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Olympic Games in Paris 1900 to 2024

The complete history of Olympic games in Paris from 1900 to 2024

As the Olympic Games in Paris approaches, the city is coming alive. There is nothing quite like the energy that these prestigious games inspire in us.

Every two years, the world gathers for this triumphant display of incredible athletics and global togetherness. It shows us how small our differences really are while celebrating physical greatness.

The Gold Medalists can go on to become enormous celebrities in their home country and abroad, and the storylines coming out of the event are always big news. It’s exciting to think that, in just a short time, the world’s attention will be here in my home town of Paris.

Paris city hall - Science statue next to the Olympic Games symbol

With so many families of athletes and their supporters arriving, I look forward to giving them professional, guided tours of this amazing place.

For that reason, I thought I’d set aside some space on my blog to celebrate the history of the Olympics and the role of Paris in it.

And if you are coming for the 2024 Olympic Games, reach out to me today. We can begin building your perfect Paris tour!

History of the Olympics

Today, we know the Olympic Games as a massive international event that generates a huge level of interest across the world and nets hundreds of millions of dollars.

While many people know that these modern Olympic Games are a spiritual successor to an ancient Greek counterpart, the actual history of these are a fascinating look into the long history of sports in Europe.

Ancient Greece

The first Olympic games were held in 776 BCE — thousands of years before the modern iteration.

While today the Olympics are all about a diversity of athletic competitions, the original games had only a single footrace. The athletes came from city-states across Greece, representing their homelands for the honor of victory.

The race took place on a simple, straightforward track that ran the length of one Greek “stadion” (about 176 meters or 192 yards).

Fun fact: the term “stadion” became the Latin “stadium,” which became the name we give to the massive facilities that still house the Olympics today.

As the games gained popularity in ancient Greece, more footrace variants were added. Some were made to be much longer, while others required competitors to don full suits of armor.

The experimentation continued, with still more games added. First came the pentathlon — featuring a long jump, discus throw, javelin toss, wrestling, and footrace. Horse races and boxing matches were also added.

The pentathlon was first documented in Ancient Greece, and included the discus and javelin throw
Penthalon Athletes

The popularity of the event spread throughout Greece, and it became an important entertainment spectacle as well as a huge religious ceremony with tributes to Zeus playing a key part (the highest religious officials were even the ones who crowned winners).

It served as a way to culturally unify Greece, even as its many kingdoms and city-states were at war. Through the sheer joy and fairness of open athletic competition, the people were able to gather in peace in a way nothing else allowed them to do.

As we would see thousands of years later, that tendency for the Olympic games to promote mutual respect among countries is one of its most important legacies.

That’s not to say that the ancient Greek competitors were very peaceful among each other. Often, the events led to deaths, especially in combat sport events.

This tendency for violence increased in the mid 2nd century BCE when the Romans conquered Greece and began running the Olympics themselves. They brought many innovations which increased the blood shed during the games, only fueling the popularity further.

engraving of wood representing Massacre in the Hippodrome of Thessaloniki 390AD (1)
Massacre in the Hippodrome of Thessaloniki 390 AD

The ancient games finally came to an end in 393 CE when Emperor Theodosius I of Rome converted the empire to Christianity. Part of that change was the cessation of all pagan religious ceremonies, which included the Olympic Games.

Modern painting of Olympic games by Basquiat at Louis Vuitton Foundation
Olympic games by Basquiat at Louis Vuitton Foundation

The Modern Olympics

For more than a thousand years, the Olympics remained a dormant though much storied phenomenon of the ancient world. But beginning in the 17th century, promoters of sporting events began reviving the term “Olympics.”

In England and later Revolutionary France, people tried to bring back the games, but nothing really stuck.

England did finally begin a lasting sports competition called the Wenlock Olympian Society, which featured amateurs from around the world.

Greece became interested again in the games shortly after their War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1821. 1859 saw the Olympic Games appear in Athens, and the games returned in 1870 and 1875.

It is with this background that the modern Olympics emerged. Baron Pierre de Coubertin — a French historian and educator — combined the ideas of the Wenlock Olympian Society with the Greek revival of the games. It is with this inspiration that he founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1894. Their first Olympic Congress happened right here in Paris.

The IOC decided on an international competition that would be held every four years, beginning in Athens in 1896.

This inaugural event welcomed 241 athletes from 14 countries in 43 different events. The public interest was enormous, and enthusiasm among stakeholders was high. In 1900, the second Olympics happened in Paris.

Unfortunately, later events failed to live up to the success of the first games. But the IOC adjusted their tactics, ensuring that many countries were represented and cheating was eliminated (during the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, a marathon winner was photographed riding in a car for some of the race’s length).

In 1924, with the Olympics back in Paris, the first Winter Games were held. These were hosted in the same year as their summer counterpart until 1994, when they were separated by two years.

Over the course of the 20th century, the Olympics grew to be a highly anticipated global craze. The number of participating countries, athletes, and competitions continued to grow, and the festival atmosphere surrounding the games did as well.

Since beginning in 1896, there have only been three cancellations — 1916, 1940, and 1944, all due to war. And while the Cold War led to two years having large boycotts (1980 and 1984), for the most part the Olympics have represented a rare time where countries put aside their differences.

The Olympics in Paris

Over the course of its history, the Olympics have come to Paris twice. And 2024 is its triumphant return to the city that served as the birthplace of the IOC.

1900 Olympics

The second Olympic games came to Paris in 1900, part of the Exposition Universelle (or Paris Exposition). The Exposition was an enormous success, bringing in 50 million visitors from April to November of that year.

The Olympics took advantage of this major event taking place in the beloved Belle Époque — a period of peace from the 1870s until the start of World War I in 1914. It was during this era that Paris flourished more than any other European city. Artists and writers made numerous advances in creative works, while scientists innovated rapidly. In this time of optimism and prosperity, Paris shined like a beacon of hope to the world.

The Exposition featured incredible marvels like an electric car, a moving sidewalk, sound films, magnetic tape audio recorders, among many others. It also helped popularize the Art Nouveau style and further cemented Paris as the city of the future.

The Olympics, however, were a bit of an afterthought, though they did present some important firsts. This includes the first ever women competitors at the Olympics.

Altogether, 1226 athletes from 26 nations competed across 95 events.

1924 Olympics

This eighth Olympiad was the final one overseen by Pierre de Coubertin, who spearheaded the creation of the IOC. It was a fitting way to end his career, with the games returning to his hometown of Paris.

The event was incredibly well attended, with audiences swelling to 60,000 most days. Over 126 events, 3089 athletes from 44 nations competed. The games were dominated by the Americans, who won the most gold medals and overall medals — despite only fielding 229 athletes (for comparison, France fielded 401).

2024 Paris Olympic Games

100 years after its last Olympic Games, Paris will again host. That will make it only the second city to ever host three times (the first being London). Part of this legacy will be celebrated with the inclusion of Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir as a venue, which was used in the 1924 games.

The Olympics — and all the athletes, supporters, and spectators who will come to enjoy the event — will find Paris still a gem of the world. The city is fully modern, yet it preserves its long history.

The reduction of car usage means the city is easy to walk around and explore, which is a must when there are so many amazing museums and restaurants to visit!

All of Paris is full of anticipation, ready to welcome these visitors and show them the wonders waiting for them in these streets.

If you are coming for the 2024 Olympics, you should take full advantage of this incredible tour in the Louvre and Orsay about the Olympic games in Art History

Find the Paris tour of your dreams with me and my team of private tour guides in Paris. I’ve been introducing people to this city for a decade, and I’d love to show you around.


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