Starting this week, the world will look to PyeongChang, in the Republic of Korea, for the XXIII Olympic Winter Games. PyeongChang’s vision for the Games is to offer the Olympic Movement and the world of winter sports New Horizons - a legacy of growth and potential never seen before. According to the Olympic Games, PyeongChang’s plan is one of the most compact in Olympic history, offering a unique stage on which the world’s best athletes can achieve superior performances.
This will be South Korea’s second time hosting the Olympic Games, but it’s first Winter Games. The city won the bid to host after one round of voting, having more votes than both Munich, Germany and Annecy France combined.
Held in Chamonix, France in 1924, the first Olympic Winter Games consisted of five original sports, bobsleigh, curling, ice hockey, Nordic skiing and skating. Dr. David Lunt, Professor of History at Southern Utah University and expert on athletics in ancient Greece, says the first games were intended to be a ‘week of winter sports’ connected to the regular Olympic festival to be held later that year in Paris.
“Although Great Britain’s representative to the International Olympic Committee wanted soccer (football) to be included as a ‘winter sport’, to be held before the hot days of summer, the program was confined largely to events on snow and ice.”
The Games have grown since the early days, the 2018 Winter Games will feature 102 events with 15 sports represented, more than any other previous Winter Games and the first to surpass 100 medal events. Dr. Lunt agrees that the Winter Olympics are growing more popular and more equal for athletes, but they are still quite small compared to the Summer Games.
“At the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, 88 countries sent a total of 2,876 athletes, of which 40% were women. In contrast, more than 11,000 athletes from 207 countries and one “refugee team”, competed in Rio de Janeiro in 2016’s Summer Games. Of these 11,000 athletes, approximately 45% were women.”
Though women were not traditionally allowed to play in the Olympic Games (beginning in 1896), women have always competed in the Winter Games (beginning in 1900). Even today there are fewer women than men involved in the Games, but the percentage is evening.
With the Olympic Agenda 2020, adopted in December 2014, the International Olympic Committee made a important milestone. Recommendation 11, to Foster Gender Equality, states “the IOC to work with the International Federations to achieve 50 percent female participation in the Olympic Games and to stimulate women’s participation and involvement in sport by creating more participation opportunities at the Olympic Games.”
Dr. Lunt also notes that while the Winter Games are enjoyed by many, fewer cities seem willing to undertake the expense and planning required. Hosting the Games is a major undertaking, strain on infrastructure, security risks, and the total cost of the Games can make cities hesitant to bid.
“In 2015, Beijing, China beat out Almaty, Kazakhstan for the 2022 Winter Games only after other contending cities in Sweden, Norway, Poland, and Ukraine voluntarily withdrew their bids.”
“Originally set to host city the 1976 Olympic Winter Games, Denver reneged on its bid to host the Games in November, 1972, amid economic and environmental concerns, not to mention the realization that Denver itself typically does not receive much snow in February. In fact, for its presentation to the International Olympic Committee, Denver’s bid representatives painted snow onto pictures of Denver in order to make the city appear more suitable to host the Games.”
While those local to Utah remember Salt Lake City hosting the 2002 Olympic Winter Games after winning the bid in 1995, Dr. Lunt shares a little known fact - “Salt Lake City was a finalist to host both the 1972 and 1998 Winter Games and also bid to host the 1976 Winter Games – twice – before and after they were awarded to Denver.”
As the Games continue to grow and adapt to new participants and sports they are also building partnerships around the world. There are currently 206 National Olympic Committees, spread over five continents, working to develop and promote the Olympic principles at a national level in their countries.
In the next 10 years alone the Olympic Games will take viewers to Tokyo, Beijing, Paris and Los Angeles.
Dr. David Lunt’s research has taken him all over Greece and Italy focusing on how ancient and modern athletics reflect and interact with society, religion, culture, social issues, politics and mythology. Learn more about his work here.