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What are the oldest Olympics sports?

Ever since the inception of the modern Olympic Games at Athens in 1896, the showpiece event has played host to a variety of sports. While several sporting events have withered away and few bore a stop-start appearance, a select list of sports has been synonymous with the Olympics.

Sportstar takes a look at the oldest Olympics sports to have featured in the Games over its 29-edition journey.

Athletics

Featured in 29 editions, 1896-2016*

The track and field events have formed the crux of the Olympics, appearing at every Games since 1896. The inaugural Games hosted five track events (100m, 400m, 800m, 1500m, 110m hurdles), a marathon and six field events (long jump, triple jump, high jump, shot put, pole vault, discus throw) – all of which were restricted to men.

Women were first admitted to athletics at the 1928 Amsterdam Games with five events – 100m, 800m, 4*100m relay, high jump and discus throw.

The Tokyo Olympics 2020 will stage 48 track and field events – the most athletic events ever scheduled for a single edition. 

Overall medal table (1896-2016): 

USA – 334 Gold, 259 Silver, 204 Bronze, Total – 797

Soviet Union – 64 Gold, 55 Silver, 74 Bronze, Total – 193

Great Britain – 55 Gold, 80 Silver, 70 Bronze, Total – 205

 

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Cycling

Featured in 29 editions, 1896-2016*

Cycling began its Olympics journey at the 1896 Athens Games with six men’s events comprising 19 athletes from five countries. One road cycling (road race) and five track-cycling (time trial, sprint, 10km, 100km, 12 hour) events were held.

Women’s cycling events made their Olympics debut after a long absence at the 23rd Olympics in 1984 with a road race event. The 2020 Games will have 22 cycling events with BMX freestyle events introduced for both men and women for the first time.

Overall medal table (1896-2016): 

France – 41 Gold, 27 Silver, 23 Bronze, Total – 91

Italy – 33 Gold, 16 Silver, 10 Bronze, Total – 59

Great Britain – 32 Gold, 30 Silver, 25 Bronze, Total – 87

Fencing

Featured in 29 editions, 1896-2016*

One among the nine sports initiated at the Olympics in 1896, fencing made its debut with three events. 15 athletes from eight countries competed across the sabre, foil and masters foil events – all restricted to men.

Women’s fencing made its first appearance with the individual foil event at the 1924 Paris Olympics.

The upcoming Games in Tokyo will feature 12 fencing events – the first instance of individual and team events scheduled for all three weapon disciplines (epee, foil, sabre) for both men and women.

Overall medal table (1896-2016): 

France – 49 Gold, 43 Silver, 33 Bronze, Total – 125

Italy – 42 Gold, 41 Silver, 35 Bronze, Total – 118

Hungary – 37 Gold, 23 Silver, 27 Bronze, Total – 87

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Gymnastics

Featured in 29 editions, 1896-2016*

Gymnastics, a cornerstone of the Modern Olympics, evolved over a century to place itself among the most popular Olympic sports in history.

The 1896 Games staged eight men’s events – vault, pommel horse, parallel bars (individual, team), horizontal bars (individual, team), rope climbing and rings. Women were allowed to compete in the sport for the first time in the 1928 Amsterdam Games where an all-around team event was introduced.

The Tokyo Olympics will feature 18 gymnastic events across three disciplines – artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics and trampoline – in its 30th appearance at the Games.

Overall medal table (1896-2016): 

Soviet Union – 72 Gold, 67 Silver, 43 Bronze, Total – 182

USA – 37 Gold, 42 Silver, 35 Bronze, Total – 114

Japan – 31 Gold, 33 Silver, 34 Bronze, Total – 98

 

Swimming

Featured in 29 editions, 1896-2016*

The aquatics events have been played at every Olympic Games and have emerged as a fan-favourite over the years.

In the 1896 Games, swimming featured four freestyle events – 100m, 500m, 1200m, sailors 100m – all restricted to men. Women’s Olympics swimming debut took place at the 1912 Olympics where two freestyle events (100m, 4*100m relay) took place.

The Tokyo Games will play host to a total of 37 aquatics events, three more from the Rio Games in 2016, with the inclusion of men’s 800 m freestyle, women’s 1500 m freestyle, and mixed 4*100m medley relay.

