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The History of the Olympic Games 1896 -2012

The History of the Olympic Games 1896 -2012

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Olympic Games - 1896 AthensFirst Olympic Games - 1896 Athens

It is universally accepted that Baron de Coubertin masterminded the Modern Olympic Games.  It was fitting that first 'Modern' celebration was fittingly held in Athens, the scene of those ancient games.

What struck me about the history of the Olympic Games is that the early celebrations, with their amateur status, produced more fascinating sporting incidents than the slick professional games of the last 20 years.

On 6 April 1896, the American James Connolly won the triple jump to become the first Olympic champion in more than 1,500 years.  For these first Olympics, winners were awarded a crown of olive branches and a silver medal.

The people of Athens greeted the Games with great enthusiasm. Their support was rewarded when a Greek, Spiridon Louis, won their most popular event, the marathon.  Naturally, the race stated in the city of Marathon and Louis must have been able to enjoy his fantastic reception since he was 6 minutes clear at the end.

Alfréd Hajos won both the 100m and the 1,200m swimming events.  For the longer race, the competitors were shipped out into the lake and then swam back to shore.  According to Hajos, 'I must say that I shivered at the thought of what would happen if I got a cramp from the cold water. My will to live completely overcame my desire to win.'

An Olympic Anthem composed by Spyros Samaras was played at the Athens.  For the next 60 year a variety of musical compositions provided the backgrounds to the Opening Ceremonies, then in 1960, the Samaras composition became the official Olympic Anthem.

Olympic Games - 1900 Paris

A feature for the next 4 or 5 games was how interminably long they were.  The Athens Olympics was over in a reasonable 8 days, but the Paris games went on, and on, for 5 months.

The number of nations represented had doubled to 28, and there were now 75 events to contest.   Unlike 1896, women made their appearance in these games.  Tennis was the new popular sport and Charlotte Cooper of Great Britain won the ladies singles.

I found it surprising that athletes entered as individuals; indeed, there was no concept of national trials until the 1908 games.  It is rumoured that in some team sports, competitors did not realise they were competing in the Olympic Games.  This may explain why teams comprising members of different nationalities were acceptable.  What price a rowing team in 2008 with an Englishman, Irishman, German and American!

Records were haphazard, and to this day the names, and especially the nationality of some medallists are not known.  For instance, medals won by Canada were not discovered for some years as the athlete in question, George Orton, had been entered by his American university and had been registered as an American.  One side effect is that the all time records for how many medals countries have won can never be truly settled.  This uncertainty can only be beneficial as it throws the focus back on individual champions.  Indeed, while the 1900 winners were champions all, none received a gold medal.

Theses have been written on the mystery surrounding of the cox of the Dutch Coxed pairs.  Word was they dragged a boy in off the street, and told him how to seer the boat.  However his name has never been authenticated.  Other notable performances include:

  • Discus champion Rudolf Bauer of Hungary sending all three of his throws into the crowd.
  • Ray Ewry, who had overcome childhood polio, won three championships in one day - all in the standing jump events.
  • Alvin Kraenzlein won the 60m, the 110m hurdles and 200m hurdles, and the long jump. His record of four individual victories at one games still stands for a track & field athlete.  (Carl Lewis's record includes relays)

Olympic Games - 1904 St. Louis Olympic Games - St. Louis 1904

The 1904 St. Louis Olympics organizers repeated the mistakes of 1900. The Olympic were spread out over four months, and in truth, were upstaged by World Fair.

The atmosphere was one of American inter-collegiate championships.  To illustrate the point, of the 94 events 52 were functionally closed events, contested by athletes only from the USA.

The 1904 Olympics produced innovations, they were the first to award gold, silver and bronze medals.

For the only time in the Olympics, the 220 yds (200M) was run on a straight course, no bends.  Another unusual feature was the winner, Archie Hahn, got a handy 1 yd start on each of his three opponents.  This was not because they were professionals but because they false-started and in 1904 the penalty for jumping the gun was a 1 yd penalty.  Could this idea make a come-back?

Boxing and freestyle wrestling made their debuts.  Marathon runners Len Tau and Jan Mashiani, Tswana tribesmen who were in St. Louis as part of the Boer War exhibit at the World's Fair, became the first Africans to compete in the Olympics.

One of the most remarkable athletes was the American gymnast George Eyser, who won six medals even though his left leg was made of wood. Chicago runner James Lightbody won the steeplechase and the 800m and then set a world record in the 1,500m.

Olympic Games - 1908 London1908 Olympics London

Whilst this London games was a better organized and more cosmopolitan celebration than St. Louis, it still went on and on for more than 4 months.

London was the first official Olympics where athletes marched into the stadium behind their respective national flags.

With over 100 events and more than 2,000 competitors the level of competition was high but controversy and national rivalry still left a bitter taste on the Games.

A total of 21 different sports featured, including ice skating, while bicycle-polo featured as a demonstration sport.

The shape and size of the running track had yet to be standardized, and the 68,000-seater stadium in Shepherds Bush held a 660 yd track making 3 laps to the mile.

Politics reared its head almost immediately.  The USA team spotted that there was no American flag among the national flags decorating the stadium for the opening ceremonies.  As a result USA flag-bearer Martin Sheridan responded by refusing to dip the Stars and Stripes as he passed King Edward VII's box in the parade of athletes. 'This flag dips to no earthly king,' Sheridan said.

