Although the Olympics remain something of a constant, having only been
canceled three times — all on account of world wars, things at the Games have changed since the first modern Olympics was held in Athens in 1896. Events have been added, athletic wear has evolved, and opening and closing ceremonies have become significantly more elaborate. Take a trip through the last 27 Olympic Games to see what the Olympics looked like the year you were born — if you’re lucky enough to have been born during an Olympic year, that is.
The Olympics are, without a doubt, steeped in history. According to Penn Museum, the
original Olympic Games were first held in ancient Greece from 776 B.C. through to 393 A.D. as part of a religious festival organized in honor of the Greek God Zeus. Centuries later, Baron Pierre de Coubertin would propose reviving the ancient games, this time as an international competition.
first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896 in Athens as a nod to the Games’ origin. It drew hundreds of all-male athletes from 13 nations and included more than 40 events spread across track-and-field, swimming, gymnastics, cycling, wrestling, weightlifting, fencing, shooting, and tennis, according to History.com. Female athletes joined the competition in 1900.
From a torch relay run through Nazi-occupied Germany in 1936 to a heartwarming display of sportsmanship in 2014, the Olympics are full of memorable and iconic moments. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to sum them up with just one photo. So instead, consider these simply a peek at the thrilling international athletic contests held around the globe every few years.
1932 Summer Olympics FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Early Olympic opening ceremonies, such as the one seen here for the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California, were much more subdued affairs compared to the highly-produced spectacles put on today.
1936 Olympics Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
A runner carries the Olympic torch through the streets of 1936 Olympic host city Berlin to kick off an Olympic Games hosted by Nazi Germany. Although many countries, including the United States, discussed
boycotting the Olympics due to the Nazi Party, 49 countries ultimately participated. 1948 Olympics Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
British gymnast Cissie Davies balances on one leg during a balance beam event as part of the competition at the 1948 London Olympic Games.
1952 Olympics Bettmann/Bettmann/Getty Images
Catherine Hardy, Barbara Jones, Mae Faggs, and Janet Moreau — all members of the U.S. Women’s 400-meter relay team — celebrate together after
winning their track and field event with a then-world record time of 45.9 seconds at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. 1956 Olympics Bettmann/Bettmann/Getty Images
One of the most talked-about moments of the 1956 Olympics, which took place just days after the Soviet invasion of Hungary, was
a heated water polo match between the two countries. According to the BBC, the game quickly turned violent, with players using fists, elbows, and feet against each other. When Hungarian player Ervin Zador climbed out of the pool with blood streaming down his face, police were called in to help restore order as the crowd became increasingly hostile toward the Soviets. The match was called 4-0 for Hungary, which went on to win the gold medal. 1960 Olympics Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Cassius Clay, now known as Muhammad Ali, received the Olympic gold medal for light-heavyweight boxing at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. He is seen here standing between Poland’s Zbigniew Pietrzykowski on his right and Italy’s Giulio Saraudi and Australia’s Anthony Madigan on his left. Zbigniew took home the silver medal while Saraudi and Madigan tied for bronze.
1964 Olympics Bettmann/Bettmann/Getty Images
Talk about DIY creative effects. Skywriters traced five interlocking rings, a symbol
designed by Pierre de Coubertin in 1913 to represent the Olympics, above Tokyo’s National Stadium during opening ceremonies for the 1964 Games. 1968 Olympics NCAA Photos/NCAA Photos/Getty Images
One of the most iconic moments of the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City came when U.S. track and field athletes Tommy Smith and John Carlos raised black-gloved fists in a Black Power Salute as the Star-Spangled Banner played during their medal ceremony. According to History.com, the men sought to use the platform to show
solidarity with oppressed Black people around the world. 1972 Olympics Protesters demonstrated at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich after an armed group known as Black September stormed the Olympic Village, killing two Israeli athletes and taking nine more as hostages. The group demanded Israel release some 230 Arab prisoners in exchange for the athletes’ freedom. A shootout at Munich’s airport, however, ended with the nine Israeli athlete hostages being killed alongside five Black September members and one German police officer. While the Games were stopped completely, History reported events were suspended for 24 hours in order to hold memorial services for the killed Israeli athletes. 1976 Olympics Getty Images/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images 1980 Olympics Performers form a human tower as part of the opening ceremony at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, the capital city of what was then the Soviet Union. Jerry Cooke/Corbis Historical/Getty Images 1984 Olympics Steve Powell/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Space-age technology was put front and center at the 1984 Olympic Games’ opening ceremony in Los Angeles, California when a performer flew around the stadium wearing a jet pack made by Bell Aerosystems.
1988 Olympics GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images
Jamaica made its bobsled debut at the 1988 Winter Olympics. Above, pilot Dudley Stokes leaps into his team’s bobsleigh as teammates Devon Harris, Michael White, and Chris Stokes push off from the starting line at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary.
Michael Jordan prepares to score against Croatia in the final match of the Men’s Basketball event at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Nicknamed “the Dream Team,” the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team featured multiple NBA players, including Jordan, Magic Johson, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Larry Bird, and more. The team became instant favorites with both U.S. and international spectators and easily took home the gold medal.
