Olympic Host Cities: Summer & Winter

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The Olympics are major international events, and few things set the tone as much as the host city. In this lesson, we're going to look at some notable host cities throughout history and see what the Olympics meant to them.

Olympic Host Cities

Every two years, we get to watch the Olympic Games. Whether it's a summer or winter game, it's always exciting. There's the athletic competition, the ceremonies and pageantry, and of course the city itself. Being selected to host the Olympics is a big deal, and the selection process begins years before actual games occur. The Olympic Committee selects a city that not only has the size, space, and capacity to host a world-class sporting event attending by thousands of visitors, but also one that will benefit from hosting the games. Various economic, social, and political factors go into this decision, helping the committee select a host that will ''create a beneficial legacy'' for both the city and the Olympics as well.


Let's start by looking at the first cities to host the Olympics. The tradition of the Olympics dates back to ancient Greece, when Greek athletes would come together in competition. It seemed fitting then that the first modern Olympics, held in 1896, was hosted in Athens. At the time, the event was still a relatively minor one, attended by 14 countries and around 245 athletes. The first Winter Olympics would be held years later, in 1924. The first city to host it was Chamonix, France. Located high in the mountains where natural snow was plentiful, this was a logical place to hold an international winter sports competition as much of the infrastructure for winter events was already in place.

Athens hosted the first modern Olympics in 1896

Political Cities

As the Olympics grew larger and more spectacular, it became a tradition over the years for host cities to host their own slew of scandals as well. One of the first major times we saw this was in 1936, when the Summer Olympics were hosted by Berlin. Yes, Adolf Hitler hosted the Olympics. It was actually in this year that the torch relay tradition was first introduced to the opening ceremonies, which Berlin had designed with upmost splendor in order to show off their recovery and growth since the first Great War. Many nations boycotted the Berlin Olympics, but the USA attended and stole the spotlight with the unbeatable performances by black athletes like Cornelius Johnson, Archie Williams, John Woodruff, and Jesse Owens. The gold medals won by these athletes represented a direct challenge to Hitler's claim that none could beat Germany's Aryan athletes.

While the United States attended the 1936 Olympics, we would later boycott the summer games of 1980, hosted by Moscow. Moscow, like other host cities, had been preparing to show off to the world when the USA initiated a boycott against the communist USSR. In the end, 65 nations followed suit, resulting in one of the most politicized Olympics of all time.

Hosting the Olympics is a costly endeavor, one that requires the host city to build new world-class facilities, organize massive ceremonies, and present a good face lest it be judged by the world. Many of the most notable Olympic scandals have arisen from this fact and the tendency of cities to pour money into their Olympic sites while ignoring social problems facing their own cities.

In 1968, Mexico City was filled with protesters just a week before the games began for this very reason. The government sent in soldiers, who opened fire and killed over 200 people. In 2008, the city of Beijing hosted one of the most expensive games of all time, amid intense protests from a neglected citizenry. Rio de Janiero, which hosted the Olympics in 2016, was criticized for building multi-billion dollar facilities amid the poorest slums of the nation. It's a difficult situation. Hosting the games can bring a lot of positive investment into a nation, but also requires a lot of money to do. Even more financially stable cities have struggled with this. Sydney, for example, nearly went bankrupt after hosting the 2000 Olympics.

Beijing extravagant opening ceremony

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