At least the Americans had a flag, Finland was still ruled by Russia, who told their flag-bearer to carry a Russian flag, the furious Finns decided to march without any flag rather than carry the Russian flag.

Back at the races, the British and Americans had a dispute in the 400M the three Americans appeared to gang up and impede the sole British runner.  The officials ordered a re-run the next day, the Americans refused and the officials declared the Britain, Halswelle the winner of a walk-over.

As a prelude to a sub-plot in the 'Chariots of Fire' story in 1924, Forrest Smithson protested at having to run on a Sunday.  Legend has it he ran, and won, holding a bible.

The classic marathon distance of 26 miles and 365 yards was fixed once and for all in the London Marathon.  The peculiar distance came about when the course from Windsor Great Park to Shepherds Bush was extended by a mile and 365 yards so that it finished at the Royal Box. 

The London marathon staged the most controversial happening in all Olympic Marathons.  The race had been uneventful until Dorando Pietri of Italy staggered into the stadium, and then collapsed.  Perhaps you have seen the grainy film of him being half-carried across the finish line.  Some say Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was of those who helped the stricken runner.

What could the officials do?  After all, it was they who had helped Pietri.  Eventually, after protests from the Americans, Pietri was disqualified and Hayes was declared the winner.  However, Queen Alexandra upholding the British sense of fair play awarded Pietri a special gold-plated cup.

Shooting has more than its fair share of unusual happenings.  Here in 1908 the story was the first father and son to each won gold medals, Oscar Swahn, the father, was over 60.

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Olympic Games - 1912 Stockholm

Hooray! The Stockholm celebration of the Olympic Games was reduced to 10 weeks.  1924 was the first Olympic Games where the athletes were accommodated in an Olympic Village, a group of wood cabins.

By tradition, each host country is allowed to stage an event of their choice, after all they are laying on the games.  In 1912 the Swedes introduced the modern Pentathlon and it was no surprise that they dominated the event.  However, who should be in 5th place, future American General, George S. Patton.

The Americans sailed to Europe in the liner 'Finland' .  This was an omen for the middle distances which were dominated by Kolehmainen.   In the 5,000 M Kolehmainen was pushed so hard by Bouin of France that he knocked over 20 seconds of the world record.

In this era produced some colourful swimming champions, in the 1912 Olympics Duke Paoa Kahanamoku won the blue-riband event - 100m freestyle.   Duke seemed an unlikely 'moniker' for a Hawaiian, but research show that his royal parents named him after the Duke of Edinburgh (Queen Victoria's second son).

For many, Jim Thorpe was the greatest athlete of the era.  He did not just win the 1912 Olympic Pentathlon and Decathlon but he annihilated the opposition.   The name Jim Thorpe is also famous as he was controversially disqualified for alleged professionalism.  Some say there as anti-Indian prejudice, others say it was personal animosity between Thorpe and Avery Brundage (Later IOC president) who was 5th in the pentathlon.

Olympic Games - 1920 AntwerpOlympic Games 1920 Antwerp

Antwerp saw the birth of the famous Olympic flag made by interlocking five circles.  The idea was to represent the unity and friendship of the human race.  This was the first games where one of the athletes took the Olympic oath-uttered, the honour in Antwerp fell to the Belgium fencer Victor Bion.

1920 also saw a repeat of the first Olympiad, when doves were released to symbolise peace between the nations.

Finland usurped the American dominance on the track thanks to Koiehmainen and the legendary Paavo Nurmi who won three medals, two gold and one silver, at the start of his illustrious Olympic career.

South America claimed their first gold medal in 1920 when Guilherme Paraense of Brazil won the rapid-fire pistol event, whilst Willie Lee and Lloyd Spooner of America celebrated four and five golds respectively.

Elsewhere, American diver Aileen Riggin became the youngest gold medal winner at just 14 years and 119 days.

Great Britain's Philip Noel-Baker won silver in the 1500m, and later went on to become an MP. In 1959, he became the only Olympian to ever be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In a performance unequalled in Olympic history, Nedo Nadi of Italy earned gold medals in five of the six fencing events.  Meanwhile, Ethelda Bleibtrey of the United States won gold medals in all three women's swimming contests.  She swam in five races and broke the world record in every one.

At age 72, Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn earned a silver medal in the team double-shot running deer event to become the oldest medallist ever. The 1920 12-foot dinghy sailing event was the only event in Olympic history to be held in two countries. The first race was staged in Belgium, but the last two races took place in the Netherlands because both entrants were Dutch.

Suzanne Lenglen (FRA-tennis), one of the greatest women tennis players of all time, won the Olympic title by losing only four games. She teamed up with Max Decugis (FRA) to win another gold medal in mixed doubles and with Elisabeth d' Ayen (FRA) to win a bronze in women's doubles.

Olympic Games - 1924 ParisOlympic Games - 1924 Paris

The 1924 Games saw American William DeHart Hubbard became the first black athlete to win an individual gold medal; he triumphed in the long jump.

His compatriot Robert LeGendre broke the long jump world record with a leap of 7.76m, but this was in the pentathlon, and he had to settle for bronze.

