Little known facts about the Olympics

By ARIELLA SHUA | February 8, 2018

With the Super Bowl over (and me feeling like the only person on campus upset about the Pats losing), it may feel like time to forget about the lovely distraction that sports provide from more pressing issues. Fortunately, that isn’t the case this year. The 2018 Olympic Winter Games, hosted in PyeongChang, South Korea, begin in only a few days. The Olympics may be the one competition that students from nearly all walks of life can feel excited about- with so many countries represented, everyone has somewhere to root for, or at least somewhere to root against. But it’s strange to realize that, although the Olympics, always highly publicized and usually with a few fun controversies thrown in, occur every two or four years, most of us have no idea how or why the competition came about.

Here are the questions- and answers, helpfully provided by the Internet- that I found more pressing than the questions my professors had assigned this week:

Why did the Winter Olympics begin?

As most people know, the modern- day Olympic Games were styled in the same vein as the ancient- day Olympics, which occurred in Greece from roughly 8th century BC to 4th century AD. The Olympics of today were reinstated in 1896 and consisted entirely of events that now are classified as being part of the Summer Games, such as gymnastics and swimming. For several Games, the only sports included were ones that could be played in the summer. But in 1908, a figure skating event was added to the list. Because the Games were taking place in London that year, competing on ice didn’t make sense in August. As a solution, figure skating took place in October, weeks after the other events had concluded.

The idea of including a separate set of Games for winter sports was brought up several times before finally becoming a reality in 1925. By this point, hockey had been added to the sports roster as well, and it just made sense to separate the events. The same country would host both Winter and Summer Games during the same year until 1994, when Lillehammer, Norway, hosted the Winter Games exclusively. The tradition of having Summer and Winter Games in different countries, switching off every two years, has continued since then.

Have any teams never won medals?

As of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, 71 National Olympic Committees, each for a different represented group (usually countries), have yet to receive a medal. An additional six previous National Olympic Committees, representing nations which no longer compete (such as the Republic of China and North and South Yemen) have also never won medals. The Refugee Olympic Team, consisting of United Nations- verified refugees, was formed in 2016 and competed at the Rio Olympics. They haven’t won anything either.

Which countries have won the most medals?

Depends on which Olympics. The National Olympic Committee with the most Summer Olympic medals is the United States, with a total of 2,522 medals over 27 Games. The Committee with the most Winter Olympic medals is Norway, with 329 over 22 Games. 

Interestingly, in the Summer Olympic medal rankings, two of the top ten Committees with most medals are no longer represented in the Games. Both the Soviet Union, in second place, and East Germany, in ninth place, classified as “past nations.” The Soviet Union has not competed since 1988, yet it still has over 150 more medals than constant competitor Great Britain, with 1,010.

What are the strangest discontinued events?

For some reason, the list of bizarre Olympic events is quite lengthy. Most were only around for a few Games before being discontinued. Some of these competitions, such as golf and rugby for the Summer Games, have recently returned in some form. But there are several events that likely won’t be reinstated any time soon. Among the highlights are winter pentathlon (a combination event with cross-country skiing, shooting, downhill skiing, fencing, and horseback riding) and ski ballet (think ballet and imagine doing it while racing down a hill, on skis). Personally, I would like to bring back dog sled racing, which was included in only two Games, most recently in 1952.

The Summer Games also have an array of unusual events and sports that have been discontinued over the years. Some of these, such as solo synchronized swimming (watch a video and you will not be disappointed) and tug-of-war (apparently actual adults used to play this game) would be quite entertaining if brought back today. Others, such as the live pigeon shooting event from the 1900 Games, may not have aged quite as well.

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