Call it Continental Drift - the philosophy that the honor of hosting the Olympic Games should be spread over the globe.

Depending on which Olympic expert you talk to, the tradition of alternating Olympics among nations and continents either doesn't really matter or it's the reason why members of the International Olympic Committee will reject Salt Lake City's 1998 Winter Olympic bid.With Atlanta winning the bid to host the 1996 Summer Olympics, backers of the Salt Lake Olympic bid will be hoping the Olympics will drift to the same country and continent twice in a row - something the contemporary IOC rarely votes to do.

In the case of granting back-to-back Olympics to the same nation, the IOC has broken or stretched tradition only twice, even during the first two-thirds of its history when most Olympics were hosted in Europe.

During the past three decades, when the IOC has attempted to shift Olympics between continents, the IOC has broken with Continental Drift only four times, each time allowing consecutive European nations to host the Olympics.

If it's any consolation to Utah's Olympic boosters, one exception to alternating sites among countries occurred with two U.S. cities - Lake Placid, N.Y., and Los Angeles. In 1932, the cities held back-to-back Winter and Summer Games. In a stretch of the rule, the IOC sandwiched Winter Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, between Olympics in Lake Placid and Los Angeles in 1980 and 1984.

The only other time the IOC strayed from the practice of giving the Games to different countries was in 1936, when Nazi Germany hosted the Summer Games in Berlin and Winter Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

Salt Lake Olympic organizers are already building their case for an exemption from the Continental Drift principle by suggesting that differences between the home of Scarlett O'Hara and the patch of desert settled by Mormon pioneers make them almost like different countries.

Salt Lake organizers also like the fact that the IOC voted to give the Centenary Summer Olympics to technically superior Atlanta instead of Athens, the sentimental favorite. That shows a new propensity for the pragmatists to rule over IOC traditionalists, something in Utah's favor because an IOC evaluation committee will give Salt Lake top technical billing, organizers say.

For those who believe Salt Lake's pitch to break the Continental Drift tradition, Atlanta will be a long, long way from Utah. On the other hand, despite the fact that Salt Lake City is about as far from Atlanta as Lisbon, Portugal, is from Moscow, the European-dominated IOC may still view the United States as monolithic and vote tradition.

And tradition runs deep.

Of the 40 cities that have hosted or have been picked to host the Olympics from 1896 to 1996, 26 or two-thirds have been in Europe.

For the past 30 years, the IOC has made an attempt to make the Games more international even if they do turn to Europe more often than elsewhere. Since 1960, 10 Olympics have been held in Europe, six in North America, one in Central America and three in Asia.

During its first 64 years, only three Summer Games were held off the Continent. Africa has yet to host the Games.

The European percentage is even greater among those that have hosted the Winter Games, which began in 1924. Before the 1960 Games in Squaw Valley, Calif., no Winter Olympics had been held outside Europe. Since then, only four of 17 Winter Games held or scheduled are outside Europe.

Salt Lake Olympic promoters have tried to turn the Continental Drift to their advantage. They say the 18th Winter Games in 1998 is the time to bring the Winter Games to North America - away from Europe. The next two Winter Games, in 1992 and 1994, will be held in France and Norway.

However, with the IOC members still thinking about the Atlanta decision, and the fact that Calgary hosted the Winter Games in 1988, Salt Lake's lead competitor, Nagano, Japan, is likely to have an easier time scoring with this argument. Only three Olympic Games have ever been held in Asia - two in Japan and one in South Korea.

While Continental Drift can certainly can be a factor, it's not everything to the illogical IOC. Melbourne learned that lesson in September in Tokyo. The Australian city headlined its campaign with the theme "Another Continent," contending even the United States had the Olympics too recently. While the city had a superior audio-visual presentation, Melbourne simply hadn't made enough friends, observers said.



Olympic Games locations

North America (9)


1904 St. Louis

1932 Los Angeles

1976 Montreal

1984 Los Angeles

1996 Atlanta


1932 Lake Placid, N.Y.

1960 Squaw Valley, Calif.

1980 Lake Placid, N.Y.

1988 Calgary, Alberta

Europe (26)


1896 Athens

1900 Paris

1908 London

1912 Stockholm

1920 Antwerp 1924 Paris

1928 Amsterdam

1936 Berlin

1948 London

1952 Helsinki

1960 Rome

1972 Munich

1980 Moscow



1924 Chamonix, France

1928 St. Moritz, Switzerland

1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

1948 St. Moritz, Switzerland

1952 Oslo, Norway

1956 Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy

1964 Innsbruck, Austria

1968 Grenoble, France

1976 Innsbruck, Austria

1984 Sarajevo, Yugoslavia



Central America (1)


1968 Mexico City

Africa (0)

Asia (3)


1964 Tokyo

1968 Seoul


1972 Sapporo

Australia (1)


1956 Melbourne