Fifty Fascinating Facts about the Olympics – Pt. 1

Fifty Facts about the Olympics … surprising, weird, amazing

The Olympic Games

The Olympic Games are a wonderful display of the most incredible athletic prowess on the planet. And even among the many fascinating facts concerning the Olympics, there are some that are particularly mind-boggling and stand out as really something special … and some that are frankly, well … just a bit strange.

Here’s a list of fifty of the most fascinating facts about the Olympics, and as well as them being interesting in their own right, they present a straightforward memory exercise. Can you read them, visualise the events that they describe, and memorise the entire list? Not in double quick time, or even at one reading, that’s not what’s required. But can you at least memorise them all, even if it takes a while? It shouldn’t be too difficult, since the facts themselves are so interesting, and the events they involve are sometimes so unusual.

Memorising Olympic facts

You can easily enough visualise each of the facts, imagining the details in exaggerated form (as is usual, if you’re trying to memorise things), and using various memory techniques to link each fact (and each detail of it) to its number in the list, the year of the Games, the host city, and anything else that’s relevant. Some of the facts will be easy enough to remember, because they concern things you already know (although maybe not in detail). Fascinating facts about Usain Bolt and Sir Steve Redgrave and Michael Phelps. These are not strangers to you … you recognise them well enough from the 2012 London Games, and other Olympics Games too.

But some of the facts are pretty obscure. You might never have heard of Oscar Swahn, for example (I hadn’t!). You might not have been aware that live pigeons were used for target practice as part of the early modern Olympics. It might also be news to you that the modern Olympics actually had its beginnings in a small village in the north of England! But the very oddity and strangeness of some of these fascinating facts is what will help to make them memorable.


Read through the list once or twice just to enjoy it, and to get the feel of it. Then, if you want to memorise it, work your way through it at a more leisurely pace, mentally absorbing each fact and repeating it to yourself, together with all its details, until you feel you know them.

When you’ve memorised the entire list you will have not only given yourself a really good memory workout, you’ll have built up quite an impressive stock of Olympic information too!

Fifty Fascinating Facts
About The Olympics, Pt. 1

Fact 01 – First Olympic champion of the modern Games
James B. Connolly

James B. Connolly

James B. Connolly of the USA was the first ‘gold’ medallist, in his case in the hop, step and jump (now known as the triple jump). He was refused leave from Harvard University to enter the competition so he just walked out. He made his way to Greece aboard a German freigher, the Barbarossa.

In Naples, he was robbed and almost lost his ticket to Athens. He chased and caught the robber and arrived in Athens just in time for the Games.

Much later (52 years later in fact!) the same university offered him an honorary doctorate … which he refused!

The medal he was awarded was actually silver. Gold medals were only introduced at the1904 St. Louis Games. In 1896, the winners each received a silver medal and an olive branch, the runners-up received a bronze medal, and there was nothing for third place.

The last time the gold medals presented at the Olympics were made of real gold was at the1912 Games. Nowadays, gold medals are actually 92.5% silver with just 1% gold plating.

Fact 02 – The measure of a marathon

measuring tapeThe first few marathons of the modern era were of an approximate distance, usually about 40 Km (24.8 miles), and were held in commemoration of the soldier Pheidippides, the messenger who is said to have run from Marathon to Athens to deliver news of a Greek victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. According to legend, he died after delivering his message.

In 1908, the Royal Family asked to have the marathon start at Windsor Castle so the royal children could see the start of the race. The marathon up to that time had been set at 26 miles. The measured distance of the course from Windsor Castle to the Olympic Stadium was 26 miles and 385 yards, which then became the standard for all future marathons.

Fact 03 – The winter Olympics

The Winter Olympics didn’t even exist until 1924, and were thereafter held a few months after the Summer Olympics, and in a different city. This all changed in 1994, when the Winter Olympics were held in a different year altogether.

From then on, the two Olympics (the Summer and Winter Games) have always been held two years apart.

Fact 04 – Usain Bolt, the fastest human ever
Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt holds both the 100m and 200m world records, and is the first person ever to win six Olympic gold medals in sprinting. He was also the first to ever do the ‘double double’, i.e. win gold medals at both the 100m and 200mevents at two consecutive Olympics (2008 and 2012). He went one better and made it a ‘double triple’, adding the 4×100 m relays for good measure!

He’s a big guy (6′ 5″), with big feet (size 13), and he’s incredibly cool and laid back. While other sprinters are trying to focus with laser-like intensity, he’s chillin’, shaking off any tension, even dancing!

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He has been called the world’s most marketable athlete, the greatest athlete ever, and a legend. Hardly surprising, since he’s almost certainly the best sprinter of all time, not to mention the fastest human in history!

