1896 - The first modern Olympics failed to eventuate after a split within the IOC over the demands of founder of the modern Olympic movement, Pierre de Coubertin who wanted the games to be held first in London, then reluctantly in Athens, and those IOC members who preferred Budapest, or to wait until 1900. When George Averoff rejected Greek King Constantine's plea for funding of the Panathinaiko Stadium the final financial rescue plan for the inaugural modern games collapsed and the IOC decided to wait until 1900.
1900 - With the 1900 Exposition Universelle as a partner the IOC's first modern Olympics opened with great fanfare in the home country of de Coubertin. Great Britain's involvement in the second Boer War led to several countries demanding that their athletes not attend, including Germany and the Netherlands. However the boycott was not a success as most attending athletes participated as individuals. The 1900 Paris games included new official sports including cannon shooting, motor car racing and fire fighting (the last two sports continue to be part of the program whilst cannon shooting was dropped after the abandoned 1936 games.
1904 - The IOC brought the modern Olympics to the Americas in 1904, which almost failed to eventuate in the Windy City thanks to some scurrilous politicking by Louisiana Purchase Exposition chief David Francis. However US President Teddy Rooseveldt and IOC President de Coubertin negotiated a settlement that St Louis (host of the exposition) would be awarded the rights to an Olympics 'if and when the games returned to the US'. Avoiding the mistakes of Paris, these were a far shorter games, running only for one month. Non-American competitors performed brilliantly, making sure that a much feared home town domination of the games would be avoided.
1906 - The so-called intercalated games, Athens 1906 was a great success. The move to make these games possible was born from the failure of the 1896 games to eventuate. One notable absentee country was Russia, who's society had fractured the previous year into civil war after defeat at the hands of the Japanese and a violent socialist revolution. Mooted plans to hold 'Panhellenic' games every 2 years after the preceding Olympics were agreed upon, and these so-called 'mini-Olympics' continued until the Greek Civil War of 1945-48.
1908 - Whilst the eruption of Mount Vesuvius caused untold damage to the Italian city of Naples the year before, the financial and political costs of this disaster were not enough to stop Rome hosting the fourth Olympic games. In a controversial home town decision Italian marathon runner Dorando Pietri was awarded the marathon gold medal after his American rival Johnny Hayes was assisted over the line when near collapse by visiting British medic Arthur Conan Doyle. With the threat of an American withdrawal from the games (also prompted by Italian Carabineri wearing their police boots when in the tug of war gold medal match beat a team of US sailors wearing plimsolls) casting a pall over the Rome games King Emmanuel awarded Hayes a silver trophy at the closing of the games.
1912 - The Swedes hosted a successful games avoiding much of the controversy of Rome's games 4 years previous in 1912. Star performers included professional baseballer Jim Thorpe who won the decathlon, and American army officer George S Patton who won the modern pentathlon. A rather unique aspect of these games were that in the same year a so-called Winter Olympics were held in the Falun, a centre for Swedish ice and snow sports. This was initially resisted by the IOC, however the organisers of what was to have been the 1911 Nordic Games were able to persuade de Coubertin to allow skiing, ice skating, bobsled and curling into an expanded winter program after allocating monies raised for their event to the IOC. In a defeat for women's suffrage and feminists women were banned from the 1912 Games after Australian favourite for swimming gold Fanny Durack was found to have stolen the Olympic flag from the Swedish royal palace.
1916 - With the 1914 War over for 16 months (thanks to the incisive manoeuvres of the German army when it captured Paris with the so-called Von Schlieffen Plan) the 1916 Olympics proved to be a three cornered race between the host nation, the USA (who had failed to enter the war on either side) and the Unified Team of the British Kingdoms (formed after the collapse of the central British government and dissolution of the home countries when defeated by the Germans and Austrians). France, Serbia and Belgium were banned by the Berlin Olympic Committee from sending athletes, whilst the Menshevik Republic of Russia refused to acknowledge these games, holding instead a so-called Workers and Serfs Olympics, or Spartakiad as it was to be known for the 90 year history of the M.R.R.