Paavo Nurmi (FIN-athletics) had a crazy programme. He participated in the 1,500 and 5,000m, the finals of which were less than an hour apart, in the 3,000m, both individual and team events, as well as the cross-country! Nurmi obtained an incredible five titles.  Nurmi was honoured for his achievements when a his statue was erected outside Helsinki stadium.

Great Britain scored two major victories when Harold Abrahams became the first European to win an Olympic sprint medal, while Eric Liddell took the gold in the 400m in a time of 47.6 seconds.  Lidell's time was a world record, but was not officially recognised because the runners only had to run around one bend until 1936.

The gold medals won by British runners Harold Abrahams in the 100 meters and Eric Liddell in the 400 were chronicled in the 1981 Academy Award-winning film 'Chariots of Fire.' The movie, however, was not based on fact. Liddell, a devout Christian, knew months in advance that the preliminary for the 100 (his best event) was on a Sunday, so he had plenty of time to change plans and train for the 400.

Speaking of the movies, Johnny Weissmuller of USA won three swimming gold medals in the 100 and 400-meter freestyles and the 4x200 freestyle relay.  He would later become Hollywood's most famous Tarzan

At the 1924 Paris Games, the Olympic motto, 'Citius, Altius, Fortius', (Swifter, Higher, Stronger) was introduced, as was the Closing Ceremony ritual of raising three flags: the flag of the International Olympic Committee, the flag of the host nation and the flag of the next host nation. The number of participating nations jumped from 29 to 44, signalling widespread acceptance of the Olympics as a major event, as did the presence of 1,000 journalists. Women's fencing made its debut as Ellen Osiier of Denmark earned the gold medal without losing a single bout.

American swimmer Gertrude Ederle won a bronze medal in the 100m freestyle. Two years later she caused a sensation by becoming the first woman to swim across the English Channel (La Manche) - and in a time almost two hours faster than any man had ever achieved. Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi, won five gold medals to add to the three he had won in 1920. His most spectacular performance occurred on 10 July. First he easily won the 1,500m. Then, a mere 55 minutes later, he returned to the track and won the 5,000m. Nurmi's team-mate, Ville Ritola, did not do badly either in 1924: he won four gold medals and two silver.

Tennis made its last appearance before being brought back more than 60 years later at Seoul. The IOC, which was fiercely anti-professional, had doubts whether the game's top players were truly amateurs.

Olympic Games - 1928 AmsterdamOlympic Games - 1928 Amsterdam

The 1928 Amsterdam celebration was opened by Prince Hendik, consort of Queen Wilhelmina.  Amsterdam also saw the introduction of the now synonymous Olympic flame, which was kept alight throughout the duration of the Games.

Lord Burghley won the 400m Hurdles and Crown Prince (later King Olav) won a gold medal in yachting.

In the sprints, Canada's Percy Williams became the first non-American to win both the 100 and 200. Finland claimed four running titles, including Paavo Nurmi's victory in the 10,000 meters-his ninth overall gold medal in three Olympic Games. Teammate and arch-rival Ville Ritola placed second in the 10,000 and outran Nurmi in the 5,000.

These Games marked Germany's return to the Olympic fold after serving a 10-year probation for its ' aggressiveness' in World War I. It was also the first Olympics that women were allowed to participate in track and field (despite objections from Pope Pius IX). And in swimming, the USA. got double gold performances from Martha Norelius, Albina Osipowich and Johnny Weissmuller, as well as diver Pete Desjardins.

Perhaps the Games were best exemplified by the experience of Australian rower Henry Pearce. Midway through his quarterfinal race, he stopped rowing to allow a family of ducks to pass single file in front of his boat. Pearce won the race anyway and, later, the gold medal as well.

At the Opening Ceremony, the team from Greece led the Parade of Nations and the host Dutch team marched in last. Greece first, hosts last would become a permanent part of the Olympic protocol.

Athletes from 28 different nations won gold medals in Amsterdam, a record that would last for 40 years. The number of female athletes more than doubled as women were finally allowed to compete in gymnastics and athletics. For the first time, Asian athletes won gold medals. Mikio Oda of Japan won the triple jump, while his team-mate, Yoshiyuki Tsuruta, won the 200m breaststroke. 

Between 1928 and 1960, Indian teams won six straight gold medals in men's Hockey. Another winning streak began in 1928. Hungary earned the first of seven consecutive gold medals in team sabre fencing.

Luigina Giavotti became the youngest ever medallist when she gained silver in gymnastics at 11 years and 302 days, an Olympic record which still stands today.

Olympic Games - 1932 Los Angeles1932 Olympic Games Los Angeles

Firsts for the 1932 Olympics:

  • Village to house men
  • Victory Stand
  • Photo Finish Camera
  • First to shorten 16 days previously 80 days.

Mildred (Babe) Didrikson

In the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, Mildred (Babe) Didrikson won gold medals and broke her own world records in both the javelin and the 80-meter hurdles.

In the high-jump she was awarded the silver in the high jump despite clearing a world-record height.  The judge's strange reasoning was because they disliked her technique of clearing the bar headfirst.  

For sheer athletic ability, Babe Didrikson may have been more versatile than Jim Thorpe. She led the Dallas Cyclones to three AAU national basketball championships and scored 106 points in one game.

