History and origin of the Games

  • Who was Pierre de Coubertin?
    • Baron Pierre de Coubertin was the founder of the modern Olympic Games. Inspired by the ancient Olympic Games held in Olympia, Greece, which ended in 393 AD, Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin decided to pursue his project to revive the Olympic Games. A man who devoted his life to education, history and sociology, in 1894 he founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to help build a peaceful and better world by educating young people through sport. The first Olympic Games of the modern era were held in 1896 in Athens.

      Born in Paris in 1863, Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin, came from an aristocratic family. He was a very keen sportsman, who enjoyed boxing, fencing, horse-riding and rowing. He firmly believed that sport was the key to developing mental energy. He was behind the creation of the five-ring Olympic symbol in 1913, the Olympic Charter and protocol, the athletes’ oath and the main components of the Games opening and closing ceremonies. It was also he who said: “The important thing in life is not the triumph but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well.”

      Between 1896 and 1925, he was IOC President. He died in Geneva, Switzerland, on 2 September 1937. In accordance with his last wishes, his heart was laid to rest in Olympia, Greece, in the marble stele which commemorates the revival of the Olympic Games.

      Learn more:

  • What is the origin of the Olympic Games?
    • The history of the Games goes back around 3,000 years, to the Peloponnese in Ancient Greece. Sports contests organised at Olympia took place every four years and acquired the name Olympic Games.

      We do not know exactly when they started, but the date of 776 BC is often cited in written sources. The exact reasons for the birth of the Games are still unknown, as history has become mixed up with mythology.

      The four-year interval between the Ancient Games editions was named an “Olympiad”, and was used for dating purposes at the time: time was counted in Olympiads rather than years. 

      In 1894, Pierre de Coubertin launched his plan to revive the Olympic Games, and in 1896 the first Games of the modern era were held in Athens.

      Learn more:

  • When were the first Olympic Winter Games held?
    • The first Winter Games were held in Chamonix (France), in 1924. Initially called the “International Winter Sports Week”, this event was renamed the “1st Olympic Winter Games” only in 1926 at the IOC Session in Lisbon.

      The decision to create a separate Winter Games cycle was taken at the 1925 IOC Session in Prague.

      Learn more:

  • Since when have the Summer and Winter Games no longer been held in the same year?
    • At its 1986 Session in Lausanne, the IOC decided to introduce this change. From 1924 to 1992, the Summer and Winter Games were each held in the same year, every four years. This four years period is called "Olympiad". The last Summer and Winter Games held in the same year were in Barcelona (Summer) and Albertville (Winter) in 1992. Since then, the Summer and Winter Games are each still held every four years but the Summer Games are celebrated during the first year of an Olympiad and the Winter Games held in the third year.

      Learn more:

  • Why are the Olympic Games held every four years?
    • To respect the ancient origins of the Olympic Games, which were held every four years at Olympia.

      The four-year interval between the Ancient Games editions was named an “Olympiad”, and was used for dating purposes at the time: time was counted in Olympiads rather than years.  

      In 1894, Pierre de Coubertin launched his plan to revive the Olympic Games, and in 1896 the first Games of the modern era were held in Athens. Today, an Olympiad begins on the first of January of the first year and ends on the thirty-first of December of the fourth year.

      Learn more:

  • What were the results of previous elections of the host city?

Olympic documents

Visit the Olympic.org documents repository to find a list of all documents published on this website. This section contains the major reports, studies, publications and information regarding the Olympic Movement.
View documents

Olympic studies

The IOC Olympic Studies Centre is the world source of reference for Olympic knowledge. As an integral part of the IOC, we are uniquely placed to provide the most accurate, relevant and up-to-date information on Olympism.
Learn more