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