Olympic Games Official Openings

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin will official open the 2014 Olympic Winter Games tonight at the Opening Ceremony – no surprise there as these Games have one man’s stamp on them, Putin, more so than any Olympics since Berlin in 1936.

Vladimir Putin is the current President of Russia, or the highest ranking official in the country. It is standard that Olympic Games are opened by the Head of State of the nation in which the Games are held, per IOC Protocol, although the IOC also contradicts itself by always stating that Games are awarded to cities and not countries. We’ll overlook that.

Since the Modern Olympic Games started in 1896 it has been rare that the nation’s Head of State did not open the Olympics. The United States has been famous for this, as in 1932 at Lake Placid and Los Angeles, 1960 at Squaw Valley, and 1980 at Lake Placid, the US President did not open the Games. In 1932 at Lake Placid it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who at that time was only Governor of New York state. The Los Angeles 1932 Olympics were opened by Vice-President Charles Curtis, as President Herbert Hoover declined to travel to Los Angeles because of his preoccupation with the world-wide depression. In 1960, President Dwight Eisenhower did not go to Squaw Valley, with those Games opened by Vice-President Richard Nixon – another Olympics at least opened by a future US President.

And famously, at Lake Placid in 1980, President Jimmy Carter refused to open the Winter Olympics, as he was pressuring the IOC to boycott the Moscow Olympics, and sent Vice-President Walter Mondale in his stead. Mondale also opened the IOC Session in Lake Placid and angered the IOC by his political speech in which he called for a boycott of Moscow.

Finally, in 1984 at Los Angeles, President Ronald Reagan broke the US “tradition” of not sending the President to the Opening Ceremony. US Olympics have since been opened by Presidents Bill Clinton (1996 Atlanta) and George W. Bush (2002 Salt Lake City).

Other than the USA situations, there has been only one other time at which a Head of State did not open an Olympics, and it did occur at the Winter Olympics. That was at the first Winter Olympics, at Chamonix in 1924, which were opened by Gaston Vidal (1888-1949), the French Under-Secretary for Physical Education, rather than French President Alexandre Millerand or Prime Minister Raymond Poincaré. But those first “Winter Olympics” were a bit odd in themselves – more on that in the next blog post.

2 thoughts on “Olympic Games Official Openings”

  1. Great post. There are a few more examples of a head of state not opening the Olympics. (All from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_who_have_opened_the_Olympic_Games)

    Paris 1900 had no official opening. In 1904, the games were opened by the president of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (himself a former mayor of St. Louis and governor of Missouri).

    In Amsterdam 1928, the husband of the Queen of the Netherlands opened. A princess, rather than the king, of Norway opened Oslo 1952.

    Finally, Queen Elizabeth II is technically the head of state of both Canada and Australia. But she didn’t open the Calgary, Vancouver or Sydney games (those were opened by the governor-general, the Queen’s representative) or the Melbourne games (opened by the Queen’s husband, the Duke of Edinburgh). She did open the Montreal and London games though.

    1. Good points – I didn’t get into the Queen thing re Canada and Australia although I thought about it. As to 1900 and 1904, since Wikipedia got all that from me, I know a lot about it, and elected not to discuss that either. 1900 and 1904 very odd Olympic Games, and in 1904, one could say that President Theodore Roosevelt opened the Games, since he opened the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (via a telegraph switch from Washington), and the Olympics were only a subset of that World’s Fair. You’re right about 1952 Oslo – should have mentioned that.

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