Here is a timeline for some of the major events in modern Olympic years:
- Athens hosts the first modern Olympics, with 14 countries participating. James Brendan Connolly, a triple jumper from Boston, becomes the first Olympic champion in more than 1,500 years.
- Women make their first appearance in Olympic competition, when a handful of female athletes compete in lawn tennis and golf at the Paris Games.
- The gold medal is introduced. Previous top winners in the modern Games took home a silver medal and an olive wreath, because Greece’s Crown Prince Constantine didn’t want it to seem as if the athletes were being paid.
- The Games are moved from Rome to London after the 1906 eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. The London Olympics are credited with restoring much-needed credibility to the Games.
- The Winter Games are established, but because of World War I they do not take place until 1924, in Chamonix, France.
- American Jim Thorpe, who dominated the 1912 games and took the gold in decathlon and pentathlon, is stripped of his medals when officials learn he had played professional baseball, going against the IOC rules that athletes should not be paid. His medals are restored posthumously in 1982.
- The Summer Games in Berlin are cancelled due to World War I.
- The Olympic flame returns at the Amsterdam Summer Games. The flame was lit during ancient Games to represent the story of when Prometheus stole Zeus’ fire.
- In a blow to Adolf Hitler’s plan to have the Berlin Olympics prove Aryan superiority, black U.S. track and field star Jesse Owens becomes the first Olympian to win four gold medals.
- Summer and Winter Games scheduled to take place in Japan are switched to Germany and Finland after Japan invades China, then cancelled altogether due to the start of World War II.
- Summer Games in England and Winter Games in Italy are cancelled due to World War II.
- The IOC bans both Germany and Japan from competing as punishment for their actions during the war. They return to the Games in 1952.
- South Africa is banned from the Olympics because of apartheid, and is not welcomed back until the segregationist system is abolished in 1992. Similarly, Rhodesia was banned due to its racist practices in 1972; it returns in 1980 as the new nation of Zimbabwe.
- Drug testing and gender verification testing make their debut at the Mexico City Olympics. A Swedish pentathelete is disqualified for having consumed too much alcohol.
- Palestinian terrorists attack Israelis at the Munich Games. Following a 21-hour standoff, 11 Israel athletes and coaches, five terrorists and one police officer are dead. Meanwhile, U.S. swimmer Mark Spitz wins a record seven gold medals. Spitz, a Jew, leaves before the closing ceremony.
- Nadia Comaneci, a 14-year-old Romanian, scores the first perfect 10 in Olympic gymnastics, at the Games in Montreal. She receives the top score seven times, earning three gold medals.
- The United States boycotts the Moscow Olympics, in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Several other nations join in. It’s the second major boycott of the Olympics; in 1976, 22 African nations stayed home because New Zealand’s national rugby team had competed in South Africa.
- The Soviet Union boycotts the Los Angeles Olympics in retaliation for America’s 1980 boycott.
- In the first year professionals are allowed to compete in men’s basketball, the U.S. “Dream Team,” including Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, wins the gold in Barcelona.
- A bomb left in a backpack at Centennial Olympic Park explodes during the Atlanta Games, killing one woman and injuring 111 people. Accused serial bomber Eric Rudolph, who is also a suspect in bombings at abortion clinics and a gay nightclub, is charged in the case.
- The Games return to their birthplace, Athens, after 108 years. The Panathenian stadium is reused for events including archery and the finish of the Marathon. The Zappeion, the first indoor Olympic arena, was utilized as the Olympic Press Centre. Participation records were broken, with 201 nations and 10,625 athletes taking part in 301 different events. The U.S., Russia and China lead the medal count.
Timeline via CBS
Photos via National Geographic