The Olympics have a rich history of inspiring achievements as well as controversial moments, but we found these 13 milestones to have left perhaps the deepest impressions on the world and the Games today.
Paris, 1900: First female athletes
Women were never allowed to compete in the Olympics until the Paris Games in 1900, when their participation in lawn tennis and golf events secured a position for female athletes in future Games.
The London 2012 Olympics signified a new gender milestone with the debut of Women’s Boxing, and it was the first Games in Olympic history with female athletes from every competing country.
Berlin, 1936: Owens breaks records
African-American athlete Jesse Owens broke records and won several gold medals, shattering Hitler’s aim to use the 1936 Games as an example of the “new Aryan man.” Owens later befriended his German competitor in the long jump, Luz Long, and the pair’s lap of honor became a symbol of the triumph of sportsmanship over Nazi ideology.
London, 1948: Wheelchair athletes compete
English doctor Ludwig Guttmann founded the International Wheelchair Games to help rehabilitate wounded veterans of World War II. Using sports therapy, he invited wheelchair athletes to compete, and the event eventually became the modern Paralympic Games.
Rome, 1960: Television, and scandals
As the first Olympics ever to be televised and include a brand endorsement by an athlete, the Rome Games ushered in a new era of commercialism and changed the way the world viewed its Olympians. The Games also spotlighted a negative side of the competition with the first doping scandal, revealing how far some athletes would go to bring home the gold.
Mexico City, 1968: Civil-rights protest
At the height of the civil rights movement in the U.S., black American athletes were encouraged to boycott the Games. Instead, African-American sprinters John Carlos (right) and Tommie Smith (left) staged a non-violent protest by raising their fists in a Black Power salute while the national anthem played during their medal ceremony. Although they were consequently suspended from the Olympic Village, their silent demonstration brought the American battle over civil rights to the international stage.
Munich, 1972: Terror replaces peace
Tragedy infamously marred the Munich Games when 11 Israeli athletes were taken hostage and killed by Palestinian terrorists. Although the Olympics continued and the incident led to increased security, the message of international peace promoted by the Games was permanently damaged.
Montreal, 1976: African nations boycott
Human rights was at the forefront of the Montreal Games after 22 African nations boycotted the Olympics because New Zealand was participating. Earlier that year, New Zealand had sparked outrage among African countries when it sent its national rugby team to play in South Africa, which was under apartheid. This marked the first of several politically-motivated boycotts of the Olympics.
Moscow, 1980: U.S. boycotts, hosts alternate games
With the Cold War ongoing, President Jimmy Carter urged U.S. allies to pull their Olympic teams from the Games to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The U.S. did not participate in the Olympics that summer, and instead hosted the Liberty Bell Classic in Philadelphia as an alternative competition for athletes of countries supporting the boycott.
Barcelona, 1992: Pros play the Olympics
The 1992 U.S. Men’s Olympic basketball team, nicknamed the “Dream Team” for its impressive line-up of the biggest names in basketball—Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and Patrick Ewing to name a few—was the first time active NBA players were recruited for an Olympic team. The team crushed the competition as it made its way towards the final (winning all eight games) and ultimately defeated Croatia to bring home the gold medal. Still today, the Dream Team is widely celebrated as the greatest team ever assembled in any sport. You won’t believe that these bizarre sports used to be part of the Olympics.
Atlanta, 1996: Games turn 100 with Ali
Despite his struggles with Parkinson’s disease, former heavyweight boxing champion and Olympic gold medalist Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic flame during the opening ceremony of the 1996 Atlanta Games. It was an emotional start to the Olympics’ Centennial.