Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The History of the Olympic Games - Part 2

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

Part 2: World War One, World War Two and a Bottle of Coca-Cola

The years that followed the cancellation of the 1916 Berlin Games due to World War One changed the face and history of the Olympics forever.

Belgium were ‘honored’ with hosting the 1920 Games due to the suffering they had endured during WWI. The Games were originally due to be held in Budapest, Hungary, however due to the Austro-Hungarian Empire becoming a German ally in the War, the games were transferred to the Belgian city of Antwerp. Although a subdued affair, they drew in a record number of competitors since the modern Games began. In 1924, the Olympics moved to Paris, France – with one out of the three thousand competitors standing out – Paavo Nurmi aka “The Flying Finn”. He won five gold medals for his middle and long distance running, most notably the 1,500m and 5,000m on the same day!

The 1928 Amsterdam Games were ground breaking. For the first time, the Olympic Flame was lit during the opening ceremony – although the Torch relay would not appear as a traditional event until years later. It was the first Games to run for 16 consecutive days, as is the format today, rather than over a few months like had been at previous games. It was also the first time there was sponsorship at the Games, in the form of a little known brand named Coca-Cola. And finally, Tarzan competed. The real one (well, the actor). After the glory and trend setting of the 1928 games, the 1932 Games in Los Angeles were severely hit by the Great Depression, and there was not much to write home about. However, a little known fact is only 3 countries competed in the field hockey tournament (USA, India and Japan) and although the USA lost both games, they still claimed a Bronze medal.

The final games before World War Two were held in Berlin, Germany, during the uprising of Adolf Hitler. Now, I could write forever on these games. In fact I did, at University for my finals, and if anyone wants to read it then feel free to ask for a signed copy. But the long and short of it is, the German Government saw the Games as the ideal opportunity to promote their propaganda to the rest of the on-looking World. Future IOC President Avery Brundage (told you we’d get back to him), then working for the United States Olympic Committee, visited the nation as the USA were looking to boycott the Games due to the German Governments ideals. However, he gave his full support for Germany hosting the Games, possibly because as Hitler had seemingly rejuvenated the nation after the devastation of WWI. This, in retrospect, was arguably not the correct decision.

In terms of the Olympics as a Sporting Event, the 1936 Games were a great success; economical, entertaining and even televised live for the first time. But in terms of the Olympics promoting peace, I’m not sure they fulfilled de Coubertin’s ideals of improving international relations.

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