28 Olympic Facts That Are Pure Gold in 2021

Every four years, the world’s nations are enraptured by the spectacle of nature-defying physical prowess at the Olympics. The best men and women across the globe seek to accomplish feats never seen before. While the love for one’s nation runs deeply during the Olympics, the competition still manages to unite us. After all, we all share the same goal of pursuing the best in us, and the Olympic Games glorify that pursuit. With the 2021 Tokyo Olympics fast approaching, we decided to stir your enthusiasm about the Games by dashing through the most interesting and surprising Olympic facts throughout history. Don’t miss them!

Olympics History Facts

1. The first Olympic Games were held in Olympia, Greece, in the 8th century B.C.

Held in honour of Zeus, the inception of the first Olympic Games is shrouded in mystery and mythology. The first recorded Games occurred in 776 BCE at the sanctuary of Zeus in Olympia (a valley on the Peloponnese peninsula). Facts about the ancient Olympics tell us that freeborn Greek men from all over ancient Greece flocked to Olympia for the Games—to earn laurels in front of 45,000 spectators.

Olympics history facts also reveal that the last registered Olympics took place in 393 CE, after more than a millennium and almost 300 Olympiads. Emperor Theodosius I, and his successor Theodosius II, banned the Games and destroyed the ancient Greek temples during their crusade to rid the empire of antiquated paganistic practices and pave the way for Christianity.

2. In ancient Greece, the athletes competed completely naked.

One of the most interesting facts about the Greek Olympics is that participants competed naked—supposedly for freedom of movement. Allegedly, this tradition was started by Orsippus in 720 BCE, as he removed his loincloth during the race to run easier. However, a competing theory also says that Spartans started the tradition since they anointed themselves with oil and exercised in the nude. The athletes would also parade in the nude to resemble true heroes, the likes of Achilles and Hercules, displaying their physical prowess to the gods and the public.

3. Back then, women and slaves were not allowed to compete in the Olympics.

Only freeborn male Greek citizens were eligible to compete in the ancient Olympic Games, regardless of their social status and origin. However, since the horse owners were the wreath winners in equestrian events, not the riders, the daughter of King Archidamos of Sparta became the first female Olympic winner when her four-horse chariot won the event in 396 BCE.

4. Ancient Greek Olympics facts tell us that some of the athletes who broke the rules were physically punished.

IIn ancient Greece, umpires at the Games had the authority to order corporal punishment for any athlete who they believed was gaining an unfair advantage, whether it was a wrong move in wrestling or a false start in races. After taking the Olympic oath, athletes who broke the rules were disqualified and publicly flogged, while competitors and judges found guilty of bribery faced huge fines. Of all ancient greek Olympic facts, one of the most bizarre is the story about the athlete who refused to participate due to cowardice. He was forced to pay an enormous fine to avoid physical punishment.

5.  Instead of medals, the winners were given wreaths or crowns made from olive leaves.

The best athletes at the Olympics in ancient Greece received prestigious olive leaf wreaths cut from the sacred trees at Olympia, which remain an important symbol to this day. After the Olympiad’s conclusion, the victors were also asked to participate in abundant feasts along with their families, and famous poets would write and dedicate odes to them.

First Olympic Games Facts

6. The modern Olympic Games were inaugurated in Athens, Greece in 1896—their historical birthplace.

Before listing the most interesting modern Olympics facts, we should say a word or two about its beginnings. Fascinated by the sporting events of ancient Greece, Pierre de Coubertin—a young enthusiastic French baron—proposed a modern revival of the ancient Games during an 1894 international sports congress in Paris. Every representative was thrilled by the idea, which ultimately led to the inception of the modern Olympic Games—more than 1,500 years after the ancient Olympics ended.

7. The premiere edition of the modern Olympic Games included competitors from 13 countries.

Modern facts about the Olympics tell us that the world welcomed back the Games at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens in 1896. Thirteen nations sent 280 participants (all men) to compete in 43 events. Even tourists who chanced upon the Games were allowed to sign up and compete against the best. The first modern Olympics included various sporting events, such as gymnastics, wrestling, swimming, cycling, fencing, weightlifting, tennis, and shooting.

8. The winners of the first modern Olympic Games didn’t receive gold medals.

Among the most interesting modern Olympic Games facts is the distribution of the medals during the inaugural competition. Namely, the winners at the 1896 Olympics were not given gold medals but olive branches and silver medals. In addition, bronze or copper medals and laurel branches were awarded to the second-best. Third-placers were not granted any medals. The gold, silver, and bronze medals for first, second, and third place were awarded for the first time at the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis.

