North American Cities That Have Hosted the Olympics

Which cities have hosted the Olympics?

The Olympics are almost here! Who doesn’t love watching athletes from around the world gather for 17 days of exciting competitions, amazing displays of athleticism, stories of overcoming adversity and magical moments where lifelong dreams come true? From the games “down under” in Sydney, Australia to the northernmost games in Lillehammer, Norway, the Olympics have crossed the globe and have drawn us in. The 2018 games (scheduled to start February 9 and end February 25) are happening in PyeongChang, South Korea, and they’re sure to be exciting. While we wait for the competition to begin, take a look at the other North American cities that have hosted the Olympics — in many of these places, you can still visit the Olympic Village and some of the competition arenas!

Person waving American flag.


Olympic Games hosted in the United States

The United States has hosted more Olympic Games than any other country — eight so far! The 2028 games (which will be here before you know it!) are happening in Los Angeles, California. These other cities have also played host:

St. Louis, MO — 1904 Summer Games

The 1904 Summer Games in St. Louis were the first ever Olympiad held in the United States (though they were originally slotted to take place in Chicago). They went on over the long course of four and a half months and featured 95 events. Only 12 countries were represented in the St. Louis Olympics, and because it was tied to that year’s World’s Fair, the games almost went unnoticed. It was here that the awarding of gold, silver and bronze medals first began, and it’s where the boxing, freestyle wrestling, decathlon and dumbbell events debuted. Also notable is that American gymnast George Eyser won six gold medals in one day, competing with a wooden leg. 

Lake Placid, NY — 1932 and 1980 Winter Games​

In the middle of the Great Depression, only 17 countries, represented by 252 athletes participated in the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid — a small village in northeastern New York. The Games were opened by Franklin D. Roosevelt (then Governor of New York), and events included bobsleigh, ice hockey, figure skating, speed skating, Nordic skiing, cross-country skiing and ski jumping. It also featured “demonstration sports” that included curling, sled dog race and women’s speed skating. As a result of unusually warm weather during the 1932 games, the four-man bobsleigh final was delayed — finishing after the closing ceremonies! Read the story behind these four men and their flying bobsled.

In 1980, Lake Placid was the only bid for host city for the Winter games. In an attempt to make sure the events happened in perfect conditions, they used artificial snow for the first time during these Games. The mascot for the 1980 Winter Olympics was a raccoon named Roni, named by local school children.

Los Angeles, CA — 1932 and 1984 Summer Games (also chosen to host 2028 Summer Olympics)

No other cities made a bid to host the 1932 Summer Olympics, so Los Angeles it was! Because California was so far away and the Games took place during the Great Depression, few were able to make the trip (including President Herbert Hoover). A total of 37 nations were represented. It was here that the first Olympic Village (for men) was built, and it was also the first time the gold, silver and bronze victory podium was used. While many of the previous games exceed 80 days, the Los Angeles games were just 16 days, which has since become the norm.

Though some countries were noticeably missing, a record number of 140 countries and 6,800 athletes participated in the 1984 Summer Olympics. Countries including Cuba, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic, Hungary, North Korea, Poland and the Soviet Union did not attend, some citing concerns over security (though many thought it was politically motivated). This, however, was the first time China participated in the Summer Games since 1952. The 1984 Olympics debuted several women’s events including the marathon, rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming and cycling. This was also one of the first Olympic events where corporate sponsors played a big part, marketing certain things as “official” Olympic products.

The 2028 games plan to utilize many existing arenas and buildings to create a sustainable and responsible venue.

Squaw Valley, CA — 1960 Winter Games

When bidding to host the 1960 Olympics in 1955, the resort didn’t even exist. Developer Alexander Cushing bid to host the games and won. This Olympics was the debut of the men’s biathlon and women’s speed skating, and it marked the first instant replay when officials asked CBS to review video of a men’s slalom skier. 1960 was also the only year in history that the bobsleigh event was not included in Olympic programming (only nine nations said they would participate, so the Olympic Committee refused to build the bobsleigh run).