After the Olympic Games Babe Didrikson pitched for the House of David men's baseball team and once struck out Joe DiMaggio. Pro basketball, billiards, handball, swimming, diving, lacrosse, football, boxing -- she did them all and, as she was quick to point out, she did them better than the next person. She was good at everything -- typing (86 words a minute), gin rummy, cooking, dancing, harmonica playing and crossword puzzles.

'The best way to take athletics, 'she said,' is to like them all. Athletics are all I care for. I sleep them, eat them, talk them and try my level best to do them as they should be done.' The first time she tried golf, without a lesson, she shot 95 for 18 holes.

After three lessons, she was down to 83 and driving the ball 250 yards. In 1934, in her first tournament, she shot 77. She took the game so seriously that she spent 12 to 16 hours a day on weekends hitting golf balls until the blisters on her hands broke.

She won 17 consecutive amateur tournaments, and when she turned professional she helped point the women's tour to its present importance.  In 15 years, she won 55 amateur and pro tournaments.

Other notable performances: 

Buster Crabbe, the great American swimmer who was to go on to make a name in Hollywood as Tarzan, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon.

Olympic Games - 1936 BerlinOlympic Games - 1936 Berlin

1936 saw the introduction of the torch relay, in which a lighted torch is carried from Olympia to the site of the current Games. The 1936 Olympics were also the first to be broadcast on a form of television. Twenty-five large screens were set up throughout Berlin, allowing the local people to see the Games for free. Basketball, canoeing and team handball made their first appearances, while polo was included in the Olympic programme for the last time.

At the Big Ten Track and Field Championships of 1935, Ohio State's Jesse Owens equalled or set world records in four events: the 100 and 220-yard dashes, 200-yard low hurdles and the long jump. He was also credited with world marks in the 200-meter run and 200-meter hurdles. That's six world records in one afternoon, and he did it all in 45 minutes!

The following year, he swept the 100 and 200 meters and long jump at the Olympic Trials and headed for Germany favoured to win all three.

In Berlin, dictator Adolf Hitler and his Nazi followers felt sure that the Olympics would be the ideal venue to demonstrate Germany's oft-stated racial superiority. He directed that $25 million be spent on the finest facilities, the cleanest streets and the temporary withdrawal of all outward signs of the state-run anti-Jewish campaign. By the time over 4,000 athletes from 49 countries arrived for the Games, the stage was set.

Then Owens, a black sharecropper's son from Alabama, stole the show-winning his three individual events and adding a fourth gold medal in the 4x100-meter relay. The fact that four other American blacks also won did little to please Herr Hitler, but the applause from the German crowds, especially for Owens, was thunderous.

New Zealander Lovelock dominated world middle-distance running in the mid-1930s. He broke the world mile record in 1933 and won the Empire Games mile gold medal the following year. Then, after a further series of exciting and well-publicised races against the world's top runners, his athletic career culminated with his dramatic 1500 metres gold medal win, in world record time, at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

The top female performers in Berlin were 17-year-old Dutch swimmer Rie Mastenbroek, who won three gold medals, and 18-year-old American runner Helen Stephens, who captured the 100 meters and anchored the winning 4x100-meter relay team.

Thirteen-year-old Marjorie Gestring of the United States won the gold medal in springboard diving. She remains the youngest female gold medallist in the history of the Summer Olympics. Inge Sorensen of Denmark earned a bronze medal in the 200-medal breaststroke at the age of 12, making her the youngest medalist ever in an individual event.

Hungarian water polo player Olivier Halassy won his third medal despite the fact that one of his legs had been amputated below the knee following a streetcar accident. Rower Jack Beresford of Great Britain won a gold medal in the double sculls event, marking the fifth Olympics at which he earned a medal. Kristjan Palusalu of Estonia won the heavyweight division in both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling.

Germany won only five gold medals in men's and women's track and field, but saved face for the 'master race' in the overall medal count with an 89-56 margin over the United States.

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Olympic Games - 1948 London

Coming so soon after the end of World War II the 1948 Olympics showed little of the pageantry or bombast of the Berlin Games.

Yet out of these unassuming Games came one of the most remarkable achievements: the four-gold performance of Fanny Blankers-Koen, a 32-year-old mother of two from the Netherlands. On the fifth day of competition, when an American sweep of the men's high hurdles led coverage in the Times, Blankers-Koen was deemed ' remarkable' for her victory in the 80-meter hurdles, having previously won the 100-meter dash.

At 30, she was the oldest woman in track and field at those Olympics, and also the most successful. She ran 11 races in seven days and won them all. They produced four gold medalsin the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes, the 80-meter hurdles and the 4x100-meter relay. She almost quit after two gold medals because she missed her son and daughter and wanted to go home, but her husband talked her into staying.

In 1936, Fanny Blankers-Koen emerged from the Berlin Olympics with fifth place in the high jump, fifth in the 4x100-meter relay, and Jesse Owens's autograph. She kept training during World War II, even when the Germans sent many of her friends to concentration camps.

Olympic Games - 1952 HelsinkiOlympic Games - 1952 Helsinki

The 1952 Helsinki Games began dramatically as Paavo Nurmi, now 55 years old, carried the torch into the stadium and handed it to Hannes Kolehmainen, now 62, who lit the cauldron.

