Gurudev Mandir

A History of the Olympics

According to legend, the ancient Olympic Games were founded by Heracles (the Roman Hercules), a son of Zeus. Yet the first Olympic Games for which we still have written records were held in 776 BCE (though it is generally believed that the Games had been going on for many years already). At this Olympic Games, a naked runner, Coroebus (a cook from Elis), won the sole event at the Olympics, the stade - a run of approximately 192 meters (210 yards). This made Coroebus the very first Olympic champion in history.

The ancient Olympic Games grew and continued to be played every four years for nearly 1200 years. In 393 CE, the Roman emperor Theodosius I, a Christian, abolished the Games because of their pagan influences.

Approximately 1500 years later, a young Frenchmen named Pierre de Coubertin began their revival. Coubertin is now known as le Rénovateur. Coubertin was a French aristocrat born on January 1, 1863. He was only seven years old when France was overrun by the Germans during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Some believe that Coubertin attributed the defeat of France not to its military skills but rather to the French soldiers' lack of vigor.* After examining the education of the German, British, and American children, Coubertin decided that it was exercise, more specifically sports, that made a well-rounded and vigorous person.

Coubertin's attempt to get France interested in sports was not met with enthusiasm. Still, Coubertin persisted. In 1890, he organized and founded a sports organization, Union des Sociétés Francaises de Sports Athlétiques (USFSA). Two years later, Coubertin first pitched his idea to revive the Olympic Games. At a meeting of the Union des Sports Athlétiques in Paris on November 25, 1892, Coubertin stated

Let us export our oarsmen, our runners, our fencers into other lands. That is the true Free Trade of the future; and the day it is introduced into Europe the cause of Peace will have received a new and strong ally. It inspires me to touch upon another step I now propose and in it I shall ask that the help you have given me hitherto you will extend again, so that together we may attempt to realise [sic], upon a basis suitable to the conditions of our modern life, the splendid and beneficent task of reviving the Olympic Games.**

His speech did not inspire action. Though Coubertin was not the first to propose the revival of the Olympic Games, he was certainly the most well-connected and persistent of those to do so. Two years later, Coubertin organized a meeting with 79 delegates who represented nine countries. He gathered these delegates in an auditorium that was decorated by neoclassical murals and similar additional points of ambiance. At this meeting, Coubertin eloquently spoke of the revival of the Olympic Games. This time, Coubertin aroused interest.

The delegates at the conference voted unanimously for the Olympic Games. The delegates also decided to have Coubertin construct an international committee to organize the Games. This committee became the International Olympic Committee (IOC; Comité Internationale Olympique) and Demetrious Vikelas from Greece was selected to be its first president. Athens was chosen for the revival of the Olympic Games and the planning was begun.

Pole vaulting, sprints, shot put, weight lifting, swimming, cycling, target shooting, tennis, marathon and gymnastics were all events at the first Olympics. The swimming events were held in the Bay of Zea in the Aegean Sea. Gold medalist, Alfred Hoyos Guttmann described it: "I won ahead of the others with a big lead, but my greatest struggle was against the towering twelve-foot waves and the terribly cold water." (Guttmann, pg. 19) Approximately 300 athletes participated, representing thirteen countries.

Though more athletes attended the 1900 Games than in 1896, the conditions that greeted the contestants were abysmal. Scheduling conflicts were so great that many contestants never made it to their events. And even when they did make it, athletes found the area for the running events to be on grass (rather than on cinder track) and uneven; the discus and hammer throwers often found that there wasn't enough room to throw so their shots landed in the trees; the hurdles were made out of broken telephone poles; and the swimming events were conducted in the Seine River which had an extremely strong current.

Runners in the marathon suspected the French participants of cheating since the American runners reached the finish line without having the French athletes pass them, only to find the French runners already at the finish line seemingly refreshed. The confusion was so great that many participants had not realized that they had participated in the Olympics.

It was in the 1900 Olympic Games that women first participated as contestants.

At least 1,066 athle

1904 - St. Louis, United States

Unfortunately, St. Louis was hosting the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition (a large fair celebrating the 100th anniversary celebration of the Louisiana Purchase) at the same time as the Games. Again, having a city hosting a large fair plus the Games hurt the Olympic Games.

There was an uproar about the marathon. After Fred Lorz (United States) was seized with cramps during the marathon, he was picked up by a car, which after chugging along for a little while, broke down about five miles from the stadium. Feeling much better, Lorz walked into the stadium and, to his surprise, was hailed as the winner of the marathon. Lorz was almost crowned with the olive wreath before the truth was discovered.

