Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Rachel from Irmo, SC. Rachel Wonders, “How many countries enter the Olympics? ” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Rachel!

Ah, the Olympics. The pinnacle of athletic glory. The whole world waits for the competitions to roll around every four years. Surely all 196 countries participate, right? Or are there a limited number of spots? Does the host city get to decide who takes part?

The host city has many important duties. But choosing which countries can compete in the games is not one of them. The Olympics aren’t limited to a certain number of countries, either. In fact, Brazil welcomed over 10,500 athletes from 206 countries during the summer of 2016!

Wait just a second…206 countries? How is that possible? Aren’t there only 196 countries in the world? It's true, most sources put the number of countries in the world at 196. So how do 206 nations take part in the Olympics? Where did the extra 10 come from?

For a country to participate in the Olympics, it must have a National Olympic Committee (NOC). That committee has to be approved by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The rules regarding NOCs were changed in 1996. Today, a new NOC has to be from a country recognized by the United Nations. Prior to 1996, however, the IOC recognized NOCs from some territories of other nations. That explains why more than 196 countries take part in the Olympics.

For example, 204 countries sent athletes to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England. That number was made up of 193 of the 196 independent nations (all but South Sudan, Kosovo, and Vatican City). The other 11 were territories of other countries. This included American Samoa, Aruba, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cook Islands, Guam, Hong Kong, Palestine, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

How about the Winter Olympics? Far fewer athletes take part in the Winter Games. Are you WONDERing why? It comes down to climate. Many countries around the world don’t have temperatures that would allow them to compete in most winter sports. At the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, there were 2,952 athletes from 92 countries.

The Olympics have come a long way since the first modern Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, in 1896. Only 14 countries took part that year. The 2020 Olympics, which were pushed to 2021 due to COVID-19, will welcome 205 countries to Tokyo, Japan!

Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.W.7, CCRA.W.9, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2

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Not all famous art hangs in museums. Sometimes it hangs on the refrigerator. Find out more tomorrow in Wonderopolis!