I. Introduction

Olympic Games, international sports competition, held every four years at a different site, in which athletes from different nations compete against each other in a variety of sports. There are two types of Olympics, the Summer Olympics and the Winter Olympics. Through 1992 they were held in the same year, but beginning in 1994 they were rescheduled so that they are held in alternate even-numbered years. For example, the Winter Olympics were held in 1994 and the Summer Olympics in 1996. The Winter Olympics were next held in 1998, and the Summer Olympics will next occur in 2000.

The Olympic Games began in Athens, Greece, in 1896, two years after French educator and thinker Pierre de Coubertin proposed that the Olympian Games of ancient Greece be revived to promote a more peaceful world. The program for the 1896 Games, comprising only summer events (the Winter Olympics were not established until 1924), included about 300 athletes from fewer than 15 countries competing in 43 events in nine different sports. In contrast, the program 100 years later for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, included more than 10,000 athletes from more than 190 countries competing in 271 events in 29 different sports.

II. International Olympic Committee

The Olympic Games are administered by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which is headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland. The IOC was created in Paris in 1894 as an independent committee selecting its own members. (To begin the process, however, Coubertin himself chose the first 15 members.) IOC members are officially considered to be representatives from the IOC to their own nations, not delegates from their own countries to the IOC. Most members are elected to the IOC after serving on the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) of their own countries. The first IOC members were all from Europe or the Americas, with the exception of one from New Zealand. The committee elected its first Asian member in 1908 and its first African member in 1910. Currently, members from European and North American countries still account for much of the IOC membership. IOC members must retire at the end of the year in which they reach the age of 80, unless they were elected before 1966, in which case they can serve for life.

The IOC oversees such functions as determining the site of the Olympic Games, the establishment of worldwide Olympic policies, and the negotiation of Olympic television broadcast rights. The IOC works closely with the NOCs and with the International Amateur Athletic Federation (the international governing body for track and field), and other international sports federations (ISFs) to organize the Olympics. The ISFs are responsible for the international rules and regulations of the sports they govern.

The IOC president, who is chosen by IOC members, is assisted by an executive board, several vice presidents, and a number of IOC commissions. The IOC's first president, Demetrius Vikélas of Greece (served 1894-1896), was succeeded by Coubertin himself (1896-1925). The other IOC presidents have been Count Henri de Baillet-Latour of Belgium (1925-1942), J. Sigfrid Edström of Sweden (1946-1952), Avery Brundage of the United States (1952-1972), Michael Morris, Lord Killanin, of Ireland (1972-1980), and Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain (1980- ).

III. Awarding the Games

In order to host the Olympics, a city must submit a proposal to the IOC. After all proposals have been submitted, the IOC votes. If no city is successful in gaining a majority in the first vote, the city with the fewest votes is eliminated, and voting continues, with successive rounds, until a majority winner is determined. Typically the Games are awarded several years in advance, allowing the winning city time to prepare for the Games. In selecting the site of the Olympic Games, the IOC considers a number of factors, chief among them which city has, or promises to build, the best facilities, and which organizing committee seems most likely to stage the Games effectively. The IOC also considers which parts of the world have not yet hosted the Games. For instance, Tokyo, the host of the 1964 Summer Games, and Mexico City, the host of the 1968 Summer Games, were chosen in part to popularize the Olympic movement in Asia and in Latin America. Because of the growing importance of television worldwide, the IOC in recent years has also taken into account the host city's time zone. Whenever the Games take place in the United States or Canada, for example, American television networks are willing to pay significantly higher amounts for television rights because they can broadcast popular events live, in prime viewing hours.

Once the Games have been awarded, it is the responsibility of the local organizing committee not the IOC or the NOC of the host city's country to finance them. This is often done with a portion of the Olympic television revenues and with corporate sponsorships, ticket sales, and other smaller revenue sources, such as commemorative postage stamps or proceeds from a national lottery. In many cases there is also direct government support. Although many cities have achieved a financial profit by hosting the Games, the Olympics can be financially risky. Montréal, Québec, Canada, for example, spent a great deal of money preparing for the 1976 Summer Games, due to extensive design and construction costs for new facilities. When the proceeds from the Games were less than expected, the city was left with large debts.

