Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The History of the Olympic Games - Part 1

Contributed by Emma Booth.
Regional Director, USA Sport Group.

Part 1: A Brief History of the Olympic Games: de Coubertin and a Dream

In 1894, Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the Modern Olympic Games after visiting England and attending the Wenlock Olympian Society Annual Games, which have been held since 1850 in Shropshire, England. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was also founded that year, and so began the start of the greatest ‘amateur’ sporting spectacle of all time.

His idea? To improve international relations, and promote peace, through sporting events.

The first Modern Olympic Games were hosted by Athens in 1896 and around 245 people competed in the games. Granted, over 200 of them were Greek, but it was the biggest international sporting event to ever have been held at that time. Four years later, over four times the number of competitors visited Paris in 1900 for the second Olympiad. Women, who had been excluded from the Games previously, were now able to compete, and the Games looked to be increasing in popularity. However numbers dramatically reduced when the Olympics were held in St Louis, Missouri in 1904, potentially due to the lengthy transatlantic boat trip that European participants were facing to actually get there. A ‘mini’ Olympics was held in 1906 in Athens to counter this, and although not officially an Olympiad, it is still universally recognized by historians.

When the Games were held in London in 1908, this was the first time that the marathon was run over the standard distance that we know today; 26 miles & 385 yards. And all because the organizers wanted to ensure that race finished in front of the box occupied by the British Royal Family, so they extended the course by two miles. So if it weren’t for King Edward VII, you marathon runners would only have had to endure 24 (and a bit) miles, rather than the two extra you have to run today!

Stockholm in 1912 allowed the world to be introduced to potentially one of the greatest athletes of all time; Jim Thorpe. He won both the pentathlon and decathlon gold medals, but was later stripped of his medals for a breach of amateurism due to a complaint by Avery Brundage (we’ll get back to him later). However, in 1983 they were finally reinstated, it’s just unfortunate that this occurred 30 years after his death.

With over two thousand competitors, and all nations competing under one stadium, de Coubertin’s Olympic dream was finally fulfilled. The 1916 Games were scheduled to be held in Berlin, but were cancelled due to World War One breaking out, and from then on, de Coubertin’s Olympic Ideals were never seen in the same way again.

This is where our first lesson ends… click here for Part 2!

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