European Sport Heritage

The Olympic and Paralympic Games


The Olympic Games are considered to be the world’s foremost sports competition with more than 200 nations participating. The Games are held every two years, with Summer and Winter Olympic Games alternating. The Paralympics have grown from a small gathering of British World War II veterans in 1948 to become one of the world’s largest international sport events.

The five rings of the Olympic logo represent the five continents involved in the games and were debuted at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics. The ancient Olympic Games were held in Olympia, Greece. The first Games took place in 776 BC.

The Olympic Games

The Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games this year take place in London, UK. This will be the 30th Summer Olympiad. 10,500 competitors from 205 nations will take part in 26 sports. London is the first city to have hosted the Games three times, the first two occasions being 1908 and 1948.

The International Olympic Committee, the supreme authority of the Olympic Movement, selects the host city for each Summer and Winter Games. To date, 46 cities have hosted the Games, but no Games have ever been held in South America or Africa.

Organisation of the Games has to take into account much more than just the sporting events – on the busiest day, it is estimated that 800,000 people will use public transport to travel to Games events.

The Olympic motto coined in 1921 by Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games, is ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ meaning ‘Swifter, Higher, Stronger’.

The Olympic Games, Summer and Winter

The Summer and Winter Olympic Games were held in the same years until 1992, when the governing body for the Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), decided to place them on separate four-year cycles in alternating even-numbered years.

The Winter Olympics have been hosted on three continents, but never in a country in the southern hemisphere. The United States has hosted the Games four times; France has been the host three times; Austria, Canada, Italy, Japan, Norway and Switzerland have hosted the Games twice. In 2014, Sochi will be the first Russian city to host the Winter Olympics.

Five countries – Greece, Great Britain, France, Switzerland and Australia – have been represented at all Summer Olympic Games. The only country to have won at least one gold medal at every Summer Olympic Games is Great Britain, ranging from one gold in 1904, 1952 and 1996 to fifty-six golds in 1908.

The Paralympics

The Paralympic Games is the biggest sporting event in the world for disabled athletes. This year, the Paralympic Games in London will see 4,200 competitors from 147 nations taking part in 20 sports. There are six classifications for athletes ranging from those with spinal cord injuries to the visually impaired.

The word ‘Paralympic’ derives from the Greek preposition ‘para’, meaning ‘beside’ or ‘alongside’, and the word ‘Olympics’.

The Paralympic Games were created by Ludwig Guttmann, a German neurosurgeon who escaped Jewish persecution to find refuge in the UK. At Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire, he treated the growing number of injured servicemen returning from the front, many of whom were paralysed and faced an uncertain future. Guttmann was aware of the positive psychological benefits of physical activity and so his treatment regime included individual and team sports. The first competition between disabled athletes was archery and it took place on the same day as the opening ceremony of the 14th Olympic Games in 1948.