There are many things that are common knowledge about the Olympic games. The summer and winter games each happen every four years (unless there's a pandemic). Michael Phelps is a legend and Simone Biles will do many amazing things no other gymnast can do. But here is some of the minutiae of the Olympics and its history that you may not be aware of.
The Olympics we know today are considered the modern games. They started in 1896, but that was after a 1,500-year gap separating them from the ancient Olympics.
While it's fun to see the fashions and uniform designs of today's Olympics, athletes in the ancient games didn't have to worry about all that. They competed nude.
The first women competed in the Olympics at the 1900 games in Paris. And the first American female Olympic champion didn’t even know she’d won an Olympic event. The games were spread out over several months and golfer Margaret Abbott thought she was playing in a different tournament. Also, she wasn’t presented with a gold medal but a porcelain bowl. She died in 1955 and never knew she was an Olympic champion. A professor in Florida pieced it together years later.
Australian rower Henry Pearce was a true gentleman. At the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, he actually stopped in the middle of his quarterfinal race to let a family of ducks swim by safely, according to the BBC. It turned out to be no big deal. Despite falling five boat-lengths behind due to the pause, he ended up winning the race by 30 seconds and went on to win the gold.
Back when a 10 was the highest score you could get in gymnastics, Romanian Nadia Comaneci scored a 1.00 for her perfect uneven bars routine at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. At least that’s what some people might have thought when the scoreboard popped up “1.00.” That’s because it wasn’t designed to display a “10.”
Speaking of Olympic champions, that gold medal they get to wear isn’t solid gold. It’s actually gold plating on top of pure silver. This year, all the medals are made from recycled personal electronics that were donated by citizens.
Phelps won the most gold medals in Olympics history – 23. They made up the vast majority of the 28 medals he won overall. Both are career records that may never be broken. Just to give you an idea of how dominant that is, there are 80 countries that haven’t won 28 medals in their entire Olympic histories.
The Olympian with the second-most Olympic medals is Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina with 18. Can American gymnastics legend Simone Biles catch her? It seems unlikely. She has five medals headed into Tokyo. Since a female gymnast can win a maximum of six medals per Olympics (team, all-around and four individual apparatuses), Biles would need to compete at least until the 2028 games in Los Angeles. She had previously indicated the Tokyo games would be her last, but recently said she could return in 2024 just as a specialist.
Despite breaking up some 30 years ago, the Soviet Union remains the country with the second-most Olympic medals of all-time, behind only the United States. Great Britain is third, but it will probably be another couple of decades before the UK moves up to second place.
One more note on Phelps. It was rumored that he ate 12,000 calories per day as part of his training regimen. That would be like eating a typical meal once every waking hour. Phelps put that to bed, saying it was probably more like 8,000-10,000 calories per day when he was at his peak.
There are three official languages at the Olympics: English, French and the language of the host nation. When the teams are paraded out during the Opening Ceremony, it always starts with Greece, since that’s where the Olympics originated, and ends with the host country.
Traditionally, everyone else in the parade comes out in alphabetical order based on the host nation’s language. However, there will be a couple changes for Tokyo. The second team out will be the Refugee team, marching under the Olympic flag. At the end of the parade, the next two Summer Olympics hosts – the U.S. and France – will come out before Japan wraps it up.
There are two pieces of symbolism found in the Olympic flag. The five rings represent the five major continental groups: Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceana. Also, every national flag in the world has at least one of the colors of the Olympic flag – red, green, blue, yellow, black or white.
You know that gold, silver and bronze are awarded to the top three winners. But some events – mainly the combat events like judo – will award four medals: One gold, one silver and two bronze.
Of all the Olympic events, perhaps the most unique is the Modern Pentathlon. It combines five sports that seem completely disassociated with each other. There is fencing, swimming, shooting, running and horse jumping. The last of those may be the most challenging because the rider and their horse are drawn randomly and only have 20 minutes to get used to each other before competing.
Finally, there’s the Olympic Creed:
"The important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well.”