One of the first women allowed to compete against men in the equestrian dressage was Lis Hartel of Denmark. Despite being paralyzed below the knees after an attack of polio, Hartel, who had to be helped on and off her horse, won a silver medal. Lars Hall, a carpenter from Sweden, became the first non-military winner of the modern pentathlon.

Back in 1924, Bill Havens had been chosen to represent the United States in coxed eights rowing, but declined in order to stay home with his wife, who was expecting their first child. Twenty-eight years later, that child, Frank Havens, won a gold medal in the Canadian singles 10,000m canoeing event.

Bob Mathias (USA-athletics) was the first person to win two successive Olympic decathlon titles. After a first gold medal in 1948 when, as a 17-year-old, he became the youngest-ever winner of an Olympic track and field event, he set the world record defending his title.

The Soviet Union returned to the Olympic fold in 1952 after a 40-year absence, a period of time that included a revolution and two world wars. Ironically, the Soviets chose to make their comeback in Finland, a country they had invaded twice during World War II.

This time it was the United States that was surprised by the Soviets, and the USA had to scramble on the last day of competition to hold off the USSR's assault on first place in the overall standings. It was the beginning of an all-consuming 36-year Cold War rivalry.

Despite the Soviets' impressive debut, it was a Communist from another Iron Curtain country who turned in the most memorable individual performance of the Games. Emil Zátopek of Czechoslovakia, the 10,000-meter champion in London, not only repeated at 10,000 meters, but also won at 5,000 and in the marathon-an event he had never run before. He also set Olympic records in each race and topped it off by watching his wife Dana Zátopková win the women's javelin.

Also, Harrison Dillard of the U.S. won the 110-meter hurdles. In 1948, Dillard, the world's best hurdler, failed to qualify for the hurdles and won the 100-meter dash instead.

Olympic Games - 1956 Melbourne

Melbourne were the first southern hemisphere city to hold the summer games.  However, strict quarantine regulations on horses meant that the equestrian events had to be held in Stockholm.

Once again political unrest in Europe and the Middle East unsettled the games.  Britain became involved with Suez, while the USSR invaded Hungary.

As ever there were memorable races on the running track where Vladamir Kuts broke the world record at both 5,000 and 10,000 meters.  Zatopek was now passed his best and his long time rival Alain Mimoun finally bested him in the marathon.

While Holland, Switzerland and Spain boycotted the games because of the Soviet invasion of Hungary; the Hungarians themselves still took part, and cheered Laslo Papp to win a boxing gold medal.  The water polo match between Hungary and USSR turned ugly, and the game had to be abandoned.  However, as Hungary were leading 4-0 it was they progressed and went on to win the gold medal.

Chris Brasher (Great Britain) 3000 metre steeplechase winner

Chris Brasher was an unexpected winner of the steeplechase, sprinting to a 15 metre victory. A short time after the race it was announced that he had been disqualified for interfering with Ernst Larsen, the Norwegian runner who had finished third.  Larsen agreed that he had been bumped by Brasher but indicated that he did not support the disqualification.  Sandor Rozsynyoi of Hungary who finished second also supported Brasher. After an agonising wait of three hours, Brasher's disqualification was overturned and he was reinstated as the winner.

In later life Chris Brasher co-founded the London Marathon.  In earlier life Chris Brasher paced Roger Bannister to the first ever sub-minute four minute mile.

Dawn Frazer was the star of the swimming pool winning the 100 M freestyle.  She became the first swimmer to win the same event at three consecutive games when she won at Rome then Tokyo.

Olympic Games - 1960 Rome

Rome narrowly missed hosting the 1908.  This ancient city had all the natural attractions to give the Olympic Games due ambience and gravitas.

The marathon started on Capitol hill and finished not in the stadium, but on the Appian way.  The event was won by the first of many great Ethiopian runners Abebe Bikila.  He was born on the 7th August 1932, the day of the Los Angeles Olympic marathon.  Back in 1960 no-one had realized the potential of this small country to produce great distance runners and it was a hug surprise that the unknown barefoot Abebe Bikila won the marathon.  However he proved it no fluke by winning the again at the Tokyo Olympics.

Anita Lonsbrough must have been some swimmer, because this English girl beat the Americans and Australians who between them, won every other race.

Yachting always holds a strange fascination for me.  Firstly I cannot see how one man or women can consistently beat the rest when the all have identical boats.  But the main reason I am fascinated is that older, not athletic types often win the races.  In 1960, crown prince, later King Constantine of Greece, won a gold medal in the Dragon class.  As a royal prince, there was only one person who dared to give him the traditional winners ducking - his mother Queen Frederika.  (I cannot visualise Queen Elizabeth ever giving any of her children a royal ducking in public.)

Other highlights

Also on the track Peter Snell and Herb Elliot defied the heat to win the 800M and 1500M respectively.  Wilma Rudolph caught the eye in the women's 100 and 200M sprints.  In fact Wilma had an inspirational tale to tell, she recovered from childhood polio.

Olympic Games - 1964 TokyoOlympic Games- 1964 Tokyo

My memory of the Tokyo Olympics is getting up early to watch the Television - no VCR back in those days.  What still haunts me is theme tune - Tokyo melody.

American swimmer Don Schollander won four gold medals. Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia became the first repeat winner of the marathon - less than six weeks after having his appendix removed. Russian rower Vyacheslav Ivanov won the single sculls for the third time, and Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser won the 100m freestyle for the third time.

