Have the Olympics Ever Been Held in Back-to-Back Years?

If it feels like the 2022 Winter Olympics came out of nowhere, you likely aren’t alone. This year’s Games will start on Friday, Feb. 4, less than six months after the 2020 Summer Olympics ended.

If the idea of the Olympics taking place in consecutive years feels strange, trust us when we say that you definitely aren’t alone.

The coronavirus pandemic forced the Olympics to occur in consecutive years

The Beijing Olympics logo.
The 2022 Winter Olympics will occur only months after the 2021 Summer Olympics ended | Fred DuFour/AFP via Getty Images

Originally, the 2020 Summer Olympics were supposed to take place in 2020. The IOC, for all of its flaws, didn’t come up with a misleading name on purpose. Remember, the virus was first spotted in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, and the World Health Organization declared a Public Health Emergency on Jan. 30, 2020, over two months before the epidemic became an ongoing pandemic.

Amid the toilet paper-hoarding and Netflix binging, the IOC announced in March 2020 that the Games would be pushed back a year. Although various countries and public figures suggested the games be canceled in the months before the torch was lit, the show went on as scheduled.

So, what does all of this have to do with the 2022 Winter Olympics? The IOC’s decision to move the 2020 Games back a year ensured that the Olympics would take place in consecutive years for the first time in history.

The Games had never taken place in consecutive years, even during World War II

Nothing, not even World War II, had ever forced the Games to be held in consecutive years. In fact, the 2020 Games marked the first time in Olympic history that the event had ever been rescheduled. Previously, the Olympics either went on or didn’t happen at all.

The 1916, 1940, and 1944 Olympiads were all canceled because of war. As of publication, those are the only instances of the Olympics being moved outside of the 2020 Summer Games.

The 1968 Summer Games weren’t moved to 1969 following the Tlatelolco Massacre, an incident in which Mexican Armed Forces opened fire on unarmed civilians amid ongoing protests. Hundreds were killed as a result.

The IOC also did not postpone or cancel the 1972 and 1996 Summer Games after terrorist-related incidents.
A group of Palestinian terrorists, part of the Black September Organization, attacked the Olympic Village apartments of the Israeli Olympic team in 1972, killing two of the athletes and holding another nine hostage, all of whom were murdered in the ensuing standoff. The IOC took two days before deciding to hold the games as scheduled.

Two people died after a homemade bomb exploded during a concert in Centennial Olympic Park in July 1996. However, the IOC only needed several hours before deciding the games would not be postponed or canceled.

When did the Winter and Summer Olympics stop being held the same year?

Those born in the 1990s or later will be forgiven for thinking the Summer and Winter Olympics always took place in separate years. For much of the 20th century, both Games occurred simultaneously every four years.

Things changed in 1986 when the IOC voted to change the schedule. At the time, the committee felt the Winter Games would receive more attention, not to mention the fact that more money would come in through television rights.

The last such Olympiad occurred in 1992, when Albertville, France, hosted the Winter Games only months before the Summer Games took place in Barcelona. Two years later, the area in and around Lillehammer, Norway, hosted the Winter Games. Atlanta hosted the Summer Games four years later, and the now-standard scheduling process was fully underway.

After all, the money always speaks loudest, especially when the IOC is involved.

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