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Unique facts about the Olympic Games

The 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris will attract spectators from all corners of the globe. Whether fans are in the City of Light for the competitions or watching at home, there will be plenty of awe-inspiring athleticism on display in Paris this summer.

Organizers of the 2024 Summer Games are promising a bold opening ceremony on July 26, and between now and then fans who can’t wait for the Games to commence can consider these unique facts about this time-honored and beloved tradition.

It’s an understatement to say the Olympic games have a lengthy history. Historians believe the first Olympic Games were held in Olympia, Greece, in the eighth century B.C. However, those ancient competitions likely shared little in common with the modern Games, which traces to Athens, Greece, in 1896.

The competitions that began in the eighth century B.C. were banned in the fourth century A.D. So when American James Connolly won the triple jump competition in 1896, he became the first Olympic champion in more than 1,500 years.

In hindsight, it’s perhaps fitting that an American athlete became the first modern Olympic champion, as the most decorated athlete in the history of the modern games is an American as well. Swimmer Michael Phelps holds the distinction of winning the most medals of any Olympic athlete, and he even won the first medal of his storied Olympic career in Athens in 2004. Phelps competed in the Olympics in 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016, winning 28 medals, including 23 golds, across those competitions. Gymnast Larisa Latynina, who competed for the Soviet Union, is second on the all-time medals list with 18.

Though millions look forward to the Olympics every four years, there have been times since 1896 when the Games were scheduled to take place but did not. The 1916 Olympic Games were not played due to World War I, and the 1940 and 1944 Games did not occur because of World War II. The 2020 Games in Tokyo were delayed a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a database created by members of the International Society of Olympic Historians, the United States has won more Olympic medals than any other country. As of the winter 2022 Beijing Olympics, the U.S. claimed 3,105 medals, including 1,229 golds. In fact, the Americans have more gold medals than any other country has total medals, as Germany, the country with the second most medals, has won 1,211 overall.

The Guinness Book of World Records cites the summer Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 as the most watched competition in the history of the Games. Perhaps in part due to Phelps’ historic effort during the Beijing Games, at which he won a record-setting eight gold medals, 4.7 billion people tuned in to watch the Games in 2008.