1994 Winter Olympics Boston Globe/Boston Globe/Getty Images
The 1994 Olympics had to be awkward for U.S. figure skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. Six weeks before the Olympics, a hired hitman named Shane Stant struck Kerrigan in the right leg with a baton as she exited the ice at Cobo Arena in Michigan. At the time, rumors swirled about Harding’s alleged involvement, but no evidence had come to light to prevent her from competing at the Olympics. Kerrigan healed in time to also compete at the 1994 Olympics, where she and Harding had to share the ice for practice sessions. According to Biography,
Harding purposefully practiced in the exact same outfit she’d been wearing at the time of her attack. Although neither won gold — that went to Ukrainian skater Oksana Baiul — Kerrigan skated her way to a silver medal while Harding placed eighth and later plead guilty to being involved in Kerrigan's attack. 1996 Summer Olympics Doug Pensinger/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
American gymnast Kerri Strug competes on the balance beam at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. Strug is lauded for competing through the pain of a sprained ankle and torn ligaments after landing awkwardly on her first vault attempt to secure the U.S. women’s gymnastics team its first-ever all-around Olympic gold medal.
1998 Winter Olympics Tony Marshall - EMPICS/PA Images/Getty Images
Snowboarding made its Olympic debut at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. Above, Yuri Yoshikawa of Japan competes in the Snowboarding Women's Halfpipe.
2000 Summer Olympics Inpho Photography/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
Eric Moussambani of Equatorial Guinea set a different sort of world record at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000. After both of his competitors in the men’s 100-meter freestyle heat were disqualified for false starts, Moussambani swam his way to victory with
the slowest time ever recorded for that distance. 2002 Winter Olympics GEORGE FREY/AFP/Getty Images
The 2002 Winter Olympics were held in Salt Lake City, Utah, less than six months after the attacks of September 11, 2001. During the Games’ opening ceremony, a torn and tattered flag that had hung at the World Trade Center in New York on the day of the attack was presented to U.S. President George W. Bush as he stood alongside International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge and Salt Lake Organizing Committee President Mitt Romney.
2004 Summer Olympics Allen Kee/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
While men’s individual foil and sabre fencing events have been a part of the Olympic Games since 1896,
women’s individual sabre didn’t make its debut until the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. (Women’s individual foil became an Olympic event in 1924.) Above, Mariel Zagunis of the United States defeats China’s Xue Tan to win gold. 2006 Winter Olympics GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. speedskater Shani Davis became
the first Black athlete to win gold in an individual event at a Winter Olympics when he bested Canada’s Jeremy Wotherspoon in the men’s 1,000-meter speed skating event at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin. 2008 Summer Olympics NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images Jamaica’s Usain Bolt crossed the finish line well ahead of his competitors during the men’s 100-meter final at the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, setting a new world record of 9.69 seconds. It was the third world record Bolt would break at the Games. The sprinter would also set new records in the 200 meter and 4x100-meter events. 2010 Winter Olympics Jasper Juinen/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
When Canada hosted the 2010 Winter Games, Olympic organizers partnered with many of the country’s First Nations. Along with naming four indigenous groups from around Vancouver as co-hosts, the games also featured indigenous and aboriginal performers during the Games’ opening ceremony at BC Place Stadium.
2012 Summer Olympics Jamie McDonald - FIFA/FIFA/Getty Images
At the 2012 Summer Games in London, Alex Morgan of the United States used her head to score the winning goal in the final minutes of overtime during the women’s football semi-final match against Canada. Morgan’s headshot was a thrilling end to an already heated match and cemented the United States’ place in the Games’ gold medal match against Japan. The U.S. women’s soccer team would go on to defeat Japan and claim their third consecutive Olympic gold medal.
2014 Winter Olympics ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images
Although stories of athletic prowess and thrilling victories tend to dominate most Olympics, the individual men’s cross-country skiing free sprint semi-finals at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi generated an iconic story of sportsmanship after Russia’s Anton Gafarov crashed twice, breaking a ski and tangling part of it around his ankle. Determined to at least finish, Gafarov was slowly dragging himself along the course when Canadian coach Justin Wadsworth ran onto the course with one of his own athlete’s spare skis. According to
the Toronto Star, Wadsworth replaced Gafarov’s broken ski, enabling him to ski across the finish line. “I wanted him to have dignity as he crossed the finish line,” Wadsworth told the paper. 2016 Summer Olympics Jean Catuffe/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
Dubbed the “Final Five,” Lauren Hernandez, Madison Kocian, Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, and Gabby Douglas celebrate their gold medal victory in the artistic gymnastics team event at the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro.
2018 Winter Olympics Richard Heathcote/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
Curling proved an unexpectedly thrilling event for the United States at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea. (
Even Mr. T tuned in to watch.) After a disappointing start early in the Games, the United States men’s team managed a comeback, defeating Canada in the semi-finals and then Sweden in the finals to win the country’s first gold medal in curling.