The first modern Olympics were opened in the ancient city of Athens on Greek Independence Day in 1896. The opening ceremony was held in the beautifully restored Pan-Athenian stadium (seen here), which was originally built in 330 B.C. The Acropolis is visible in the background.
Modern Greek Olympic gatherings had been held in Athens since 1859, but the efforts of Frenchman Pierre Frédy, Baron de Coubertin, and others revived the games as an international event.
More than 60,000 people attended opening day in 1896, and some 280 athletes, all male, from 12 countries competed in the ten-day spectacle.
Photo: Women golfing at 1900 Olympics
Women competed for the first time at the 1900 Olympics in Paris, although the International Olympic Committee did not officially approve of their inclusion. Women’s events included sailing, tennis, and golf.
The 1900 Olympics were staged as part of the Paris World’s Fair, and events, which were spread out over five months, were marred by lack of organization, inadequate facilities, and poor scheduling. Confusion about the games was so severe that some athletes participated in events without even knowing that they were competing in the Olympics.
Photo: 1908 Olympic Marathon
Runners begin the marathon at the 1908 Olympic Games in London. The marathon has been a part of the modern Olympics since their beginning in 1896. The standardized distance, however, is based on the 1908 event, which took runners exactly 42,195 meters (26 miles and 385 yards) from Windsor Castle to the royal box in White City Stadium.
The world was captivated by tales of the 1908 marathon, in which the exhausted race leader, Dorando Pietri of Italy, entered the stadium and proceeded to fall five times en route to the finish. He was eventually disqualified when race officials helped him over the finish line.
Photo: Torch relay at Berlin Olympics
Although the Olympic flame was first instituted at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, the 1936 games in Nazi Germany marked the debut of the torch relay. Here, the final relay runner approaches the Olympic flame at the swastika-festooned Lustgarten in Berlin.
Many nations threatened to boycott the 1936 Olympics, protesting the policies of the three-year-old Nazi regime. To quell the movement to boycott, the International Olympic Committee extracted assurances from Adolf Hitler that he would not use the games to promote Nazi ideology, a promise he clearly ignored.
The biggest story of the Berlin Olympics was American track-and-field star Jesse Owens. The world cheered as Owens won four gold medals (three individual and one team) in a slap to Hitler and his ideals. The next two Olympic Games would be cancelled due to World War II.
Photo: 1948 Olympic relay
the wake of the devastation of World War II, London struggled to stage the 1948 Olympics. Facilities were below the standards of earlier games, but Wembley Stadium (shown here with runners competing in the 4 x 100-meter relay) and other sports facilities made it through the conflict relatively unscathed.
There was debate over whether such a spectacle was appropriate so soon after the war, but the world seemed ready for the diversion. A record 4,000 athletes from 59 countries participated. Germany and Japan were not invited, and most Soviet Union athletes stayed home.
Photo: Munich Olympics memorial service
The Olympic flag hangs at half-mast at a memorial ceremony during the 1972 games in Munich, Germany. The service was for members of the Israeli team killed a day earlier when terrorists, seeking the release of prisoners in Israel, attacked and held the team hostage. Two Israelis were killed in the initial assault, and nine others, plus five captors and a West German policeman, died in a botched rescue attempt. Athletic events were suspended for more than a day, but they resumed, despite much criticism, following the memorial service.
Beyond the hostage tragedy, the 1972 games were notable as the first to have a named mascot (Waldi the dachshund), and as the Olympics where U.S. swimmer Mark Spitz won a record seven gold medals. It was also the debut of beloved Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut.
Photo: Moscow Olympics opening ceremony
The 1980 Olympics in Moscow were the smallest in nearly two decades, due to a U.S.-led boycott to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Sixty countries followed the U.S.’s lead, though Great Britain, France, Italy, and Sweden attended.
With so few competitors, the Soviet team collected 195 medals, including 80 gold.
Photo: Medal-winners at the 1984 Olympics
Competition in many events at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles suffered from a retaliatory boycott by the Soviet Union, East Germany, and Cuba. China did attend, however, and here, gymnast Li Ning celebrates one of his six medals.
The Los Angeles games are remembered as the most commercial to that date, with Chairman Peter Ueberroth selling official sponsor rights to companies for millions, allowing the Olympics to turn a profit for the first time in decades.
This Olympics also saw the ascendancy of notable American athletes Carl Lewis, who won four gold medals in track and field, Greg Louganis, who swept the diving events, and gymnast Mary Lou Retton, the first American woman to win in the combined exercises.
Photo: Native Americans at Olympics bombing memorial
The centennial 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, are remembered for, among other things, their extravagance (they cost nearly $1.7 billion to stage) and for the bombing in Centennial Olympic Park that killed one person and injured dozens. Here, Native Americans gather at a memorial in the park for the victims.
Competition at the 1996 games was the broadest ever, with all 197 International Olympic Committee member nations sending athletes, including the former Soviet republics, North Korea, and the Palestinian Authority. American runner Carl Lewis won his ninth gold medal in track and field, and Michael Johnson blistered the field in the 200-meter and 400-meter sprints. Russian gymnast Aleksey Nemov took six medals, the most of any athlete at the 1996 games.
Photo: 2004 Olympics opening ceremony
Athens, Greece, was the home of the ancient Olympic Games and host of the first modern Olympics in 1896. In 2004, the games returned to their birthplace. Here, drummers surround the Olympic rings during the opening ceremony on August 13, 2004.
In addition to being the first Olympic Games to feature women’s wrestling, the 2004 games also saw American swimming superstar Michael Phelps tie the medal record with eight (six gold and two bronze). Argentina won the gold in men’s soccer without conceding a single goal, and the U.S. softball team took gold scoring 51 total runs and giving up only one