A snowboarder sailing through the Olympic rings during the opening ceremonies of Vancouver 2010AP Photo/Amy Sancetta
AP Photo/Amy Sancetta

FAQ: What are the Olympic Games?

The Olympic Games are the largest international multi-sport competition in the world.

Athletes from more than 200 countries are eligible to compete in more than 50 different sports.

Rosie MacLennan leads Team Canada into the stadium during the Opening Ceremony at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Friday, Aug. 5, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

When are the Olympic Games?

The Olympic Games are held every two years in even-numbered years, alternating between summer and winter editions.

For seven decades, the two versions of the Olympic Games were held in the same year on a four-year cycle. But a 1986 vote broke that tradition and 1992 was the last year to include both. The next Winter Games were held just two years later in 1994 while the next Summer Games were held as scheduled in 1996, creating split four-year cycles.

The Olympic Winter Games are usually held in February while the typical timing for the Olympic Summer Games is in July and/or August.

Who is in charge of the Olympic Games?

The Olympic Games are governed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which is headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland. The IOC was created in 1894, two years before the first modern Olympic Games, which were the brainchild of Pierre de Coubertin.

As of 2018, there are 206 National Olympic Committees which are responsible for sending athletes to compete. The current IOC President is Thomas Bach from Germany.

For each Olympic Games, an organizing committee is established in the host nation to ensure delivery of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Thomas Bach at an IOC meeting in Rio de Janeiro on February 28, 2015.

When did the Olympic Games begin?

The ancient history of the Olympic Games dates to 776 B.C. when they took place in Olympia, Greece. Held every four years until at least 393 A.D. (a span of more than 1000 years), they featured competitions in athletics, boxing, wrestling, and chariot racing.

The modern era of the Olympic Games began in 1896 when they were held in Athens, Greece. The first Olympic Winter Games took place in 1924 in Chamonix, France.

The first ever Parade of Nations at the Olympic Games at London 1908 featured 22 countries.

Have the Olympic Games ever been cancelled?

The Olympic Games have been cancelled five times. In 1916, the Summer Games planned to take place in Berlin, Germany were cancelled due to World War I. In 1940 and 1944, both the Winter and Summer Games were cancelled due to World War II. In 1940, the Summer and Winter Games were both supposed to take place in Japan (Tokyo and Sapporo, respectively). The 1944 Winter Games were to have taken place in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy while London was the planned host for the Summer Games that year.

What Olympic Games were held in 1906?

In 1906, Greece experimented with hosting an “interim” Olympics in the even year between Olympic Games. Though the competition in Athens was once recognized in some correspondence as an official Olympic Games, in 1949 the IOC formally rejected them and they do not appear in any official documentation. Many notable historians consider these to be Olympic Games, taking into account their role in resurrecting the Olympic movement following the poor execution of Paris 1900 and St. Louis 1904 which were held in conjunction with the World’s Fair, but they are most commonly referred to as the 1906 Intercalated Games.

Where have the Olympic Games been held?

The IOC has a bid process through which the Games are awarded to host cities. The United States has hosted eight times, four times for each season. The United States is also set to host the 2028 Olympic Summer Games in Los Angeles, making it the city’s third time hosting. Currently, London is the only city to host three Olympic Games (1908, 1948, 2012) but Paris will host their third Olympic Games in 2024.

The Olympic Games have taken place across the globe. The first time they were held in Oceania was at Melbourne 1956 and Asia’s first time hosting the Olympic Games was at Tokyo 1964Rio 2016 was the first Olympic Games to take place in South America. In 2022, Beijing will become the only city to have hosted both the summer and winter Olympic Games.

Canada has hosted the Games three times:

Montreal 1976 – Olympic Summer Games

Calgary 1988 – Olympic Winter Games

Vancouver 2010 – Olympic Winter Games

For a full list of previous Olympic hosts visit here.

Canadian athletes approach the Olympic Stadium during the Opening Ceremony for the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. (CP PHOTO/COC/ RW)

How big are the Olympic Games?

The Olympic Summer Games now feature more than 11,000 athletes from 206 countries. At Tokyo 2020, there will be 339 events on the program. The Olympic Winter Games are a little smaller. More than 2800 athletes from approximately 90 countries will compete in 109 events at Beijing 2022.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir lead Team Canada into the stadium during the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea on February 9, 2018. Photo by Jason Ransom/COC

How long are the Olympic Games?

There are 16 official days of competition at both the summer and winter Olympic Games. The day of the Opening Ceremony is called Day 0, which is followed by 16 days of medal events. If competition is held in the days prior to the Opening Ceremony, these are called Day -1, Day -2, etc.

What sports are included at the Olympic Games?

The next Olympic Summer Games in 2020 will feature 48 sports disciplines while the Olympic Winter Games program includes 15 sports disciplines. The IOC has added and removed various sports to and from the Olympic program over the years.

For a full list of Olympic sports visit here.

What is Canada’s history at the Olympic Games?

Canada has participated in every Olympic Games except for Athens 1896 and Moscow 1980. For the latter, the country joined the American-led boycott of the Games but any athletes who were named to that team are considered to be Olympians.

Although Canada was not yet officially recognized by the IOC, four Canadians competed in athletics at Paris 1900, including the country’s first ever Olympic medallist, George Orton. The first Canadian Olympic Committee was formed and recognized in 1907. Since then, Canada has won 501 Olympic medals (as of PyeongChang 2018).

George Orton winning his gold medal at Paris 1900 while wearing his University of Pennsylvania shirt (Photo: upenn.edu)

What is an Olympiad?

The term “Olympiad” dates to the ancient Olympic Games when it was used to refer to the four-year intervals between the Games held at Olympia.

When Pierre de Coubertin revived the Games in the modern era, he decided to honour the ancient Games by including Olympiads. An Olympiad begins on January 1 of the first year and ends on December 31 of the fourth year. The Olympic Summer Games are held in the first year of an Olympiad and the Olympic Winter Games take place in the third year of an Olympiad.

The Olympic Summer Games are formally called the Games of the Olympiad and are numbered consecutively from the first ones held at Athens 1896, regardless of whether they took place or were cancelled. Tokyo 2020 will be the Games of the XXXII Olympiad. Olympic Winter Games are simply numbered in the order in which they are held.