Hold your applause

5 Olympic Games that never happened

If the 2021 — er, 2020 — Tokyo Olympics are cancelled, it won’t be the first time.

Originally Published: 
US National Archives


This year’s Olympics will be like no other.

For starters, Tokyo 2020 is still the official name for the games, even though they’re happening in 2021.


As Olympians get situated in Japan, the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging worldwide, and a whopping 50 percent of Tokyo residents reportedly want the games cancelled.


At least 71 people involved with the Olympics have tested positive for COVID-19 in the weeks leading up to the games.

Case numbers in Tokyo on the rise, as well.

Guinea withdrew from the competition the day before it started, joining North Korea as the only other country to decline participation this year — so far.


If the games are cancelled at the 11th hour — an option that officials haven’t yet ruled out — it wouldn’t be the first time.

Since the modern event’s inception, 5 Olympic games have been cancelled. Here’s a look back:

1. Summer 1916

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced in 1912 that the summer Olympic games would be held in Berlin, Germany in 1916.


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It was a long time coming for Germany. They’d wanted to host the games in 1912, but their head Olympics campaign leader died, and Berlin’s bid to host was withdrawn.

But by 1914, all preparations came to a halt.

World War I broke out that summer. Though the games were never officially cancelled, it was painfully clear they just weren’t going to happen.

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2. Winter 1940

Sapporo, Japan was originally set to host the 1940 winter Olympics, but withdrew in 1938 due to the Second Sino-Japanese war.


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The games were then awarded to St. Moritz, Switzerland.

However, a controversy broke out among the IOC and officials in Switzerland over whether slalom skiing and ski jumping should be considered amateur or professional events.

The 1940 winter games were pulled from Switzerland.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, became the new destination for the Olympics. But after Germany invaded Poland in 1938, they announced they could no longer host, letting another games slip from their grasp.

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3. Summer 1940

World War II raged throughout 1940, with no end in sight. Before the conflict started, the IOC had awarded the summer games to Tokyo, Japan.

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But Japan withdrew in 1938, as they had from the 1940 winter games, citing conflict with China.

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Helsinki was then set to host — until the Soviet Union attacked Finland. Then Nazi Germany invaded neighboring Denmark and Norway in 1940.

Finland and the IOC thought it best to just call the whole thing off.

4. Winter 1944

Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, was awarded the winter 1944 games in 1939 — a year before WWII officially began.

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Unlike the 1940 Olympics, which were cancelled at the last minute, officials chose to call off the 1944 games in 1941 in light of ongoing conflict.

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Almost a decade after the war ended, Cortina d’Ampezzo successfully hosted the 1956 Olympic winter games. So it wasn’t a total loss — just delayed gratification.

5. Summer 1944

London was the final city to lose its opportunity to host the Olympics due to WWII.


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London’s story is similar to Cortina d’Ampezzo’s: hopes were dashed shortly after WWII began, but the city was able to host the games after the war, in 1948.

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The IOC hosted a small Olympic ceremony in 1944 in Switzerland, which stayed neutral during the war. It was meant to inspire hope for peaceful, global sporting events in the future — but hardly anyone took notice.

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This year’s Olympics represent history in the making.

Even if they play out as planned, the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic will overshadow everything that happens at the games — and leave a lasting impression.


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