The modern Olympic Games (French: les Jeux olympiques, JO) are a major international event featuring summer and winter sports in which thousands of athletes participate in a variety of competitions. The Olympic Games are considered to be the world’s foremost sports competition with more than 200 nations participating. The Games are currently held biennially, with Summer and Winter Olympic Games alternating, meaning they each occur every four years. Their creation was inspired by the ancient Olympic Games, which were held in Olympia, Greece, from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1894. The IOC has since become the governing body of the Olympic Movement, with the Olympic Charter defining its structure and authority.
The evolution of the Olympic Movement during the 20th and 21st centuries has resulted in several changes to the Olympic Games. Some of these adjustments include the creation of the Winter Games for ice and winter sports, the Paralympic Games for athletes with a disability, and the Youth Olympic Games for teenage athletes. The IOC has had to adapt to the varying economic, political, and technological realities of the 20th century. As a result, the Olympics shifted away from pure amateurism, as envisioned by Coubertin, to allow participation of professional athletes. The growing importance of the mass media created the issue of corporate sponsorship and commercialization of the Games. World wars led to the cancellation of the 1916, 1940, and 1944 Games. Large boycotts during the Cold War limited participation in the 1980 and 1984 Games.
The Olympic Movement consists of international sports federations (IFs), National Olympic Committees (NOCs), and organizing committees for each specific Olympic Games. As the decision-making body, the IOC is responsible for choosing the host city for each Olympic Games. The host city is responsible for organizing and funding a celebration of the Games consistent with the Olympic Charter. The Olympic program, consisting of the sports to be contested at the Games, is also determined by the IOC. The celebration of the Games encompass many rituals and symbols, such as the Olympic flag and torch, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies. Over 13,000 athletes compete at the Summer and Winter Olympics in 33 different sports and nearly 400 events. The first, second, and third place finishers in each event receive Olympic medals: gold, silver, and bronze, respectively.
The Games have grown in scale to the point that nearly every nation is represented. Such growth has created numerous challenges, including boycotts, doping, bribery, and terrorism. Every two years, the Olympics and its media exposure provide unknown athletes with the chance to attain national, and sometimes international fame. The Games also constitute a major opportunity for the host city and country to showcase themselves to the world.
The Olympic symbol, better known as the Olympic rings, consists of five intertwined rings and represents the unity of the five inhabited continents (Africa, America, Asia, Australia, Europe).
The colored version of the rings—blue, yellow, black, green, and red—over a white field forms the Olympic flag. These colors were chosen because every nation had at least one of them on its national flag. The flag was adopted in 1914 but flown for the first time only at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium. It has since been hoisted during each celebration of the Games.
The Olympic motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius, a Latin expression meaning “Faster, Higher, Stronger”. Coubertin’s ideals are further expressed in the Olympic creed:
The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.
Months before each Games, the Olympic Flame is lit in Olympia in a ceremony that reflects ancient Greek rituals. A female performer, acting as a priestess, ignites a torch by placing it inside a parabolic mirror which focuses the sun’s rays; she then lights the torch of the first relay bearer, thus initiating the Olympic torch relay that will carry the flame to the host city’s Olympic stadium, where it plays an important role in the opening ceremony. Though the flame has been an Olympic symbol since 1928, the torch relay was introduced at the 1936 Summer Games, as part of the German government’s attempt to promote its National Socialist ideology.
The emblem also known as the Olympic mascot, an animal or human figure representing the cultural heritage of the host country, was introduced in 1968. It has played an important part on the Games identity promotion since the 1980 Summer Olympics, when the Russian bear cub Misha reached international stardom. The mascots of the Summer Olympics, in Beijing, were the Fuwa, five creatures that represent the five feng shui elements important in Chinese culture.
As mandated by the Olympic Charter, various elements frame the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Most of these rituals were established at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp. The ceremony typically starts with the hoisting of the host country’s flag and a performance of its national anthem. The host nation then presents artistic displays of music, singing, dance, and theater representative of its culture. The artistic presentations have grown in scale and complexity as successive hosts attempt to provide a ceremony that outlasts its predecessor’s in terms of memorability. The opening ceremony of the Beijing Games reportedly cost $100 million, with much of the cost incurred in the artistic segment.
After the artistic portion of the ceremony, the athletes parade into the stadium grouped by nation. Greece is traditionally the first nation to enter in order to honor the origins of the Olympics. Nations then enter the stadium alphabetically according to the host country’s chosen language, with the host country’s athletes being the last to enter. During the 2004 Summer Olympics, which was hosted in Athens, Greece, the Greek flag entered the stadium first, while the Greek delegation entered last. Speeches are given, formally opening the Games. Finally, the Olympic torch is brought into the stadium and passed on until it reaches the final torch carrier—often a well-known and successful Olympic athlete from the host nation—who lights the Olympic flame in the stadium’s cauldron.
Athletes gather in the stadium during the closing ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics.
The closing ceremony of the Olympic Games takes place after all sporting events have concluded. Flag-bearers from each participating country enter the stadium, followed by the athletes who enter together, without any national distinction. Three national flags are hoisted while the corresponding national anthems are played: the flag of the current host country; the flag of Greece, to honor the birthplace of the Olympic Games; and the flag of the country hosting the next Summer or Winter Olympic Games. The president of the organizing committee and the IOC president make their closing speeches, the Games are officially closed, and the Olympic flame is extinguished. In what is known as the Antwerp Ceremony, the mayor of the city that organized the Games transfers a special Olympic flag to the president of the IOC, who then passes it on to the mayor of the city hosting the next Olympic Games. The next host nation then also briefly introduces itself with artistic displays of dance and theater representative of its culture.
A medal ceremony during the 2008 Summer Olympics.
A medal ceremony is held after each Olympic event is concluded. The winner, second and third-place competitors or teams stand on top of a three-tiered rostrum to be awarded their respective medals. After the medals are given out by an IOC member, the national flags of the three medalists are raised while the national anthem of the gold medalist’s country plays. Volunteering citizens of the host country also act as hosts during the medal ceremonies, as they aid the officials who present the medals and act as flag-bearers. For every Olympic event, the respective medal ceremony is held, at most, one day after the event’s final. For the men’s marathon, the competition is usually held early in the morning on the last day of Olympic competition and its medal ceremony is then held in the evening during the closing ceremony
Nigeria at the Olympics
Nigeria first participated in the Olympic Games in 1952, and has sent athletes to compete in every Summer Olympic Games since then, except for the boycotted 1976 Summer Olympics. The nation has never participated in the Winter Olympic Games.
Nigerian athletes have won a total of 23 medals, mostly in athletics and boxing. The national football team won the gold medal in 1996. In 2008, following the International Olympic Committee’s decision to strip the American 4 x 400 metre relay team of their medals after Antonio Pettigrew confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs, their Nigerian rivals were awarded the gold medal. Nigeria also won a medal in the heavyweight division of taekwondo at the 1992 Summer Olympics; as this was only a demonstration sport, Emmanuel Oghenejobo’s silver did not count as an official win.
The Nigeria Olympic Committee, the National Olympic Committee for Nigeria, was created in 1951.