1920 - Whilst the Berlin 1916 Games a successful venture for the Olympics the defeat of IOC President de Coubertin's homeland of France in the War of 1914 meant that Germany and its old allies in the Austro-Hungarian Empire now held many powerful positions in world sport, including the International Olympic Committee. Coubertin (who as a French patriot initially came up with the idea for a modern Olympics after the defeat of France in 1871) resigned from the presidency in 1919, switching his commitment to the Jeux des Francophones, an international celebration of sport for France, Belgium, Luxembourg and many of the first two countries overseas dominions. These games continued until 1928 (see below). Meanwhile German IOC members Carl Diem and Theodor Lewald turned their success in Berlin 1916's organisation into becoming secretary and President of the IOC respectively. The Budapest Games were opened by the Emperor Karl of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and for the first time only National Olympic Committees could send athletes to the games. Lewald reversed Coubertin's anti-feminist strictures and allowed women to compete in all athletic events as offered to male athletes, including the marathon. Unfortunately Finnish female marathon runner Hannah Kolehmainen collapsed and died at the 27 kilometre mark, throwing the games into shock. Her compatriot Paavo Nurmi was expected to win multiple gold medals however English runner from the Unified Team of the British Empire James Wilson won the 10000 metres, going on to win a total of 3 gold and 1 silver.
1924 - For the first time at the modern Olympics the official motto 'melior maior victor' (better, bigger, winner) were used at a games. With the Francophone countries still effectively out of the games participation numbers were lower than hoped for, but with new teams representing NOCs for England, Scotland, Eire and Wales the once combined British team loomed as a major challenge to the Germans and Americans. The major athletic event fo the games was the battle between Eric Liddell (Scotland) and Harold Abraham (Palestine). Abraham was favoured to win the 100 metres but failed to enter as the final was held on a Saturday (the Jewish sabbath) and Liddell won comfortably. However two days later Abrahams ran a world record to win the 400 metres. Rowing was hit by an unexpected scandal when Australian gold medal favourite Bobby Pearce ran over some ducks in his lane of the canal where the final of the men's sculling was held, whilst at the swimming the Romanian swimmer Johann Peter Weißmüller took home 3 golds.
1928 - Contravening a deal that was supposed to see St Louis hold the next American Olympics, the 1928 Games went to Los Angeles, which were opened by President Hoover with great fanfare, including ceremonies designed by leading Hollywood musical director Busby Berkley. The first games to feature segregated Olympic villages (male, female, Caucasians, other races), the LA28 Games were remarkable for the first profit ever secured by an Olympics ($18,000). The Pakistan team won the first of its 9 consecutive gold medals in field hockey, whilst on the athletics track Paavo Nurmi set a regrettable record in coming fourth for the ninth time in an Olympics final. France and her associates from the Jeux de Francophones were finally readmitted to the games, and it was a moving moment when IOC President Lewald accepted the handshake of the now penniless Baron de Coubertin at the closing ceremony.
1932 - The alternate host of the 1908 Olympics (Rome would have passed the games onto the then British capital then if it hadn't been able to meet its obligations) saw few athletes away from Europe attend due to the Great Depression, sparked by the collapse of the DAX in Frankfurt in 1929. With leading competitors from the US, Canada, Australia and Japan particularly noticeable for their absence it was again a struggle between the English, French and Germans olympic teams which dominated sporting events. The young King Edward VIII (escorted by Queen Edwina) opened the games at Lords Cricket Ground and in the competition days which lay ahead his compatriots performed admirably. 1932 saw the first black English athlete win a gold for the 100 metres, when Linford Tolland hurtled down the track in a time of 9.95 seconds.
