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10 Surprising Facts About the Olympics

Little-known facts about the gathering of nations

With the Summer Olympics set to begin on July 23 in Tokyo following last year's postponement due to the coronavirus pandemic, sports fans across the world will be happy to see the return of this global event. This also means that we will soon be overwhelmed with facts, figures, and features of every kind imaginable. But we found a few things you probably won't learn. Here are 10 surprising facts about the Olympic Games.

1. Gold medals are mostly made of silver

Despite the popular belief that the Gold Medal is composed of pure gold, this hasn’t been the case since the 1912 Olympics. Today’s Olympic Gold Medal is an imposter, made almost entirely from silver with approximately 6 grams of gold to meet the standard laid out in the Olympic Charter. The medals for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo were made from 80,000 tons of recycled electronics. The Tokyo games' gold medal weighs about 556 grams, which means an Olympic medal made of pure gold would cost close to $32,000 based on current market prices.

2. The Olympic Torch Relay is not an ancient tradition

The Torch Relay has its roots in the controversial 1936 Berlin Olympics. Carl Diem, Chief Organizer of the Olympic Games, conceived of the relay as a propaganda tool for the Nazi Party to showcase the supposed superiority of the Aryan race. The relay passed through Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria and Czechoslovakia, who would all succumb to Nazi rule within 10 years. 

3. Only three modern Olympic Games have been canceled

The games were canceled due to World War I (1916) and World War II (1940, 1944). 

4. At least one of the Olympic Rings' colors appears in every national flag

Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder off the modern Olympic Movement, conceived of the five-ringed symbol. He specifically chose the different colors—blue, green, yellow, black, and red—because at least one of those colors appeared on all the national flags of the world.  

5. Only five countries have been represented at every modern-era Summer Olympic Games

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Greece, Great Britain, France, Switzerland and Australia. 

6. Only two people have ever won gold medals during the Summer and Winter Olympics

Gillis Grafstrom and Eddie Eagan hold this distinction. Grafstrom, from Sweden, won gold in figure skating in the 1920 Summer Olympics as well as the 1924 and 1928 Winter Games. Eagan accomplished this feat in different disciplines, taking home gold in boxing in 1920 and later winning a gold medal at the 1932 Lake Placid Winter Games in the team bobsled event.

7. Two athletes have won gold medals competing for two different nations

Daniel Carrol first won gold in Rugby representing Australia in 1908 and then again in 1920 for the United States.  Kakhi Kakhiashvili won his first gold medal in Men’s Weightlifting competing as part of the Unified Team in the 1992 Barcelona Games, and later as a Greek citizen in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. 

8. Athletes in the ancient Olympic Games competed in the nude

In fact, the word “gymnasium” comes from the Greek root “gymnos” meaning nude. As such, the literal translation of gymnasium is “school for naked exercise.”

9. The first Olympic drug suspension did not occur until 1968

Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall, a Swedish Pentathlete, tested positive for alcohol. He purportedly drank several beers before the Pentathlon and was thus suspended from the competition. 

10. The youngest Olympian in the modern era is Greek gymnast Dimitrios Loundras, who competed in the 1896 Athens Olympics at the age of 10

Other young Olympian facts: At age 13, springboard diver Marjorie Gestring is the youngest female individual gold medalist in history, while 14-year-old Kusuo Kitamura (swimming) is the youngest male individual gold medalist.

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