Five Times That History Changed the Olympics

The inevitable tides of history often force events to change around them. As you know by now, the 2020 Summer Olympic Games had been scheduled for Tokyo, and have been pushed to 2021 amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. That’s the first time in the history of the modern Olympic Games, which began in Athens in 1896, that a scheduled Olympiad has been moved to another year. However, that’s far from the only time that the climate of world events has forced a change on the Olympic schedule. Here are five times that history itself changed The Olympics.

1. The Cancellations of 1916, 1940, and 1944

In 1912, the International Olympic Committee chose Berlin as the site of the 1916 Summer Games. That year, Germany began building the Deutsches Stadion as the primary hosting location. Unfortunately, the assassination of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June of 1914 ignited what would become World War I just one month later. With Europe torn apart and Germany allied with Austro-Hungary and Italy against Britain, France, and Russia (and eventually, the U.S.), the IOC cancelled the 1916 games. The 1916 Games were supposed to have featured several days of winter sports as well; that concept was later adapted into the first Winter Olympics in 1924.

A Guide to the Archive: An Intrepid Journalist Covers World War II for The Post. (Uploaded to YouTube by The Saturday Evening Post)

The cancellations of 1940 and 1944 were also due to war. The 1940 Summer Olympics were supposed to happen in Tokyo from September 21 to October 6, a decision made in 1936. The Second Sino-Japanese War, which would soon be absorbed into the larger conflict of World War II, commenced in July of 1937. With that conflict growing, the IOC elected to move the games to Helsinki, Finland. However, when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, World War II was officially underway. The Games were cancelled soon after. As the war went on, it became evident that the 1944 Games would be cancelled as well. They had originally been scheduled for London, which faced constant bombardment through the War. London did get to host the next Olympics that ran, which occurred three years after the war in 1948.

2. Germany (and Others) Were Banned in 1920

The Saturday Evening Post History Minute: How World War I Changed America (Uploaded to YouTube by The Saturday Evening Post)

World War I drew to a close on November 11, 1918, leaving massive change in its wake. The Olympics were supposed to resume in Antwerp, Belgium in 1920. However, feelings were raw after the war and the nations of the Central Powers had many sanctions levied against them. As such, Germany, the newly established Hungary and Austria, Bulgaria, and The Ottoman Empire (which would be become the Republic of Turkey by 1923) were all banned from competing in the Games that year. For its part, Germany would return in 1928 and host in 1936.

3. The U.S. Boycotts the Summer Games in 1980

The 1980 Moscow Olympics Boycott: Flashback (Uploaded to YouTube by NBC News)

The 1980 Winter Olympics were held in the United States in Lake Placid, New York from February 13 to February 24. American Eric Heiden accomplished an amazing feat, winning five speed skating golds; he set one world record and four Olympic records in the process. He’s still the only person to win five golds at one Winter Games. However, even that mammoth achievement was outshined by the Miracle on Ice, in which a U.S. men’s hockey team made up of college players defeated the Soviet juggernaut to advance to, and win, the gold medal game.

Unfortunately, the worldwide political situation went south on the way to the 1980 Summer Games, which were held in Moscow, in the then-U.S.S.R. After months of internal conflict in Afghanistan, the Soviet Army entered the country on Christmas Eve, 1979, and executed a coup in which the president was killed and a Soviet-chosen leader was installed. Consequently, the U.S. and other Western countries began to back the mujahideen, who were fighting to drive out the Soviet Army. As the international community began piling sanctions on the U.S.S.R. and their allies, the United States decided to boycott the Moscow Games. In the end, 66 countries boycotted the games over the situation in Afghanistan. A few athletes from boycotting nations chose to compete under the Olympic flag.

4. The Soviet Union Responds in Kind in 1984

With the Summer Games scheduled for Los Angeles in 1984, the U.S.S.R. decided that they would boycott the event in retaliation for the previous American boycott. While Romania decided to compete, Russia and thirteen other Eastern Bloc countries under Soviet influence opted out. Two other countries chose not to attend for other reasons. Iran cited “United States interference in the Middle East, its support for the regime occupying Jerusalem, and the crimes being committed by the U.S.A. in Latin America, especially in El Salvador” as their rationale in a statement. Libya boycotted over a dispute with the United States when the U.S. didn’t allow Libyan journalists into the country. Albania skipped the Olympics from 1976 to 1988 for various reasons, but not under an official boycott.

5. The Summer and Winter Split in 1994

Nancy Kerrigan at the 1994 Olympics (Uploaded to YouTube by Olympic Channel)

A confluence of events led to the rather odd prospect of Winter Games being held two years apart in 1992 and 1994. Customarily, the Olympics are held every four years. When the Winter Games were added to the calendar in 1924, the Winter and Summer Games took place in the same year. It remained that way for almost 70 years. The International Olympic Committee vote to split the two was a unanimous decision reached at a meeting in 1986.

