Friday, May 9, 2008

A brief history of the Modern Games

1896 Athens
Twelve nations were represented and nine sports featured on the program. These were: athletics, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, lawn tennis, shooting, swimming, weightlifting and wrestling. The Olympic Hymn was composed by Spyros Samaras and the words added by Kostis Palamas. It was played when the Olympic Flag was raised. The Olympic Hymn was declared the official hymn by the IOC until 1957. In 1896, the first marathon was run. The length of 25 miles was approximately the same length Pheidippides (409 BCE) had covered at the first Olypmics. The winner of the hop, skip, and jump which was the first final event in 1896 was James B. Connolly (United States). He became the first Olympic champion of the modern Olympic Games. A French runner insisted in running in gloves because he was competing before royalty.

1900 Paris
This ran in conjunction with Run in the Paris Exhibition there were no opening or closing ceremonies. Over a thousand competitors took part in 19 different sports. Women took part in the games for the first time and Charlotte Cooper (tennis) became the first female Olympic champion. The decision to hold competitions on a Sunday brought protests from many American athletes, who travelled as representatives of their colleges and were expected to withdraw rather than compete on the sabbath.

1904 St Louis
This was the longest games and took five months to complete. Like Paris it was organised in conjunction with the World Fair. When marathon runner, Fred Lorz ran past the finishing looking fresh as a daisy it was revealed the US athlete had hitched a ride from a friendly lorry driver. Lorz was disqualified and banned from competition for life. The discission was later recanted and Fred went onto win several marathons, but not in the Olympics. The man who finished fourth in the St Louis marathon was called Felix Carvajal (Cuba). He was not an official representative of the country but had hitchhiked 700 miles to get to the race. Felix was postman from Cuba and paid to enter the marathon after collected enough cash by giving running demonstrations around Havana town square. On his way to St Louis he lost the money playing dice and had to beg the rest of the way. Carvajal ran in dress shoes and during the race stopped to practice his English. To amuse spectators he would run backwards as he chatted and joked. Sadly the amazing Felix Carvajal did not complete the race and collapsed suffering severe gastric pain due to diet of stolen green apples and peaches.

1906, Athens
In 1906 there were games held in Athens which were called the 1906 Olypic Games or the Intercalated Games. These games were not awarded the title of Olympiad because they were held between the III and IV Olympiads. While medals were distributed to the participants during these games, the medals are not officially recognized by the International; Olympic Committee (IOC).

1908, London
These games were originally scheduled for Italy but after Mount Vesuvius erupted in 1906 the venue was changed to London. Nineteen (19) nations took part with 1,500 competitors. The 1908 London Olympics saw the introduction of the first opening ceremony procession. The procession of athletes was led by the Greek team, followed by all the other teams in alphabetical order (in the language of the hosting country), except for the last team which is always the team of the hosting country. The 1908 London Olympics was not without politic intrigue when objections were made in regard the Irish and Finish teams wanting to display their national flags. These requests were refused but when the British Royal family made a request to extend the marathon start to Windsor Castle so that the royal children could witness the start, it was granted. The distance from the Windsor Castle to the Olympic Stadium was 42,195 meters (or 26 miles and 385 yards). Complaints by the British concerning qualified US athletes had cheated the 400m race was rescheduled. At the due time only one athlete turned up for the start and Wyndham Halswelle (GB), was declared the winner after he ran a solo 50.0. Motor Boating was an official sport at the 1908 Olympics and Discus thrower, Martin Sheridan maintained sartorial eloquence throughout competition by wearing sock garters.

1912 Stockholm
For the first time, competitors in the Games came from all five continents symbolized in the Olympic rings.The modern pentathlon was introduced at the instigation of Baron Pierre de Coubertin. The event symbolically depicted a messenger fighting his way through enemy lines. A Japanese marathon runner failed to complete the course when he stooped exhausted and joined a family on a picnic. He then fell asleep. This was the last Olympic Games where the gold medals made entirely out of gold. Today the Olympic medals are designed for each individual Olympic Games by the host city's organizing committee. Each medal must be at least three millimeters thick and 60 millimeters in diameter. Gold and silver Olympic medals must be made out of 92.5 percent silver, with the gold medal covered in six grams of gold.

1920 Antwerp
Twenty nine (29) countries were represented, although Germany, Hungary, Austria, Bulgaria and Turkey was excluded. The five ring flag and Olympic oath were introduced. The flag was created by Pierre de Coubertin in 1914 and contained five interconnected rings on a white background. The five rings symbolized the five significant continents and were interconnected to represent the friendship to be gained from friendly international competitions. The rings, from left to right, are blue, yellow, black, green, and red. The colors were chosen because at least one of them appeared on the flag of every country in the world. Pierre de Coubertin also wrote an Olympic oath for the athletes to recite at each Olympic Games. During the opening ceremonies, one athlete recites the oath on behalf of all the athletes. At the 1920 Olympic Games a Belgian fencer, Victor Boin was the first athlete to recite, "In the name of all competitors, I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules that govern them, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams." French runner, Joseph Guillermot ran the 10,000m race just after he had eaten a large meal. On the finishing line he was sick over an opponent's shoes.

