The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics are just two days away. On Friday, February 9th, just under 3,000 athletes from 90 countries will compete in 15 different disciplines. It’s a lot of numbers to remember, and we’re about to throw a few more your way. You may have heard the word “olympiad” discussed during the build up to the Winter Olympics, and you may be wondering: what’s an olympiad?
An olympiad is the official name for the four-year period between the Olympic Games.
The ancient Greeks, who founded the original Olympics, used olympiads to keep track of time. Before the olympiad time system, ancient Greeks named years after important magistrates and later, Olympic victors. But in the 4th century B.C., ancient Greeks switched their time reckoning to olympiads. They then numbered the years within an olympiad from 1 to 4.
The first ever olympiad began with the 776 B.C. Olympic Games — referred to by ancient historians as Olympiad 1, 1. The use of this time system continued up until the Byzantine period when the Roman Empire conquered Greece in 393 A.D. The Olympics were then outlawed by Emperor Theodosius I and olympiads disappeared not long after.
So why do we still hear the term used today? Fortunately, when the Olympics were revived in 1896, the use of olympiads was brought back into fashion as well.
Of course, we don’t currently use olympiads to keep track of time. But we do use them to refer to the four-year period between the Olympic Games, just as the ancient Greeks did. Our modern olympiads start on January 1st of the first year and end on December 31st of the fourth year.
But it should be noted that olympiads are currently only used to keep track of the Summer Olympics and not the Winter Olympics. Technically, we won’t enter into a new olympiad until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
It’s all a bit confusing, but just count your blessings that we don’t have to use olympiads to keep track of years anymore. Life is hard enough as it is.