Timeline: Olympics, 1950s -1980s

Updated January 31, 2022 | Shmuel Ross

From ancient Greece to the present day

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Winter 1952

Oslo Winter Games

The Olympic torch is lit in the fireplace of skiing pioneer Sondre Norheim, and relayed by 94 skiers to the Games in Oslo.

28-year-old Norwegian truck driver Hjalmar Andersen wins three speed-skating gold medals, setting Olympic records in two of the events.

The Canadian ice hockey team wins their seventh gold medal in eight Olympics; it will be fifty years before they win another.

Summer 1952

Helsinki Summer Games

Russian athletes participate for the first time in forty years.

Soviet Maria Gorokhovskaya—unhindered by the limits set on female competitors at earlier Games—sets a record for most medals won by a woman in one Olympics, with two golds and five silvers.

The U.S. edges out the U.S.S.R. in the overall medal count, 76-71.

Czechoslovakian Emil Zátopek sets Olympic records in the 5,000 meter race, 10,000 meter race, and the marathon, an event he'd never run before.

Winter 1956

Cortina d'Ampezzo Winter Games

The Soviets break Canada's gold-medal monopoly in ice hockey, and win more medals than anybody else.

Toni Sailer of Austria becomes the first skier to sweep all three Alpine events.

The U.S. sweep five of the six medals in individual figure skating, the lone exception being Austria's Ingrid Wendl's bronze.

Summer 1956

Melbourne Summer Games

As quarantine laws don't allow the entry of foreign horses, equestrian events are held in Stockholm in June. The rest of the Games start in late November, when it's summer in the Southern Hemisphere.

Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden boycott the games in protest of the Soviet invasion of Hungary. Egypt, Lebanon, and Iraq do the same as a result of the Suez crisis. The People's Republic of China refuses to participate due to the inclusion of the Republic of China (Taiwan).

East and West Germany are represented by one combined team.

The Soviets dominate the field, winning 98 medals, while the Americans take 74.

In the Closing Ceremonies, for the first time, athletes from all nations enter the stadium in unity, rather than marching in by nation.

Winter 1960

Squaw Valley Winter Games

The only Winter Games ever not to include bobsledding, as the organizing committee refuses to build an expensive bobsled run for the mere nine nations that would use it.

Walt Disney is in charge of pageantry, including the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

Sweden's Klas Lestander wins the first-ever biathlon, combining cross-country skiing and shooting.

The U.S. ice hockey team wins the gold for the first time, upsetting both the Canadian and Soviet teams.

The Soviets end up with more than twice as many medals as their closest rivals, the Americans.

Summer 1960

Rome Summer Games

The first Summer Games covered by television worldwide.

A record 5,348 athletes from 83 countries compete.

Cassius Clay

18-year-old boxer Cassius Clay—later to be known as Muhammad Ali—is the light heavyweight boxing champion.

Ethiopian marathoner Abebe Bikila, running barefoot, becomes the first black African to take home a gold medal.

American Wilma Rudolph wins three gold medals for running.

After taking amphetamines, Danish cyclist Knuth Jensen collapses during a race, fatally fracturing his skull.

The Soviets again lead the pack, with 103 medals (43 gold) to the Americans' 71 (34 gold).

Winter 1964

Innsbruck Winter Games

Unfavorable weather conditions require the Austrian army to carry ice and snow from higher elevations.

Because of its policy of apartheid, South Africa is barred from the Olympics; it won't be invited back until 1992.

Luge is added for the first time, but a cloud hangs over it after a British luger dies in the course of a practice run a week before competition.

The U.S.S.R. again leads with 25 medals; the United States' six medals put it in eighth place.

Summer 1964

Tokyo Summer Games

Japan spends about $3 billion to rebuild Tokyo for the Olympics, revitalizing a city that had been devastated by earthquakes and World War II bombings. 25 Olympic and world records are broken in the course of the Games, and Japan's worldwide image gets a significant boost.

Abebe Bikila again wins the marathon, this time less than six weeks after having his appendix removed.

Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina wins six medals for the third time in a row; she remains the Olympic athlete with the most medals (18) and the most medals in individual events (14).

American Al Oerter wins the discus toss for the third straight time, despite a cervical disc injury and torn rib cartilage.

The U.S. and U.S.S.R. end up neck-and-neck, with the Soviets winning more medals overall, but the Americans winning more gold medals.

Winter 1968

Grenoble Winter Games

East and West Germany compete on separate teams for the first time.

Sex tests and drug tests are introduced.

Norway wins the most medals (14) for the first time, coming in one ahead of the Soviets.