IV. Athletes and Eligibility

Although the Olympic Charter, the official constitution of the Olympic movement, proclaims that the Olympics are contests among individuals and not among nations, the IOC assigns to the various NOCs the task of selecting national Olympic teams. In most cases the NOCs do this by holding Olympic trials or by choosing athletes on the basis of their previous performances. From the start of the modern Olympic Games, male amateur athletes of every race, religion, and nationality have been eligible to participate. Although Coubertin opposed the participation of women in the Olympics and no women competed in 1896, a few female golfers and tennis players were allowed to participate in the 1900 Games. Female swimmers and divers were admitted to the 1912 Games, and female gymnasts and track-and-field athletes first competed at the 1928 Games. Women's Olympic sports have grown significantly since then, and currently women account for approximately half of the members of teams, except in teams from Islamic nations, where the level of female participation is generally lower.

Coubertin and the IOC intended from the start for the Olympics to be open only to amateurs. Amateurism was determined by adherence to the amateur rule, which was originally devised in the 19th century to prevent working-class athletes from participating in sports such as rowing and tennis. Because the amateur rule prevented athletes from earning any pay from activities in any way related to sports, working-class athletes could not afford both to make a living and train for competition. Olympic rules about amateurism, however, have caused many controversies over the years. Such questions as whether an amateur could be reimbursed for travel expenses, be compensated for time lost at work, be paid for product endorsements, or be employed to teach sports have been raised, but they have not always been satisfactorily resolved by the IOC, leading to confusion about the definition of professionalism in different sports. By 1983 a majority of IOC members acknowledged that most Olympic athletes compete professionally in the sense that sports are their main activity. The IOC then asked each ISF to determine eligibility in its own sport, and over the next decade nearly all the ISFs abolished the distinction between amateurs and professionals, accepting so-called open Games. One of the most visible examples of the policy change came in 1992, when professional players from the National Basketball Association (NBA) were permitted to play in the Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain.

V. Ceremonies

The Olympic Games have always included a number of ceremonies, many of which emphasize the themes of international friendship and peaceful cooperation. The opening ceremony has always included the parade of nations, in which the teams from each nation enter the main stadium as part of a procession. The Greek team always enters first, to commemorate the ancient origins of the modern Games, and the team of the host nation always enters last. The opening ceremony has evolved over the years into a complex extravaganza, with music, speeches, and pageantry. It is eagerly anticipated and well attended. The torch relay, in which the Olympic Flame symbolizes the transmission of Olympic ideals from ancient Greece to the modern world, was introduced as part of the opening ceremony at the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin. In the relay the torch is lit in Olympia, Greece, and is carried over several weeks or months from there to the host city by a series of runners. After the last runner has lit the Olympic Flame in the main Olympic stadium, the host country's head of state declares the Games officially open, and doves are released to symbolize the hope of world peace.

Two other important ceremonial innovations had appeared earlier at the 1920 Games in Antwerp, Belgium. The Olympic Flag, with its five interlocking rings of different colors against a white background, was flown for the first time. The five rings represent unity among the nations of Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia, and Europe. Another innovation occurring in 1920 was the first reciting of the Olympic Oath, taken in the name of all the athletes by a member of the host's team. The oath asserts the athletes' commitment to the ideals of sportsmanship in competition.

Medal ceremonies are also an important part of the Games. After each individual event during the Games, medals are awarded in a ceremony to the first-, second-, and third-place finishers. The ceremony occurs after each event, when these competitors mount a podium to receive gold (actually gold-plated), silver (silver-plated), and bronze medals. While the national flags of all three competitors are hoisted, the national anthem of the winner's country is played. Some critics have suggested that because the medal ceremony seems to contradict the IOC's avowed internationalism, these national symbols be replaced by the hoisting of the Olympic Flag and the playing of the official Olympic Hymn.

