With the Rio Summer Olympics about to kick off this week, we thought we’d test reader’s Olympic trivia chops with some fun facts. Some of these may surprise you.
1. What is the significance of the Olympic ring colors?
Most people know that the rings symbolize five continents of the world and the sense of community of countries meeting from all around the globe. But did you know that every national flag of the world has at least one of the ring colors: blue, black, green, yellow, and red.
2. America’s first female Olympic champion has a rather strange story attached to her win. What did golfer Margaret Abbott not know about her victory?
In 1900, 22-year-old American Margaret Abbott was studying art under Degas and Rodin in Paris. One day, she saw an advertisement for a golf tournament and decided to enter. After shooting a 47 on the nine-hole course, she won the tournament and took home a porcelain bowl. What Abbott didn’t know at all was that the tournament she had entered was part of the ramshackle and poorly organized Paris Games, and she had just become the first American woman to win an Olympic event.
3. Are gold medals actually made of solid gold?
Sorry to burst your bubble, but no. The medals are constructed of a silver alloy. It wasn’t always that way. The last time solid gold medals were issued was 1912.
4. The Games are historically a celebration of international goodwill. Have there ever been any boycotts or cancellations?
The modern Olympic Games have not always had total participation. Both WWI and WWII caused cancellations of the Games. In addition, the Cold War cast a pall over some more recent Games. The United States led a boycott of the 1980 Games in Moscow that included 65 countries. Four years later, the USSR boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics in retaliation along with 14 other Eastern Bloc countries.
5. Are there any countries that have had participants in all of the modern Games?
Australia, France, Great Britain, Greece, and Switzerland have participated in every Olympics.
6. Were there ever any other competitions in the Olympics? What if you’re not really into sports?
Beginning with the 1912 Stockholm Games, gold, silver, and bronze medals were awarded in painting, sculpture, architecture, literature, and music. Works entered in the juried competitions were required to be original pieces “inspired by” sports. This tradition endured for more than 30 years, but following the 1948 London Games, artists were deemed to be professionals who violated the amateur ideals of the Olympics and were thereafter relegated to the present-day Cultural Olympiad.
7. What traditional “camp” and “family bragging rights” competition was actually an Olympic sport until 1920?
8. What country was allowed to circumvent U.S. Prohibition laws?
French athletes bent the rules at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. Despite the laws of the day, but commensurate with their cultural standing in the wine world, they were permitted to imbibe with their meals.
9. Why is the modern marathon the rather odd length of 26.2 miles (instead of the historically accurate 25 miles)?
In 1908, Queen Alexandra of Great Britain demanded (rather whimsically, it should be said) that the marathon should end below the Royal Box at London’s White City Stadium, which added the extra 385 yards. Precedent was set.
10. Which Olympic Games began the torch relay?
The 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin began the tradition of the modern torch relay, whereby the lit torch travels from Olympia, Greece, to the Opening Ceremony of the host city, where it remains lit for the duration of the Games.
Very interesting Olympic facts, right? So what competitions will you be watching this month? We’d love to hear from you. You can also read our definitive Quick Guide to Rio de Janeiro if you’re lucky enough to be attending the Games. Happy travels!