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What Events are Olympic?

Prepared by the OlyMADMen to describe their work to the site's users.

With a competition as big as the Olympics, you would think it's pretty clear which events were part of the Olympics. However, for the Games in the early 20th century, this is not as simple as it seems.

The 1900 and 1904 Olympics

It is very clear which events were included at the first Modern Olympics in 1896, but at the two following Games things were more difficult. The 1900 Paris Olympics were part of the Exposition Universelle, the Paris World's Fair, and many of the sports events were not labelled "Olympic". Many competitors probably never knew they competed in the Olympics, instead thinking they entered a World Championships or simply a major international event. As there were many sports competition held in conjunction with the Exposition, it needs to be determined which were Olympic and which weren't.

Four years later, the situation was basically reversed. In St. Louis, the Olympics were also held as part of a major exposition, the Louisiana Purchase Fair. But unlike Paris, the organizers used the label "Olympic" for almost any sports events held during the Fair, such as the Olympic Elementary School Championship open for boys from St. Louis schools. Here, too, distinction is needed.

To our knowledge, there has never been an official statement or decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) declaring which 1900 or 1904 events should be considered Olympic. We have therefore made our own division, based on the earlier work of one of our members, Bill Mallon. In his books on the 1900 and 1904 Olympics, he uses five criteria to decide whether an event was Olympic or not:

  1. The event should be international in scope, allowing entries from all nations.
  2. No handicap events should be allowed.
  3. The entries must be open for all competitors, meaning that limitations based on age, religion, national origin, etc. should not be allowed
  4. No events based on motorized transport should be allowed.
  5. The events should be open only to amateurs.

While it may seem like we are retro-actively applying modern day criteria to history, these actually match the intentions of De Coubertin and the early Olympic Movement. Only a few exceptions to the criteria above exist in Olympic history:

In 1896, a swimming event for Greek sailors only was conducted, in clear violation of criterion 3. Also, until 1952, only officers from the military were allowed in equestrian events.

In 1908, motorboating races were part of the Olympic program, the only occasion in which a motorized sport was conducted at the Olympics.

The first Olympic congress makes an explicit exception to the amateur rule for fencing. The so-called "fencing masters" were considered gentlemen, and therefore not professionals.

While these criteria give us a good method to determine if an event was Olympic or not, this does not make it easy in all cases. For some sports and events, it is not clear if foreign entrants were allowed. We can sometimes tell because there were foreign entrants (even if they did not compete), but in some cases we have had to guess. Also, the amateurism clause is not always easy to determine either. For some of the 1900 events, prizes are mentioned, and it is not always clear if these prizes were awarded in the form of money (meaning professional competition) or art objects and the like. In a few cases we have decided to label a sport as Olympic because it is commonly listed as such, even if it is dubious if all of the above criteria are met.

In a future update of this site, we hope to be able to add the results from the non-Olympic competitions as well, to allow for a complete overview of everything Olympics.

For the readers of Mallon's 1904 book, please note that there are a few sports/events which were not listed as Olympic, but which we have included as Olympic. These are water polo, the men's swimming relay and croquet.

The 1906 Olympics

Today, the IOC and a few sports historians do not consider the 1906 Intercalated Olympics to be "true" Olympic Games. By doing so, they not only neglect the Games that may have helped save the Olympic Movement, we also think it is historically incorrect.

The 1906 Athens Games were very important Games. After the problems that occurred in Paris in 1900 and St. Louis in 1904, with the Olympic Movement reeling, these successful Athens Games of 1906 helped resurrect the flagging Olympic Movement. The Games were the most international to date, they were the best held to date, and they had the most international media attention of any of the Games since the 1896 Olympics in Athens. In fact, all of the international newspapers termed this sporting festival of 1906 as "Olympic Games" using their native language for the appellation.

Coubertin, at first opposed to the idea of Intercalated Games, even embraced them as Olympics when he saw that the Greeks organized the best "Olympics" of the modern era, although he did not attend the 1906 Olympic Games.

The IOC did officially recognize these Games initially in some of the correspondence, but in later years their status was initially unclear. The IOC did make an official ruling concerning the status of the 1906 Olympic Games. At the 41st Session of the IOC in London in 1948, Dr. Ferenc Mező, Hungarian member, made a proposal that the Intermediate Games in Athens (1906) should be accepted as the IIIb Olympic Games. It was decided that this proposal would be placed in the hands of the Brundage Commission. The Brundage Commission was a three-man commission headed by future IOC President Avery Brundage (USA). The other members were Sidney Dawes (CAN) and Miguel Angel Moenck (CUB). They met in New Orleans, Louisiana in January 1949.

In their report, the Brundage Commission noted, "It is not considered that any special recognition that the IOC might to participants in these Games at this late date would add any prestige, and the danger of establishing an embarrassing precedent would more than offset any advantage." They presented their report at the 42nd Session in Rome in 1949. Their report dealt with 32 items, the 4th of which was the 1906 Olympic Games. The item was listed as "Acceptance of the Intermediate Games 1906," and the Brundage Commission conclusion was "Rejected."

Although, as stated, a few historians do not consider them to be Olympic Games, most notable Olympic historians do. The International Society of Olympic Historians has sought official recognition for these Games, but this has not been granted by the IOC. We support the thesis of those who consider the 1906 Intercalated Games as Olympic Games, and have included all events and competitors in our database.

Art, Alpinism and Aeronautics

While it may seem unusual to modern followers of the Olympics, real Olympic medals have been awarded for Art Competitions, Alpinism and Aeronautics. The Olympic Art Competitions were part of the vision of Pierre de Coubertin, and they were first held in 1912, when the founder of the modern Olympic movement even won a medal himself. The contests were rarely successful but continued through 1948. They were discontinued after that over discussion regarding the amateur status of the competitors – professional artists. They never returned to the Olympics, but an Olympic Cultural Program has since been added.

An Olympic Alpinism prize was first mentioned in the founding document of the IOC in 1894, but was not awarded until 1924. A prize for the most impressive Aeronautic performance was added in the 1920s, but only awarded twice. Neither prize survived the Second World War.

We are still working to collect information about the participants of these contests, as not a lot of information is available on them. We expect to present the results of our work in a future update of this site.

Demonstration sports and exhibitions

In history of the Olympics, various sports events have been conducted in conjunction with the Olympics, sometimes as official demonstration sports, sometimes as mere exhibitions or side shows. Several exhibitions, among others in gymnastics and water polo, were given at the 1906 Olympics, and the concept of a demonstration sport was formalized over the next years, stipulating that the organizing country should pick one national sport, and one of international appeal. Some of these international sports later became full medal sports, such as canoeing and baseball.

Demonstration sports were abolished after the 1992 Olympics, as the Games were too large already. Since then, only exhibition wheelchair races have been held as part of the track and field contests.

As with the non-Olympic events and the art competitions, we will include results and athlete information on the Olympic demonstration and exhibition events in the future.

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