Originally there was another parade of nations during the closing ceremonies of the Games. At the end of the 1956 Summer Games in Melbourne, Australia, however, the athletes broke ranks and mingled together to celebrate the occasion. This custom was continued in subsequent Games. After the athletes join in the main Olympic stadium in celebration, the president of the IOC invites the athletes and spectators to meet again at the site of the next Games. The IOC president then declares the Games ended, and the Olympic Flame is extinguished.

VI. Beginnings

After they had achieved national independence from Turkey in 1829, the Greeks sought repeatedly to revive the Olympian Games in order to emphasize their ancient heritage. Their Games, which were limited to ethnic Greeks, were unsuccessful, were staged sporadically, and gained little international attention. They ceased entirely in 1889. Coubertin succeeded in his effort to reestablish the Games primarily because his conception of the Games was international rather than nationalistic. Although earlier in his career he had been interested in sports as a way to improve the military preparedness of France, he eventually envisioned them as an instrument to overcome conflicts among nations.

Coubertin had begun developing his ideas for an international sports competition in the 1880s. In 1894 he invited delegates to come to Paris to discuss amateur sports at an international athletic congress. The conference hosted 78 delegates from nine countries. During the conference Coubertin used art and music with classical themes to influence the delegates. When he surprised them with a proposal to revive the Olympian Games of classical times, they voted unanimously to begin the modern cycle. Coubertin wanted the Olympic Games to feature both ancient and modern sports. The discus event, for instance, symbolized continuity with the past, because the ancient Greeks had practiced the sport. Bicycle races, on the other hand, which were a more recent sporting innovation, represented modernity. The marathon race was meant to commemorate the distance from the town of Marathon to Athens run by a Greek soldier in 490 BC to announce a Greek victory over the invading Persians, which was slightly less than the current marathon distance of 42.2 km (26.2 mi). (The longest race of the ancient Olympics was about 1000 m [about 1100 yd].)

Instability in the Greek government threatened preparations for the 1896 Games, but Coubertin traveled to Athens and enlisted support from the Greek royal family to help organize the event. Although there were then no NOCs to choose athletes and send them to the Games, Coubertin knew many European and American sportsmen, whom he convinced to form national teams. Roughly half of the American team came from Princeton University because a friend of Coubertin's, William Milligan Sloane, taught history there. Fewer than 300 athletes competed in the 1896 Games, and there was very little mention of the Games in the international press, but there was enough momentum for Coubertin to persuade the IOC to continue the quadrennial series.

VII. Summer Olympics

The 1896 Games included events in cycling, fencing, gymnastics, target shooting, swimming, tennis, track and field, weightlifting, and wrestling. American athletes dominated the Games, but the winners' performances were often mediocre by contemporary standards. American Thomas Burke won the 100-meter dash in 12 seconds, more than a second slower than the world record. Despite these performances, the Games were considered by spectators and participants to be a success, coming to an appropriate conclusion when a Greek athlete, Spyridon Louis, won the marathon race, the first such race ever held.

Coubertin was disappointed by the public response to the 1900 Games in Paris and the 1904 Games in St. Louis, Missouri, because both were held within international fairs that attracted more attention than the Olympics. In 1906 an Olympic Games was staged in Athens, over Coubertin's objections. Although the Games were successful, the results have never been considered part of official Olympic history. The 1908 Games were held in London, and rivalry between the British and American teams was intense, culminating when British officials carried Italian marathon runner Dorando Pietri, who had collapsed close to the end of the race, across the finish line. This ensured that American Johnny Hayes did not win. After American officials protested this action, however, Hayes was declared the winner.

