Our chart this week shows how the Summer Olympics has grown from 43 medal events and 241 competitors in Athens in 1896 to 339 medal events attracting 11,326 competitors in the Tokyo Summer Olympics this year.
The arrival of the Summer Olympics has turned many of us into experts in obscure sports that never normally crossed our minds, as well as thrilling us with seeing the world’s top athletes compete to be the best in the sports we love. The sheer scale of sporting activity is immense as it turns a global audience into athletic couch potatoes over a period of two weeks every four years – or five on this particular occasion with the delay to 2021 because of the pandemic. Despite the absence of spectators, so far the Games have been gripping as tiny margins have determined who gets gold, silver or bronze or who comes home without a medal, but still the privilege of being an Olympian.
Our chart this week illustrates how the Summer Olympics has grown in scale over time. The Tokyo Summer Olympic Games continued the upward path in the number of medal events, with 339 medal events in 50 sporting disciplines from 33 sports and 11,326 competitors from 206 nations. This compares with 43 medal events in 10 disciplines from 9 sports in the first Summer Olympiad in 1896, involving just 241 competitors from 14 nations.
New sports this year include karate, skateboarding, sports climbing, surfing and (the return of) baseball/softball, providing new opportunities for competitors to show their talents to the world, and for the rest of us to add to our fleeting knowledge of what it takes to ride a skateboard in an organised format or the technicalities of riding a wave to score points. These add to the existing sports of aquatics, archery, athletics, badminton, basketball, boxing, canoeing, cycling, equestrian, fencing, field hockey, football, golf, gymnastics, handball, judo, modern pentathlon, rowing, rugby sevens, sailing, shooting, table tennis, taekwondo, tennis, triathlon, volleyball, weightlifting and wrestling.
The Olympics will be over all too soon, leaving us bereft and demanding more. Fortunately, the Paralympics will be starting on 24 August with 540 medal events in 22 sports to keep us glued to our screens this summer.
Chart of the week will be taking its customary break during August and will return in September, while the Summer Olympics will hopefully be taking a shorter than usual three-year break to return to schedule with the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics.
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