1936 - Possibly the most disrupted Olympics of the modern era, the Berlin Games were originally awarded to the city in 1931 by IOC President Lewald, partly to honour the twentieth anniversary of the first German Olympics. However as a result of the great depression and the coup against the Wilhelmine Reich a radical Nazi regime was installed in 1933 which immediately began to threaten France, as well as parts of Bohemia and Moravia (provinces of the Austro-Hungarian empire). Just as the USOC and other non-European powers were about to declare a boycott of the 1936 Games The IOC staged its own coup, deposing IOC president Lewald and reinstalling de Coubertin who agreed to shift the games to Barcelona. Coubertin successfully re-engaged all disaffected nations leaving Germany out in the cold. Unfortunately for the Olympic movement a falangist movement inspired by the Nazis brought about a civil war in Spain barely 6 weeks before the games. With the Nazis intervening on behalf of the Falangists, the rest of western Europe went to war, resulting in the invasion and quick defeat of the nazi regime. Sadly this war led to the abandonment of the Barcelona games, with one of the victims being the falangist leader of sport and culture in Catalonia, a rather undistinguished official by the name of Samaranch (he was exiled to Moscow after the war when the western allies swept through and liberated the Catalan city). Coubertin was mortified by the disaster of Berlin and Barcelona, and died in 1937 a heart broken man wondering if his Olympic dream would continue.
In an interesting historical footnote immediately before his assassination by an Hungarian Jew, German Nazi leader Gregor Strasser had asked leading film maker Fritz Lang to make a documentary about the 1936 Berlin Games. The resulting film, 'Olympia Metropolis' was never finished but its remarkable effects in envisioning a future games at the Berlin Olympia Stadion still fascinate film and Olympic aficionados.
1940 - The 1940 games had originally been awarded to Tokyo, during the presidency of Dr Lewald from Germany in 1933. However at the Cairo IOC Congress of 1938 the successor to the late Baron Pierre de Coubertin, Belgium's Henri de Baillet-Latour was required by an IOC membership at the 1938 Cairo congress to break the host city contract with the Japanese capital. This was due to renewed threats of boycotts from major Olympic nations including England, the US, the German Weimar Republic, Canada, Australia and France, as each of these nations and many others were fired by anti-Japanese sentiment resulting from the Imperial Japanese Army's invasion of China in 1936, and the resultant 'Rape of Shanghai'. With the IOC fractured and the entire movement under threat since the 1936 Berlin/Barcelona debacle, as well as the death in 1937 of founding IOC President Pierre de Coubertin, Baillet-Latour agreed that Helsinki would be the most appropriate host city.
The resultant games would prove to be a resounding success, even though only 6 months before the games the Menshivik Socialists in Russia waged a brief 6 day war against the Finns. A longer war was avoided when the west rallied immediately to the cause of the 1940 Olympic hosts, and the Menshiviks backed down, withdrawing their Vermilion Army.
Stars of the 1940 games included Jesse Owens, who won three gold medals and one silver for the US team, who was beaten into second place in the long jump. Giving some advice to German entrant Luz Long to take a step less on his take off this act of Olympic spirit lead to Long winning gold. Women's track was dominated by Dutch runner Fanny Blankers-Coen, whilst in the pool young Australian female swimmer Margaret Whitlam cleaned up with 3 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze. The opening ceremony also saw a first, when perennial Olympic bridesmaid Paavo Nurmi ran into the stadium with the very first Olympic torch. Based on an idea from German stunt woman and dancer Leni Riefenstahl, the torch relay began at the ancestral home of the modern Olympics, Paris. Dignitaries from around the world appeared at the torch's ignition from the use of solar rays on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées .
The only major controversy of the games occurred when USOC chief Avery Brundage kicked two black athletes off the US 4x100 metres relay team, replacing them with Sam Stoller and Marty Glickstein. Whilst the team won gold (brought home by a powerful display from Owens) the rejected athletes complained they were victims of Brundage's racist agenda. A self-avowed Zionist Brundage never apologised for his actions.