Four years later at the 1912 Games in Stockholm, Sweden, American Jim Thorpe won both the pentathlon and the decathlon, only to have his medals revoked in 1913 when it became known that he had played semiprofessional baseball. (The IOC restored Thorpe's medals and official victories in 1982.) The first Olympic swimming events for women were also held in 1912 and were dominated by two Australians, Fanny Durack and Wilhelmina Wylie. James Sullivan, who ran the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) at the time, disapproved of women's sports and did not permit American women to swim in 1912 (they were permitted to swim beginning in 1920).

World War I (1914-1918) forced the cancellation of the 1916 Games, planned for Berlin, Germany. Four years later, sympathy for Belgium, which had been devastated by the German invasion during the war, induced the IOC to award the 1920 Games to Antwerp. In 1920 Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi, nicknamed the Flying Finn, won three of his nine career Olympic gold medals, with victories in the 10,000-meter race, the individual cross-country race, and the team cross-country race.

At the 1924 Games in Paris, Nurmi and American swimmer Johnny Weissmuller were the outstanding athletes. Nurmi's major victories included wins in the 1500-meter and 5000-meter races. Weissmuller won the 100-meter and 400-meter freestyle races and was a member of the winning 4 × 200-meter freestyle relay team. The 1928 Games in Amsterdam, Netherlands, were notable for the debut of women's track-and-field events.

Despite some complaints about the 800-meter track-and-field race in 1928, which was considered too strenuous for women and was dropped until 1960, the IOC decided in 1930 to continue its experiment with women's sports in the Olympics. Because of this decision, Babe Didrikson became the most celebrated athlete of the 1932 Games in Los Angeles. She won the 80-meter hurdles race and the javelin event, establishing new world records in both events, and finished second in the high jump event. Japanese swimmers first achieved great Olympic success in 1932, with at least one Japanese swimmer reaching the finals in every one of the men's swimming races. The Japanese team had trained much longer and harder than their opponents, and their success demonstrated the benefits of pursuing sports as a full-time vocation rather than as a part-time amateur avocation. Another sign of change at the Los Angeles Games was the success of very young athletes: Japanese swimmer Kusuo Kitamura, who won the 1500-meter freestyle, was only 14 years old.

The emotion of the competition ran especially high at the 1936 Games in Berlin, fueled by the host country's Nazi government, which preached a doctrine of white racial superiority. The most dramatic story of the Berlin Games was black American athlete Jesse Owens, who disproved the Nazi ideas by winning the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, and the long jump event. Owens also won a fourth gold medal, in the 4 × 100-meter relay race. The 1940 and 1944 Olympics, scheduled for Tokyo and London, respectively, were cancelled because of World War II (1939-1945). The 1948 Games, however, were staged, despite the fact that many IOC members felt that the horrors of World War II had made a mockery of Coubertin's dream of universal peace. The proponents of continuing the Olympic movement prevailed, however, and London hosted the Games.

Although the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) had always considered the Olympics to be a conspiracy of capitalism, its leaders decided to send a team to the 1952 Games, which were held in Helsinki, Finland. The Soviet team encountered great success, and Americans were shocked that until the last day of competition, Soviet athletes had won more medals than American athletes. Four years later, at the Melbourne Games, the Soviet and American teams continued their success, finishing first and second in the unofficial tally of national medals. (Unofficial records are kept as to how many medals each country wins at each Olympics.) The Australian team, led by swimmers Murray Rose and Dawn Fraser, and runners Betty Cuthbert and Shirley Strickland, won a total of 13 gold medals to finish third in the national medal standings.

In the 1960s African runners, such as Wilson Kiprigut of Kenya and Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia, achieved Olympic prominence, while athletes from Eastern Europe dominated gymnastics and weightlifting events. Each of the three successive Olympics held in the 1960s 1960 (Rome), 1964 (Tokyo), and 1968 (Mexico City) produced a boxing gold medalist from the United States who went on to win the professional heavyweight title: Cassius Clay (who later changed his name to Muhammad Ali), Joe Frazier, and George Foreman, respectively.

