The Olympic and Paralympic Games are an international, multi-sport event held every four years. There are summer and winter events and Youth Olympic Games.
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History of the Games
The idea of holding the Olympic Games was born in 776BC, in Ancient Greece.
Many sporting contests occurred in Olympia during great festivals in honour of the gods. One of these was the Olympics. To participate in the ancient Olympic Games, the athlete had to be male, of Greek origin and freeborn (not a slave). The participation of women in the early Olympic Games is often debated as the available historic information is unclear.
The ancient Games only included individual sports: running, wrestling, boxing, pankration (a form of martial art), equestrian and pentathlon.
In 146BC, Rome conquered Greece and the Games slowly declined. It was not until 1896 that the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens (thanks to the hard work of Pierre de Coubertin) where 241 athletes from 14 countries competed over 43 events.
Since 1896, the Olympic Games have been held every four years, except during World War I (1916) and World War II (1940 and 1944).
Symbols, mottos and traditions
There are many traditions, mottos and symbols linked to the Olympic Games.
The Olympic motto is: ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’. It was introduced in 1924 and translates to ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’.
The Olympic flag
The Olympic flag was developed in 1914 and made its first appearance at the 1920 Games in Antwerp. The flag has five interlinked rings: blue, yellow, black, green and red. These colours represent the five continents of the world (Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia and Europe) that were joined together in the Olympic movement. The colours were chosen because they include at least one colour from the flag of every nation.
Opening and closing ceremonies
The opening ceremony of an Olympic Games is always a huge occasion. Host countries often spend a lot of time and money creating a ceremony that celebrates their local culture, as well as the athletes and the Games.
During the opening ceremony, the procession of athletes is always led by the Greek team, followed by all other teams in alphabetical order (from the language of the hosting country), except for the last team which is always the hosting country.
The closing ceremony is often a smaller occasion than the opening, but it is a great chance to celebrate the athletes and their achievements.
At an Olympic medal ceremony:
- The gold medallist stands in the centre of the podium, the silver medallist stands on their right and the bronze medallist stands on their left.
- Medals are placed around the winners’ necks and their countries’ flags are raised.
- The national anthem of the gold medallist’s country is played.
Flame and torch relay
The tradition of a relay to move the Olympic flame from Greece to the Olympic venue in the host country began at the Berlin Games in 1936.
The torch (usually designed by the host country) is lit by concentrating the rays of the Sun with a parabolic reflector at the site of the ancient Games in Olympia. The torch is then carried all over the world by athletes, celebrities, world leaders and ordinary people, until it arrives at the opening ceremony where it is used to light a cauldron. This signifies the beginning of the Games. The cauldron is usually lit when a torch bearer touches the torch to the cauldron, but there have been some more interesting ways such as with a bow and flaming arrow in Barcelona (1992) and an airborne running man in Beijing (2008).
There are 42 sports that can be included in the Summer Olympic Games including:
- Football (rugby)
- Cycling (road and track)
There are 15 sport options for the Winter Olympic Games including:
- Figure skating
- Ice hockey
- Freestyle skiing
- Ski jumping
There are 23 sports to choose from for the Summer Paralympic Games and six winter options. These include:
- Wheelchair basketball
- Sitting volleyball
- Para snowboard
- Wheelchair curling
- Para ice hockey
Not just summer Games
The Winter Olympic Games
Just like the Summer Olympic Games, the Winter Olympic Games are held every four years, but the sports are practised on snow and ice.
The first Winter Olympic Games was held in Chamonix, France in 1924 and included five sports: bobsleigh, curling, ice hockey, skating and Nordic skiing. The games have been held every four years since, except for during World War II (1940 and 1944).
Until 1992, the summer and winter Games were held in the same year, but since then they have been held in alternate even years (e.g. the Summer Games were held in 2010 and the Winter Games were held 2012).
The Winter Games have been hosted by 11 nations so far: United States, France, Austria, Canada, Japan, Italy, Norway, Switzerland, Germany, Yugoslavia and Russia.
The Paralympic Games
The idea of the Paralympic Games came from Sir Ludwig Guttman, who decided that participating in sports would be good therapy for World War II veterans who had suffered spinal cord injuries. So what began in 1948 as a small gathering, turned into the official Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960.