The driving force behind the split was the simple fact that the Winter Games were always overshadowed by the Summer Games when they were held in the same year. It was also a massive logistical feat to mount two Games in the same year. Another reason for the separation is that it allowed other countries to shine. The United States and Russia/Soviet Union have a long history of medal dominance across both Summer and Winter Games, but a number of smaller countries excel in the winter sports. The U.S. does currently have the second highest total of Winter medals ever (282), but Norway is at the top with 329. Austria, Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland are also in the Top Ten along with Russia, Germany, the Soviet Union (yes, they don’t exist now, but 194 still keeps them in the Top Five), and Canada. For the record, when it comes to the Summer Top Ten, the smallest countries on the list are Sweden and Hungary, while the rest of the list is rounded out by the United States (#1), Russia, Germany, Great Britain, China, France, Italy, and Australia.

Featured image: The Olympic Rings outside the new stadium in Tokyo (Chaay_Tee /

Review: Richard Jewell — Movies for the Rest of Us with Bill Newcott

Richard Jewell

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Rating: R

Run Time: 2 hours 9 minutes

Stars: Paul Walter Hauser, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde

Writer: Billy Ray

Director: Clint Eastwood


Alfred Hitchcock said the way to make a viewer’s skin crawl is not to suddenly explode a bomb under your characters’ feet — but instead to show that hidden bomb five minutes before it’s set to detonate, then leave your audience helpless as the bomb’s targets obliviously sit right on top of it.

“That’s suspense,” Hitch said.

Clint Eastwood has already joined Hitchcock in the pantheon of legendary directors, but at 89 he’s still taking tips from the Master. Richard Jewell, Eastwood’s account of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing, tortures us with hand-wringing buildups to not one, but several cataclysms— only one of which involves an actual explosive device.

Richard Jewell was a security guard assigned to an Olympics week concert at Atlanta’s Centennial Park. Spotting a suspicious backpack placed at the base of a camera tower, he notified his bosses and dashed up into the tower, screaming to everyone they had to evacuate. He was on the ground, pushing the dense throng of revelers away from ground zero, when the bomb exploded, killing one person and injuring 111.

Jewell was hailed as a hero, featured on magazine covers and in TV interviews, even as the FBI scrutinized him as a possible suspect. The initial probe was strictly routine — just as the spouse of a murder victim is always the first person of interest, so is the guy who supposedly finds a bomb.

But almost immediately, routine flew out the window. A former employer at Piedmont College, where Jewell had been a security guard, went to the FBI with stories of Jewell — perpetually single, grossly overweight, and socially awkward — acting inappropriately in his duties. Even worse, the Atlanta Journal Constitution got wind of the probe and splashed it all over the front page, taking unfiltered delight in pushing the hero-turned-demon narrative.

Eastwood, no friend of the press, relates Jewell’s story with vengeance-fueled energy. But you don’t have to be a Fake News zealot to share his indignation at what happened to Jewell — who despite complete exoneration by the FBI is still remembered primarily not as a hero of that day, but simply as the prime suspect.

As usual, Eastwood displays his astonishingly streamlined style of storytelling. There’s not a wasted beat in the film: We meet Richard, we acknowledge his eccentricities and, to be honest, we empathize a bit with those who find him somewhat weird. Even the buildup to the bombing, structured for maximum suspense and filmed right at the original Atlanta site, moves along at a steady clip.

But that’s not to say Eastwood doesn’t give his actors room to breathe. In fact, the characters in Richard Jewell are exquisitely crafted — no small feat, given how many of them there are.

Eastwood says the moment he saw Paul Walter Hauser as Tonya Harding’s bodyguard in I, Tonya, he knew he had his Richard Jewell. Indeed, with one look at Hauser fairly bursting out of his rent-a-cop uniform and peering at the world through suspicious, squinty eyes, you know he was born for this part. But looks are one thing: Hauser also provides telling glimpses of the principled man at Jewell’s core. Even as the FBI, with absolutely no evidence implicating him, grinds its heel to Jewell’s head, the man refuses to surrender his lifelong assertion that lawmen are basically good, motivationally pure. With heavy sighs and slumped shoulders, Hauser’s Jewell seems halfway resigned to accepting blame for the bombing if these guys insist he’s their guy.

“When are you gonna get mad?” demands his lawyer, a low-rent contract attorney played with perfectly calibrated disengagement by Sam Rockwell.

