The Olympic quadrennial, scheduled for Berlin in 1916, was interrupted by World War I–the so-called “War to End All Wars,” which had involved 28 countries and killed nearly 10 million troops in four years.
The four-year cycle of Olympiads–Berlin would have been the sixth–is still counted, however, even though the Games were not played.
Less than two years after the armistice, the Olympics resumed in Belgium, a symbolic and austere choice considering it had been occupied for four years by enemy forces. Still, 29 countries (one more than participated in the war) sent a record 2,600 athletes to the Games. Germany and Austria, the defeated enemies of Belgium and the Allies, were not invited.
The United States turned in the best overall team performance, winning 41 gold medals, but the talk of the Games was 23-year-old distance runner Paavo Nurmi of Finland. Nurmi won the 10,000-meter run and 8,000-meter cross-country, took a third gold in the team cross-country and silver in the 5,000-meter run. In all, Finland won nine track and field gold medals to break the U.S. dominance in the sport.
Elsewhere, Albert Hill of Britain made his Olympic debut at age 36 and won both the 800 and 1,500-meter runs. World record holder Charley Paddock of the U.S. won the 100 meters, but was upset in the 200 by teammate Allen Woodring, who was a last-minute addition to the team. And in swimming, the U.S. won 11 of 15 events, led by triple gold medalists Norman Ross and Ethelda Bleibtrey, defending men's 100-meter freestyle champion Duke Kahanamoku and 14-year-old springboard diving champion Aileen Riggin.
The Antwerp Games were also noteworthy for the introduction of the Olympic oath–uttered for the first time by Belgium fencer Victor Bion–and the Olympic flag, with its five multicolored, intersecting rings.