EXPLAINER: The Winter Games, a different Olympiad

BEIJING (AP) — The first so-called modern Olympics were held in 1896 in Athens. But the first Winter Olympics didn’t take place until 1924 in Chamonix, France.

Calvin Coolidge was the US President at the time, and Vladimir Lenin died that year in the new Soviet Union. A new car in the United States costs as little as $300.

From 1924 to 1992, the Winter and Summer Olympics were held in the same year. In 1992, the Winter Games were celebrated in Albertville, France, followed by the Summer Games in Barcelona.

Then the change happened.

Since 1994, the Olympic Games have been held every two years. The 1994 Winter Olympics were held in Lillehammer, Norway, followed by the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. Nagano, Japan was next in 1998 with the Winter Games. This pattern was broken by the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Beijing Winter Games open on Friday, just six months after Tokyo closed. They will be followed by the Summer Olympics in 2024 in Paris. Here’s a breakdown of why things went the way they did.


Olympic historian Bill Mallon suggests that the International Olympic Committee was looking for more revenue. The IOC, he says, “thought it could get more sponsorship money by broadcasting the Games more”.

Every two years, the Olympics have also kept the public’s attention, and this move has been accompanied by the increasing commercialization and professionalization of the Games. The trend intensified when, for the first time, professional basketball players from the NBA – the American Dream Team – were the stars of Barcelona.


Beijing is the most unlikely city to be the first to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics. Of all the Winter Olympic hosts, it has the least tradition in winter sports.

Beijing was a long shot for 2022 until six European countries – including favorites Norway and Sweden – dropped out for cost or political reasons. Germany and Switzerland said “no” in referendums. The IOC had to choose between Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan.

According to Mallon, writing to The Associated Press, the Canadian city of Montreal – the host of the 1976 Summer Olympics – has repeatedly tried unsuccessfully to clinch the Winter Olympics.

Montreal made bids for the Winter Olympics in 1932, 1936, 1944, and 1956. Montreal finished second in 1936, 1944, and 1956. It also attempted to compete in both Games in 1944 and 1956. And the city of Quebec, not far from Montreal, has made a bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics.


The Beijing Winter Olympics are expected to attract around 2,900 athletes from around 90 National Olympic Committees. The Tokyo Olympics six months ago drew 11,000 people from just over 200 national bodies.

As in Tokyo, organizers say there will be no foreign fans and only a handful of “selected” local fans.

The Winter and Summer Olympics are held over 17 days, which means there are far fewer daily events at the Winter Olympics.

As recently as 1980 in Lake Placid, New York – the year of the “Miracle on Ice” – the Winter Games lasted just 12 days.

Three venues have hosted the Winter Olympics twice: St. Moritz, Switzerland (1928, 1948), Innsbruck, Austria (1964, 1976) and Lake Placid (1932, 1980). The Italian ski resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo will get its second in 2026 after hosting the Winter Olympics in 1956.

Sapporo, Japan, which hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics, is a leading candidate for 2030. The IOC has not said when it will announce its pick.


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