Royalty and the Olympics: Host Nations

  July 25, 2012 at 8:29 am by

With the Games of the XXX Olympiad kicking off on Friday in London, the TRF Blog will be looking at the connection between Royal Families and the Summer Olympic Games throughout history over the next few days.

Our first blog entry focuses on royal nations which have hosted a Summer Olympic Games.

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Greece: Athens 1896
The first Games of the Modern Olympiad were held in the traditional home of the Olympic Games, Athens. Crown Prince Constantine (later Constantine I) became the President of the Games’ organising committee, after he and his father, George I, publicised their patronage of the Games. The King officially opened the Games on April 6th, at the Panathinaiko Stadium, declaring, “open the first international Olympic Games in Athens. Long live the Nation. Long live the Greek people.”

Competitors from fourteen nations attended the first Games, competing in nine different sports. During the marathon, the King’s sons rushed to the stadium track to run alongside the winning Greek runner Spyros Louy, while their father cheered jubilantly in the stands. At the closing ceremony on April 15th, King George presented the event winners with silver medals, diplomas and a traditional Greek olive branch. The silver medals featured the face of Zeus. The King had previously held a reception for competing athletes at the Royal Palace. Following the closure of the Olympics, King George and other prominent Greeks (and the United States athletes) petitioned for each consecutive Games to be held in Athens; this was declined by the IOC.

Among the spectators in Athens, besides the Greek Royal Family, were the Prince and Princess of Wales (later Edward VI and Queen Alexandra), and King Alexander of Serbia.

View a video composition of the Athens 1896 Games here, including footage of the Greek Royal Family at the Opening Ceremony at the 1:15 mark.

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Britain: London 1908, London 1948 (Australia: Melbourne 1956; Canada: Montreal 1976)
The London 1908 Games were opened by King Edward VII on April 27th, at the White City Stadium. The International Olympic Committee awarded London the Games in 1906, after Rome, the original 1908 host, backed out following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Twenty-two nations competed, sending just over 2,000 athletes to London. Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf (later Gustaf VI Adolf) of Sweden attended the opening ceremony, sitting alongside the King and Queen in the Royal Box.

View the full image at BBC

During the Games, the future standard distance of the marathon was established as 42.195km, or 26 miles 385 yards. The distance had a significantly royal perspective, as it was increased to allow the event to begin at Windsor Castle. King Edward’s daughter-in-law, the Princess of Wales, was allowed her request for the start line to be underneath the royal nursery window at the Castle.  The finish line at the White City Stadium was directly in front of the Royal Box.

Queen Alexandra also rode along with public sympathy for the Italian marathon runner Dorando Pietri, who was disqualified from the race despite finishing first. The Queen presented Pietri with a gold cup the following day in front of a packed White City Stadium crowd.

View a video composition of the London 1908 Games here, including footage of the Royal Box at the 0:30 mark, and the beginning of the marathon in Windsor at 3:00.

View the full image at Winning Endeavours

Four decades later, London was awarded the first post-World War II Olympics, to be held in July-August 1948. London was chosen as host because the city was scheduled to host the 1944 Olympic Games, which were cancelled due to World War II. King George VI officially opened the Olympics at Wembley Stadium. Among the members of the Royal Family present were Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary, Princess Margaret, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and the Duchess of Kent. 59 nations were represented by over 4,000 athletes at the Games – Germany, Japan and the USSR were notable absentees (the former two were not invited, while the latter chose not to attend).

The ‘Austerity Games’, as London 1948 is known, were influenced by the economic situation of the time, which meant that the athletes were housed in existing buildings instead of a purpose-built Olympic Village, and were asked, if possible, to bring their own food. Closer to the end of the Games, King George VI hosted a reception at Buckingham Palace for various athletes, including American basketballer Robert Jackson Robinson.

View the full image at BBC America

Foreign royals who attended the Games included Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, the Shah of Iran, and Lord and Lady Mountbatten. The new Duke of Edinburgh was on hand to present medals and greet athletes.

View a video composition of the London 1948 Games here, including footage of King George VI at the opening ceremony at the 0:43 mark.

As the British Sovereign is also the Head of State of Australia and Canada, the Melbourne 1956 and Montreal 1976 Games were both opened by a member of the Royal Family. The Duke of Edinburgh substituted for Queen Elizabeth II at the Melbourne ’56 Opening Ceremony, held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground; while the Queen was on hand for the Montreal ’76 Opening at the Olympic Stadium.

View the full image at FriendsReunited

Sweden: Stockholm 1912
The Games of the V Olympiad were held in Stockholm between July 6th and July 22nd, 1912. Sweden was the only nation to bid for the 1912 Games, and Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf (later Gustaf VI Adolf) was selected as the Honorary President of the organising committee, while the Duke of Västergötland, King Gustaf V’s younger brother, was put in charge of organising the horsing events. The King officially opened the Games at the opening ceremony held at the newly-built Stockholm Olympic Stadium, declaring his nation’s “legitimate joy and pride” at hosting the Games.