In reality, it’s just Clint Eastwood at work, planting another bomb. We can almost hear it, ticking away inside Richard Jewell as one indignity piles upon another: The FBI tries to trick him into signing away his Miranda rights…the bureau storms the apartment he shares with his mother and confiscates just about everything, including Mom’s beloved Tupperware…the newspaper continues a daily drumbeat of accusations through innuendo.

All that’s bad enough. But then they make his mother cry.

The actual detonation is muted, but Hauser portrays the moment with uncanny clarity. His face, formerly set in a mask of stoicism, suddenly seems to physically soften. As Jewell’s anger boils to the surface, he takes on an expression of near-peaceful serenity — finally released to do what his gut has been telling him to do from the start.

Eastwood lays the groundwork for lots of smaller explosions throughout the film. There’s a cathartic encounter between Jewell’s lawyer and the reporter who smeared him. And a simmering eruption as Richard faces off against his FBI accusers.

Then there’s the slow burn of Jewell’s emotional mother. As Bobi Jewell, Kathy Bates flits and fawns over her son. Doting and dewy-eyed, Bobi is clearly responsible for a lot of what is wrong with Richard — yet she is also his most enthusiastic champion. It all leads to Bates’ most powerful scene confronting the press, calling to mind a grieving mother presiding over a child’s funeral.

Stepping straight out of his Mad Men corner suite and into an FBI cubicle, Jon Hamm is deliciously infuriating as the button-down agent who cavalierly decides Richard Jewell is guilty, then never gives an inch. Square-jawed and steely-eyed, he’s the picture of that most scary of creatures: The man relentlessly doing evil, utterly convinced he is doing good.

The film’s principal ire, though, is reserved for the press. Olivia Wilde plays Kathy Scruggs, the real-life Atlanta newspaper reporter who broke the story that Jewell was being investigated by the FBI, then persisted in pushing that line long after it was clear Jewell truly was the hero everyone thought he was. Much has been made of the film’s clear implication that Scruggs — who died in 2001 — traded sexual favors for tips from law enforcement officials. But while Eastwood is willing to offer Scruggs some measure of redemption, he’s not about to let the Fourth Estate off the hook so easily.

From its opening minutes, Richard Jewell builds an indictment against a press that trades in others’ misfortune and builds narratives guided more by audience interest than facts.

Most damning, Clint Eastwood depicts an industry that plants its own bombs under society’s essential underpinnings, then returns not to claim responsibility— but to profit from reporting on the carnage.

 Featured image: Paul Walter Hauser as Richard Jewell in Warner Bros. Pictures’ Richard Jewell, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Copyright: © 2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures


Scandal and the Olympics

The 2016 Rio Olympics is off to a bumpy beginning, and not a single starting line has been crossed yet: Zika virus, doping scandals, political corruption, and construction delays. In short, it’s just another year at the Olympics.

Today, we’re taking a peek at the history of controversy in the Games. In October 1964, sports writer Roger Kahn argued in the Post that America should not only resist the political controversies of the Olympics with protest, but quit them altogether in defiance of “dictators, propagandists, and manipulators.”

Let’s Pull Out of the Olympics 

Excerpt from article originally published October 10, 1964

By Roger Kahn

It is the theory of certain somber sportsmen that World War III will begin at an Olympiad. This is not so much hysterical as extreme. The brutal quality of Olympic events brings out the worst in most nations and the combative in all, but the games have been with us, on and off, since 776 BC, and all that happens in the end is that everybody goes home sullen. We should quit this corruptive mess, this sweaty hypocrisy, before the damage to our spirit becomes irremediable.

History teaches that civilization and Tokyo will both survive the forthcoming Olympics. It also indicates that these games, like so many in the past, will be ludicrous, wasteful, filled with petty feuding, small cruelties, and overlaid with a patina of pomposity.

“The Olympic ideal.” We shall have to hear that phrase, played and replayed as if it were a chord from heaven, even though the original Olympic ideal involved pagan worship, commercialism, and the casual murder of women. (Only men were allowed to observe the ancient games. Intruding women were hurled over a nearby cliff.) …

If the Olympics were merely ludicrous, merely anachronistic, there would be no point in urging American withdrawal. It is the right of every American to be as ludicrous and anachronistic as he wants, provided that he violates no laws. But the Olympics ultimately are something more. Inevitably they become a political tool.

In antiquity, Nero crashed the Olympics of 66 AD, accompanied by 5,000 personal bodyguards. Oddly enough, whatever event the emperor entered, he won. As the bodyguards cheered, Nero was acclaimed best singer, best musician, best herald and winner of the chariot race. This was simply crude. Refined manipulation of the Olympic Games was splendidly demonstrated in 1936.