9. The first modern Olympics cost around $448,000.

The price tag for organising the Games has skyrocketed over the years. Compared to the first Olympiad, the most recent Summer Olympic Games in Rio 2016 cost $13.1 billion. A budget of $450,000 will barely cover the opening ceremony nowadays. Most modern Olympics facts show us that the greatest honour a country can receive is to host the Olympic Games. However, every great privilege comes with great responsibility and sacrifice.

10. The 1924 Olympics in Paris was the first truly successful edition of the modern Games.

The price tag for organising the Games has skyrocketed over the years. Compared to the first Olympiad, the most recent Summer Olympic Games in Rio 2016 cost $13.1 billion. A budget of $450,000 will barely cover the opening ceremony nowadays. Most modern Olympics facts show us that the greatest honour a country can receive is to host the Olympic Games. However, every great privilege comes with great responsibility and sacrifice.

Modern Olympics Facts

11. The Olympic symbol of five intertwined rings represents the world’s five inhabited continents.

While the Olympic flag—five rings on a white background—was originally adopted in 1914, it wasn’t used until the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium. The five coloured rings represent the Americas, Africa, Europe, Asia and Oceania.

In addition to the Olympic rings facts, the Games’ motto—Citius, Altius, Fortius—was officialised in 1924, even though it was proposed in 1896 by Coubertin.

12. Lorna Johnstone, a British rider, was the oldest woman to compete in the Olympics.

When reading Olympics trivia about the oldest Olympians, you will learn about Lorna Johnstone, who competed in the equestrian disciplines at the 1972 Olympic Games when she was 70 years and five days. During the 1972 Munich Games, Lorna set the record for the oldest female athlete to take the stage at the Games.

On the other hand, Oscar Swahn—a Swedish shooter—is considered the oldest male Olympic competitor and medalist. He won a silver medal at the 1920 Antwerp Summer Olympics at the ripe age of 72 years and 281 days. In all, he gained six medals in shooting at the 1908, 1912, and 1920 Olympics. He even qualified for the 1924 Olympics but ultimately withdrew.

13. The American swimmer Michael Phelps holds the record for most gold medals won at a single Olympics.

Phelps beat his fellow American swimmer Mark Spitz’s 1972 record of seven gold medals at a single Olympic Games when he won eight golds at the 2008 Beijing Games. On account of his illustrious career, we can write a whole book filled with astounding and fun facts about the Olympics. For instance, Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time with 28 medals, 23 of which are gold. When he won five golds and one silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics, he also set a record of the most successful competitor at the Olympics for the fourth time in a row.

14. The modern marathon was conceived for the 1896 Athens Olympics.

The marathon race has been present at the modern Olympic Games since their inception in 1896. The first marathon was won by a Greek water-carrier in little under 3 hours. The original route was established between the historic Marathon town and Athens’ Panathenaic Stadium, which is a distance of about 40 km (25 mi). 

After the 1908 Games in London, the course length was extended, allegedly favouring the British royal family. As modern Olympics facts indicate, the length of the marathon race was standardised for the 1924 Olympics to 26 mi or 42.195 kilometres.

The current records were set by male runner Samuel Wanjiru at the 2008 Beijing Olympics (2:06:32 hours) and female runner Tiki Gelana in London in 2012 (2:23:07 hours).

15. With 2,828 medals, the United States is the most successful country at the Olympics.

While the United States has won the highest tally of medals since the inception of the Games, modern Olympic facts also tell us that the U.S. has an enormous population (330 million) from which it can develop successful Olympiads. Therefore, we can also compare the success of countries based on the per capita criterion. In such a scenario, Finland takes the lead with 18.39 medals per 1 million population.

Facts about the Summer and Winter Olympics

16. Only London has hosted Summer Olympics three times: in 1908, 1948, and 2012.

In 2012, London became the first city in history that has hosted the Summer Olympics on three separate occasions. However, Paris and Los Angeles will join London at the top in 2024 and 2028, respectively. Furthermore, Winter Olympic facts inform us that several cities have hosted the Winter Games more than once, including Innsbruck, St. Moritz, and Lake Placid. Next year, Beijing will become the first city in the history of the Games to host both the Summer and the Winter Olympics.

17. The Summer Olympics returned to Athens in 2004, with 10,625 competitors from 201 countries. 

One of the most interesting facts about the 2004 Summer Olympics is that the shot put competition was held in Olympia, at the site of the ancient Games, which was a proud moment for Greeks and an exciting one for spectators. Moreover, women athletes competed at this location for the very first time in history.

The archery competition and the marathon finish took place at the Panathenaic Stadium, which is the historic site of the first modern Olympic Games.

18. The 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia cost a staggering $55 billion.

To this day, no Olympic Games (Summer or Winter) have reached the extreme total costs of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. Sochi was just a popular beach town on Russia’s Black Sea coast before it was transformed into one of the most popular world destinations.

