Shalane Flanagan

Rio 2016: A Look Back on the History of the Olympics

The first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens, Greece, in April of 1896, some 1,500 years after last ancient Olympic contest in approximately 304 C.E. Every two years, the games are held, alternating between winter and summer sports, but always showcasing the best athletes participating countries have to offer. The Olympic rings and the international torch relay are familiar symbols to people around the world. The athletes inspire and amaze us, while the Games themselves make us all, if only for a few days, feel a sense of unity and possibility. Before the opening ceremonies begin in Rio on August 5, we want to share some of our favorite Olympic facts with you:


  • While the feats performed are amazing for athletes of any age, can you imagine a 10-year-old on the winners’ podium? Dimitrios Loundras did just that in 1896, earning a bronze medal for Greece in the parallel bars event. He remains the youngest medalist in Olympic history.
  • Minimalist shoes and barefoot running have been a craze for a few years now. But in the Olympics? In 1960, the marathon gold medalist, Ethiopian Abebe Bikila, ran the race with no shoes!
  • It’s not uncommon to hear of athletes retiring from sports in their 20s and 30s. Some sports, however, allow players to age gracefully and maintain their prowess. Such is the case with the oldest Olympic athlete, a Swedish marksman named Oscar Swahn. He won a silver medal in the Antwerp Olympics at the age of 72.
  • While the modern Olympic Games are as vibrant as ever now, 120 years after that first competition in Athens, there have been years where no games were held. In 1916, the Berlin Games were canceled due to WWI. The Games were also canceled in 1940 and 1944 due to WWII.
  • The Summer Games predate the Winter Games by decades. The first Winter Olympics took place in 1924. However, they were contested during the same year and on the same four-year rotation until 1992. After that, the current platform for alternating Summer and Winter Olympic Games every two years began.
  • The athlete with the most Olympic medals is Michael Phelps. He’ll likely tack on a few more as he came out of retirement to compete in Rio this year. It is also Mr. Phelps’s home country, the United States, that claims the most Olympic medals. Combining Summer and Winter Games, the US has brought home 2,681 medals to date.

We can’t wait for the Games to start later this week! Check out our interviews with Evan Jager, Colleen Quigley, Amy Cragg, and Shalane Flanagan and tune in as they compete for gold in Rio. Speaking of tuning in, make sure you’re with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Best of luck to all the athletes competing in Rio for the 2016 Summer Games!



Heading to the Summer Games: Read about Steeplechase champions Evan Jagerand Colleen Quigley

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