Al Oerter of the United States is one of my top 10 Olympic heroes.  He won his third discus gold medal in the Tokyo games, and would go on to win a fourth in Mexico city.  In 1964 he won despite a cervical disc injury that forced him to wear a neck harness. Hungarian water polo player Dezso Gyarmati won his fifth medal in a row.

Another Hungarian, Greco-Roman wrestler Imre Polyak, finally won a gold medal after finishing second in the same division at the previous three Olympics. By winning two medals of each kind, Larysa Latynina of the Ukraine brought her career medal total to an incredible 18. She is also one of only four athletes in any sport to win nine gold medals.

'Bullet' Bob Hayes

Bob Hayes won the 100m gold medal despite wearing borrowed shoes and running in a chewed-up lane 1.  (In those days they drew lots for lane numbers.)  His time of 10.0 equalled then world record.  However, it was when it came to the 100m relay that the 'Bullet' showed the world what he could really do, and why he earned the tag of the 'fastest man on the planet'. 

The grainy black-and-white film of the 4x100 relay shows Hayes take the baton on the last leg in about 5th place.  He was at least 5m down on the French race leader.  Then the 'Bullet' unleashed what many think is still the fastest last leg ever run.  After 50 yards he had caught everyone including the Frenchman, and won pulling away by a good 3m.  Study of the film indicates that he may have run that 100m in under 8.5 seconds.

Bob Hayes went on to star for the Dallas Cowboys, and is the only man to win an Olympic gold medal and a SuperBowl ring.  He was such a fast wide receiver in American Football that no defensive back could catch him. Consequently, opponents had to scheme special zone coverage schemes just to contain that blistering acceleration seen in that Olympic relay final.  As Bob was physical as well as fast that did not work too well and he set numerous receiving records, including a 95 yd touch down reception which is still the longest by a Dallas player.

Lyn 'The Leap' Davies

It was wonderful news that Welshman Lyn 'The Leap' Davies won the long jump.  There is a well known syndrome that teenage boys try and emulate their heroes, they pretend to score winning goals, or smash balls to the boundary.  Well this teenager - Guy Thomas, literally came down to earth with a bump.  Even with my longest run-up I could not jump from the white board actually into the sand pit.  Still, as long as Lyn the Leap soared over 8 meters and collected the gold medal - I didn't care that I could not jump 8 ft.

1. Lynn DAVIES  (GBR)   8.07m.
2. Ralph BOSTON   (USA)   8.03m.
3. Igor TER-OVANESYAN  (RUS)   7.99m.

Ann Packer

Will remembers David Coleman's commentary on BBC television on the Women's 800m final. Ann Packer [GB] was the slowest of the starters in the final and had only run the distance 5 times before in competition. A 400m runner, it was the finishing burst of speed of a sprinter around the final bend which lives in Will's memory. She moved passed the opposition as if they were standing still to win the gold medal in a world record time of 2 minutes 1.1 seconds.

Olympic Games - 1968 MexicoOlympic Games - 1968 Mexico

Bob Beamon is one of a hand full of athletes that is synonymous with an Olympic Games and an event.  His spectacular long jump of 8.90m lasted as a world record for 22 years. 

At the Mexico Olympics, we had the first Summer Games to include sex testing for women.  It was fitting that the Mexican hurdler Enriqueta Basilio became the first woman to light the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony.  While Eulalia Rolinska of Poland and Gladys de Seminario of Peru were the first women to compete in shooting. Black glove salute olymic games

Wyomia Tyus of the United States became the first repeat winner of the 100m.  There was a more sinister, and a longer lasting image in the medal ceremony of the men's 200m; Tommie Smith and John Carlos made their symbolic black-gloved salute.  You can just about see that Smith has a glove on his right hand, whereas Carlos has the other glove on his left hand.

The most popular female athlete of the 1968 Games was Vera Caslavska, the Czech gymnast. After the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia two months before the Olympics, Caslavska went into hiding for three weeks. She emerged to win four gold medals and two silvers.

The 1968 Games also saw the first drug disqualification, as a Swedish entrant in the modern pentathlon, Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall, tested positive ...... for excessive alcohol.

American high jumper Dick Fosbury won gold with his 'flop' style that was to revolutionise the event and replace the conventional straddle technique.

One of those to find out just how disadvantaged most of the competitors would be was the great Australian distance runner Ron Clarke.  Clarke held the world record for the 10,000m.  But he was beaten as much by the altitude as the African runners lead by Temu.

The biggest cheer in the student union, where I watched most of the events, was when David Hemery blasted out of the blocks, obliterated the competition, and shattered the world record for the 400m hurdles.

Olympic Games - 1972 Munich

These games have been for ever tainted by the massacre of Israeli athletes by Arab terrorists.  I pray that such an atrocity will never mar the games again.  At the time, and since, I marvel at the dignified behaviour of the Israelis.  No-one really knew whether the games should continue.  Perhaps the deciding logic was that those who died would have wished the Olympics to carry on rather than be aborted.

On a brighter note Olga Korbut entranced us by her gymnastic interpretations.  Perhaps there have been better pure gymnastics, but she was a breath of fresh air and captured our hearts.  There is often a saying that such and such cricket or baseball star could clear a bar, and make everyone go out and watch the action, well Olga Korbut had that star quality, you wanted to see her even if you were not a regular fan of gymnastics.

