A brief history of the Olympic games
The first modern Olympics, in 1896, featured just 14 countries and 176 competitors, all of them men. At the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro tonight, 204 countries will be represented—more than the United Nations has members—and some 10,000 athletes, nearly half of them women, will compete in Brazil over the next two weeks in 302 separate events.
The growth of the games has been far from steady. Many athletes could not afford to travel to America for the 1932 games, during the Great Depression, and the number of countries in attendance dropped. Political tensions have also played a part. Every Olympics from 1976 to 1988 was affected by boycotts, with a peak of 65 countries staying away in 1980 in an American-led protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
America generally dominates the medals table, and has been the top medal-winning country 14 times. Other than the United States, only the Soviet Union (and the Unified Team of former Soviet republics in 1992) has won the most medals at any games since the second world war, although China came close when Beijing hosted the games in 2008.