RIO 2016 UPDATE: The Lightning Bolt is on the verge of something truly historic … the Triple Triple! He’s already regained his 100m and 200m golds and just needs to do his magic in the 4x100m relay and he will set him name firmly in place as the greatest sprinter in history!


Well this lightning struck three times!

Okay, it’s official – this Lightning Bolt is undeniably the greatest sprinter in history and the fastest man alive, and he’s already being talked about as perhaps the greatest Olympian of all time. He did it! He completed the Triple Triple, a truly amazing achievement.

I heard a commentator half-jokingly urging him to try to do it again in four years time, but that’s just ridiculous. I’m not saying he couldn’t do it, but he would be risking missing out on it and being remembered as the great sprinter that did the Triple Triple and then went on to try to make it four in a row … and failed. Why would he want to risk that, and in the process put himself through another long period of hard training?

He should be left alone to pursue other things. Whatever he turns his hand to, he will succeed. He has the winning mentality, and a winning personality. He’ll always be a winner!

Fact 05 – Cassius Clay, gold medal winner
Muhammad Ali, formerly Cassius Clay

Cassius Clay

Cassius Clay (later, Muhammad Ali) won the light heavyweight boxing gold medal at the Rome Olympics of 1960. He later threw it into the Ohio River in disgust after being refused service in a whites-only restaurant on his return to the USA. Segregation was still in evidence, it seems, even for a world champion.

This event has been much debated however, and several of Ali’s friends have maintained that it was just a story for the media to buy into.

Fact 06 – The oldest Olympic medal winner

Oscar Swahn (1847-1927), a Swedish shooter, won his last medal at the 1920 Olympics at the age of 72, making him the oldest person to win an Olympic medal. Among his many achievements, he had previously won a gold medal at the 1912 Olympics, at the age of 64, making him the oldest gold medal winner at the time. That record still stands.


At 72 years of age, he was not only a medallist, but the oldest sportsman ever to to compete at the Olympics.

Fact 07 – High horses!

horse-clipart-100The 1900 Paris Games included a few events that have long been discontinued. Among them were both a long jump and a high jump … for horses!

The only equestrian long jump event at the Games was won by a Belgian rider named Constant van Langhendonck with a leap of approximately twenty feet — which was several feet shorter than the winner’s top jump in the human long jump event at the same Games.

Mmm … I guess that explains why it was among some of the earlier events that were dropped from subsequent Games …

Fact 08 – Duel to decide

fencingTwo real-life duels were fought at the 1924 Games, as a result of disputes over scoring in the fencing competition.

Y’know, some people take their sport just a little too seriously …

Fact 09 – Lights out!

Korean boxer Byun Jung-Il lost a bantamweight bout at the Seoul Olympics of 1988 after having points docked for head-butting. He staged a sit-in in the ring and only got up and left after more than an hour after officials turned the lights off and left him alone in the dark.

What happened in the ring (after the fight) were some of the most amazing and disgraceful scenes ever witnessed at an Olympics. See them here for yourself.

Mark Spitz


Fact 10 – Go-faster moustache!

Mark Spitz had planned to shave off his moustache before his first event at the 1972 Munich Games, but kept it because he’d joked with Russian competitors that it helped ‘streamline’ him and keep the water away from his mouth.

He commented, years later, “Next time, all the Russian swimmers had moustaches!”

Fact 11 –  Winner at two Olympics in the same year!

Only one person has ever won medals at both the Summer and Winter Olympics in the same year. She was Christa Luding-Rothenburger, and she won gold in the speed skating at Calgary and silver in track cycling at Seoul, both in 1988.

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This feat is no longer possible, since the Summer and Winter Games are now staggered two years apart.

Fact 12 – Doves of peace … fried!

Traditionally, doves were released during the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games to signify peace, but this was abandoned after what happened at Seoul in 1988. Instead of circling above the stadium, about ten of them decided to perch on the rim of the Olympic cauldron … unfortunately, just as it was being lit.

They were instantly burned fire to death.      shocked!

Doves and pigeons haven’t had the best of luck at the Olympics. Live pigeon shooting was actually an Olympic event at the 1900 Games. The event was dropped after the messy business truth about abs - small buttonof shooting as many of the released birds as possible. A competitor was eliminated once he’d missed two birds. In total, about 300 birds were killed. This was the only time in Olympic history that animals were killed on purpose as part of the Games.

Nowadays, the only pigeons that are shot are clay pigeons, and everyone seems quite happy about that (specially the pigeons).

Fact 13 – The first Paralympics

The first Paralympics took place on the opening day of the 1948 London Olympics. The participants were disabled British veterans of World War II.

The first such Games were called the 1948 International Wheelchair Olympics. They became truly international when they were staged again in 1952, at the same location, and Dutch athletes also took part.