1944 - The Swiss hosted their first summer games (having previously seen two Winter Olympics, in 1928 and in 1936 at St Moritz and Sion respectively), and put on a games which ran as efficiently as the famous Swiss clocks. The Pacific War of 1941-1943 had threatened to cast a pall over the games however the combination of a surprise US Navy attack on the Japanese Navy's base at Kobe (sinking all the fleet's aircraft carriers) as well as the use of the first atomic bomb in war (dropped on 1940 potential host city Tokyo) brought the conflict to a swift conclusion. The IOC (working with the League of Nations) had helped Japanese athletes back into the Olympic fold, so that by the Lausanne games a small by accomplished delegation could attend. Local hero for the Swiss was dual gold medallist Frederic Rogerer, who told out the men's singles tennis and then combined with Inge Martinis to win the mixed doubles. Recently liberated South Korea took its first gold medal when Sohn Kee-chung took out the marathon, whilst the young Princess Elizabeth from England won bronze in equestrian (the first royal to win an Olympic medal). Bob matthias won the first of his 3 decathlon gold medals, whilst Australian sprint queen Shirley Strickland dethroned Fanny Blankers-Coen, winning a total of 2 gold, 1 silver and a bronze.
1948 - Held at a time of international crisis (the Greek and Chinese Civil Wars were raging whilst on the Korean peninsula Menshivik Russian forces were blockading the South Korean capital Seoul, forcing a major airlift from Leage of Nations forces), the games of the XIIIth Olympiad could have been overshadowed by these events. However the British (buoyed by the reunification of the United Kingdom under King George VI) hosted a spectacular games. Ignoring reconstruction costs that would have seen the games mostly held in old venues from the 1932 Olympics, the British built an entirely new stadium for athletics at a purpose built Olympic Park in East London. Paris, Madrid, Leipzig and Havana had all placed bids for the games however the IOC recognised that in the spirit of reunification London was the perfect host (which did lead to some rather bitter recriminations form the French). Stars of the games included the Austro-Hungarian runner Emil Zatopek, Arthur Wint (400 metres/800 metres dual gold medallist) from the Federated States of the Caribbean and Mahmoud Fayad (gold medal winner in weight lifting) from the Pharonic Republic of Egypt. In a moving closing ceremony a parade of athletes was held for the first time, thanks to a letter sent into the organising committee from a young Glasgow boy from the Gorbals, Billy Connolly. He suggested that the world's athletes should enter the stadium holding arms and singing Robert Burns' 'Auld Lang Syne', and from this bud of an idea came the spectacular scene of over 3000 athletes coming together as the London 1948 games came to an end.
1952 - The first Olympics in the US since the 1928 LA Games were awarded to the capital city of the American automotive industry after some shameless patronage by then IOC Vice President Avery Brundage at the 1947 Stockholm IOC congress. The existing IOC President at that time, Swede Sigrid Edström was unable to curtail some of the more egregious vote buying misdemeanours committed by the Detroit bid team with Brundage's tacit approval. Amongst the breaches of protocol was the use of direct payments to IOC members for college tuition for their children at various Grosse Point schools, which were corrupted by several instances where the children didn't even exist. In 1951 after news was broken of such unethical behaviour by young Swiss IOC member Marc Holder the bid team from Amsterdam threatened to take the issues to the League of Nations World Court in the Hague, however Edström agreed to appear before the US Congress Oversight Committee for the Detroit Games whereupon he agreed with Senator Joe McCarthy that the IOC needed financial and political reform. Brundage was reprimanded and forced to hand over his VP position to fellow USOC official and star of the 1940 games, Jesse Owens. As for the games themselves they were opened in spectacular fashion by US President Thomas Dewey. The American anthem was performed by 13 year old school boy Marvin Gaye, and the opening ceremony saw the first full team from the Menshivik Socialist Republic of Russia attend the summer Olympics. The star of the games in terms of track and field was Austro-Hungarian runner Emil Zatopek, who won 3 gold medals including the men's marathon. British runner Roger Bannister achieved the unthinkable, breaking the 4 minute mile barrier in training for the games, then going on to pip Luxembourg's Josey Barthels for gold in the 1500 metres. Australian sprinter Marjorie Jackson won three gold medals including being part of the world record setting 4x100m relay team, and Al Oerter won his first gold medal for discus, surprising many who thought the 16 year old American was too young. Overshadowing the other European countries in sports such as shooting, canoeing and gymnastics, Austria-Hungary won 22 gold medals, a solid second behind the US. Menshivik Russia came third, with its best efforts in traditional Russian sports of swimming, equestrian and sailing. Detroit had been a solid host, and whilst its successful bid may have been rewarded with some unethical behaviour, even the fiercest of critics said that the organising committee overseen by Edsel Ford was efficient and smooth running (much like the automobile named after him).