At the 1972 Games in Munich, West Germany, East and West Germans, who had competed on a single German team since the formal division of their countries in 1949, competed on different teams for the first time, finishing third and fourth in the unofficial national medal tally. Although Soviet athlete Ludmilla Tourischeva won the all-around gymnastics title in 1972, another Soviet, Olga Korbut, garnered the most attention. She won three gold medals, and her popularity helped start a period of international growth in gymnastics. Four years later, at the Montréal Games, Nadia Comaneci of Romania won the women's all-around gymnastics title, and in the uneven-bars event she earned the first perfect score of 10.00 in Olympic gymnastics competition. The most outstanding performance at the 1976 Games came from the East German women's swimming team, which won 11 of 13 races, overcoming the Americans, who had been expected to dominate. In the total medal count in 1976, East Germany, with a population of about 16 million people, won 40 gold medals. In contrast, the United States, with a population of more than 200 million people, won 34 gold medals.

Because the 1980 Games in Moscow and the 1984 Games in Los Angeles were affected by large boycotts (see below), the team from the host nation was able to claim an unprecedented triumph in each year. In 1980, with 62 nations boycotting, the Soviet team earned 80 gold medals, 69 silver medals, and 46 bronze medals. At the 1980 Games Cuban boxer Teófilo Stevenson won his third consecutive Olympic gold medal in the heavyweight class. In 1984, when the USSR and 16 other countries boycotted the Games, the American team claimed 83 gold medals, 61 silver medals, and 30 bronze medals. In 1984 American Carl Lewis, who won four events (100-meter, 200-meter, 4 × 100-meter relay, and long jump), emerged as the greatest track-and-field athlete of his time. American Mary Lou Retton won the women's all-around gymnastics title. At the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea, Lewis repeated his victory in the long jump and was awarded a belated gold in the 100-meter race after the apparent victor, Canadian Ben Johnson, was disqualified for having taken banned drugs. East German swimmers, led by Kristin Otto, won 10 of the 15 events for women in 1988. Equally impressive were American track-and-field athletes Florence Griffith Joyner, who won the 100-meter and 200-meter races and was a member of the winning 4 × 100-meter relay team, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who won the long jump event and the heptathlon.

At the 1992 Games in Barcelona, no single nation dominated competition, with athletes from many countries winning events. The best-known athletes before and after the Games competed on the United States national basketball team, which was known as the Dream Team and was composed of such players from the NBA as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson. The team completely dominated its competition on its way to the gold medal.

In 1996 the centennial anniversary of the modern Olympic Games was celebrated in Atlanta, Georgia. The Games featured several outstanding performances. In diving, Fu Mingxia of China captured gold medals in women's 3-meter springboard and 10-meter platform competition. In track and field, American Michael Johnson won gold medals in the 200-meter and 400-meter dashes. Canadian Donovan Bailey triumphed in the 100-meter dash. The Games were marred, however, by a terrorist attack in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park. A pipe bomb, which detonated early in the morning of July 27th, left one person dead and more than 100 wounded. Olympic competition continued without another bombing incident.

VIII. Winter Olympics

Although figure skating was an event at the Summer Games of 1908 and 1920, and ice hockey was played in 1920, the IOC was hesitant to inaugurate a series of separate Winter Games because climatic conditions dictated that the possible locations for winter sports competition were geographically limited. When Sweden and Norway first proposed Winter Games, in 1911, the United States opposed the Games on these grounds. Ironically, the Scandinavians changed their minds at the 1921 meeting of the IOC, arguing that Winter Games, unlike Summer Games, could not unite athletes from every country. They were outvoted, however, and the IOC established Winter Games.

The Winter Olympic Games were first held as a separate competition in 1924 at Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, France. From that time until 1992, they took place the same year as the Summer Games. However, beginning with the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, the Winter Games were rescheduled to occur in the middle of the Olympic cycle, alternating on even-numbered years with the Summer Games. The 1924 Winter Games included 14 events in five different sports. The program for the 1998 Winter Games, held in Nagano, Japan, included more than 60 events in nine different sports.