Then, as you may remember, the barbarity called Nazism was generally recognized. So to whom were the 1936 games awarded by the International Olympic Committee? Why, to that dandy little sportsman from Austria, wearing brown shirt and black moustache, the crowd-pleasing Adolf Hitler. …

Did freedom-loving Olympians protest? The president of the American Olympic Committee stated: “Certain Jews must now realize that they cannot use these games as a weapon in their boycott against the Nazis.” Placards advocating murder of Jews were banned in Berlin while the Olympic Games were going on. But at the very least, the games sanctioned Hitler as a member of the civilized community, which he was not.

The years since World War II have been filled with competition for so-called uncommitted nations and struggles for international prestige. Who has found Olympic fields a perfect stage for propaganda? The North and South Koreans, the East and West Germans, the Formosan and mainland Chinese, and that gentleman from Georgia, Josef Stalin and, later, the ubiquitous butterball from the Ukraine, Nikita Khrushchev. …

To what purpose, then, do we continue to compete? Unlike Communist society, we have a free and vibrant literature, complex art, unsubsidized music. These things are functions of the human spirit brave and free. Muscle? Any anemic elephant can lift more than a half dozen men. Marathons? My money would be on stampeding buffalo.

In 393 AD the Roman emperor Theodosius considered the ancient Olympic mess briefly. “Unchristian,” remarked the emperor, a newcomer to the faith, and ordered the games abolished. Presently earthquakes and floods all but abolished the Olympic site in Greece. Zeus was on the wane but he still got across a message from which we can profit.

For Kahn’s predictions of the 1964 Olympics and more on political corruption throughout Olympic history, read the entire article “Let’s Pull Out of the Olympics.”

3 Questions for Bob Costas

Bob Costas (Suzy Gorman)
“I’m talking to 22-year-old competitors who were not alive when I did the ’92 Olympics,” Costas says, “but they say that, growing up, they dreamt not only of winning but coming in to talk to me if they did.” (Credit: Suzy Gorman)

With three-and-a-half decades at NBC, Bob Costas ranks as one of the most valuable players for TV coverage of major sporting events, from the Super Bowl and World Series to the Kentucky Derby and Ryder Cup. Then there’s the Olympics, where Costas has been on the scene since Seoul in ’88 and a prime-time host since Barcelona in ’92. He says with a chuckle, “I’m talking to 22-year-old competitors who were not alive when I did the ’92 Olympics, but they say that, growing up, they dreamt not only of winning but coming in to talk to me if they did.”

Costas, who has scored 27 Emmys, ruefully admits that he got too much attention during the last Winter Olympics for donning dark glasses as he struggled to overcome a serious case of pink eye. “When I came home, hundreds of strangers would stop me on the street or yell from a cab window, ‘Bob, how are the eyes?’”

Jeanne Wolf: What’s going to be different about Rio?

Bob Costas: Rio will be the first Olympics in South America. I have my fingers crossed that they’ll be able to surmount the various challenges, because it will provide one of the most breathtaking settings for the Olympics anyone has ever seen. Rio is a beautiful, beautiful city. There’s a postcard everywhere you look.

JW: Watching victors and those who came up short, what elements make an Olympic champion?

BC: You have to start with natural talent, but then you need the willingness to train tirelessly with total discipline. Then you have to have an ability to get the adrenaline going but also to harness it and not be overwhelmed by it. It is about simultaneously being energized and calm, which is almost a contradictory state but that’s where you have to be. Now, most of the 10,000 athletes competing in the games have no realistic shot to take home a medal. Their moment is when they’re marching into the Olympic Stadium. For that one night, they’re equal to the greatest sprinter, the greatest swimmer in the world. They’re on equal footing with LeBron James because every one of them is an Olympian marching under their country’s flag. Now that may sound corny, but it isn’t to them. We can never become so cynical that we don’t feel that emotion that they’re feeling.

“The first time hosting the Olympics in Barcelona, I had enough butterflies to fill the stadium.”

JW:  Any special memories from covering the Olympics over the years?

BC: There are too many great moments, but if I had to pick one, the one that continues to resonate with me is Muhammad Ali lighting the torch in the stadium in Atlanta in 1996. It was a big surprise. Only a handful of people even knew. The way they staged it, he stepped out of the shadows and you heard something you never hear in a stadium, an audible gasp before the thunderous applause. It was exciting but also poignant because here is someone who was once the most famous athlete in the world and a beautiful athlete. Even though boxing is a brutal sport, he somehow made it beautiful. He was controversial, but I think people who resented him at the height of his career saw his humanity in that moment. There was a moment of reconciliation. I still get goose bumps thinking about it.