1924 Paris
Forty four countries sent 5,533 competitors to the 1924 Paris Olympics. The Games had a new motto "Citius, Altius, Fortius" (faster, higher, stronger). Pierre de Coubertin got the idea for this phrase from a speech given by Bishop Ethelbert Talbot at a service for Olympic champions during the 1908 Olympic Games. The Olympic Creed reads: "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well." The Olympic marathon distance was standardized to 26 miles and 385 yards. Tennis champion Richard Norris Williams almost lost his legs as a survivor of the sinking of the Titanic. Exposed to the freezing water doctors seriously contemplated amputating them. After 1924 tennis was withdrawn as an Olympic sport and only reinstituted in 1988.

1928 Amsterdam
The Olympic flame was introduced and women were allowed to compete in athletics for the first time. After several competitors collapsed in the 800m, women were banned from taking part in events more than 200m. The ban was eventually lifted in 1960. The Olympic flame is a practice continued from the ancient Olympic Games and originally the flame was ignited by the sun and then kept burning until the closing of the Olympic Games. The flame itself represents a number of things, including purity and the endeavor for perfection.

1932 Los Angeles
Adverse economic factors (the Great Depression) and distance meant the Los Angeles event was less well attended although excellent conditions led to new world records in athletics. Track events were timed with manual stopwatches with twenty five people eyeballed the finish line and averaged their stopwatch results to find the winner. The Japanese team were accused of cheating when they were seen using oxygen tanks. To raise money to support the Norwegian athletes 40,000 people paid to walk through the unfinished subway system of Oslo.

1936 Berlin
In 1932, Richard Strauss was approached by the German representative to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to write an Olympic anthem for the German Games. Robert Lubahn won a competition to write the accompanying words and Strauss conducted the Olympsiche Hymne infront of Adolf Hitler. The torch relay was introduced and was lit at the ancient site of Olympia. by women wearing ancient-style robes and using a curved mirror and the sun. The Olympic Torch was passed from runner to runner from the ancient site of Olympia to the Olympic stadium in the hosting city. The flame is kept alight until the Games have concluded. The Olympic Torch relay represents a continuation from the ancient Olympic Games to the modern Olympics. Despite the political posturing by the Nazis and promotion of Aryan propaganda, the 1936 Berlin Olympics belonged to Jesse Owens. The four time gold medal winner wore adidas track shoes during his spectacular Olympic performance.

1948 London
Alice Coachman became the first women's champion when she secured gold in the high jump. This Olympics saw the introduction of wooden starting blocks which replaced the toe grooves. A photoelectric timing system to judge close finishes was also used for the first time. Runners broke through a cord which tripped an electronic sensor to record the time. Every male athlete in the British Olympic team was given a free pair of Y-fronts.

1952 Helsinki
The Soviets participated and Germany and Japan sent representatives to these games. Women and civilians were allowed to compete in dressage. Marjorie Jackson wore handmade kangaroo leather spikes when she won gold in 100m to become the first Australian woman to do so. On her return to Australia, crowds thronged to cheer her from Sydney to her hometown Lithgow, 150 kilometres away.

1956 Melbourne
Beset with boycott and quarantine, the Melbourne Games were the first to be televised. The world’s first semi-automatic swimming timer with an electromechanical display was introduced. Due to quarantine equestrian events could not be held in Australia and were held five months earlier in Stockholm, Sweden. Eastern Block athletes were seen wearing brightly coloured shoes between events which transpired to be trainers and the Japanese swimming team wore ceremonal getas (platform sandals) on the way to competiton. Both styles of shoe crossed over into fashion after the games.

1960 Rome
A total of 84 nations participated and Cassius Clay (USA), later known as Muhammad Ali, won boxing's light-heavyweight gold medal. Ethiopian, Abebe Bikila became the first African athlete to win gold when he won the marathon in bare feet.

1964 Tokyo
A total of 94 nations were represented but South Africa was barred from taking part due to its refusal to racially desegregate. Billy Mills, an American Indian borrowed shoes and won the 10,000m. American sponsors thought so little of his chances, they refused to give him shoes. He won by 10m, in 28:24, an Olympics record.

1968 Mexico
The only South American Olympics was played out against turbulent political unrest. Tommie Smith and John Carlos made their brave barefoot protest. Australia's silver medalist Peter Norman, showed solidarity on the winner’s podium by wearing a Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) badge. Norman suggested that Smith and Carlos share the black gloves used in their salute, after Carlos had left his gloves in the Olympic Village. This is the reason for Tommie Smith raising his right fist, while John Carlos raised his left. Asked about his support of Smith and Carlos' cause by the world's press, Norman said he opposed his country's government's White Australia policy. Brush Spikes replaced the traditional 4-spike running shoe.

1972 Munich
The first official Olympic mascot was a dachshund called Waldi. The popular breed was thought to demonstrate resistance, tenacity, and agility, all of which are ideal traits for athletes. Sadly however Munich became known as the Black September Games and is remembered for the slaying of 11 Israeli athletes. After winning the 10,000 m., Lasse Virén did a lap of honour barefoot holding his running shoes aloft. This is thought to represent the first publicity stunt to promote the brand. Nike introduced wedged heeled running shoes and the Pakistan hockey team protested at the poor refereeing in the final then refused their silver medals as runners up. Eventually the team recanted and some chose to wear them on their shoes. The entire team was suspended.