Overall medal table (1896-2016): 

USA – 246 Gold, 172 Silver, 135 Bronze, Total – 553

Australia – 60 Gold, 64 Silver, 64 Bronze, Total – 188

East Germany – 38 Gold, 32 Silver, 22 Bronze, Total – 92

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Tennis

Featured in 17 editions, 1896-1924, 1988-2016*

Men’s tennis (singles and doubles) made its debut among the nine games in the 1896 Olympics. Women featured in a singles event in the next Olympics in Paris besides a mixed doubles event.

The game, however, was taken off the Olympics roster after the 1924 Paris Games due to differences between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Lawn Tennis Federation (now International Tennis Federation, ITF) over the definition of amateur players.

Tennis made its return as a demonstration event at the 1968 Mexico Games before making a full-fledged return since the 1988 Seoul Olympics. The Tokyo Olympics will be its 18th appearance at the Games and will feature all five formats – men’s (singles, doubles), women’s (singles, doubles) and mixed doubles.

Overall medal table (1896-2016): 

USA – 21 Gold, 6 Silver, 12 Bronze, Total – 39

Great Britain – 17 Gold, 14 Silver, 12 Bronze, Total – 43

France – 5 Gold, 6 Silver, 8 Bronze, Total – 19

 

Wrestling

Featured in 28 editions, 1896, 1904-2016*

Believed to be an original sport from the days of the ancient Olympics in the 8th century BC, wrestling re-emerged as a significant figure at the modern Games in 1896. It was an integral part of all but one Olympics in 1900.

The men’s Greco-Roman was the lone wrestling event in the inaugural Olympics. The sport returned in 1904 with seven weight classes and freestyle wrestling involving competitors only from the USA.

Women’s wrestling made its eventual debut at the 2004 Athens Olympics with four contests in four weight divisions.

The 2020 Games will feature 18 events across freestyle and Greco-Roman disciplines with women limited to freestyle competitions.

Overall medal table (1896-2016): 

Soviet Union – 64 Gold, 31 Silver, 23 Bronze, Total – 116

USA – 54 Gold, 43 Silver, 36 Bronze, Total – 133

Japan – 32 Gold, 20 Silver, 17 Bronze, Total – 69

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Weightlifting

Featured in 26 editions, 1896, 1904, 1920-2016*

Weightlifting was part of the 1896 Olympics with two men’s events – the one-hand lift and the two-hand lift. The sport missed out on three editions (1900, 1908, 1912) before settling its place at the Games from 1920.

Women’s competitions were established in the 2000 Sydney Games with seven events.

The Tokyo Olympics will be the 27th appearance of weightlifting at the Games with 14 events – seven apiece for men and women.

Overall medal table (1896-2016): 

Soviet Union – 39 Gold, 21 Silver, 2 Bronze, Total – 62

China – 31 Gold, 15 Silver, 8 Bronze, Total – 54

USA – 16 Gold, 16 Silver, 12 Bronze, Total – 44

 

Shooting

Featured in 27 editions, 1896, 1900, 1908–1924, 1932-2016*

Shooting events have been part of every Olympic Games barring twice in 1904 and 1928. Five men’s events – 200m military rifle, 300m free rifle, three pos., 25m military pistol, 25m rapid fire pistol, 30m free pistol – were held in the inaugural Olympics in 1896.

The 1984 Los Angeles Games marked the introduction of women’s shooting with three events (air rifle, pistol and three positions, two mixed events).

The upcoming Games will host 15 shooting events with equal distribution of men and women (180 each) in contention.

Overall medal table (1896-2016): 

USA – 54 Gold, 29 Silver, 27 Bronze, Total – 110

China – 22 Gold, 15 Silver, 19 Bronze, Total – 56

Soviet Union – 17 Gold, 15 Silver, 17 Bronze, Total – 49

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Sports at the Ancient Olympics

The roots of the modern-day Olympics were sown deep in Greece in the eighth century BC with multiple games involving Greek men.

The Games included multiple running events called stade (straight-line sprint of 192m), diaulos (two-stade race), dolichos (long race) and hoplite race (single or double diaulos in military armour).

Combat events that evolved during the ancient Games were pale (wrestling), pygmachia (boxing) and pankration (a mixed-martial sport involving wrestling and boxing techniques).

Running, long jump, discus throw, javelin throw, and wrestling composed the pentathlon believed to have been part of the prehistoric Games.

Equestrian events at the Games included horse racing and chariot racings of various kinds.

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