The Paralympic Games are now held just after the Olympic Games (every four years, in the same country and using the same venues). Just like the Olympic Games, there are summer and winter competitions for the Paralympic Games.
Participation in the Paralympic Games is open to athletes from six groups:
- Limb Loss or deficiency
- Spinal cord or nerve damage
- Cerebral palsy, acquired brain injury or similar
- Short Stature
- Other physical impairments
- Intellectual disability
To ensure that competition is fair and equal, athletes are classified into groups or classes with others of similar abilities.
The Youth Olympic Games
The Youth Olympic Games, which began in 2010, is an elite sporting event for young people aged between 15 and 18. The sports program at these games is based on the Olympic program, with 28 sports at the Summer Games and 9 at the Winter Games, but it also includes fun and interactive workshops, team-building exercises and activities. Athletes at these Games are encouraged to participate in culture and education programs to explore the themes of ‘Olympism’, ‘Social Responsibility’, ‘Skills Development’, ‘Expression and Well-being’ and’ Healthy Lifestyles’.
Like the Olympic Games, the Youth Olympic Games are held every four years.
Australia and the Olympic Games
Here are some quick facts about Australia’s involvement in the Summer Olympic Games, the Winter Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games.
- Amazingly, over 3000 Australians have competed at a Summer Olympic Games since Athens in 1896.
- Since the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens and up to the 2016 Games in Rio, Australia has won a total of 507 medals, including 150 gold, 167 silver and 190 bronze.
- Have you ever heard of Edwin Flack? He was the first ever Australian to compete at an Olympic Games. He won gold in the 800 metres and 1500 metres (running) races at the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens.
- The first Games to be held in Australia were the 1956 Melbourne Games. Not only was this the first time Australia hosted the Games, but it was the first time they were held outside of North America and Europe. Interestingly, the equestrian events had to be held in Stockholm (Sweden) because of Australia’s quarantine laws.
- Sydney 2000 was the most successful Olympic Games for Australia to date, with a total of 16 gold medals.
- Australia has sent competitors to every Paralympic Games since they began in Rome in 1960 and has won a total of 1125 medals (up to and including the 2016 Rio Games): 368 gold, 393 silver and 364 bronze.
- Australia first competed in the Winter Olympic Games in 1936 and in the early years we did quite poorly (probably due to our warm/temperate climate). We didn’t win our first medal until 1994 (Norway), where the men’s 5000 metres short track relay team won bronze. Our first individual medal was won by Zali Steggall in 1998 (Japan) when she won bronze in the slalom event.
- Our first Winter Olympic Games gold medal was won in 2002 by Steven Bradbury in the 1000 metre short course skating event. Bradbury’s victory is legendary in Australian sporting history, as he won after all his competitors lost their footing and fell over on the last corner, allowing him to skate past them for victory.
Olympic and Paralympic Games fast facts
- Would you believe that the first recorded Olympic Games only had one event? It was a running race called the stade, which was about 180m long.
- In the 1976 Olympics (Montreal), the Czechoslovakian cycling team lost all its wheels and spares when they were mistaken for rubbish and thrown away. They had to organise replacements as quickly as they could, but this did not stop Anton Tkac from winning the 1000m sprint. Go Anton!
- Ian Thorpe (swimming) is currently Australia’s most successful Olympic Games medal winner with 5 gold, 3 silver and 1 bronze.
- Leisel Jones (swimming) is Australia’s most successful female Olympic medallist winning 9 medals: 3 gold, 5 silver and 1 bronze.
- Amazingly Andrew Hoy (equestrian) has been selected for seven Olympic Games (1980, 1984, 1988, 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2012) and competed in six of those (the equestrian section was boycotted in the 1980 Games). That’s dedication!
- Prior to 1976 only wheelchair sports were contested at the Paralympic Games. At the 1976 Paralympic Games athletes with various physical impairments and intellectual disabilities were included for the first time.
- Australia has won five gold medals at the Winter Olympic Games: Steven Bradbury and Alisa Camplin in 2002, Dale Begg-Smith in 2006, and Torah Bright and Lydia Lassila in 2010.
- Did you know that the Paralympic Games are one of the biggest events in the world? They are even bigger than the Commonwealth Games!
- There are many similarities between the Paralympic and Olympic Games: both have opening and closing ceremonies, both are preceded by a torch relay and both include competitors from all over the world.
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