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The Olympic Games is an international multi-sport event subdivided into summer and winter sporting events. The summer and winter games are each held every four years (an Olympiad). Until 1992, they were both held in the same year. Since then, they have been held two years apart.

Moskwa 1980. Prints and Photographs Division. 1980 “Celebrating Tibet,” comprising 40 Tibetan items on display in the Library’s Asian Reading Room. Raquel Maya. 2007

The original Olympic Games were first recorded in 776 B.C. in Olympia, Greece, and were celebrated until A.D. 393. The ancient stadium in Olympia could accommodate more than 40,000 spectators, while in the surrounding area there were auxiliary buildings that developed gradually up until the 4th century B.C. and were used as training sites for the athletes or to house the judges of the Games. The ancient Olympic Games included running, jumping, the discus throw, wrestling, boxing and equestrian events.

Interest in reviving the Olympic Games was first shown by the Greek poet and newspaper editor Panagiotis Soutsos in his poem “Dialogue of the Dead” in 1833. Evangelos Zappas sponsored the first modern international Olympic Games in 1859. The International Olympic Committee was founded in 1894 on the initiative of French nobleman Pierre Fredy, Baron de Coubertin. The first of the IOC’s Olympic Games were the 1896 Summer Olympics held in Athens. From 241 athletes from 14 nations in 1896, the games grew to nearly 11,100 competitors from 202 countries at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.

The program for the Beijing 2008 Games, officially known as the Games of the XXIX Olympiad, is quite similar to that of the Athens Games held in 2004. From Aug. 8-24, the 2008 Olympics sees the return of 28 sports, and will hold 302 events (165 men’s events, 127 women’s events and 10 mixed events). Sports to be contested include fencing, judo, softball, volleyball, canoeing, archery, table tennis and weight-lifting.

The Library holds a range of materials on the Olympics, including a listing of dates and locations of the modern games, both summer and winter; a selection of images; and a guide to reference sources.

Searching the Prints and Photographs Division Online Catalog for “Olympic Games” turns up images from games in Berlin, Rome, Tokyo, Mexico City and Moscow. You can also search for early 20th-century newspaper articles featuring Olympic headlines in Chronicling America, a site that allows you to search and view newspaper pages from 1880-1922.

Despite political and societal unrest between China and Tibet, the Dalai Lama has given his full support of the 2008 games, saying that the Olympics “uphold the principles of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, equality and friendship.” On Oct. 17, the spiritual leader received the Congressional Gold Medal for his work in supporting spiritual harmony, nonviolence and human rights. To mark the occasion, the Library presented a special display titled “Celebrating Tibet,” which was comprised of items for the Asian Division. The display was on view the week of the Dalai Lama’s visit to the United States. An article in the December 2007 issue of the Library of Congress Information Bulletin features a description of the items on view. The Library’s Asian collection of more than 2 million items is the largest and most comprehensive outside of Asia. The Tibetan Collection, which now comprises 10,000 volumes, began in 1899 with a gift of several texts from William Woodville Rockhill, America’s first Tibetologist and U.S. diplomat in Beijing.


A. Moskwa 1980. Prints and Photographs Division. 1980. Reproduction Information: Call No.: POS 6 - U.S.S.R., no. 17 (C size) <P&P>[P&P]

B. “Celebrating Tibet,” comprising 40 Tibetan items on display in the Library’s Asian Reading Room. Raquel Maya. 2007. Library of Congress. Reproduction Information: Not available for reproduction.