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The Summer Olympics in Paris: Let The Games Begin!

Jun 16, 2024 08:41PM ● By Lisa Ballard
This summer, from July 26 to August 11, the 33rd Summer Olympic Games will take a place in Paris, France. This quadrennial sports spectacular returns to Paris for the third time in the history of the modern Olympics. The first time was in 1900 in conjunction with the World’s Fair when Paris became the first city to host a modern Olympiad besides Athens, Greece. The second time was in 1924, 100 years ago.

100 Years Ago Versus Today

A lot has changed in sports in general and the Olympics in particular over the last century. In 1924, the Olympics featured only 17 sports with 126 medal events and were held over three months, from May through July. This summer, the number of sports has nearly doubled to 32, with 329 medal events including the Olympic debut of breaking, a sport with its roots in urban breakdancing. The competitions are packed into a greatly condensed two-week period compared to 100 years ago.

In 1924, the Olympics were largely a male display of athletic prowess. Of the 3,089 athletes representing 44 nations, only 135 were women. Women only competed in diving, swimming, fencing, and tennis, and tennis was nixed as an Olympic sport for many years after 1924 due to a dispute over what constituted an amateur versus professional tennis player. Back then, all Olympians had to be amateur athletes. Tennis finally returned to the Olympic lineup in 1988, after professional athletes were approved for Olympic competition.

The 1924 Summer Olympics were also the first time that competitors were housed in an Olympic Village, which was a really a large cluster of small cabins in a temporary encampment. This year’s Olympic Village can accommodate up to 14,250 athletes (around 10,500 are expected to compete). After the Games, the Olympic Village will become a permanent neighborhood with 2,500 new homes, a hotel, parks, gardens, offices, shops, and a student residence. What’s more, an equal number of men and women will participate, hailing from 200 nations plus a Refugee Olympic Team.

Athletic Performance

Certainly, athletic prowess has improved dramatically over time. For example, in 1924, American Robert LeGendre set a new Olympic and World Record of 25.5 feet in the long jump while competing in the pentathlon. Another American Olympian, Bob Beamon, currently holds the long jump Olympic and world record at 29 feet 2.5 inches, which he set at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

By coincidence, I got to see Beamon’s long jump, though not live in Mexico City. Last summer, I visited the US Olympic & Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where Beamon’s incredible feat is laid out on the floor. For reference, his jump was about half the length of a lane at a bowling alley or a third of the distance between two bases in major league baseball. It’s almost six feet longer than the New Hampshire high school long jump record!

Excellence in athletic performance is one of the main reasons why the Olympics captivate us. Many of the most memorable American performances in an Olympic Games, both summer and winter games, are preserved at the Olympic museum in compelling ways. I always wondered what it would be like to compete in an Olympics. I got a taste of it in Colorado Springs, starting with the opening ceremonies. Inside the museum, a 360-degree theater placed me behind the American flag with the athletes who marched in the opening ceremonies in Los Angeles in 1980. I was engulfed by the people and the show from the competitor’s perspective, which ended with the lighting of the Olympic flame.

The high point of the opening ceremonies is always the lighting of the Olympic flame, which burns throughout the Games. The Olympic museum has one of only two complete collections of Olympic torches in the world. When I saw them lined up in chronological order, I couldn’t help but contemplate the unique journeys of those torches. Each was lit in Olympia, Greece, then carried by ship and by foot in a fantastic relay to various points related to each Olympic site. This year’s torch will travel 3,100 miles tracing France’s history, landscapes, and culture across the country itself as well as its six overseas territories (Guadeloupe, Guyana, Martinique, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, and Reunion Island). And once the flame is lit, the iconic saying, “Let the Games begin!” will inevitably send waves of excitement through the athletes, coaches, officials, organizers, and spectators alike, as everyone wonders what incredible performances await over a densely packed two weeks.

At the Olympic museum, it’s fun to look back at those moments, like at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo when boxer Joe Frazier broke his thumb in the semifinals and then went on to win the gold despite his injury. Looking at his boxing shoes on display, I could imagine him darting left and dodging right, avoiding German Hans Huber’s punches while landing enough of his own on Huber to narrowly take the victory.


More Fast Feet

Hurdler Edwin Moses’s custom-made Adidas running flats also caught my eye. The shoes apparently fit like ballet slippers but with custom spike plates and spike positions that allowed him perform on a variety of surfaces—wet, soft, and hard. Moses was undefeated over the course of an astounding nine years, nine months, and nine days, winning 122 straight 400-meter hurdle races and two Olympic gold medals.

Perhaps the most humbling exhibit at the Olympic museum commemorated Jesse Owens’ 100-meter sprint during the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, in which he won one of his four gold medals. Owens set an Olympic record of 10.3 seconds, which stood for another 20 years. I’ve always been curious to see just how fast that is. I found out in Colorado Springs. 

Stepping up to the starting line, I placed my feet in the blocks. On the gun, I sprinted down the track next to Owens, briefly. He left me in the proverbial dust as a digital recreation of him during his historic sprint crossed the finish line in what felt like a mile ahead of me. How incredible to race him!

Owens’ victories in Berlin were more than simply incredible feats of athleticism. Owens was African American and thus disproved the Nazi theory of Aryan supremacy in front of Adolph Hitler, who attended those Games in person, as well as the rest the of world. The 1936 Olympics in Berlin were the first to be televised.

Owens and other Olympic heroes over the last 100 years, such as Mary Lou Retton and Simone Biles (gymnastics), Michael Phelps and Mark Spitz (swimming), and Jackie Joyner Kersee and Carl Lewis (track and field) are bigger than their gold medals and their sports. They are cultural icons who not only reset the bar of excellence sports-wise in their era but also influenced us as a nation. Their stories have taught us how to triumph in the face of adversity and monumental pressure.

Who will emerge from Paris this summer as our newest Olympic stars? No one can say until the Games unfold. But there’s one thing we do know: three’s the charm for Paris. Let’s watch and get inspired! 

For More Information

To find a schedule for the 2024 Summer Olympic events in Paris, France, go to

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