Olympics Timeline: Ancient Greece - 1940s

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

From ancient Greece to the present day

by Shmuel Ross
Before 776 B.C. Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece

Athletic contests are held at Olympia every four years, between August 6 and September 19. Records reach back as far as 776 B.C., but it is generally accepted that the Olympic Games had already been held for several centuries before that.

The Games originally consist only of foot races. Other events are gradually added, starting with wrestling and the pentathlon.

A.D. 394

Roman Emperor Theodosius I abolishes the Games, as part of a series of reforms against pagan practices.


At the urging of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is founded.


Athens Games

The first modern Olympic Games. 14 countries are represented by about 245 men, competing in 43 events.

No women compete, as de Coubertin feels that their inclusion would be "impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic, and incorrect."


Paris Games

The second modern Games are overshadowed by, and incorporated into, the Paris Exposition. 1,319 men from 26 countries compete in 75 events, although it's not entirely clear—even to some of the participants—which events are actually part of the Olympics.

Eleven women are allowed to compete in lawn tennis and golf.


St. Louis Games

Only 13 countries show up.

Fred Lorz rides in a car for eleven miles during the marathon, but is briefly taken as being the winner anyway.


Intercalated Games

The first, last, and only Intercalated Games are held in Athens, as the Greeks plan to hold interim Games between Olympics every four years. While these bolster the Olympics' flagging reputation, medals won here are considered unofficial by the IOC.


London Games

The 1906 eruption of Mt. Vesuvius requires the Games to move from Rome to London. For the first time, athletes march into the stadium behind their nations' flags. There are more than 2,000 competitors in more than 100 events.

Italian Dorando Pietri needs to be helped across the finish line of the marathon, but is declared the winner before being disqualified in favor of Johnny Hayes of the U.S.


Stockholm Games

Jim Thorpe

American Jim Thorpe dominates the Games, taking the gold in the pentathlon and decathlon.

Finland begins its domination of long-distance running events, as Hannes Kolehmainen picks up three gold medals and a silver.

Women compete in swimming events for the first time, but none of them are from America, which bars its female athletes from competing in events without long skirts.


Jim Thorpe's medals are taken away, when it is discovered that he was paid $25 a week for playing baseball in 1909 and 1910. The Olympics are strictly limited to amateur players.


Games cancelled due to World War I.


Antwerp Games

The Olympic flag is introduced, as is the Olympic oath.

Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Turkey are not invited, having been on the wrong side of the Great War.

Distance runner Paavo Nurmi wins three medals for Finland.

Figure-skating events are held for the second time, and ice hockey for the first.

Philip Noel-Baker of Great Britain takes the silver in the 1500-meter dash; he later becomes the only Olympian ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Winter 1924

Chamonix Winter Games

The "International Winter Sports Week" takes place in Chamonix, and is dominated by the Scandanavians. Two years later, this is retroactively given the status of the first Olympic Winter Games.

Due to an error in computing the scores, American Anders Haugen is placed in fourth in ski jumping, behind Norway's Thorleif Haug. This is discovered in 1974, and Haugen is awarded the bronze in a special ceremony.

Summer 1924

Paris Games

Originally planned to take place in Amsterdam, the Games are moved to Paris at the urging of Baron de Coubertin. He's about to retire, and wants to see them in his homeland one last time.

Germany is still banned, but the other four nations banned in 1920 are back.

Paavo Nurmi wins five gold medals; his teammate, Ville Ritola, wins four.

Johnny Weissmuller wins three golds and a bronze in water-based events; he later becomes known for playing Tarzan.


The IOC explains that "An amateur is one who devotes himself to sport for sport's sake without deriving from it, directly or indirectly, the means of existence. A professional is one who derives the means of existence entirely or partly from sport." They forbid such practices as compensating athletes for time taken away from work to compete, making it hard for working-class athletes to participate.

Winter 1928

St. Moritz Winter Games

The Winter Games are plagued with warm weather, slowing some events and cancelling the 10,000-meter speed-skating race.

Sonja Henie and Dick Button

Gillis Grafström of Sweden wins the last of his three consecutive gold medals in figure skating; Norwegian Sonja Henie will equal that feat, winning the first of her three consecutive gold medals in figure skating here at the age of 15.

Summer 1928

Amsterdam Games

The Olympic flame is introduced.

Germany returns.

Paavo Nurmi picks up three more medals, including one gold.

Women compete in track and field events for the first time; however, so many collapse at the end of the 800-meter race that the event is banned until 1960.

Luigina Giavotti becomes the youngest medalist of all time, helping the Italian gymnastics team pick up a silver at 11 years and 302 days old.


The Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) holds soccer's first World Cup tournament in Montevideo, Uruguay, largely due to the Olympics' restrictions against professional athletes.

The World Cup is held every four years from this time onward, excepting World War II years.

Winter 1932

Lake Placid Winter Games

Canada continues to be undefeated in hockey, taking home the gold for the fourth time.

America's bobsleigh team, led by Billy Fiske, wins the gold; the team includes Eddie Eagan, who was a boxing champion in the 1920 Games.

Summer 1932

Los Angeles Games

Paavo Nurmi is barred from the Los Angeles Games, on grounds that, on a trip to a German meet, he had claimed too much money in travel expenses.

There is no soccer event.

Babe Didrikson picks up gold medals in hurdles and javelin. She would have tied for a gold in the high-jump, but her jumping style is ruled illegal.

Winter 1936

Garmish-Partenkirchen Winter Games

Alpine skiing events are held for the first time, but ski instructors are barred as being professionals. This leads to an Austrian and Swiss boycott, and to the decision not to have skiing events in the 1940 Games.

Canada finally loses an ice hockey match, as Great Britain takes the gold. Only a complete stickler would point out that almost all of the British players lived in Canada.

Summer 1936

Berlin Games

The first-ever relay of the Olympic torch.

The Games are the first to be televised, being shown on large screens around Berlin.

Basketball is admitted as an Olympic sport for the first time. In the final—played on a dirt court in the rain, making dribbling impossible—the United States team beats Canada 19–8.

Denmark's 12-year-old Inge Sorensen wins a bronze medal in the 200-meter breaststroke, making her the youngest medalist ever in an individual event.

Jesse Owens

In what may be the most famous incident in Olympic history, Jesse Owens wins four gold medals, showing up German claims of Aryan superiority.

1940, 1944

Games called off due to World War II.

Winter 1948

St. Moritz Winter Games

Held for a second time in St. Moritz, Switzerland, as that city was untouched by the war.

Men and women each have three alpine skiing events.

The American Olympic Committee sends a hockey team, as does the American Hockey Association; the IOC bars either from being considered for a medal.

Skeleton—a head-first version of the luge—appears for the first time since the previous St. Moritz Games 20 years earlier. American John Heaton wins the silver, as he had done the previous time.

Summer 1948

London Games

The first Games to be shown on home television.

Germany and Japan aren't invited, but a record 59 other countries attend.

Dutch athlete Fanny Blankers-Koen wins four gold medals, the equivalents of the ones Jesse Owens had won twelve years earlier. She holds the world records in the high and long jumps, but does not compete in those, as rules prohibit women from competing in more than three individual events.

Right-handed Hungarian Karoly Takcaz, a member of the national pistol-shooting team, had that hand shattered by a grenade in 1938. He teaches himself to shoot with his left, and wins the gold in the rapid-fire pistol event this year.

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