However, only a fifth of the $55 billion spent for the Sochi Olympics was directly reserved for the Olympic Games. The larger portion of the budget went to urban and regional development and the preservation of Sochi and its surroundings as a year-long elite resort.

The second most expensive Games are the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, with a final operating budget of $44 billion. These are some stunning Winter and Summer Olympic facts. Right?

19. Norway has won the most gold medals since the Winter Olympics began.

The first fact on a Winter Olympic trivia list is surely the country with most medals until now. Currently, Norway tops the charts with 368 medals—winning 132 gold, 125 silver, and 111 bronze medals since the first Winter Games in 1924. The U.S. follows second with 305, while Germany is currently third with 240 medals. 

20. Great Britain is the only nation to have won at least one Gold Medal at every Summer Olympics.

Australia, Great Britain, France, Greece, and Switzerland are the only five countries that have sent teams to every Summer Olympic Games. The only country to have earned gold at every edition of the modern Olympics is Great Britain—with a record 56 gold medals during the 1908 Summer Olympics.

Fun Olympic Facts and Trivia

21. “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave at the attempt.” is the athlete oath at the Special Olympics.

The first Special Olympics Games were held in July 1968 in Chicago, U.S., where around 1,000 people with disabilities from Canada and the U.S. proved they can excel in the same struggle as regular athletes. The most interesting facts about the Special Olympics tell us that the first edition of the Games included swimming, track and field, and floor hockey as the first three official sports. Over time, the list of sporting events offered by the Special Olympics has grown to over 30 sports, such as judo, football, basketball, gymnastics, and more. Nowadays, these Games lead to year-round training and activities for around 5 million participants from 172 countries—adding up to over 100,000 competitions a year. Amazing!

22.  Spiridon Louis, the Greek villager who won history’s first marathon, took a lunch break halfway to the finish line.

If you are looking for funny facts about the Olympics, we got an amazing anecdote for you. The Greek runner who won the first modern marathon was a humble villager named Spiridon Louis (mentioned above). Supposedly, he claimed victory after completing the course at a steady pace, even stopping halfway to eat an egg and drink a glass of wine. While most of the competitors were forced to quit from exhaustion, Spiridon took his time and still came out triumphant. Following his Olympic success, he returned to his village and never competed in another race.

23. Ethiopian athlete Abebe Bikila became an Olympic marathon champion and set a new world record while running barefoot.

One of the fun facts about the Olympics is that Shuhei Nishida and Sueo Oe tied for second place at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Rather than competing again, they chopped the silver and bronze medals in half and fused the two parts together, creating a half-silver and half-bronze medal for each of them.

24. Two Japanese pole-vaulters cut in half one silver and one bronze medal and made two “friendship medals”.

One of the most interesting fun facts about the Olympics is the origin of “The Medals of Friendship”. Namely, Shuhei Nishida and Sueo Oe tied for second place at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Rather than competing again, they chopped the silver and bronze medals in half and fused the two parts together, creating a half-silver and half-bronze medal for each of them.

25. George Eyser competed with a wooden leg and won three gold medals in a single day.

When listing the various Olympics fun facts, we should also mention George Louis Eyser and his extraordinary feat of winning six medals in a single day while competing with a leg prosthesis. This German-American gymnast took part in the 1904 Summer Olympics and won three gold, two silver, and one bronze medal on the same day.

26. Tarzan won five Olympic gold medals in swimming.

Athlete-turned-actor Johnny Weissmuller, who played Tarzan in 12 films, competed and won numerous medals at the 1924 Paris and the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. Johnny returned home with three golds and one bronze from Paris, and two golds from Amsterdam. Despite his athletic achievements, however, Weissmuller is better known for his role as Tarzan at the start of his career and Jungle Jim in the latter half of his movie career.

27. Waldi, the dachshund, was the first official Olympic mascot appearing at the 1972 Munich Games.

Since our list should include facts about the Olympics for kids as well, we decided to write something about the first official mascot of the Olympic Games. Waldi was introduced to the world at the 1972 Munich Olympics. This dachshund represented agility, tenacity, and resistance and helped institute the mascot as an official symbol of all future Games.

28. Queen Elizabeth II’s daughter, Princess Anne, competed at the 1976 Summer Olympic Games.

The Princess Royal, Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise, was the first Royal Family member to participate in the Olympic Games. She appeared at the 1976 Montreal Games along with the Queen’s horse Goodwill as a member of the British equestrian team. Even though she did not win a medal at the Olympics, she did manage to triumph three times at the European Championships, winning one gold and two silvers.

The Finish Line

Amid breaking records with astonishing performances, Olympic athletes have also regaled us with extraordinary sporting stories and odd rituals through the years. You’ve read about everything from athletes who suffered corporal punishment to a gymnast with a wooden leg who won six medals. We hope that these incredible Olympic facts will have you waiting with anticipation for this year’s Games.

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