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10 Surprising Facts About the Olympics


Little-known facts about the gathering of nations

The 2022 Winter Olympics are set to officially begin on Feb. 4 in Beijing, just a few months after the postponed Summer Games were held in Tokyo. The impact that COVID-19 will have on the Winter Games remains to be seen, but assuming the global event goes on as scheduled, once again 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. Assuming the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics medals weigh the same as those from the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics (556 grams), an Olympic medal made of pure gold would cost close to $32,000 based on current market prices.

The medals for the 2022 Winter Olympics are named "Tong Xin," meaning "together as one," according to the Olympics Web site. They are composed of five rings and a center with the design based on Chinese ancient jade concentric circle pendants with the five rings representing the Olympic spirit to bring people together and the splendor of the Olympic Winter Games being shared all over the world. The shape is simple and classic in keeping with the Beijing Organizing Committee principles of a "streamlined, safe and splendid" Olympic games. The medals resemble those awards during the 2008 Summer Olympics, showcasing Beijing as the first "Dual Olympic City" to host both Summer and Winter Games.

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 of 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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