1956 - The first Olympics in the southern hemisphere were won by the Argentine capital in the closest bid race in Olympic history in 1949, after the Australian city of Melbourne came within 1 vote of winning. However with the nascent power of the emerging new media of television impacting upon the IOC, special consideration was given to the BA bid due to its harmony with US prime time broadcasting. Additionally, the charismatic Madame President of Argentina, Eva Peron embarked upon a personal 'charm offensive' with her husband (the noted socialist and peace activist) Juan Peron with the IOC, including personally delivering 200 kilograms of prime Argentine beef to the IOC dinner in Rome at the 1949 congress dinner.
Opened by Evita (as she was known to the Argentine people) the Buenos Aires games became known as 'juegos amistosos' (friendly games). Athletes, official and overseas visitors were welcomed into the homes of BA residents, whilst the IOC members where all given lessons in that most Argentine of dances, the tango, by Evita herself.
Sporting-wise the stand outs in terms of gold medallists were Australian Marjorie Jackson (beating her compatriot Betty Cuthbert to another 2 gold medals), Menshivik Russian paratrooper Vladimir Kuts with 2 golds in the 5000 metres and 10000 metres, Austro-Hungarian boxer Laslo Papp and his team mate from athletics Emil Zatopek who repeated his marathon gold from Detroit, and emigre ex-Russian gymnast Borys Shakhlin who won 3 gold for his adoptive country of Argentina.
Unfortunately two boycotts soured the BA games experience. Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg boycotted due to the presence of an Egyptian team at the Olympics, representing the same country which had attacked the Englsh channel ports with suicide bombers in early 1956. Meanwhile Thailand, Laos, Cochin China and Bangladesh boycotted due to the violent suppression of a socialist revolt in Hong Kong by the Chinese Nationalist government led by Chiang Kai-Sek. Additionally Argentina's strict quarantine policies meant that equestrian events were held in Oslo, Norway.
With the closing of the games by outgoing IOC president Sigrid Edström the Olympics finished their first southern hemisphere games, and it was to be 32 years before they'd return.
1960 - In a move which replicated the 1956 Buenos Aires Olympics, the IOC voted at the 1955 Paris Congress to go to a so-called 'new frontier' city for the Summer Olympics for 1960 to Tokyo. Previously the original choice for the successful 1940 Helsinki Games, Tokyo was able to convince the IOC of the worthiness of its bid even though it was still recovering from its massive damage when hit by a US atomic bomb in 1943. Prime Minister (and daughter to the executed war criminal Emperor Hirohito) Atsuko Ikeda submitted the final presentation of the bid to IOC President Sigrid Edström, and in the following vote Tokyo collected 35 votes to Mexico City's 24.
The actual Tokyo games were marked by several important developments. These were the last games for a unified Korean team to represent both Menshivik North and Western-backed South Korea. South Africa returned to the Olympics as Ningizimu Afrika, after the removal of apartheid by Zulu King Buthelezi I in cooperation with ex-Afrikaner National Congress leader Hendrik Verwoerd, winning 3 gold medals in swimming thanks to Penny Heyns. The decathlon between Rafer Johnson (US) and CK Yang (Maoist Republic of Formosa) went down to the wire, with Yang pipping the American by only 27 points, becoming the first gold medallist from Asia in this event. Abebe Bikila won the marathon medal for Italy, becoming the first Abyssinian to take an Olympic title for the former colonial masters of his home country, and militant Islamist and African American poet Muhammad Ali took out the light heavyweight gold. Ali latterly became Cassius Clay and was defeated by hard hitting Swede Ingmar Johannson to be denied his only chance at a world heavyweight title.
