the ancient Games. This tradition continues to this day, with four years separating two editions of the Summer Games. The same applies to the Winter Games.

But let's return to the origins of the Olympic Games. In ancient times, the Games were organized between the ancient Greek cities. They were so popular that they lasted until 393 AD, when the Roman Emperor Theodosius decided to abandon the Games for religious reasons. It was not until the modern era that the Olympic Games appeared once again.

Creation of the modern Olympic Games

The history of the modern Olympic Games began in Paris, thanks to one determined man: Baron Pierre de Coubertin. He decided to organize the first Olympic Congress from June 16 to 23, 1894, in the great amphitheatre of the Sorbonne.

The congress was a resounding success, with 2,000 people in attendance, including 58 French delegates representing 24 sports clubs and organizations. There were also 20 delegates from Belgium, Spain, the United States, Great Britain, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Russia and Sweden, representing 13 foreign sports federations. At the end of the Congress, the International Olympic Committee was founded and the Olympic Games were reborn in a more modern version.

The evolution of the Olympic Games over the years

The first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens, Greece, in April 1896. Four years later, in 1900, Paris hosted the second edition of the Games. It was an edition marked by the participation of the first women, with 22 women out of a total of 997 athletes. British tennis player Charlotte Cooper was the first female Olympic champion in the history of the Games.

Four years later, at the 1904 Olympic Games, held this time in Saint-Louis in the United States, the first gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded to the champions. It was also in this year that the Olympic Games rewarded George Eyser. The famous handicapped American gymnast won six medals, three of them gold.

The Olympic Games follow one another, but they are never the same. In 1912, the Stockholm Olympics welcomed delegations from five continents for the first time. It was in 1920 that the Olympic flag - symbolized by 5 interlaced rings representing the 5 continents - made its first appearance, after the 1916 Games had been cancelled due to the First World War.

Four years later, all eyes were once again on France, which in 1924 staged the first Winter Olympics in Chamonix (originally named " Semaine Internationale des Sports d'Hiver "), as well as the traditional Summer Olympics once again in Paris. The first " Olympic Village " was built in the capital that year, a tradition that has continued ever since.

The 1936 Winter and Summer Olympics, held in Germany, were marked by the first live broadcast of the Opening Ceremony. But behind this technical feat lay state propaganda orchestrated by Nazi Germany. It was also at these Summer Games in Berlin that the Olympic torch relay was introduced for the first time.

As for the first Paralympic Games in history, they were organized in 1960, one week after the Olympic Games in Rome. At the time, they were held in Stoke Mandeville, Great Britain. It wasn't until 1988 and the Seoul Games that the Olympic and Paralympic Games were systematically held in the same city, just a few weeks apart.

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