The 2012 London Olympics are off and running!
As I was taking in the opening ceremonies last night, I got to thinking about the American cities that have hosted summer Olympic games. So here’s a little recap and a few highlights from the four times the U.S. has played host to the summer games!
St. Louis – 1904
Now sometimes St. Louis gets left off the list of cities that have hosted the Olympics because the games back then were quite different from what is known as the “modern Olympic games.” For starters, the 1904 Olympics lasted four months! And they took place as sort of a concurrent event to the World’s Fair, which was already going on in St. Louis. (That was a big year for the Gateway City!) In fact, Chicago originally won the bid for the 1904 games, but it was decided having two international events in two U.S. cities at the same time was too much, so St. Louis was chosen to play host to both.
The majority of the events took place at Francis Field, part of my alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis. (Go Bears!) Athletes competed in 16 sports, and among those you might expect (swimming, gymnastics, tennis), there were also competitions in tug of war and roque (an American version of croquet, played on a smooth surface.)
Highlights of the 1904 Games
- Boxing made its debut as an Olympic sport
- Frank Kugler won 4 medals in three different sports (freestyle wrestling, weightlifting and tug of war)
- Basketball was played as a demonstration sport
- An exhausted marathoner caught a ride with his manager, but when the car broke down, he ran the rest of the way back to the stadium, making the crowd think he had won the race. (Officials eventually figured it out.)
- Another marathoner ran in street clothes, stopped off for a snack, took a nap and still ended up in 4th place.
Read more about the strange-but-true stories of the 1904 Olympic Games.
Los Angeles – 1932
With the Great Depression going on, Los Angeles was the single city to put in a bid for the X Olympiad. In addition to medals for sporting events, medals were also awarded for art in five categories: architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpture, a common practice in the ancient and early modern Olympic games. (Read When the Olympics Gave Out Medals for Art.) Watch part of the opening ceremony:
The hurting economy may have kept many athletes at home, but the first games to be held in the City of Angeles did bring about some memorable Olympic firsts:
- First Olympic Village was built. (Only men were housed in the Baldwin Hills complex. The female athletes stayed in a hotel.)
- First use of a victory podium
- First (and only time) the 3,000 m steeplechase went for 3,460 m – that’s one extra lap, due to an officiating error
- Japan won its first (and only to this day) gold medal in an equestrian event
- First Olympic appearance by China and Columbia
Los Angeles – 1984
L.A. got the games again for the XXIII Olympiad. This time the economy didn’t keep athletes away, but in response to the 1980 American-led boycott of the Summer Games in Moscow, 14 countries boycotted the 1984 games. And though medals for arts were no longer awarded, Los Angeles hosted at the 10-week Olympic Arts Festival.
Highlights of the 1984 Olympics
- Runner Carl Lewis made his first Olympic appearance and won four gold medals, matching Jesse Owens’ 1936 total
- Synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics debuted
- Mary Lou Retton’s dramatic vault performance made her the first non-Eastern European woman to win the gymnastic all-around
- And perhaps one of the favorite moments from the 1984 games was not about sport at all:
And a jet pack made an appearance at the the 2012 Olympics, too!
Atlanta – 1996
Atlanta beat out several cities to win the bid, including the sentimental favorite, Athens, since these games marked the centennial since Pierre de Coubertin’s efforts to revive the games prevailed in Athens in 1896.
A record number of countries (197) participated in the XXVI Olympiad held in Atlanta, Georgia, and many were making their Olympic debut. A number of those debuts were countries formerly part of the U.S.S.R.
Highlights of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics
- Beach volleyball, mountain biking, women’s soccer, softball and lightweight rowing all debuted
- Michael Johnson set a new world record in the 200 m sprint
- Carl Lewis made his 4th Olympic appearance and won his 4th long jump gold medal
- And I remember watching Kerri Strug limp through her second vault to ensure the U.S. gymnastics team won the team gold
But enough about those Olympics of years’ past, let’s get some gold in London: Go Team USA!