Another star to immerge from the water was Mark Spitz.  Perhaps the greatest testament to his ability is that every new great swimmer is touted as the new Mark Spitz.  His record of 7 gold medals at one Olympic games stood until Michael Phelps won 8 in Beijing.

Apart from Mark Spitz, the American invincibility was shattered.  It reminded my of a gambler's loosing streak when you cannot find a winner no matter what you do, flat horses fall in the straight, stewards disqualify your winners, your horse turns out to have been doped; American athletes found these and even more bizarre ways of losing.

Firstly, two American's mistake the time of the 2nd round heat so they miss the race and are out of the competition.  The pole vaulters suffer because of a rule change in the specification of their poles.  Jim Ryan the great hope for the 1500M fell.  But the biggest fiasco was the American Basketball that somehow lost to the USSR by a miracle basket in the last second.  While the legality of that last basket is challenged to this day, if you look in the results sheet, the USSR still have the gold medals.

Olympic Games - 1976 Montreal

In 1976, Princess Anne was a member of the English equestrian team in the Montreal Olympics. In the only exception to qualifying standards in Olympic history, she was exempted from the mandatory physical examination.

'The horse is about the only person who does not know you are Royal'
Princess Anne
IOC committee member

Despite persistent rumours and urban myths, Princess Anne did not win a medal of any colour at these or any other Olympic Games.

When the Games finally got started, our hearts were quickly stolen by 14-year-old Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, who scored seven perfect 10s on her way to three gold medals.

East Germany's Kornelia Ender did Comaneci one better, winning four times as the GDR captured 11 of 13 events in women's swimming. John Naber (4 gold) and the U.S. men did the East German women one better when they won 12 of 13 gold medals in swimming.

In track and field, Cuba's Alberto Juantorena won the 400 and 800-meter runs, and Finland's Lasse Viren took the 5,000 and 10,000. Viren missed a third gold when he placed fifth in the marathon.

Four Americans who became household names during the Games were decathlon winner Bruce Jenner and three future world boxing champions-Ray Leonard and the Spinks brothers, Michael and Leon.

While Greg Joy put some shine on Canada's record when he won a silver medal in the high jump, however, Canada became the first host country not to win a gold medal.

Olympic Games - 1980 Moscow

The 1980 Olympics in Moscow were strange because there was no America team.  As a consequence the Soviet Union (hosts) and East Germany dominated the medal table.  As a result no other country collected more than 8 gold medals.

This was the era when one country or another sought to make a political point by boycotting the Olympic Games.  Will and Guy muse that it's a shame more politicians aren't sportsmen and sportswomen, then they may see the good that the game do.

British highlights include Allan Wells winning the 100m and Coe and Ovett winning the 1500m and 800m respectively. In the swimming pool Duncan Goodhew - he of the bald head -  won the 100m breaststroke.  He later went on to be an outstanding sports ambassador

Teófilo Stevenson of Cuba won the heavyweight gold medal for the third time.  While it is a shame he never turned professional, his record of three successive gold medals at this weight will never be beaten.

It may never be known how little or how much drug taking took place at these Moscow Olympic Games.  The fact that there were no reported positive tests is suspicious in itself - in the sense that the drug cheats had superior chemistry than the testers.  Two world records that stand to this day are under particular suspicion of being drug fuelled.  Both were set by East German women, the 4x100m relay time of 41.6 and the 800m in 1:53:43.

Daley Thomson

Daley Thompson won gold in the Decathlon.  He would win again in 1984.  His arch rival, Jurgen Hingsen, was so much bigger it seemed unfair.  Hingsen's best for the individual events was better than Thompson's yet in ten head-to-head competitions Daley Thompson won every time.  This leads Will and Guy to think that even among Olympians, we doubt if any were more dedicated, single minded or just plain determined to win than Daley Thompson.

Olympic Games - 1984 Los Angeles

There was only one contender who bid for the 1984 games - Los Angeles.  Other countries were put off after the terrorist atrocities at Munich in 1972.

When it comes to organizing the big event, you have to hand it to America in general, and Los Angeles in particular.  Without the state aid of other celebrations, they showed the rest of the world how to lay on an Olympic Games and make a profit.  Poor Montreal looked on enviously, as they are still paying for their hosting to this day.  In retrospect, those countries like Russia who boycotted these games wish that they had been there.

Much as Will and Guy love football (soccer) we think that team games like this have no part in the Olympic Games, especially as they have their own World Cup.

On the track, this was Carl Lewis's game, he equalled the record of the great Jesse Owens by winning gold medals in the same 4 events, 100m, 200m, Long Jump and the sprint relay.  The great Ed Moses won the 400m hurdles.

America did not have things all their own way, the crowd's darling Mary Decker was accidentally tripped by Zola Budd in the 3000m.  Also Britain had success with Sebastian Coe in the 1500M

No two Olympic Games have the same events, in 1984 tennis made a re-appearance (another event Will and Guy would ban), ditto synchronized swimming.

Olympic Games - 1988 SeoulOlympic Games- 1988 Seoul

Kristin Otto of East Germany won six gold medals in the swimming pool, while Matt Biondi won five and Janet Evans three.

One tradition if for the host country to introduce a game of their choice.  In Korea, table tennis made its first appearance in the Olympic Games.

