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Olympics Part 2: How the Games became biggest show on earth

Jo Trzcinski, June 8, 2021 7:55PM Kids News

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The spectacular opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 shows just how big the Games have become. Picture: Phil Hillyard media_cameraThe spectacular opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 shows just how big the Games have become. Picture: Phil Hillyard


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The first modern Olympics were held in the Greek capital of Athens in 1896.

This was a big event in sports history!

Apart from a few attempts in the 1800s, the Games had not been held for about 1500 years – since the ancient Olympics were banned in 393AD by the emperor* of Greece.

In this first modern Olympics, 241 male athletes from 14 countries competed in 43 events from nine sports.

The man who had the idea for the modern Games was a French educator called Pierre de Coubertin.

Early undated photo of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, reviver of Olympic Games of Antiquity and founder International Olympic Committee (IOC). media_cameraFrenchman Pierre de Coubertin revived the Olympic Games because he believed sport was a great way to bring countries together.

He was fascinated by the ancient Olympics and interested in the fact English schools included sport in their school curriculum (which the French did not).

Baron* de Coubertin thought sport was good for the mind and body. He also believed the world would have a better chance of peace if countries came together to play sport. This gave him the idea of reviving* the Olympics.

In 1894, the baron organised an international conference in Paris to support the idea. The idea was unanimously* agreed to, and the first modern Olympic Games were held two years later.

Since then, the Olympics have been held every four years in a different city of the world.


Which country won the most medals at the first modern Olympics? That was Greece (47 medals), followed by the US (20 medals) and Germany (13 medals). Australia won two medals.

n44cs460 - From the past. Edwin Flack statue in Berwick. media_cameraA statue of Australia’s first Olympian Edwin Flack who won the 800m and 1500m running events at the first Modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896.

Back then, no gold medals were given out, just silver and bronze.

But the organisation that supervises the games, the International Olympic Committee, later decided to go back and award gold, silver and bronze medals to those athletes.


Australia has competed in every Summer Olympics since the first modern Games in 1896.


  • The Olympic Games are the biggest sports event on the planet.
  • Nearly every country in the world takes part – more than 200 countries.
  • The Summer Games are officially called the Games of the Olympiad. The Winter Games are known as the Olympic Winter Games.
  • The first Summer Games were held in Athens, Greece, in 1896.
  • The first Winter Games were held in Chamonix, France, in 1924.
  • The Summer and Winter Games alternate* every two years.
  • The Paralympic Games began in 1960 and are for athletes with an impairment.
  • The Youth Olympic Games began in 2010 and are for athletes aged 15 to 18.


The Summer Games have been cancelled three times in history.

The first time was in 1916 because of World War I. The second and third times were in 1940 and 1944 because of World War II (two Winter Games were also cancelled because of this war).

The Games have been postponed just once: in 2020, to protect people’s health from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Concern In Japan As The Covid-19 Spreads media_cameraA man wearing a face mask walks past the Olympic rings in front of the National Stadium, the main arena for the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Picture: Getty Images

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics in Japan will now run from July 23 to August 8, 2021, with the Paralympics on from August 24 to September 5, 2021.

Even though the Games are to be held in 2021, they are still being called Tokyo 2020.


  • Women first took part in the Games in 1900 in Paris. Of the 997 athletes, 22 were women – just 2.2 per cent.
  • By 1972, women made up 14.6 per cent of athletes, and 28.8 per cent by 1992.
  • At the most recent Games, in Rio, Brazil, in 2016, 45 per cent of athletes were women.
  • In the Tokyo 2020 Games, almost 49 per cent of athletes will be women – the nearest to a gender-balanced Games in history.
media_cameraAustralians Cate Campbell, Taylor McKeown, Emily Seebohm and Emma McKeon took silver in the women’s swimming 4x100m medley relay at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Picture: AFP


Almost 11,000 athletes from about 200 countries are due to compete in a record 339 events from 33 different sports at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.

Five new sports will be included: surfing, skateboarding, karate, baseball/softball and sport climbing (a type of rock climbing).

Every Olympic Games has opening and closing ceremonies, and Tokyo will be no exception.

Opening ceremony traditions include raising the Olympic flag, singing the Olympic anthem, lighting a giant cauldron with the flame from the Olympic torch, and dance, song and music performances reflecting the host country’s history and culture.

The Parade of Nations, where the athletes march into the stadium, country by country, is another highlight.


Billions of people from around the world tune in to watch the Olympics.

The world record for viewers is the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when 4.7 billion people watched the Games on television, about 70 per cent of the whole planet!

TO GO WITH AFP STORY "Oly-CHN-year-2008" by Karl Malakunas  (FILES) Fireworks explode over the National Stadium, also known as the "Bird's Nest", during the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games on August 8, 2008. While the likes of Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt generated the instant excitement of the Beijing Olympics, the Games were also a historic moment for China as it celebrated its remarkable global rise. For China's 1.3 billion people and their communist rulers, the two weeks in August when the world's finest athletes came to the Chinese capital were about much more than just sport. AFP AFP PHOTO / DDP / AXEL SCHMIDT / FILES media_cameraFireworks explode over China’s National Stadium, which was also known as the “Bird’s Nest”, during the Beijing Olympic Games opening ceremony in 2008. Picture: AFP


The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is an important organisation that supervises the running of the games, decides what sports to include and chooses the host cities. It’s like the boss of the games!

Set up during Baron de Coubertin’s 1894 conference, it is the umbrella organisation* of the Olympic Movement, which encompasses* sports organisations, media groups, athletes and other sports-related folk.

The IOC’s mission is to build a better world through sport.


  • emperor: ruler of an empire
  • baron: a title given to some people in high classes of society in European countries
  • reviving: bringing back to life, existence
  • unanimously: accepted without opposition, everyone in agreement
  • alternate: happening in turn, one after another
  • umbrella organisation: a group that controls a number of other similar groups
  • encompasses: includes, holds a number of things within it


Friendship, respect and excellence drive the Games

Australia’s Olympic Games leave their mark

Celebrating Australia’s Olympic heroes

How the Paralympics became a world sporting spectacular

Cool facts about the Winter Olympics


  1. Where were the first modern Olympics held?
  2. Whose idea was the modern Olympic Games?
  3. How many medals did Australia win at the first modern Games?
  4. What two events caused the Games to be cancelled three times?
  5. What is the name of the organisation that controls the Olympic Games?


Refer to the accompanying Olympics Education Kit classroom workbook with 25 activities. It’s FREE when teachers subscribe to the Kids News newsletter.

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