Cities and the Quest to Host the Olympics Games

Giant Olympic Rings Are Launched On The River Thames
Giant Olympic Rings Are Launched On The River Thames, London, 2012. Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

The first modern Olympics was held in Athens, Greece, in 1896. Since then, the Olympic Games have been held more than 50 times in cities in Europe, Asia, and North America. Although the first Olympic events were modest affairs, today they are multibillion-dollar events that require years of planning and politicking. 

How an Olympic City Is Chosen

The Winter and Summer Olympics are governed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). This multinational organization chooses the host cities. The process begins nine years before the games are to be held when cities can begin lobbying the IOC. Over the next three years, each delegation must meet a series of goals to demonstrate that they have (or will have) the infrastructure and funding in place to host a successful Olympics.

At the end of the three-year period, the IOC's member states vote on the finalist. Not all cities that want to host the games make it to this point in the bidding process, however. For example, Doha, Qatar, and Baku, Azerbaijan, two of the five cities seeking the 2020 Summer Olympics, were eliminated by the IOC midway through the selection process. Only Istanbul, Madrid, and Paris were finalists; Paris won.

Even if a city is awarded the games, that doesn't mean that's where the Olympics will take place. Denver made a successful bid to host the 1976 Winter Olympics in 1970, but it wasn't long before local political leaders began rallying against the event, citing the cost and potential environmental impact. In 1972, the Denver Olympic bid had been sidelined, and the games were awarded to Innsbruck, Austria, instead.

Fun Facts About Host Cities

The Olympics have been held in more than 40 cities since the first modern games were held. Here is some more trivia about the Olympics and their hosts

  • The first modern Summer Olympics in Athens in 1896 took place just four years after Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin proposed them. The event featured only about 250 athletes from 13 nations competing in nine sports.
  • The first Winter Olympics was held in Chamonix, France, in 1924. Sixteen nations competed that year, with just five sports total.
  • The Summer and Winter Games were held every four years in the same year. In 1992, the IOC altered the schedule so that they would alternate every two years. 
  • Seven cities have hosted the Olympic Games more than once: Athens; Paris; London; St. Moritz, Switzerland; Lake Placid, New York; Los Angeles; and Innsbruck, Austria.
  • London is the only city to have hosted the Olympics three times. Paris will become the next city to do so when it hosts the 2024 Summer Games.
  • Beijing, which hosted the Summer Olympics in 2008, will host the Winter Olympics in 2020, making it the first city to do so.
  • The U.S. has hosted eight Olympic Games, more than any other nation. It will next host the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 2028.
  • Brazil is the only nation in South America to have hosted the Olympics. Africa is the only continent not to have hosted the Games.
  • World War I prevented the 1916 Olympics from being held in Berlin. World War II forced the cancellation of Olympics scheduled for Tokyo; London; Sapporo, Japan; and Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.
  • The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, which cost an estimated $51 billion, was the most expensive Games of all time. 

Summer Olympic Games Sites

1896: Athens, Greece
1900: Paris, France
1904: St. Louis, United States
1908: London, United Kingdom
1912: Stockholm, Sweden
1916: Scheduled for Berlin, Germany
1920: Antwerp, Belgium
1924: Paris, France
1928: Amsterdam, Netherlands
1932: Los Angeles, United States
1936: Berlin, Germany
1940: Scheduled for Tokyo, Japan
1944: Scheduled for London, United Kingdom
1948: London, United Kingdom
1952: Helsinki, Finland
1956: Melbourne, Australia
1960: Rome, Italy
1964: Tokyo, Japan
1968: Mexico City, Mexico
1972: Munich, West Germany (now Germany)
1976: Montreal, Canada
1980: Moscow, U.S.S.R. (now Russia)
1984: Los Angeles, United States
1988: Seoul, South Korea
1992: Barcelona, Spain
1996: Atlanta, United States
2000: Sydney, Australia
2004: Athens, Greece
2008: Beijing, China
2012: London, United Kingdom
2016: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
2020: Tokyo, Japan

Winter Olympic Games Sites

1924: Chamonix, France
1928: St. Moritz, Switzerland
1932: Lake Placid, New York, United States
1936: Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
1940: Scheduled for Sapporo, Japan
1944: Scheduled for Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
1948: St. Moritz, Switzerland
1952: Oslo, Norway
1956: Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
1960: Squaw Valley, California, United States
1964: Innsbruck, Austria
1968: Grenoble, France
1972: Sapporo, Japan
1976: Innsbruck, Austria
1980: Lake Placid, New York, United States
1984: Sarajevo, Yugoslavia (now Bosnia and Herzegovina)
1988: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
1992: Albertville, France
1994: Lillehammer, Norway
1998: Nagano, Japan
2002: Salt Lake City, Utah, United States
2006: Torino (Turin), Italy
2010: Vancouver, Canada
2014: Sochi, Russia
2018: Pyeongchang, South Korea
2022: Beijing, China