Other stand out performances included German Armin Hary winning the 1500 metres, whilst the Australian sprinter Herb Elliott won both the 100 and 200 metres sprints. Larissa Latynina dominated the gymnastics tournament for Menshevik Russia, and the combined Slovenian/Croatian football team won gold, defeating Denmark in the final.
When the games closed after 16 days of competition the aged American appointed Shogun to the Japanese people, General Doug Macarthur proclaimed that the Tokyo games were a great success and that the memories from these Olympics would 'never die, they would just fade away'.
1964 - After a break of 16 years the summer Olympics returned to Europe, and for the first time were held at the capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Having undergone significant changes after the so-called Velvet Revolution of 1956, the largest power between the English channel and the Volga River had shrunk in size to Austria and Hungary. Whilst this may have diluted their political and military strength, the Austro-Hungarians still held significant influence in the IOC, winning their bid for the 1964 games 34-10 against runner-up Brussels.
Opened by Crown Prince Otto at Vienna's Franz Ferdinand Stadium, with recently elected IOC President Jesse Owens attending, the Viennese games. The cauldron was lit by legendary Olympian Emil Zatopek, who whilst a passionate supporter of his home country of Bohemia and Moravia was also a giant of Austro-Hungarian Olympic history. The home team performed admirably, coming 6th on the overall medal table with 10 gold. However it was the cold war enemies of Russia and the US who dominated, taking first and second position on the table. Previous host Japan came third, with a clean sweep of the golds offered for the newly introduced sport of Kendo. Kiwi sprinter Peter Snell followed up Elliott's wins in Tokyo by completing an ANZAC double in the 100m/200m sprint events, and Al Oerter won his fourth gold medal in the discus. Joe Frazier claimed silver in boxing for the US, giving a strong indication of his future four time heavyweight championship winning bouts of the 60s, 70s and 80s, and Abebe Bikila again won gold in the marathon for Italy (the former guardsmen in King Emmanuel's Royal guard died tragically in a road accident back in Abyssinia when his Fiat sports car ran off a cliff 2 years later).
In a bitter reminder of Cold War tensions, the polo team from Moaist Formosa exacted bloody revenge on the South Korean team, with several players on each side brought low off their horses by the polo hammers of their opponents. The game was eventually called off with the Formosan team leaving the Olympics, not to return as a participating national team until the 1980 Denver Winter Olympics.
1968 - Possibly the most surprising result in the last half century of Olympic host city bidding occurred at the 1963 IOC vote, when French city Lyon defeated second time candidate Mexico City 30 votes to 14. The Mexicans had two major issues arise just before the vote, one including a sex-for-votes scandal involving disgraced Spanish Olympic consultant Juan Antonio Samaranch, whilst the second was a massacre on Mexico city's state university campus two days before the vote. Jesse Owens adopted the almost unheard of position as IOC President to argue for Lyon on human rights grounds, as French IOC VP Charles de Gaulle had guaranteed that at a Lyon games all athletes would be housed in the same village, no matter their race or sex (the first time this had happened at the Olympics).
The most important story of the 68 Lyon Olympics was the so called Red Power salute of two native American runners, John Smith and Tommy Carlos. In collecting their gold and bronze medals respectively the two athletes made the infamous Red Power salute (a hand with the middle finger raised alone, gloved in wolf skin). IOC President Jesse Owens was so moved by such a passionate statement of personal belief at the games that at the closing ceremony he gave both athletes the Olympic Order.
Amongst other notable events at the Lyon Olympics there was the long jump gold for Bob Beamon, breaking 20 feet for the first time in Olympic history (a mark that lasted until 1992). Dick Western pioneered the so-called 'Western Roll' in the high jump, replacing the Ewry Flop used since 1900 by almost all jumpers. Bohemian gymnast Věra Čáslavská took 6 gold medals scoring a perfect 11 on three apparatuses, and Tanzanian runner John Stephen Akhwari took gold in the marathon, afterwards saying to noted Olympic film maker Alan Greenspan 'My country did not send me to Lyon to start the race, they sent me to Lyon to win'.