It should be a friendly competition and a way for nations to understand each other: In 1896 French sport functionary Pierre de Coubertin initiated the first modern Olympics in Athens. 295 male athletes from 13 countries followed his call. Four years later, 17 women also participated.
The first German Olympic hero was Carl Schuhmann, left. Standing only 1.63 meters (5'4") tall, the small goldsmith won four gold medals in Athens - in gymnastics and wrestling. He also competed in weightlifting and track and field.
Along with the classic Olympic sport forms of track and field, gymnastics, and swimming there were also many more peculiar ones. At the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis there were swinging, tug of war and rope climbing events. Tug of war, shown here at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, was part of the games until 1920.
Jesse Owens impressed at the 1936 games in Berlin. Hitler wanted to use the games to show a peaceful picture of the German Reich as well as demonstrate the superiority of the Aryan race. Owens was victorious in sprinting and the long jump, with the help of his German competitor Luz Long, right, with whom he later formed a deep friendship.
Helsinki 1952 were Emil Zatopek's games. The Czech runner won both the 5,000 and 10,000 meter races. He won his final medal when he decided to enter the Marathon at the last minute and won. He'd never run the race before. His reasoning for success was simple: "Birds fly, fish swim, men run!"
With a jump of 7.65 meters (25ft), long-jumper Bob Beamon narrowly qualified for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City - afterwards he won the event with an 8.90 meter (29ft 2in) jump. Breaking the world record by two feet, it was too long for electronic measurement so metric tape had to be used. The record stood for 23 years until Mike Powell broke it in 1991 with an 8.95 meter jump.
200-meter Olympic champion Tommie Smith and his teammate John Carlos made a statement against injustice 1968 with their fists raised high: "If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro." The reaction of the IOC: both were expelled from the games, and neither competed for the US at the Olympics again.
The 1972 games in Munich should have been a happy affair. Instead, Palestinian terrorists shot two Israeli athletes and took a further nine hostage. A failed rescue attempt at the airport left every hostage, one policeman, and five terrorists dead.
After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, US President Jimmy Carter asked the 1980 Moscow Olympics be moved to another country, or America would boycott. It came to a boycott, and 64 other teams joined the United States in protest, including West Germany.
Four years later in Los Angeles the Soviets returned the favor, staying home along with 13 other countries, including East Germany. It was the last major boycott of the Olympic Games. Successful athletes of 1984 included gymnast Ecaterina Szabo and sprinter Carl Lewis with four gold medals each.
The most memorable picture of the 1984 games in Los Angeles isn't of a winner, but rather Swiss marathoner Gabriela Andersen-Schiess. Dehydrated and suffering from heat exhaustion, she staggered into the stadium 20 minutes behind the winner, waving off medical personal as she struggled around the final lap. Her final time would've been good enough to win the first five Olympic marathons.
Ben Johnson won the 100-meter dash with a swift 9.79 seconds at the 1988 games in Seoul - a new world record. Two days later, traces of steroids were found in his urine. He also admitted to taking steroids during his 1987 world championship 100-meter victory. Both gold medals were subsequently rescinded.
Another drama played itself out in 1988 during the decathlon. Favorite Jürgen Hingsen of West Germany produced three false starts in the first event, the 100-meter dash, and was disqualified. The only consolation: the gold went to Christian Schenk of East Germany.
At the 1992 games in Barcelona, German runner Dieter Baumann was surrounded by four African runners, with no chance of overtaking them. But with a little luck, he stormed by the runners from Kenya, Ethiopia and Morocco on his way to gold in the 5,000-meter race.
The 1996 games in Atlanta brought out great emotion during the opening ceremony. Former Olympic champion and boxing legend Muhammad Ali lit the fire to begin the games. A few days later, a bombing at the Olympic Park shocked the world. Two people died and 111 were injured.
Cathy Freeman was the face of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. The Australian Aboriginal lit the Olympic flame, later won gold in the 400-meter und became a symbolic figure for the reconciliation between Aborigines and the white population of Australia. During her lap of honor she carried both the Australian and Aboriginal flags.
Michael Phelps set a mark for eternity four years ago. At Beijing in 2008, the American swimmer won an unbelievable eight gold medals in eight events.
The modern Olympic Games started in 1896. These are some of the most important, influential, and meaningnful moments of the last 116 years of Olympic history.