When French historian Pierre de Coubertin first founded the modern Olympic Games and the International Olympic Committee in 1894, he envisioned the Games as an event for fostering understanding among nations through friendly sports competitions. More than a hundred years and 29 Sumer Games later, the Summer Olympics has grown into a massive international event. To be chosen as a host city for the Games is not only to earn global prestige but also to experience a growth spurt in the host country’s economy.
Twenty-three cities have played host to the Summer Olympics since its first iteration in 1846. So far, however, only the following six cities hold the distinction of hosting the Games at least twice.
The ancient Olympics were held in Greece, as the Greeks’ way of honoring the gods residing in Mt. Olympus. Given the Games’ Greek origins, it was only fitting that the first modern Olympic Games should be held in its country of origin. So Athens took the honor of being the first city to host the modern Games in 1896.
The 1896 Summer Olympics in Athens was a tiny affair compared to the event it is today. Only 14 countries were represented, and only 241 athletes participated. Still, the inaugural Games were considered a huge success at the time because it was the first time so many countries took part in an international event.
Of the 241 participating athletes, more than 200 were Greek. So it comes as no surprise that Greece earned the most number of medals that year. However, the United States took home 11 gold medals that year. This started the trend of the US raking in the most number of gold medals every time the Olympics comes around.
Athens tried to reclaim the glory of being the host of the inaugural Games by bidding for the 1996 Centennial Summer Olympic Games. However, due to the bid’s lack of organization and play on sentiment, Athens lost the bid to Atlanta instead. The Greek capital learned from its mistake and successfully won the right to host the 2004 Games. The Olympics that year was laden with nostalgia, from the “Welcome Home” motto to the ceremonies’ ancient Hellenic themes. It was also the first time that all IOC-member countries sent representative athletes.
Athens’ main gateway is the Athens International Airport (ATH). ATH is one of the busiest airports in Europe, handling around 15 million passengers a year. Inaugurated in 2001, ATH is one of the major infrastructure investments Greece made in preparation for the 2004 Games.
Pierre de Coubertin had wanted his hometown Paris to host the Summer Olympics. He got his wish in 1900, when the Games were held as part of the 1900 World’s Fair. In this iteration of the Games, 997 athletes from 24 countries participated. The 1900 Olympics is a landmark event in that it was the first one that allowed female athletes to compete. Two women won a medal that year: Helene de Pourtales in 1-2 ton sailing team event, and Charlotte Cooper in the women’s singles tennis competition.
The Summer Olympics returned to Paris in 1924. This event was a year of firsts for the Olympics. For one, it was the first time that an Olympic Village was built to accommodate participating athletes. The official Olympic motto, “Citius, Altius, Fortius” (“Faster, Higher, Stronger”) was also adopted for the first time that year. The 100-meter and 400-meter running competitions were immortalized in the film Chariots of Fire. It was also the year when Johnny Weissmuller won three gold medals in swimming. Weissmuller later became an actor known for his iconic role as Tarzan.
Paris is served by the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG). CDG is Europe’s second-busiest airport. In 2016, CDG handled nearly 66 million passengers and almost half a million flights.
London, United Kingdom
(1908, 1948, 2012)
London holds the distinction of being the only city to have hosted the Summer Olympics thrice: 1908, 1948, and 2012.
Rome was actually the city chosen by the International Olympic Committee in 1908. However, the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 1906 meant holding the Games in Italy would be impossible. Thus, the Games were moved to London, IOC’s second choice. The 1908 London Summer Olympics is considered to be the longest in the history of the Games. It lasted a total of six months and four days. Some 2,000 athletes representing 22 countries participated. In the 1908 Games, Sweden’s Oscar Swahn set the record for being the oldest Olympian to win the gold medal. Another record-holder was John Taylor, the first African-American to compete in the games.
The 1948 London Summer Olympics was a significant event in the Games’ history. The Games returned to the world stage after the Second World War forced it into hiatus. It was also dubbed “The Austerity Games” because London was still recovering from the war and, thus, did not have funds to build an Olympic Village or new stadiums for the Games. Former Axis powers Germany and Japan were not allowed to send representative athletes. USSR, on the other hand, chose not to send any participants to the Games.
If the 1948 Summer Olympics was marked with austerity, the return of the Games to London in 2012 was a jubilee. The 2012 London Summer Olympics is considered to be one of the most successful Olympics ever, highly praised for its efficiency and organization, the sustainable design of its sporting venues, and its star-studded ceremonies. It was during the 2012 Games that American swimmer Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian of all time. The 2012 Summer Olympics was also the first ever to have women participating in every competition.
The City of London has the busiest airport hub in the world. There are six international airports serving London. The largest and the one that sees the most air traffic is Heathrow Airport. The other five airports are: Gatwick, London City, Luton, Southend, and Stansted.
(1912, co-host 1956)
Stockholm won the bid for its first Olympic hosting gig in 1912 by default; it was the only city to have submitted a bid to the IOC for that year. Even so, Pierre de Coubertin pushed Sweden to ensure that the 1912 Summer Olympics will truly take place. He didn’t want a repeat of the 1908 Summer Olympics, where Rome had to pull out because of the Mt. Vesuvius eruption and, thus, forcing IOC to move the venue to London. Participating athletes numbered 2,406, representing 28 countries. The 1912 Stockholm Olympics was the first to hold the decathlon and pentathlon events, as well as the women’s diving and women’s swimming events. The debut of the Japanese Olympic team marked the first time an Asian country was represented in the Games.