A major problem for the 1904 Olympics was that it was held far from Europe. The fact that European participants would have to make a trans-Atlantic voyage plus a long train ride to Missouri to get there, not to mention that many Europeans envisioned St. Louis as small town on the wilderness frontier, made international participation very weak.

Though twelve countries were represented, only a little over 100 of the 681 athletes participating were from outside of the U.S. and most of those were from Canada. No athletes represented England, France, or Sweden.

During the 1904 Olympics, boxing was added as an Olympic sport.

tes participated, representing 19 countries

1906 - Athens, Greece

In an attempt to regain enthusiasm for the Olympic Games, the IOC started Games that would be held every four years (between the regular Olympic Games) in Greece. In 1906, the Games were held in Athens. It was in here that the United States first had an official U.S. team plus wore official team uniforms.

The enthusiasm for these Games was great and the Games seemed to regain their popularity. Unfortunately, because of political unrest in Greece around 1910, the Games were cancelled for that year and never continued.

Though originally the 1906 Games were officially considered Olympic Games, the IOC now considers them the "Unofficial Olympic Games" and they are not included in Olympic records.

Twenty countries were represented by 887 athletes

1908 - London, England

The 1908 Olympic Games were originally scheduled to be hosted by Rome, but the 1906 eruption of Mount Vesuvius caused the Games to be relocated to London.

These Games were much better organized than the previous regularly scheduled Olympic Games (they were even the first to have an opening ceremony), yet they were marred by politics and nationalism. Britain's recent refusal to give Ireland its independence caused Irish athletes to boycott the Games and caused contestants from the U.S to not dip the American flag to the British royalty during the opening ceremony (a tradition the U.S. continues to this day).

There was also controversy over the 400-meter final heat. As four runners came into the final stretch, W.C. Robbins (U.S.) was first, followed by J.C. Carpenter (U.S.), with British Wyndham Halswelle coming in third, and followed by a fourth runner from the U.S. As Carpenter and Halswelle (second and third runners) swung out to pass Robbins, someone shouted "Foul!" Though Carpenter (the U.S. runner who had been in second) finished first, with Robbins (U.S.) in second, and Halswelle (U.K.) in third, the British officials accused Carpenter of blocking and elbowing Halswelle and voided the whole race. The race was ordered to be rerun, but since the American runners refused to redo the race, Halswelle ran the race all by himself to win the gold.

It was in the 1908 Olympic Games that the exact distance of a marathon was established as 26 miles and 365 yards. Diving was added to the events for this year.

Approximately 2,000 athletes participated, representing 22 countries.

1912 - Stockholm, Sweden

The 1912 Olympics at Stockholm were known as the "Swedish Masterpiece" because they were so well organized. Avery Brundage, IOC president from 1952 to 1972, described these Games: "The efficiency and almost mathematical precision with which the events were handled and the formal correctness of the arrangements made a great impression on me."*

The Games also benefited from the use of electric timing devices and a public address system which were first used at these Olympic Games.

Jim Thorpe and Hannes Kolehmainen made a big impression during the 1912 Olympics. Jim Thorpe, a Native American from the U.S., overwhelmingly won both the pentathlon and the decathlon - an amazing feat. King Gustav said to Thorpe, "You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world." Thorpe answered, "Thanks, King." Finland's Hannes Kolehmainen, one of the "Flying Finns," won three gold medals from the 5,000-meter race (made world record time), the 10,000-meter race, and the 8,000-meter cross-country run.

Approximately 2,500 athletes attended these Games, representing 28 countries.

1916 - Not Held

Though the 1916 Olympic Games were scheduled to be held in Berlin, World War I caused the Olympic Games to be cancelled.

1920 - Antwerp, Belgium

The 1920 Olympic Games followed closely the ending of World War I. The world had seen much bloodshed. Should the aggressors of the war be invited to the Olympic Games? The Olympic ideals stated that all countries should be allowed entrance into the Games. Though Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Hungary were not forbidden to come, they were also not sent an invitation by the Organizing Committee. These countries were again not invited to the 1924 Olympic Games. In addition, the newly formed Soviet Union decided not to attend. (Athletes from the Soviet Union did not reappear at the Olympics until 1952.)

Since the war had ravaged throughout Europe, funding and materials for the Games was difficult to acquire. When the athletes arrived in Antwerp, construction had not been completed. Besides the stadium being unfinished, the athletes were housed in cramped quarters and slept on folding cots.

Though this year was the first that the official Olympic flag was flown, not many were there to see it. The number of spectators was so low - mainly because people could not afford tickets after the war - that Belgium lost over 600 million francs from hosting the Games.