The name derives from the Greek preposition para, meaning beside or alongside. The Paralympics, therefore, run alongside the Olympics.

Fact 14 – He just had nothing left to give!

tired-75Martin Klein, a Russian wrestler, was just too drained to even compete in the final of the 1912 Greco-Roman wresting after his exhausting semi-final. It had taken him and Finland’s Alfred Asikainen eleven hours to complete!

Fact 15 – Too good to score!

Nadia ComaneciWhen Nadia Comăneci scored an unheard of perfect maximum 10.0 at Montreal in 1976 (see it here), the scoreboards were unable to cope with such an eventuality. Instead, they showed the score as 1.0

In 2000 Comăneci was named as one of the athletes of the century by the Laureus World Sports Academy.

Comăneci received the Olympic Order, the highest award given by the International Olympic Committee, in 1984 and 2004. She is the only person to have received this honour twice, and was also the youngest recipient. She has also been inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

Fact 16 – One-legged champion

George EyserGeorge Eyser won six Olympic medals (3 gold, 2 silver, and a bronze) in a single day, at the 1904 Games. An amazing achievement, by any standards.

He won them in various athletic events, including rope climbing, vaulting and parallel bars. He managed this despite losing a leg in a train accident in his youth.

It’s a remarkable story – that a man who had suffered such a disabling accident would go on to not only take part in athletics, but represent his country at the Olympics. And become a champion! Truly exceptional! And truly inspiring!

Fact 17 – Drugs … the first suspension

Stein of beerThe first suspension because a person had used an illegal substance was at the 1968 Mexico Games. The athlete in question was Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall, a Swedish pentathlete.

His crime? He drank several beers before competing, and alcohol was banned, so, for you, Hans, the Games were over!

Fact 18 – Gotta hand it to him!

target-150Karoly Takacs, a Hungarian pistol shooter, was denied a place at the 1936 Games because he was only a sergeant, not an officer. The ban was eventually lifted, but Takacs’ shooting hand (his right) was maimed in a grenade accident during military training.

truth about abs - small buttonUndaunted, he went on to learn how to shoot left-handed and won Olympic golds in 1948 and 1952.

Fact 19 – Mind those ducks!

Henry Pearce (Australia) stopped rowing in his 1928 Amsterdam Games quarter-final to allow a family of ducks to pass in safety in front of his boat. He still managed to win the heat, and later took gold in the final.ducks

Fact 20 – Stella … or fella?

STella WalshStanislawa Walasiewicz (aka Stella Walsh), won the women’s 100 metre race at the 1932 Olympics at Los Angeles, becoming the first woman to break the 12-second barrier.

When she was killed in a robbery in 1980, her autopsy revealed her to be a male.

Fact 21 – Astonishing winning streak!

Esther VergeerEsther Vergeer of the Netherlands retired recently after an incredible winning streak. she remained unbeaten after 10 years and 470 matches in wheelchair tennis. This is among the longest winning streaks in any sport.

Johan Cruyff said,
“She should be an example to us all”

Roger Federer said,
“She is an astonishing athlete,
a huge personality, and she has achieved one of the most amazing feats in our sport”.

Vergeer won four consecutive golds at the Olympics from 2000-2012.

Fact 22 – The first modern Olympics … in the UK!

WenlockThe first attempt at staging a modern Olympics was at the English village of Much Wenlock, in Shropshire. The Wenlock Olympian Games was set up by Dr. William Penny Brookes in 1850. One of the Olympic mascots for the 2012 London Games was called Wenlock in honour of this fact.

Dr Brookes is credited as the founding father of the modern Olympics, and met and corresponded with Baron Pierre de Coubertin about his plans to stage a modern Olympics.

The Wenlock Olympian Games, a four-day event, is still held the second weekend in July every year.

Fact 23 – Women from every nation

female signSince the London Games of 2012, every national Olympic committee will now have sent women to the Olympic Games.

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Fact 24 – A palpable hit?

Boris OnischenkoBoris Onischenko cheated his way to points in the 1976 Montreal Games. His epée had been ‘fixed’ so that it registered a hit, even if it didn’t come into contact with an opponent.

While Jim Fox was engaged in a fencing bout with him, he leaned back and noticed that Onischenko had ‘scored’ a hit – when in fact he’d missed by several inches. He was thrown out of the Games, and was known thereafter as Disonischenko!

Fact 25 – War halts the Games … again!

Spanish Civil War posterIn protest against the Olympics being held in Nazi Germany in 1936, Spain intended to hold a rival event.

They recruited over 6,000 athletes and had it all ready to roll, when the Spanish civil war broke out the day before the event was due to begin in Barcelona.

Oh well, back to the drawing board …

>> Fifty Fascinating Facts about the Olympics, Pt.2 >>


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