Peggy Fleming wins America's only gold medal, in figure skating.

France's Jean-Claude Killy sweeps all three Alpine events, after some controversy surrounding the disqualification of Austria's Karl Schranz in the slalom.

The Soviets win the gold in hockey again.

Women still have only 12 events, compared to 21 men's events. (There are also two mixed doubles events, in figure skating and luge.)

Summer 1968

Mexico City Summer Games

These Games are controversially held at the highest altitude ever: 7,349 feet. The thin air is bad for athletes in endurance events, but it leads to records in short races, relays, and jumping events.

Bob Beamon shatters the long-jump world record by more than 21 inches.

Dick Fosbury revolutionizes the high-jump with his back-first "Fosbury flop" technique, taking home the gold.

Al Oerter wins the discus toss a fourth time.

Black Power

On the winning podium after the 200-meter race, Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos raise their fists in a Black Power salute; the two are immediately suspended from the Games and deported from the country.

Swedish pentathlete Hans-Grunner Liljenwall is the first to be disqualified for drug use, having tested positive for excessive alcohol.

Athletes compete in 122 men's events, 39 women's events, and 11 mixed events, and the U.S. pulls ahead of the U.S.S.R., winning 107 medals (45 gold) to 91 (29 gold).

Winter 1972

Sapporo Winter Games

Retiring IOC president Avery Brundage threatens to disqualify 40 Alpine skiers for taking money from ski product manufacturers. He ultimately makes an example of just one skier, barring Austrian Karl Schranz.

Adding to the controversy, the United States, the Soviet Union, and others have been routinely circumventing the IOC's amateur code for decades, with no consequences. The Soviets have been paying their athletes for jobs they never actually perform, while the Americans have handed out athletic scholarships to thousands of athletes.

Canada boycotts the Games, in protest of Eastern European "state amateurs."

Norway's Magne Myrmo becomes the last athlete to win a cross-country skiing event using all-wooden skis.

The Soviet Union maintains its lock at the top of the Winter Games standing.

Summer 1972

Munich Summer Games

The Olympic Oath is taken by a referee for the first time.

Mark Spitz

Mark Spitz sets seven world records and wins seven gold medals in swimming events.

The Games are overshadowed when members of the Black September terrorist group kidnap eleven Israeli athletes from the Olympic Village, killing two and taking the other nine hostage. During a failed rescue attempt by German authorities, the remaining athletes and all but three of the terrorists are killed.

After a day of mourning, the Games continue, although Spitz, a Jew, leaves the country for his own safety.

The U.S. basketball team loses a game for the first time, falling to the Soviet Union, but refuses to accept the silver medal, claiming that the clock had been improperly restarted in the final moments.

The Soviets lead the U.S. in the medal count, 99 (50 gold) to 94 (33 gold).


The word "amateurism" is removed from the Olympic Charter. This has no immediate effect on Olympic policy, but paves the way for future changes.

Winter 1976

Innsbruck Winter Games

These were originally planned for Denver, but Colorado residents voted against spending money on them.

Ice dancing makes its debut.

Austrian Franz Klammer gets the gold in downhill skiing.

The Russian hockey team wins its fourth straight gold medal.

America's Dorothy Hamill and Britain's John Curry win golds in figure skating.

The U.S.S.R. and East Germany rank first and second, while the United States moves up to a distant third-place tie.

Summer 1976

Montreal Summer Games

The original estimated cost of the Montreal Games had been $310 million, but labor problems, financial mismanagement, the addition of an extravagant stadium, and other expenses—plus increased security, clearly needed after the events of Munich—drive the price tag past $1.5 billion.

Canada bars the Republic of China (Taiwan) team from the country, then allows them to enter if they agree not to compete as "the Republic of China"; the Taiwanese consider this unacceptable and withdraw.

Dozens of other nations, mostly African, boycott the Games in protest of the inclusion of New Zealand, whose rugby team is touring racially segregated South Africa.

Nadia Comaneci

14-year-old Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci scores seven perfect 10s on the way to three gold medals, plus a silver and a bronze. Nobody had achieved even one 10 before.

Five American boxers win gold medals, including three future world boxing champs: Ray Leonard, Michael Spinks, and Leon Spinks.

The Soviet Union leads the medal count, followed by the U.S. and East Germany.

Winter 1980

Lake Placid Winter Games

The first to use artificial snow.

Eric Heiden

American Eric Heiden wins all five speed skating events, the first time that's ever been done.

The U.S. wins only one more gold medal, and the U.S.S.R. and the East Germans once again dominate the field...

