On Friday, August 5, the newest installment of the Summer Olympic Games will begin in Rio. Unfortunately, as this year’s Games begin they’ve been marred by a series of headlines that make Rio — and the Olympics themselves — seem like a bad idea. Between threats of terrorism, the spread of the Zika virus, and the general air of unpreparedness hovering over Rio de Janeiro, it’s hard to say that the world at large is actually looking forward to the proceedings. The whole thing just makes you wish for the halcyon days of the Games, when amateur athletes from around the world converged under a flag of friendly competition in order to simply join in some good fun alongside our fellow human beings. Take a trip down memory lane of some summer Olympics of yore.
13. Mexico City, Mexico
The 1968 Games get most of their fame from the controversial and inspiring gesture made by medal winners Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the podium in rebellious response to the United States policy of segregation. Another hallmark of the Games was the invention of the Fosbury flop, now the dominant method used in the high jump. You know how those athletes leap and throw themselves backwards over the bar? That’s it.
12. Montreal, Canada
In 1976, the Summer Games in Montreal appeared to run smoothly. There were no political demonstrations (or horrific terrorist attack, as had been the case four years earlier in Munich). From an administrative standpoint, the Games were kind of a disaster though, costing the city more that any other Olympic competition for more than thirty years. This was where 14-year-old Nadia Comăneci of Romania scored seven perfect 10.0s (the first time that ever happened – the scoreboard wasn’t even prepared to handle that three-digit number).
11. Sydney, Australia
The Sydney Games, held in 2000, became memorable not only for the gorgeous surroundings in which the athletes competed, but for the swimming performance of one man, Equatorial Guinea’s Eric “the Eel” Moussambani. Before being invited to the Games on a wildcard slot, Moussambani had never actually seen an Olympic-sized pool before. While he came in last in his division, his perseverance captured the spirit of the Games.
10. Rome, Italy
It was at the 1960 Summer Olympic Games that a young boxer named Cassius Clay wowed the sporting world, taking home the Olympic Gold in a dynamite performance that would spark the beginning of one of the most popular and controversial athletes in world history.
9. Barcelona, Spain
In 1992, the Summer Olympic Games went to Barcelona, one of the world’s most gorgeous cities. Home to some of the world’s most awe-inspiring sights, the Spanish city played host to probably the United States’ most dominating Olympic performance. Marking one of the first times that the US allowed professional athletes to participate, the basketball team led by Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and even more, utterly demolished their competition on the way to their Gold medal.
8. Seoul, South Korea
After a decade of half-failed competitions in Moscow and LA, the world once again came together for the 1988 Games in Seoul. While the Games themselves were well-executed, they were not without some major drama. During and after the Games, several performers were actually disqualified when they failed mandatory drug tests.
7. Tokyo, Japan
The 1964 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan were perhaps the first truly modern games. The Tokyo Games marked the first time that the Olympic Games were broadcast all over the world, thanks to the recent advent of communications satellites. It marked the first time that people were able to huddle around their televisions and root for their favorite country in real time.
6. Berlin, Germany
While the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin, hosted by the now universally-loathed Adolph Hitler, had kind of a Nazi-colored pall cast over it, their place in Olympic history is undeniable. This was the first time that the world at large banded together to show Hitler that his Third Reich wasn’t the powerhouse he was expecting it to be. Mad thanks to Jesse Owens for helping teach the Fuhrer that lesson.
5. Amsterdam, Netherlands
The Netherlands has hosted the Summer Olympic Games once, way back in 1928. The legendary city that’s home to some of the world’s most distinct architecture (as well as the world famous Van Gogh Museum) welcomed more than 46 nations and oversaw 14 Olympic sports.
4. Paris, France
The City of Lights has played host to the Summer Olympic Games twice, in 1900 and 1924. One of the most beautiful cities on the planet is the perfect backdrop for amateur sporting competition. The Eiffel Tower has played as the symbol of international sportsmanship for both events held in France’s capital.
3. St. Louis, Los Angeles (twice), Atlanta – United States
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the United States is actually the “winningest” country in Summer Olympic history. Our fledgling nation has emerged as the overall victor more than any country on the planet, so whenever the Games comes to the United States — which it has done four times (1904, 1932, 1984, and 1996), more than any other country in the world — it’s like getting home field advantage in a competition that’s already slanted in our direction. Not to sound too prideful or anything …
2. London, United Kingdom
London has hosted three Olympic Games (1908, 1948 and 2012), more than any other city on the planet. It’s for good reason, as the world-class city is close to an incredible array of conditions that are perfect for Olympic sporting events, especially in the summer. What’s more, London serves as one of Europe’s de facto capitals, a place that’s inviting and exciting in and of itself.
1. Athens, Greece
Athens is both the home of the first Modern Games in 1896, and the home of the Ancient competition from which they sprang. Good-natured competition is tied into the very fabric of the city. It’s the home of Democracy and the first city to usher man into its first rumblings of real civilization. Greece is the home of the Olympics; obviously they’re number one.