Thursday, July 5, 2012

The History of the Olympic Games - Part 5

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

Back to Part 4

Part 5: Breaking Rules and Records

So now we are looking at the Games going into the new millennium, would commercialization and professionalism overshadowing the athletes.

Seoul in South Korea hosted the 1988 Games and although it was deemed a success in many ways, the success was overshadowed by the failings by many athletes of drug tests after their events. Most infamous of these is Canadian Ben Johnson, who won the 100m final in 9.79 seconds, tested positive for steroids, and was disqualified. These Games were also the last where we saw two of the world ‘super powers’ in the Games for the last time as the Soviet Union and East Germany both ceased to exist before the next Games in 1992. The 1992 Games in Barcelona allowed South Africa to compete for the first time since 1960, when they were suspended due to their apartheid policy. The Games also saw the basketball feature NBA players for the first time, and so began the turn from amateurism, to professionalism. The US Men’s Basketball team, nicknamed ‘The Dream Team’ included Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird and Patrick Ewing to name a few on their roster, and is widely regarding as the greatest sporting team ever. They won the gold medal in style, the closest of the results being 117 – 85 against Croatia.

Although the overly commercialized Atlanta Games in 1996 were marred by the bombing of the Centennial Olympic Park on July 27th, they also saw some great sporting achievements. Michael Johnson, named ‘The Man with the Golden Shoes’ due to his custom designed spikes, destroyed the competition winning both the 200m and 400m gold medals. Donovan Bailey rebuilt Canadian sprinters’ reputations after Ben Johnson in 1988, by winning the 100m final in a world record time of 9.84. Muhammed Ali also made an emotional appearance, lighting the Olympic torch, and receiving a replacement gold medal for the one he discarded in 1960 due to the racial discrimination in the USA at the time.

The 2000 Olympics took place in Sydney, Australia and gave Ian Thorpe and Cathy Freeman the chance to win gold medals on home soil in front of a packed crowd. British rower Sir Steve Redgrave won his fifth consecutive gold medal at his fifth games, which was unprecedented and also voted one of the greatest sporting moments of all time. However, it wasn’t all gold and glory at the Games with swimmer (although I use the term lightly) Eric ‘The Eel’ Moussambani swam the 100m heat freestyle in 1 minute 52.72 seconds; a time slower than the 200m record! Despite this, he still set the Equatoguinean national record, and proved that de Coubertin’s dreams of amateur participation was still alive. In 2004, the Games returned to Athens and for once there were no boycotts. This was an Olympics of firsts and hard fought victories; Michael Phelps became the first athlete to win 8 medals in a non boycotted Olympics and Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang won the 110m hurdles, China’s first ever gold in men’s track. Hicham El Guerrouj became the first person to win both the 1500m and 5000m since Paavo Nurmi in 1924 and British runner Kelly Holmes won two incredible and emotional races to take home the 800m and 1500m double gold.

The latest Games were held in Beijing in 2008, a controversial selection due to the Communist Government, their human rights record and the Tibetan riots. In fact, many compared these games to those of Berlin 1936 (I was one of these, in my dissertation, but I’m not sure I am officially quoted anywhere…) especially as there were claims that media reporting was restricted by the organizing committee before, during and after the Games. Despite the criticisms, Beijing put on a great Games and many fears about air quality, terrorist attacks and protests failed to materialize. Many still consider these Games were a shop window for the Chinese government, but only time will tell.

But what about the future of the Olympics? Find out in Part 6.

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