1976 Montreal
The Canadian Olympics were full of controversy and ran well over budget. There were several accusations of cheating. The mascot for Montreal Olympics was Amik the friendly beaver. He was chosen because he was a native of Canada and beaver are generally thought to be hard working. Again Super Fin, Virén ran a barefoot lap of honour to celebrate a gold medal victory in the 10,000 metre race. He held his Ascis runners aloft for the benefit of the cameras.

1980 Moscow
Eighty-one nations participated but Liberia withdrew after marching in the Openning Cermony. This was the lowest number since 1956, but despite this there were 203 events which was more than at any previous Olympics. As a form of protest against the USSR intervention in Afghanistan, fifteen countries marched in the Opening Ceremony with the Olympic Flag instead of their national flags, and the Olympic Flag and Olympic Hymn were used at Medal Ceremonies when athletes from these countries won medals. New Zealand competed under its association flag. The US team boycotted by the Games. The mascot was a bear called Misha which was designed by Victor Chizokov.

1984 Los Angeles
The Soviet Union team boycotted the LA Games. Barefoot runner Zola Budd (born in South Africa) was unable to complete until she took British Citizenship. She ran in the final of the 3000m, against US favourite, Mary Decker. Budd, the barefooted pacesetter, stumbled after Decker accidentally spiked her heel, neither recovered leaving Maricica Puica of Romania, a clear winner. The mascot for Los Angles Olympics was Sam the Olympic Eagle and was designed by Disney artists.

1988 Seoul
159 nations were represented by a total of 8391 athletes (2194 women and 6197 men) in these games and 237 events were held. Ben Johnson was exposed as a drug cheat and Carl Lewis proved a winner. Florence "Flo-Jo" Griffith-Joyner put sartorial style into women's track events but much later was shown to use performance enhancing drugs. The Seoul mascot was Hodori the tiger cub. Hodori is a well known character in Korean legends and portrays the friendly and hospitable traditions of the Korean people.

1992 Barcelona
For the first time since Munich 1972 Olympics there was almost a full turn of IOC countries with the exception of Afghanistan. South Africa was allowed again to participate after a 28 years suspension in the Olympic Games for its apartheid policy. The mascot for Barcelona was Cobi the sheepdog. The Cubist-inspired Catalan Sheepdog was very Picassoesque and proved to be the more commercially successful mascot to date.

1996 Atlanta
Mohammad Ali lit the Olympic flame and Michael Johnson wore mustard coloured Nikes when he won the 400m. As a celebration he tossed his gilded shoes into the crowd. Beach volleyball became an Olympic event and remains the only event to be played barefoot. Track and field photo finishes were computerized in colour for the first time. Izzy the Mascot was an animated character resembling an amorphous amoeba. Arguably Izzy (or Watizit) was the least popular mascot and was banned by the Olympic Committee from appearing at the opening and closing ceremonies. Izzy remained conspicuously absent before, after, and during the 1996 Atlanta Games.

2000 Sydney
Sydney was the biggest games to date with 10,651 athletes competing in 300 events. Maurice Green sported the famous gold shoes when he retained the 400m gold. His shoes were made by Nike and 3M with reflective material made from 24 karat gold. Nike made nine pairs of gold shoes for the supreme athlete. Marathon runners wore microchips in their shoes for the first time. The Olympic mascots for Sydney 2000 were Olly, Syd and Millie. Olly (Olympics) is a kookaburra, representing the Olympic spirit of generosity. Syd (Sydney) is a platypus, representing the environment and energy of the people of Australia. Millie (millennium) is an echidna representing the historic date. Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat became the unofficial mascot of the games and represented a protest over the commercialization of Olympic mascots.

2004 Athens
Athens 2004 marked the first time since the 1996 Summer Olympics that all countries with a National Olympic Committee were in attendance. The lighting ceremony of the Olympic flame took place at the Ancient Olympia. For the first time ever, the flame travelled around the world in a relay to former Olympic cities and other large cities, before returning to Greece. The mascots of the 2004 Athens Olympics were two figures Athena and Phevos inspired by ancient Greek terra-cotta figurines. In Greek myths, Athena was the Goddess of Wisdom and the capital of Greece was named after her; Phevos was the God of Light and Music.

2008 Beijing
The mascots for Beijing 2008 or Fuwa are five figures to represent the five Olympic Rings. Each figure is in the colour of the rings blue, yellow, black, green, and red respectivley and are designed to express the playful qualities of five little children who form an intimate circle of friends. The figures represent China's most popular animals i.e the Fish (Beibei – prosperity), the Panda (Jingjing - happyness), the Tibetan Antelope (Yingying – health and strengh), the Swallow (Nini – good luck) and the Olympic Flame (Huanhauan - passion). When the names of the five are put together i.e. Bei Jing Huan Ying Ni this can be translated as "Welcome to Beijing."


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