Why Are the Olympics Held Every Four Years?

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Viewers around the world will come together to watch athletes compete in the Olympics in Paris this summer, four years since they last saw gymnasts, swimmers, and cyclists compete. The summer and winter games each occur in four-year intervals—a tradition that dates back to when the games first began in Ancient Greece.

The timing of the games originated with the first Olympics, which were believed to have been held in 776 BC in ancient Greece, according to the International Olympics Committee. Time was then measured in “Olympiads,” which demarcated a four-year period. The Olympics were held at the beginning of each Olympiad to honor the Greek god Zeus.

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The ancient games continued to be celebrated in Olympia in Greece for more than a thousand years, but were abandoned after the Christian emperor Theodosius I forbade the celebration of pagan cults, including the Olympic Games, in 393 AD.

Several attempts were made at the end of the 19th century to bring back the games, but were unsuccessful until Pierre de Coubertin, a French educator and founder of the modern Olympics games, began rallying to resurrect the games in 1892. He drew inspiration from the ancient Games, including the timing.

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From 1924 to 1992, the summer and winter games were held in the same year, until the International Olympics Committee instituted a change, deciding to hold the summer games during the first year of an Olympiad and the winter games during the third year.

There have only been a handful of times when the Games did not occur in a four-year period, including in 1916 during World War I and during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the 2020 Tokyo games were pushed to 2021.

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Write to Simmone Shah at simmone.shah@time.com