Vitaly Scherbo won six gold medals, including a record four in one day.  Only Marc Spitz has more medals at one games.

Greg Louganis qualified for the springboard final despite hitting his head on the board.  He went on to win the final, to follow up his achievement of winning the same event 4 years earlier.

China's Fu Mingxia, 13, won the women's platform diving gold, becoming the second-youngest person to win an individual gold medal.

After two failures, Sergey Bubka won the gold medal on his final jump in the pole vault.  In 1992 he would fail to clear any height.

Olympic Games - 1992 Barcelona

Thankfully the boycotts were now over, and all the top countries attended.  For the first time since 1960 there was a united German team.  Talking of teams, basketball allowed professionals, thus it was a shoo-in for the Americans with their dream team lead by Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson.

The star of gymnastics was Vitaly Scherbo from Belarus who won 4 gold medals on one day and 6 overall.

On the athletics track Linford Christie won the 'blue riband' event, the 100m.  Sally Gunnell, also of Great Britain, won the women's 400m hurdles.  As so often, the Americans won the 100m and 400m relays.  Will and Guy muse on Carl Lewis (100m) metaphorically passing the baton to Michael Johnson (400m) although they ran different distances, these two were the best sprinters of their generation.

In marathon, the Olympic finale, Young-jo Hwang made history for Korea.  His marathon victory came as many as 56 years after Kee-Jung Sohn won the Olympic marathon in Berlin in 1936 as a member of the Japanese team.  The 80-year-old Sohn was moved to tears to watch Hwang crowned with the laurel of victory.

Olympic Games - 1996 AtlantaOlympic Games- 1996 Atlanta

Games were given a dramatic start when the cauldron was lit by Mohammad Ali.

Carl Lewis became only the fourth person to win the same individual event four times and the fourth person to earn a ninth gold medal.

In the second round of the middleweight (82kg) freestyle wrestling tournament, Elmadi Jabrailov of Kazakhstan faced Tucuman Jabrailov of Moldova. The two were brothers from Chechnya, but chose not to represent Russia because of its war against their homeland. Elmadi won the high-scoring but unusually friendly encounter by 10 points to 8.

Sailor Hubert Raudaschl (AUT) became the first person ever to compete in nine Olympics. Before he began his streak in 1964, he was a reserve in 1960.

Michael Johnson's (USA-athletics) double success over 200 and 400m was the first for a man in Olympic history. His victory over 200m in 19.32 seconds established a new world record which, in terms of quality, came close to the 8.90m in the long jump with which Bob Beamon astonished the world in Mexico in 1968.

Naim Suleymanoglu (TUR-weightlifting) became the first weightlifter in history to win three consecutive Olympic titles.' When he eats at a restaurant, nobody asks him to pay the bill; if he breaks the speed limit, he does not get fined, and the police wish him a pleasant journey, 'wrote a Turkish journalist. 

Olympic Games - 2000 SydneyOlympic Games - 2000 Sydney

Home favourite Cathy Freeman was the star of a spectacular opening ceremony which celebrated the Olympian ideal and Aussie culture.  She then became the first Aboriginal to win track gold - to the delight of a rapturous capacity crowd.

Britain's Steve Redgrave confirmed his place in the Olympic Hall of Fame with a fifth straight rowing gold medal in the coxless fours event - one of 11 British golds in Sydney.

Maurice Greene cemented his reputation as the world's fastest man with victory in the 100m, while fellow American Michael Johnson became the first man to successfully defend the Olympic 400m crown.

American runner Marion Jones became the first woman to win five medals in athletics at one Olympics.  I wonder if her performances, like Ben Johnson years earlier, will be expunged from the records?

The swimming competition was dominated by 17-year-old Australian Ian Thorpe, who won broke his own world record to claim gold in the 400m freestyle. He then went on to win another two gold and two silver medals.

However, the most prolific medal winner at Sydney was not Jones or Thorpe.

He may not have grabbed many headlines, but gymnast Alexei Nemov took six medals back to Russia with him, equalling his Atlanta tally four years ago.

Eric 'The Eel' Moussambani

Swimmer Eric 'The Eel' Moussambani became a worldwide personality.  Others, notably 'Eddie the Eagle', made a name for themselves by coming last.  But what few remember about Eric was that he actually won his 100m swimming heat.

What happened was that his two rivals were both disqualified for a false start, leaving Eric to finish the 100m course alone.  However, this was not straightforward, at one point the life guards considered jumping in to assist the struggling Eric.  It's safe to say that his time of 1:52 will never be exceeded by the winner of an Olympic Games 100m race.  For comparison all the 200m finalists were inside Eric's time for the 100m.

Olympic Games - 2004 Athens

Kostas Kenteris and Ekaterini Thanou were rightly banned for failing to turn up for a drugs test.  While their story of a motorcycle crash was fascinating, few believe it was a true account of that evening.  This saga contrasts with the 1980 Moscow Olympics where drug taking was probably rife, but those who tried to catch the cheats were hamstrung by ineffective rules and tests.

British pride was given a boost when Kelly Holmes won both the women's 800m and 1500m on the athletics track.  We British had another boost when our men won the 4x100m relay in a photo finish from the USA.

Olympic Games - 2008 Beijing

Olympic Games - 2012 London

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