Style pointers for how to refer to the Olympics

With the 2020 Olympics officially postponed, here’s a quick look at style pointers when referring the Olympics.

Note that various style guides, such as the AP or The New York Times, have separate guidelines for how to refer to the Olympics and associated athletes, events and medals — the rules below are a general overview based on the IOC guidelines.

In official references, the IOC numbers each games using roman numerals.

The summer and winter games are also numbered separately — using the format “Games of the (Roman Numeral) Olympiad” for summer games and winter ones using the format “(Roman Numeral) Olympic Winter Games.”

Technically, the term “Olympiad” defines a period of four years starting January 1, 1896, the first year of what’s considered the “modern” Olympic movement (it is not, however, a term for any four year period).

For years when the Olympics is canceled, such as 1916, 1940 and 1944 (due to wars), the numbering pattern remains in place because the four years of the Olympiad still technically pass — even if there are no games.

As winter themed sports began to be featured, they were often mixed in the “main” Olympics, which were typically held in the summer.

In 1924, France hosted a separate 11 day “week” of winter sporting events called the “International Winter Sports Week.”

In 1925, however, the IOC voted to separate winter and summer events and retroactively declared the 1924 games the “I Olympic Winter Games.”

Because of this, the winter Olympics will also be lower numbers than the summer ones.

It is incorrect, however, to refer to winter Olympics using the word “Olympiad.” In simpler terms, only “summer” games are labeled with “Olympiad.”

It’s therefore incorrect to try to modify, for example, the 2022 winter Olympics scheduled for Beijing as “The Winter Games of the XXIV Olympiad” or similar formatting.

The 1992 winter Olympics were the last ones to be held on the same year as the summer ones after the IOC decided to “stagger” the games so every two years would feature either a summer or winter Olympics — but never both.

This meant there was a 1994 winter Olympics despite it being only two years after 1992.

There are numerous alternative ways to refer to the Olympics that are often used in news reporting to add variety. These include combinations of the year, season and host city or country name along with a combination of phrases such as “Olympics,” “Games” or “Olympic Games.”

However, the word “Olympiad” should be avoided in these alternate constructions unless you are referring to the summer Olympics.