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Three billion people all over the world are expected to cheer for the Summer Olympics this year. For 19 days, more than 10,000 athletes will compete in 42 sports in Rio de Janeiro, no doubt setting several new world records.

We’ve gotten quite used to the enormous scope of the Olympics, and we expect no less than a tremendous opening ceremony and intense competition between world-class athletes. However, the games weren’t always a global event of such significance.

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At the first modern games, which took place in Athens in 1896, there were just 12 countries competing in nine sports. Several rather exotic events, like tug-of-war, lacrosse and ballooning, have come and gone during the evolution of the present-day Olympics.

Nowadays, a sporting event must demonstrate popularity throughout the whole world to be considered for the Olympics: male and female athletes from at least 75 countries and four continents should participate. This year’s games will be a historic moment for golf – it will return as an Olympic sport after a 112-year absence: the last time Olympic golf was played was at the 1904 Summer Games in St. Louis.

olympic sports popularity

We’ve decided to combine the history of Olympic sports with images of athletes in our timeline. Watch the evolution of Olympics and access our hand-picked sports collections to be ready for the big event!

 

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