21 key moments in the history of the modern Olympics
From Coubertin to Comăneci and from Spitz to Super Saturday, the modern Olympics have undeniably come a long way in 125 years...
The brainchild of Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin, the first modern Olympics are held in Athens. There are no gold medals; the winners each receive a silver medal, an olive branch and a diploma.
The modern Olympics move to France for their second incarnation. Denied entry four years earlier, female athletes are permitted to take part for the first time.
In the men’s marathon at the London Olympics, Italian chef Dorando Pietri is first to finish, despite collapsing five times in the last 400 metres. He is disqualified for being helped over the line.
The eternal flame, the potent symbol of Olympic ideals, is lit for the first time. The torch relay isn’t introduced for another eight years.
Adolf Hitler wants to use the Berlin Olympics as proof of Aryan racial superiority, a notion undone by black American athlete Jesse Owens who collects four gold medals.
In the first Olympics since World War II (dubbed the ‘Austerity Games’), Dutch mother-of-two Fanny Blankers-Koen comfortably wins four track-and-field golds at Wembley Stadium.
At the Helsinki Games, the Czech runner Emil Zátopek performs an extraordinary feat – winning the 5,000m, the 10,000m and the marathon. It is the first time that he has raced over 26.2 miles.
In a water polo encounter known as the ‘Blood In The Water’ match, violence erupts between players from Hungary and the Soviet Union. It comes just a month after an uprising against Soviet control of Hungary is viciously suppressed.
In Rome, Abebe Bikila wins sub-Saharan Africa’s first-ever Olympic gold when he triumphs in the men’s marathon. And, rather incredibly, the Ethiopian athlete did so barefoot.
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75,000 visitors gathered in the National Stadium for the opening ceremony in Tokyo, Japan. It was the expensive opening ceremony in the history of the Games thus far, blending cutting-edge innovation with a revamped Japanese traditionalism. During the 1964 games, there was live broadcasting for the first time (and in full colour, too), the recording of results on computers, and “photo finish” technology
- Read more about the 1964 Tokyo Olympics
In the thin air of high-altitude Mexico City, American long jumper Bob Beamon smashes the world record by nearly two feet. The jump is actually further than the measuring equipment can reach.
American swimmer Mark Spitz wins seven gold medals in the pool, but the Munich Games are overshadowed by the killing of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches by Palestinian terrorists.
In the gymnastics hall at the Montreal Olympics, the Romanian Nadia Comăneci becomes the first Olympian to be awarded a perfect 10 score.
The US boycotts the Moscow Olympics in protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. On the track, the long-awaited, two-race duel between British middle-distance runners Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe ends with a gold medal apiece.
Carl Lewis emulates his compatriot Jesse Owens’ 1936 feat by winning gold in the same four events – 100m, 200m, long jump and 4x100m relay.
Canadian Ben Johnson smashes the world 100m record, but is stripped of the title three days later after failing a drugs test.
With professional basketball players now allowed to compete at the Olympics, the US draws its team for Barcelona from the NBA. Containing the likes of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, they unsurprisingly coast to glory.
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Andre Agassi is victorious in the men’s tennis tournament at the Atlanta Games, the first man to win all four Grand Slam tournaments and Olympic gold.
In Sydney, 400m runner Cathy Freeman becomes the first Aboriginal Australian to win an Olympic track title. In rowing, Steve Redgrave takes gold for a fifth successive Olympics.
Jamaica’s Usain Bolt dominates the headlines at the Beijing Olympics, becoming the only man to break both the 100m and 200m world records at the same Games.
The home nation has plenty to celebrate in London on the day now forever known as ‘Super Saturday’. In the space of an hour, three British athletes – Jessica Ennis (heptathlon), Greg Rutherford (long jump) and Mo Farah (10,000m) – all take gold.