What are the Olympics?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Olympics or Olympic Games are international sporting events which are meant to foster cooperation and friendship between the nations of the world while also celebrating athleticism. There are two main components to the Olympics: the Summer Games and the Winter Games. Both games last several weeks, combining scores of events, and they are held every four years. As of 1992, they are staggered so that an Olympic Games takes place every two years. By convention, the host of the Olympics changes with each Olympic Games, theoretically allowing every nation to have a chance to host the event, although the balance of hosts has been heavily skewed to the Northern Hemisphere historically.

Sprinting is a component of many modern Olympic events.
Sprinting is a component of many modern Olympic events.

The Olympic Games have ancient origins. In Ancient Greece, a pan-Hellenic games was held at Olympia every four years, allowing athletes to demonstrate their skills, along with poets, artists, and playwrights. The ancient Olympics also had a strong religious aspect, with attendees holding sacrifices and religious services throughout the games. In 393 BCE, the Roman Empire outlawed the Olympic Games, and it was not seen again in recognizable form for over 2000 years.

Nations from around thw world compete during the Olympics.
Nations from around thw world compete during the Olympics.

As early as the 1700s, several sporting associations held regional Olympiads, and in the mid-1800s, Greece hosted an Olympiad which featured competitors from Greece and the Ottoman Empire. In 1896, the Olympic Games experienced an official revival, thanks to the efforts of Pierre Fredy, Baron of Coubertin, who established many of the conventions and infrastructure which live on in the modern Olympics, including the motto, Citius, Altius, Fortius, which means "Swifter, Higher, Stronger." Baron Coubertin also created the Olympic logo, a stylized design of five rings.

An Olympic gold medal is symbolic of grand achievement.
An Olympic gold medal is symbolic of grand achievement.

The Olympic Games are meant to symbolize peace, although three games (1916, 1940, and 1944) have been canceled due to war. They are also supposed to be apolitical, although this goal has not always been achieved; several Cold War nations boycotted each other during the Olympics, for example, and some nations have staged strategic Olympic boycotts to protest various activities by other competing nations.

The organizations which collectively work together to organize the Olympics are known as the Olympic Movement, and they include the International Olympic Committee, the International Federations which determine standards for various sports, and the National Olympic Committees of competing nations. Athletes who compete in the Olympics are widely considered to be among the best in the world; just being able to compete is a great honor, and taking a medal is a credit both to the individual athlete and the nation which he or she represents.

The Winter Games hosts a variety of snow sports competitions.
The Winter Games hosts a variety of snow sports competitions.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


I think Olympic games helps all the people who have a part in it.


The Olympics always interest me because of all the great events and athletes who compete.


When did the Olympics start?


@Windchime - My understanding is that the Olympics were banned largely because of their association with paganism.

The Roman emperor Theodosius was a very serious Christian, and honoring other gods was not going to be something he would stand for. His attacks on pagans meant that people stayed away for fear of persecution.


I love history and sports so this is a great combination to read about. I would love to know why the Romans banned the games though.


@bananas - I was about to say the same thing as you regarding the sheer cost of hosting the games being a major factor in allocating this honor.

I'm pretty sure though that a lot of countries who get to do it put themselves into a lot of debt along the way. That doesn't seem very good for long term economics to me.

I think they should make an Olympics schedule for several years ahead and then the host nations would have more time to prepare. Perhaps there could be some financial aid given too.


I think Olympic games are a brilliant idea. The intent is to bring out the best in humanity, at least as far as athleticism goes.

Since participation of athletes from different countries in Olympic games, and the number of people attending the games is so great, the host country has to have the resources and infrastructure to accommodate all the needs. I suppose not every country therefore has the ability to host the games. Now winter games are a whole different story. For Winter Olympics to take place it has to be cold with plenty of snow. I think that fact automatically eliminates many countries.

Post your comments
Forgot password?