In the first Winter Olympics the Scandinavian countries dominated competition. Norwegian athletes won all four of the skiing events, while Finnish competitors finished first in four of the five speed-skating events. The Winter Games first gained wide international notice four years later at Saint Moritz, Switzerland, when Norwegian figure skater Sonja Henie won the first of her three consecutive Olympic figure skating titles. Her triumphs in 1932 and 1936, in addition to her charisma, contributed to her subsequent success as a motion-picture star.

The Winter Games were cancelled in 1940 and 1944 because of World War II. (They were to have been held in Sapporo, Japan, and Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, respectively.) At the first postwar Winter Games, held again in Saint Moritz, Canadian Barbara Ann Scott won the gold medal in women's figure skating, while American Dick Button won the men's event. The Canadian team won the gold in ice hockey, and American Gretchen Fraser won a gold in women's downhill skiing (in the slalom event). Button repeated his victory at the 1952 Games in Oslo, Norway, and the Canadians again won the ice hockey gold medal. American skaters continued their success in figure skating at the 1956 Games in Cortina d'Ampezzo, with Hayes Jenkins winning the men's event and Tenley Albright becoming the first American woman to win the women's event. Italian downhill skier Toni Sailer won all three of the men's skiing events (downhill, slalom, and giant slalom). David Jenkins, the younger brother of Hayes Jenkins, repeated the American victory in men's figure skating at the 1960 Games in Squaw Valley, California, while another American, Carol Heiss, captured the gold in the women's event.

The 1964 Winter Games were held in Innsbruck, Austria. Swedish cross-country skier Sixten Jernberg won the last of his nine Olympic medals, with golds in the 50-kilometer individual race and the 4 × 10-kilometer team race and a bronze in the 15-kilometer race, and Soviets Liudmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov won the pairs figure skating competition. The pair repeated their victory at the 1968 Games in Grenoble, France, where American figure skater Peggy Fleming won the gold in the women's event. The 1968 Games were also notable for the accomplishments of French downhill skier Jean-Claude Killy, who repeated Sailer's feat by winning all three of the men's events. The 1972 Winter Games were held in Sapporo, where Dutch speed skater Ard Schenk won three gold medals, in the 1500-meter, 5000-meter, and 10,000-meter events.

At the 1976 Games, again held in Innsbruck, American Dorothy Hamill won the women's figure skating gold medal, and John Curry became the first British male skater to win the men's figure skating title. American speed skater Eric Heiden dominated the 1980 Games in Lake Placid, New York, winning all five of the men's speed-skating events (500-meter, 1000-meter, 1500-meter, 5000-meter, and 10,000-meter). The United States ice hockey team defeated the Soviet team to win the gold medal; the Soviet team had won it in the four previous Winter Olympics.

At the 1984 Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, American Scott Hamilton won the men's figure skating gold medal and East German Katarina Witt won the women's event. Four years later in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Witt repeated her victory and American Brian Boitano won the men's gold medal. Soviet figure skaters Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov won the pairs competition, while American speed skater Bonnie Blair won the 500-meter race, the first of her five gold medals in three Olympiads. Italian downhill skier Alberto Tomba won the men's slalom and giant-slalom events. At the 1992 Games in Albertville, France, American Kristi Yamaguchi won the women's figure skating title, and Blair won gold medals in the 500-meter and 1000-meter races. Tomba repeated his victory in the giant-slalom event. Gordeeva and Grinkov won the pairs figure skating competition again at the Lillehammer Games in 1994, and Ukrainian Oksana Baiul won the women's title. Once again Blair won the 500-meter and 1000-meter speed-skating races.

