Where are the Olympics held every year?
This post is edited from an episode of the Is That True? Podcast, where host Arionne fact-checks different kid facts and questions. Today’s episode talks about where the Olympics are held and what sports they offer, a topic submitted by Laila.
Arionne: Speaking of the Olympics. Right now, as you’re listening to this, we are in the middle of the Summer Olympics. And that’s something Laila has a fact or two about.
Laila: My name’s Laila. I am 9 years old and I live in Wisconsin.
Did you know that the Olympics are held in different places around the world and new events get added all the time. For example, the 2021 Tokyo Olympics will debut karate, skateboarding, sports climbing, and surfing.
Arionne: Know THIS is a fact I think I know. And, I think that it’s true. But you know what? I try not to rely on what I THINK. INSTEAD, I want to research so that I know!
So first, let’s talk a little bit about the Olympics and what we do know to be true, for sure. Right now, the summer Olympics are happening in Tokyo. They were supposed to be last year, in 2020, but because of COVID-19, the games had to be postponed.
Another thing I know is that the Olympics have a lot of sporting events. But like Laila said, I think that’s changing all of the time.
I also know that there is a summer Olympics and a winter Olympics. But I’m not sure how often everything is.
And, I know that the name Olympics comes from Ancient Olympia, which was the name of a sanctuary in Greece a very looooong time ago. Like, 3,000-something years ago. I looked in an encyclopedia and found out that THAT’s when the first kind of Olympic Games took place. Athletes from different Greek cities would come there and they’d bring gifts for Zeus. Zeus is the god of the sky in ancient Greek mythology. And that’s something I just think is really, really cool to learn.
But, I want to know MORE about today’s Olympics. Especially what Laila said.
Dr. Katherine Mooney: I'm Dr. Katherine Mooney. I am a professor of American history at Florida State University.
Arionne: Wow. And Dr. Mooney, what made you want to study history and then become a history professor?
Dr. Katherine Mooney: So I really always loved history in school. It was my favorite subject. And I know some people are like that.
And then some people are like, oh, I hate history. It's so boring. It's just all a bunch of stuff to memorize. And what I tell people is actually the reason I love history is that I also love gossip and it's like gossip about dead people, which is actually super cool and interesting. So like, so then I discovered it.
Which was super interesting that I could just, you know, find out cool stuff about people for my job. And then I found out that I really, really liked, you know, talking to other people about this stuff and teaching. ‘Cause I just love hanging out with my students and you know, geeking out with them about cool things.
So that's up in the job I have.
Arionne: Wow. Wow. And so of course, right now, as we are talking, the Olympics is happening. So is it true that the Olympics are held in different places around the world and then that new events get added all the time?
Dr. Katherine Mooney: Yes. So, uh, the winter Olympics and the summer Olympics happen in different years.
So every two years you have an Olympic competition. And, uh, so in two years, they'll do the winter sports. And then in four years, they'll do more summer sports. And every time they have a new competition, they add more sports. So this time I think they've added, karate and surfing and skateboarding and a lot of other things.
Arionne: So yes! It IS true that the Olympic Games are held all around the world. And, that by the next Olympic Games, there will be even MORE events for athletes to participate in. And, we know that every two years, we alternate between there being a summer Olympics and a winter Olympics.
So let’s break down the math for a second: That means that the summer games are held every FOUR years and so are the winter games. Technically, the summer games happening right now are the 2020 games. Remember: Things changed because of COVID-19. That means that we’ll have the winter games in 2022 — two years after the summer games were scheduled. And then, in 2024, we’ll have another summer Olympics and in 2026 another winter Olympics. Got it? Great!
Arionne: Wow. Wow. And so how did the Olympics even start?
Dr. Katherine Mooney: So original Olympics are actually like, um, thousands of years as, uh, and they're mostly in like ancient cultures, like Greece. And at that point, it's all men competing against each other in athletic events. And then, you know, a lot of history happens.
And then in the 1890s, so about 130 years, [later] people in Europe decide they want to do the [same]. Cause they think this is a really cool idea. I think that bringing people together to have athletic contest is actually a great way for people to figure out that they have in common and you know, they think maybe they're going to help promote peace.
And so they start this idea of, you know, doing this periodically and we've been doing it ever since.
Arionne: Wow. So we kind of started moving around from place to place kind of early, huh?
Dr. Katherine Mooney: Yeah. So the first, uh, the first games is in Athens, Greece to commemorate the history of the, uh, the ancient. But then very early on, like no city does it twice in a row.
And now there's this really extensive, like multi-year process where cities have to, uh, bid, they compete to hold the games because it's, you know, it's a huge deal and people come from all over the world.
Arionne: So now, so, you know, way more probably about the Olympics than many of us know. So what are some of your favorite things about it?
You have any favorite facts?
Dr. Katherine Mooney: Well, my favorite thing, well, one of my favorite things that actually is to me, kind of unusual and cool is that while the original Olympics is all men, that really from the beginning of this Olympic cycle—so starting in 1900s—the second games in this era, women have competed in the Olympics.
So in this era, women have always been part of the Olympics from the very beginning and they have been medalists. And so I think that's a really cool history that, um, women have always participated and then increasingly more and more folks from all over the world with lots of different experiences have been able to showcase what they do.