On a more positive note, the 1920 Games was notable for the first appearance of Paavo Nurmi, one of the "Flying Finns." Nurmi was a runner who was ran like a mechanical man - body erect, always at an even pace. Nurmi even carried a stopwatch with him as he ran so that he could evenly pace himself. Nurmi returned to run in the 1924 and the 1928 Olympic Games winning, in total, seven gold medals.

More than 2,500 athletes com

1924 - Paris, France

As an honor to the retiring IOC founder and president Pierre de Coubertin (and at his request) the 1924 Olympic Games were held in Paris.

After much debate, winter sports were added to the Olympic Games this year. The winter events were held in January and February, creating a tradition that the winter events would be held a few months before the summer events (this tradition ended in 1992). Because of problems determining amateur status, tennis was taken off the list of events after the 1924 Olympics and were not readded until 1988.

Paavo Nurmi, called a "superman," was back running and won gold in the 1,500-meter (set an Olympic record), 5,000-meter (set an Olympic record), and the 10,000-meter cross-country run. Nurmi was also a member of the winning Finnish teams on the 3,000-meter relay and the 10,000-meter relay.

It was this Olympics that became fictionalized in the Academy Award winning film Chariots of Fire in 1981.

In all, over 3,000 athletes participated in the events, representing 44 countries.

1928 - Amsterdam, Netherlands

The Olympic flame made its debut at these Olympic Games. Also making its debut were track-and-field events and gymnastics for women. There had been much resistance to these additions by Coubertin and others who feared that having women compete in these events would cause them to either become "masculine" or to ruin their health and make them unable to have children.*

About 3,000 athletes participated, representing 46 countries.

1932 - Los Angeles, U.S.

For a while it seemed as if no one was going to attend the 1932 Olympic Games. Six months before the Games were to begin, not a single country had responded to the official invitations. Then they started to trickle in. The world was mired in the Great Depression which made the expense of traveling to California seem nearly as insurmountable as the distance.

Neither had many of the spectator tickets been sold and it seemed that the Memorial Coliseum, which had been expanded to 105,000 seats for the occasion, would be relatively empty. Then, a few Hollywood stars (including Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich, and Mary Pickford) offered to entertain the crowd and ticket sales picked up. Los Angeles had constructed the very first Olympic Village for the Games. The Olympic Village consisted of 321 acres in Baldwin Hills and offered 550 two-bedroom portable bungalows for the male athletes, a hospital, post office, library, and a large number of eating establishments to feed the athletes. The female athletes were housed in the Chapman Park Hotel downtown, which offered more luxuries than the bungalows. The 1932 Olympic Games also debuted the first photo-finish cameras as well as the victory platform.

There were two minor incidents worth reporting. Finnish Paavo Nurmi, who had been one of the Olympic heroes in the past several Olympic Games, was considered to have turned professional, thus was not allowed to compete. While mounted on the victory platform, Italian Luigi Beccali, winner of the gold medal in the 1,500-meter race, gave the Fascist salute. Mildred "Babe" Didrikson made history at the 1932 Olympic Games. Babe won the gold medal for both the 80-meter hurdles (new world record) and the javelin (new world record), and won silver in the high jump. Babe later became a very successful professional golfer.

Approximately 1,300 athletes participated, representing 37 countries.

1936 - Berlin, Germany

The IOC had awarded the Games to Berlin in 1931 with no idea that Adolf Hitler was to take power in Germany two years later. By 1936, the Nazis had control over Germany and had already begun to implement their racist policies. There was international debate as to whether the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany should be boycotted. The United States was extremely close to boycotting but at the last minute decided to accept the invitation to attend.

The Nazis saw the event as a way to promote their ideology. They built four grandiose stadiums, swimming pools, an outdoor theater, a polo field, and an Olympic Village that had 150 cottages for the male athletes. Throughout the Games, the Olympic complex was covered in Nazi banners. Leni Riefenstahl, a famous Nazi propaganda filmaker, filmed these Olympic Games and made them into her movie Olympia.

These Games were the first ones televised and were the first to use telex transmissions of the results. Also debuting at these Olympics was the torch relay.

Jesse Owens, a black athlete from the United States, was the star of the 1936 Olympic Games. Owens, the "Tan Cyclone," brought home four gold medals: the 100-meter dash, the long jump (made an Olympic record), the 200-meter sprint around a turn (made a world record), and part of the team for The 1940 Olympic Games were originally scheduled to be held in Tokyo, Japan, but several countries planned to boycott the Games there because Japan was waging an aggressive war in Asia and then Japan itself decided the Games would be a distraction to their military goals. The Games were then rescheduled to be held in Helsinki, Finland, but the start of World War II in 1939 caused the Games