View the full image at the 1912 Olympics Official Report

The Swedish Royal Family were present at several events, and Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf and Prince Carl were involved in varying events. On July 15th, a medal presentation took place, with King Gustaf V presenting the first place winners their solid-gold medals. The Crown Prince presented the silver, and Prince Carl the bronze.

View the full image at the 1912 Olympics Official Report

Stockholm 1912 is known for being the first Olympic Games to put into use automatic timing equipment for track events, as well as photo finishes. 28 nations participated in 14 sports.

The Stockholm 1912 Games had two reigning royal competitors amongst the athletes – Prince Friedrich Karl of Prussia won a bronze medal for the German team in the team jumping, while Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich came seventh with the Russian team in the same event.

View a video composition of the Stockholm 1912 Games here; footage of Prince Carl greeting equestrian competitors at the 1:09 mark. A video of the Opening Ceremony can be seen here, with the Royal Family entering the Stadium at the 1:20 mark.

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Belgium: Antwerp 1920
Antwerp 1920 was the first Olympic Games after the First World War. The previous Games were scheduled to be held in Berlin in 1916, but were cancelled after the outbreak of the war. The International Olympic Committee chose Antwerp as the host for the Games of the VII Olympiad in honour of the Belgian suffering during the war and in memory of the war’s victims. King Albert I officially opened the Games on August 14th at the Olympic Stadium, and presented the winner’s medals.

View the full gallery at

During the Opening Ceremony, several new features were established which have been present in every Olympic Games since. Belgian fencer Victor Boin took the first Athlete’s Oath, pledging on behalf of all the 2,600 athletes present. White doves were released as a symbol of peace, and the Olympic Flag was raised for the first time.

29 nations participated in the Games; the countries which lost WWI – Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey – were not invited.

View a video composition of the Antwerp 1920 Opening Ceremony here, including footage of the Royal Family arriving at the beginning of the video.

View the full image in the 1928 Olympics Official Report

The Netherlands: Amsterdam 1928
Amsterdam beat Los Angeles in 1921 to host the 1928 Olympic Games, after failing to win their bids for the 1920 and 1924 Olympics. Prince Hendrik, husband of Queen Wilhelmina and Honorary President of Amsterdam 1928, officially opened the Games at the Olympisch Stadion on July 28th, as the Queen – who was the official patron of the Games – refused to cut short her Norwegian summer vacation to do so. During the opening ceremony, the Olympic Flame was lit for the first time, a tradition which continues to this day.

View the full image in the 1928 Olympics Official Report

46 nations were represented by 2,800 athletes in 14 sports. Female athletes were allowed to compete in gymnastics and athletics for the first time. Foreign royals present as spectators included the Norwegian and Swedish Royal Families, and Duke Adolph Frederic of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, German member of the International Olympic Committee.

Crown Prince Olav (later Olav V) of Norway competed in the sailing events, winning a gold medal. Queen Wilhelmina returned from Norway before the conclusion of the Games, attending several events with her daughter, Princess Juliana. The Queen also presented several medals to triumphant athletes.

View a video composition of the 1928 Games here, including footage of the Royal Family arriving for events at the 0:10 mark.

View the full image at

Japan: Tokyo 1964
The first Olympic Games held on the Asian continent were held in Tokyo in October 1964. Emperor Hirohito presided over the opening ceremony, held on October 10 at the Olympic Stadium, accompanied by members of the Imperial Family. The Olympic Flame was light by Japanese runner Yoshinori Sakai, who was chosen to symbolise the post-war reconstruction of Japan as he was born on the day Hiroshima was bombed by the USA.

View the full image at the Providence Journal

93 nations competed, with nineteen sports offered.

Crown Prince Harald (late Harald V) of Norway competed in the sailing events during the Games, like his father. The Crown Prince was also Norway’s flag-bearer at the opening ceremony.

View a video composite of the 1964 Olympic Games here; including footage of the Imperial Family at the 4:15 mark.


Spain: Barcelona 1992
Barcelona won the Games of the XXV Olympiad over Amsterdam, Belgrade, Birmingham, Brisbane and Paris in 1986. The opening ceremony took place at the Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys on July 25th, with King Juan Carlos I officially opening the Games.

169 nations, including debuts by Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, competed in the Games, with an athlete count of 9,356 – the highest total until then. 32 sports were available for competition.

View the full image in the 1992 Olympics Official Report

The Prince of Asturias competed in the Soling class event of the sailing discipline, finishing sixth. The Prince was also the country’s flag-bearer at the opening ceremony. His future brother-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarín, was a member of the Spanish men’s handball team.

View a video of the opening ceremony here; head to the 4:07 mark for footage of Prince Felipe leading the Spanish team into the Stadium and shots of the Royal Family (and Infanta Elena crying with joy).

The London 2012 Olympic Games will begin on July 27th. Expect to see many royals attending various sporting events!

Head over to TRF’s special London Olympic Games forum for all the latest news about the Games.

Filed under Belgium, Greece, Japan, Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands, The United Kingdom
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2 Responses to Royalty and the Olympics: Host Nations

  1. Artemisia says:

    What a great entry! I never quite appreciated just how many royals have actually competed in the Olympics.
    I especially enjoyed the video footages; I’d never seen most of them.

  2. Cindy Japardi says:


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