...but the Americans hardly care. That sixth gold medal, in ice hockey, is summed up by six words from Al Michaels: "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!"

Summer 1980

Moscow Summer Games

The first Games to be held in a communist country.

Due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, President Carter calls upon the U.S. Olympic Committee to boycott the Games. The Olympic Charter requires such committees to "resist all pressures of any kind whatsoever, whether of a political, religious or economic nature," but theory and practice diverge; the Americans stay home, and many other countries follow suit.

80 nations participate in the Games, down from 122 at Munich.

Soviet athlete Aleksandr Dityatin wins a record eight medals in gymnastics.

Super-heavyweight Teófilo Stevenson of Cuba becomes the first boxer to win in the same weight division three times in a row.

Nadia Comaneci wins two more gold medals.


Not long after Juan Samaranch becomes president of the IOC, international sports federations are given the right to determine which athletes may compete. While athletes must live up to the standards in the Olympic Charter, the door is opened for nations to admit professional athletes.

Athletes are still barred from receiving money during the Games, whether for participating or for winning.


Jim Thorpe—whose amateur status was revoked in 1913—is officially pardoned by the IOC, 29 years after his death. Replicas of his 1912 medals are presented to his family at the start of 1983.


The IOC votes to allow the Games to be opened up to corporate sponsorship.

Winter 1984

Sarajevo Winter Games

The first to be held in a socialist country.

49 nations attend, 12 more than the previous record for the Winter Games.

As usual, the Soviets and East Germans end up on top; the U.S.S.R. has more medals overall (25-24), but the East Germans have more gold medals (9-6).

The Soviets regain top honors in hockey, while the U.S. fails to qualify for the medal round.

Britain's Jayne Torville and Christopher Dean win the gold in ice dancing, getting perfect scores from all judges for artistic impression.

Summer 1984

Los Angeles Summer Games

In retaliation for the U.S.-led boycott of 1980, the Soviet Union leads a 14-country boycott, citing security concerns.

The first privately-financed Olympics are a commercial success. In addition to a lucrative broadcasting deal, there are 34 official sponsors, 64 companies with supplier rights, and 65 licensees. These are the second Games ever to turn a profit—$215 million—the first being the 1932 Los Angeles Games.

The right to be part of the torch relay is sold for $3,000 a kilometer, over Greek protests, although the $11 million raised goes to local youth groups.

A record 140 nations show up, but, without the Soviets and East Germans, the Americans win almost three times as many medals as their closest competitors.

American Carl Lewis repeats Jesse Owens' 1936 feat, winning gold medals in the same four events.

16-year-old Mary Lou Retton earns her place on Wheaties boxes by winning four gymnastics medals—including a gold in all-around gymnastics—just six weeks after undergoing knee surgery.

In a compromise with FIFA, professional soccer players are allowed to compete, but only if they haven't been part of a World Cup event.


The IOC votes to change the schedule of the Olympics. Starting in 1984, the Summer Games and Winter Games will take place two years apart from one another, rather than in the same year.

Winter 1988

Calgary Winter Games

The Winter Games are spread over 16 days for the first time.

East German figure skater Katarina Witt defends her title, while American Brian Boitano gets the gold in the men's event.

Alberto Tomba

Alberto "La Bomba" Tomba of Italy wins the men's slalom and giant slalom. In the women's events, Vreni Schneider does the same.

Loveable loser Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards comes in dead last in the 70-meter and 90-meter jumps, and is welcomed home by hundreds of fans in London.

Jamaica enters its first bobsled team, also finishing last.

Summer 1988

Seoul Summer Games

North Korea refuses to participate, and Cuba and Ethopia follow suit in solidarity, but there are no widespread boycotts for the first time since 1972. 159 nations send 9,465 athletes, including 2,186 women.

Canadian Ben Johnson beats Carl Lewis in the 100-meter dash with a world-record time of 9.79. Shortly thereafter, he tests positive for steroid use and is stripped of his medal.

Florence Griffith Joyner of America wins four medals, three of them gold, in running events, while sister-in-law Jackie Joyner-Kersee wins the long jump and heptathlon.

Greg Louganis hits his head on the diving board but successfully defends his Olympic springboard title a few days later.

The last American basketball team without NBA players comes in third.

Tennis returns after a 64-year absence, and Steffi Graf gets the gold.

In the overall medal count, the rankings are U.S.S.R. (132), East Germany (102), U.S.A. (94).


The IOC votes to disallow unofficial demonstration events at Olympics, starting with the 1996 Games.


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