The London 2012 Olympics draw nearer. Several private persons and many corporations will become infinitely richer by the no doubt spectacular ending. Others may well be filing for bankruptcy. Mayor of London Boris Johnson will achieve either more splendour or some derision depending on the results of his and Lord Sebastian Coe’s organisation.
The Olympics are supposed to be a world festival of sports inspired by the ancient Greek games held at Olympia in Greece until their prohibition in 393 AD. Our modern version owes its existence to a Frenchman, the Baron de Coubertin. He conceived a super-championship for amateur sportsmen and athletes to be held every four years.
For the first contemporary Games, held in 1896, athletes from twelve nations travelled (mostly at their own expense) to Athens. There they would compete against each other in gentlemanly fashion in gymnastics, athletics (running, high and long jumping, discus etc), cycling, fencing, lawn tennis, swimming, shooting, weight-lifting and wrestling.
There have been intervals between the series; two World Wars and various politically motivated boycotts. A terrorist attack on the Israeli team in Munich left many dead. The Games have been celebrated in towns as disparate as Mexico City, Montreal and Moscow; also Seoul and Barcelona. In an image that raced round the world on television, the Sacred Fire was lit at Barcelona by a flaming arrow shot by a middle-aged, one-legged archer.
A separate Winter Games started in 1924, and much later the Para-Olympics were invented to satisfy the politically correct. Originally the winter games took place in winter months preceeding the actual games. Now they happen two years after the summer Games, possibly for commercial reasons for there are now Olympics of one type or another every two years.
Women were banned from participating (or observing) the ancient all-male Greek Games, possibly for reasons of modesty, as the athletes competed naked. Women’s participation started in the Summer Olympics of 1928, but the ladies have been watching from the sidelines since the first modern Games in 1896.
The programme these days features a huge diversity of sports, including excessively athletic games like Chess. It has also been increasingly dominated by commercialism, nationalism and politics. Adolf Hitler meant his Berlin Olympics to be a German statement to the world. It is said that he was angered by the successes of many black athletes. Israel as a state did not exist in the Thirties.
With the arrival of fully professional tennis players in the 1988 Games all pretence of amateurism was dropped. Now the Olympic Games is 99% professional. There are those who claim that 1988 therefore was the year in which the classic, traditional Olympic Games vanished.
One man (Edward Eagan) won gold in both summer and winter Olympics. In 1920 Eagan won the light-heavyweight boxing title, and in 1932 he was a member of the victorious 4-man bob sled team. British javelin-thrower Tessa Sanderson’s Olympic career spanned twenty years (1976 – 96), a record she shares with high-jumper Dorothy Tyler (1936 – 56). Only five countries have had representation at ALL the modern Olympics: Australia, France, Greece and Switzerland.
The Olympic Flame is carried symbolically in a torch, from Mount Olympus to the host stadium. It is claimed that its longest journey was from Greece to Sydney, Australia, for the 2000 Games. Greg Louganis (USA) won more gold than any other high diver, and after retirement outed himself as an active homosexual.
In 1976, Canada sponsored a national lottery to help pay for the Montreal Games. The lottery generated more than $200 million. Much of the financing for the 2012 London Games will come from the British National Lottery, which is much bigger than was Canada’s in 1976.
The British Royal Mint is handing out gold coins to celebrate the London Olympics. The man who designed them explained that his inspiration came from ‘the first Olympic Games in ancient Greece, where the first athletes pledged their allegiance to ‘the Gods of Olympia’. Olympia or Mt. Olympus? They might have been unwise to hold chariot races on the sides of a mountain. The Games were held for nearly a thousand years at Olympia in the Pelopennese, because there stood a sanctuary dedicated not to ‘the gods of Olympia’ but to one God – Zeus, god of the Greeks. The problem with these modern gold coins is that all the gods represented on them are Roman. not Greek. We are told by the Mint (which is where they print money) that the reason for this apparent error is that the Olympic motto is in Latin. Well, yes, but the Latin motto was dreamed up by a friend of Baron Coubertin in 1894. Perhaps this seemingly ignorant institution believes all ancient gods are the same anyway.