At the 1998 Games in Nagano, Norwegian Nordic skier Bjorn Daehlie won three gold medals (10-kilometer, 50-kilometer, and 4 × 10-kilometer relay) and a silver (15-kilometer pursuit). After a major crash in the men's downhill, Austrian skier Hermann Maier recovered and won gold medals in the giant slalom and super giant slalom. The Japanese ski-jumping team combined for four medals, including a gold in the team competition. American women dominated a number of events: Tara Lipinski and Michelle Kwan took gold and silver in the figure skating competition; Alpine skier Picabo Street won the super giant slalom; Nikki Stone won the freestyle skiing aerials; and the U.S. women's ice hockey team went undefeated to capture the gold medal.

IX. Political Turmoil

Although they were founded as part of a vision of world peace, once the modern Olympic Games became a truly important international event they also became a stage for political disputes. The most controversial Olympics were the Berlin Games of 1936. The IOC had voted in 1931 to hold these Games in Berlin, before IOC members could have known the Nazi movement would soon control the country. When it became known in the early 1930s that under the rule of the Nazis, German Jewish athletes were being barred from the 1936 German team, in violation of the Olympic Charter, many Americans demanded a boycott of the 1936 Games. The boycott movement failed because Avery Brundage, head of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) at the time, was convinced by German officials that Jewish athletes would be permitted to try out for the German team. In fact, only two Jewish athletes were named to the 1936 German Olympic team, and both were of mixed religious backgrounds.

There have been several boycotts of the Olympics by various countries. In 1956 the Egyptian, Lebanese, and Iraqi teams boycotted the Melbourne Games to protest the invasion of Egypt by the United Kingdom, France, and Israel that had occurred earlier that year. Major boycotts of the Olympics occurred in 1976, 1980, and 1984. In 1976 many African nations demanded that New Zealand be excluded from the Montréal Games because its rugby team had played against South Africa, then under the rule of supporters of apartheid, the official policy of racial segregation followed in that country from 1948 to the early 1990s. When the IOC resisted the demands of the African countries with the argument that rugby was not an Olympic sport, athletes from 28 African nations were called home by their governments.

The issue in the 1980 boycott of the Moscow Games was the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 by the USSR. Although American President Jimmy Carter forced the USOC to refuse the invitation to attend the Moscow Games, many other NOCs defied their governments' requests that they boycott the Games. Once Carter acted to spoil the Moscow Games (62 nations did boycott the Games), it became clear that the USSR and its allies would retaliate with another boycott at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. Although Romania did send a team to Los Angeles, 16 of the USSR's other allies boycotted the Los Angeles Games.

From the 1940s to the 1980s, the IOC also had to deal with the political problems caused by divided nations. One dilemma concerned the Chinese Olympic team, after the political division of China in 1949 into the People's Republic of China on the mainland and the so-called Republic of China on the island of Taiwan. In 1952 the IOC decided to invite teams from both the mainland and Taiwan, but this decision led to decades of boycott by the government of the People's Republic, which did not send a team to the Olympics until the Lake Placid Games in 1980. Another political issue arose in 1949, because of the formal political division of Germany that year into East Germany and West Germany. This division created the question of whether there was to be one German team or two. The IOC tried to solve this problem by insisting on a combined German team. Negotiations lasted several years, and this solution was first tested at the Melbourne Games in 1956; it lasted until the Munich Games in 1972, for which two teams were formed. There continued to be two German teams until 1992, by which time the countries had reunited. The IOC also had to cope with racial segregation in South Africa. The IOC voted in 1968 to exclude the South African team from Olympic competition in order to bring pressure on the government to give up its policy of apartheid. The South Africans were not readmitted until the Barcelona Games in 1992 by which time apartheid had been discontinued.

Violence has also occurred at the Olympic Games. In the midst of the 1972 Munich Games, the Olympic movement experienced its most tragic hour. A band of Palestinian terrorists made their way into the Olympic village (where athletes from all nations are invited to live during the Games), murdered two members of the Israeli team, and took nine hostages. When the IOC, meeting in emergency session, learned that a gunfight had broken out and that all nine hostages were dead, along with five of the terrorists, the Games were suspended for a day. The IOC's controversial decision to resume the Games that year was endorsed by the Israeli government.

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