Atlanta, GA — 1996 Summer Games

The 1996 Games were the first time all 197 National Olympic Committees were present at an Olympics. Athletes from 79 countries won medals (the most countries awarded ever). This is where beach volleyball, mountain biking, lightweight rowing and women’s football were introduced, and where the first ever women’s only sport — softball — debuted. The 1996 Games were marked with tragedy as a terrorist bomb exploded in the Centennial Olympic Park, killing two people and injuring 110.

Salt Lake City, UT — 2002 Winter Games

The 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake were the most recent Games hosted in the United States (until the upcoming Summer Olympics in Los Angeles). Here close to 2,400 athletes from 78 nations participated in 78 events. These Games featured the first ever women’s bobsleigh event, and four countries made history here — Estonia and Croatia won their first medal in a Winter games, and China and Australia won their first golds in a Winter Games. President George W. Bush officially opened the 2002 Winter Olympics, a first for a U.S. President.

Olympic Games hosted in Canada

Canada has played host to three different Olympic Games.

Montreal, QC — 1976 Summer Games

The Montreal Summer Games were the first ever to be held in Canada. A boycott by 22 African countries protesting the New Zealand rugby team’s presence at the Olympics resulted in just 92 countries participating. It was at the Montreal Games that rowing, team handball and women’s basketball first debuted. And, the star of the games was gymnast Nadio Comaneci from Romania. At just 14 years old, she was awarded the first ever perfect 10.0 on the uneven bars and went on to win seven other perfect scores.

Calgary, AB — 1988 Winter Games

There were a lot of firsts with the 1988 Games! They were the first Winter Games ever hosted in Canada, speed skating events were held indoors at a covered rink for the first time, the games were “smoke-free” for the first time (no smoking), and for the first time ever a team from Jamaica participated in the bobsleigh event. In fact, the Disney movie Cool Runnings is based on their story!

Vancouver, BC — 2010 Winter Games

The venues for the 2010 events covered over 75 miles from Richmond to Whistler, and it was the first opening ceremony to be held indoors. With 2,632 athletes participating in 86 competitions over 17 days, and close to 11,000 media representatives and 3.5 billion television viewers, the 2010 Winter Games were one of the largest ever. It marked the first time strict environmental regulations, called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), were used for the development of new construction.

Olympic Games hosted in Mexico​

Mexico has hosted the Olympics once.

Mexico City, MX — 1968 Summer Games

Because the altitude (2,300m) created issues in endurance sports like long-distance running, swimming and cycling, Mexico City was a controversial choice for the Olympic Games. Here, the Olympic torch relay followed the route Christopher Columbus took on his first journey from Spain to the New World. It was the first time a woman, hurdler Enriqueta Basilo, was selected to light the cauldron at an Olympic Opening Ceremony. And, while cycling, rowing, canoeing, swimming and equestrian competitions were timed manually and electronically, the ’68 Games were the first time the electronic time was used as the “official” time. This was also the first Olympics where winners had to undergo testing for narcotics and stimulants to prove illegal supplements weren’t being used.

Other interesting Olympic facts​

  • The very first modern Olympic Games took place in 1896 in Athens, Greece. The games were what we would consider a Summer Olympics. They occurred every 4 years, with the first Winter Olympics happening in 1924. The Winter and Summer Games occurred in the same year until 1992, when they began alternating every 2 years.
  • The 1940 and 1944 Winter and Summer Olympics were canceled due to World War II.
  • The Olympic flag was created in 1914 and first flown in 1920. It contains five colored rings on a white background, which symbolizes friendship gained through international competitions. The colors — blue, yellow, black, green and red — were chosen because at least one appeared on the flags of every country in the world.
  • The procession of athletes in the opening ceremony always begins with the Greek team. After them, the teams come out in alphabetical order (using the host language), with the host team going very last.
  • The standard length of a marathon came during the 1908 Olympics in Great Britain. Before then, the distance was approximate and based on the story of Greek soldier Pheidippides who ran from Marathon to Athens (around 25 miles). In 1908, the marathon went from Windsor Castle to the Olympic Stadium, which was 26 miles and 385 yards. In 1924 that became the standardized marathon distance — 26.2 miles.

Which Olympic Games were most memorable for you?

Do you remember watching one of these North American hosted Olympics? Which game was most memorable for you? Which events are you looking forward to watching in the upcoming games? Let us know in the comments.

Learn other interesting facts about places across the country here.