Stockholm was not the official host city of the 1956 Summer Olympics. That honor belonged to Melbourne in Australia. The Swedish capital, however, served as the venue for that year’s equestrian events.
Four airports serve Stockholm: Stockholm-Arlanda (ARN), Stockholm-Bromma (BMA), Stockholm Skavsta (NYO), and Stockholm Vasteras (VST). Of these four, the Stockholm-Arlanda is the largest and busiest, processing more than 20 million passengers a year.
Berlin won the bid to host the Summer Olympics twice, but the Games took place in that city only once. Both of these events were marked by the World Wars.
When Stockholm was awarded the hosting duties for the 1912 Summer Olympics, it was with the understanding that Berlin will be the host city for the next one in 1916. Preparations for the Games went underway in Berlin, including the construction of the Deutsches Stadion as the main venue. The blueprint for the first Winter Olympics was to be unveiled that year. However, the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 made Berlin cancel the event.
The 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics, on the other hand, ended up becoming a global propaganda machine for the Nazi regime. It was the first Olympics to be televised and broadcast on the radio. Adolf Hitler spared no expense in building new stadiums for the Games, including the 100,000-seat Olympiastadion. Genius filmmaker and Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl produced the masterpiece Olympia for the Games. The 1936 Olympics was the last to be held before the Second World War. It will take 12 years before the Olympics would return to the world stage.
Berlin currently has two international gateways: Tegel Airport (TXL) and Schonefeld Airport (SXF). These two airports will soon be integrated and replaced by the Berlin Brandenburg Airport, which is currently under construction and scheduled to open in 2017.
Los Angeles, United States
Los Angeles landed the hosting duties for the 1932 Summer Olympics by default because no other city bid for it. The world was gripped by the Great Depression at the time, and so few countries could afford to send athletes to the Games, much less host it. As thus, the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics holds the record of having the lowest attendance since 1904. Only 1,332 athletes from 37 countries made it to California for the Games. Despite its low participation rate, Los Angeles gained praise for the expansion of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, renamed Olympic Stadium for the event. This year also marked the debut of Columbia and China to the Olympics.
Once again, Los Angeles won its bid by default for the 1984 Summer Olympics. This time, political strife rather than economic hardship was the cause. The tensions between Israel and Palestine, as well as between the United States and the Soviet Union left IOC member countries with little taste for celebrating international friendship through sports. Los Angeles and Tehran were the only cities to come up with a bid for the Games. However, the Iranian Revolution happened, and the new regime in Iran forced Tehran to back out of the bidding.
Politics largely colored the 1984 Summer Olympics as well. The United States had boycotted the previous Games in Moscow. Thus, the USSR and the other countries belonging to the then-Eastern Bloc returned the favor when the Games came to Los Angeles. Nonetheless, Los Angeles saw 6,829 athletes from 140 countries competing for the Games.
The Games that year was both a spectacle for the arts as much as it is for athletics. Many popular musicians and artists participated in the ceremonies surrounding the Games. Additionally, the composition “Olympic Fanfare and Theme” was created as the theme music for the 1984 Summer Olympics. The piece won a Grammy Award, and to date it is considered one of the most memorable Olympic themes ever composed.
The Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is the main international gateway serving Los Angeles. Handling nearly 75 million travelers in 2015, LAX is the third busiest airport in the United States and the sixth busiest in the world.
Tokyo will join the list of elite cities to host the Summer Olympics at least twice in 2020. Japan’s capital city triumphed over competing bids from Madrid and Istanbul. Around 12,000 athletes from 207 nations are expected to attend the 2020 Olympics. The Japanese government has allotted around US$4 billion to upgrade Tokyo’s transport system and infrastructure to accommodate the Games. The iconic National Stadium, the main venue for the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics, was torn down and is currently being rebuilt into a more modern design.
The 1964 Summer Olympics was the first time the Games was held in Tokyo, but it was not the first time Tokyo won its Olympic bid. The IOC awarded what should have been the 1940 Summer Olympics to Tokyo. However, Japan’s invasion of China got Tokyo disqualified; the Games was eventually cancelled that year due to World War II.
The Tokyo Olympics of 1964 was the first time the Summer Olympics was held in Asia. It was also the first Olympic Games to be telecast internationally via satellite. Moreover, some of these telecasts were broadcast in color, another first for the Olympics. More than 5,000 athletes from 93 countries participated that year.
Travelers can enter Tokyo via two gateways: the Tokyo Narita Airport (NRT) and the Tokyo Haneda Airport (HND). Though both are international and commercial airports, Narita is the main gateway and handles more than half of Tokyo’s air traffic.
The Summer Olympics is a massive undertaking that only a few cities across the globe can manage. But wherever the Summer Olympics is held, it is sure to be a spectacle, not just of athleticism but also of pageantry, politics, and color.