So I think that's really the best part of these Olympics.
Arionne: Wow. I love that. And are there any favorite athletes you're paying attention to this year?
Dr. Katherine Mooney: Well, everybody's paying attention to Simone Biles. Yeah, I don't see how you could miss Simone Biles. Um, I know that's really basic, but, uh, you know, I, I just love her.
I love watching her do what she does and I think that, it's gonna be super interesting to see how to reform our idea of what's even possible. Right?
Arionne: Since Dr. Mooney and I talked, Simone Biles withdrew from the team finals because she wasn’t feeling mentally well. Like many of us, she needed some rest. But she is still the most decorated gymnast of all time. That means she has the most all-time medals. And, she still competed in other events. Dr. Mooney explains that Simone’s presence on this world stage means a lot.
Dr. Katherine Mooney: I think historically, like there's a really cool tradition of women of color who have competed in the games and have really showcased their abilities to everybody in the world.
And I think she's a really cool, um, sort of new, you know, somebody who's, who's following in that tradition.
Arionne: Yeah, I think it's so amazing how we get to watch people that we may have normally never known if it were not for the Olympics.
Dr. Katherine Mooney: And sports, right? Like when Leslie Jones does her commentary and she's like, I didn't even know the rules of the sport five minutes ago, but like I'm super into it now.
Arionne: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Especially with all the new events, I'm always learning something new. Um, and that's part of the fun. You don't have to, it doesn't have to be that you've always known something. It's never too late to see.
Dr. Katherine Mooney: And then I think one of the really cool things about the Olympics as well is, and I really, I always urge my students to do this right.
Because we're always encouraged to root for the Americans, But what I think is really cool is that when you don't know the sport, it's actually very easy to find new sports and also find new apps. And learn new things about their country and really be a fan of the athlete and like learn something new, not just about the sport, but about them and about their experience.
And like, I spend a lot of the games looking up stuff on my phone, right. Like, oh, where's that? Ooh, is that, oh, that's cool. You know? And so it's, it's a really cool opportunity to do. Yeah.
Arionne: So if we're at home watching the Olympics with our grownups, what are some things that we should look up?
Like, what are some, what are some ways that we can kind of use our investigation skills or our research skills while we're watching?
Dr. Katherine Mooney: So Wikipedia is a great place to start, right? And you can then start following lots of different [athletes]. Yes. Uh, and one thing I always urge people to do is like, okay, first look up the sport or the athlete.
Sometimes the athlete doesn't have as much information, so sometimes you'll learn more by looking up the sport. But the other thing is sometimes teachers will talk to you a little bit about where the country is, or maybe what's been happening there recently. So. You might think about doing is, you know, going to, um, say, uh, the kids page in the New York times or one of those other, um, trusted sources of news and seeing.
It was about going on there recently, because often I think what happens is, you know, athletes come to the game and they don't, it just want to represent themselves and their sport. They want to represent their nation. And often what they want to do is highlight what's been going on and like what's rich and exciting about their culture.
And so I think if we are, you know, one honor that then definitely look that stuff up because that's, I think, you know, what they want to do in person.
Arionne: Gotcha. So not only are we able to celebrate all of these different sports, we also get to kind of celebrate and learn more about different places around the world, which is not always easy to do.
Dr. Katherine Mooney: No, it's not, especially because you know, there's a lot of stuff going on. Like it's hard to, you know, and this is an opportunity where everybody's in the same place at the same time and particularly small kids. So when you watch the rebroadcast of the opening ceremonies, this is actually a cool thing to do.
Look for the countries where they're only a couple of athletes, right? Because people have [fought] really hard to get to the games because they're from a small country that maybe doesn't have a major sports program. And, you know, those are places that maybe you wouldn't have heard of. So those are sometimes the coolest places to look up.
And that's when you're really going to learn stuff that you wouldn't have learned.
Arionne: And while you’re watching the Olympics, Dr. Mooney says it’s really important to learn to root for people across the world and learn more about them.
Dr. Katherine Mooney: One thing that always really Olympics that I think is cool. And if people want to look it up, they're welcome to do so, but I think that a really cool thing about the Olympics is that it's been a place where people have shown the world what they can do. Even when people get underestimated or they may have to struggle against something.
So one of the most famous Olympic stories for instance is about Jesse Owens, who was an American, an African-American runner for the United States in 1936, when they held the Olympics in Berlin and Hitler had already come to power in Berlin and, you know, World War II was coming.
And so it was a really big deal for African-American athletes to compete in a country where people of color and Jewish people and people who were different could actually succeed. And he was a multi gold medal winner at that time.
And the thing that is really amazing, and you can actually look this up. We have footage of it on YouTube that you can watch, you can watch him and his races, and you can also watch the entire crowd chanting for him. And if you know something about of the United States, you know, that it wasn't necessarily automatic for American fans to support African American athlete in the 1930s.
But the Olympics gave them that moment where he represented them. That he was not only racing for himself and for the United States, but also to show the world that people who perhaps look different or come from a different place or having a different experience can still be the best in the world at something.
And that everybody should be able to celebrate that together.