With the Olympic Games in Rio coming to a close on Sunday (21 August) it’s remarkable to look at the growth of the Games since its first iteration in Greece back in 1896 and have a look at those athletes who were inspiring the world over 100 years ago.
Following the proposal made Pierre de Coubertin in Paris, the International Olympic Committee was founded and the modern Olympic Games were born. It was at this point that Dimitrios Vikelas of Greece was named as the IOC’s first president. It was also then that Athens was chosen to host the inaugural Games of the modern era, 1,500 years after Greece had staged the last of its Ancient Olympic Games. Taking place from 6 – 15 April in Athens, the Games saw 241 athletes from 14 countries compete in 43 events. Those 43 events were neatly comprised within nine sports;
- Road Cycling
- Track Cycling
- Artistic Gymnastics
- Greco-Roman Wrestling
It’s incredible, looking back at the history, to see what was achieved by the athletes in a time without specialist equipment or scientific training regimes.
Take the feats of Germany’s Carl Schuman as an example. Schuman, who was 26 when he competed in Athens, took part in athletics (long jump, triple jump, shot put), gymnastics, Greco-Roman wrestling and weightlifting. Incredibly he won four golds at the Games, in the team parallel bars and horizontal bar, on the vault and in the wrestling. Throw in the notable finishes of fourth in the two-handed weightlifting and fifth in the triple jump and you are talking about a supreme athlete.
Then consider what Alfréd Hajos, an architecture student from Budapest, accomplished to become the youngest champion at those Olympic Games. Competing in the 100m and 1,200m freestyle swimming events (both of which were in open water), Hajos won both with times of 1:22.2 and 18.22.1 respectively. There is also another inspirational yet lamentable note in Hajos’s tale, that being that his father drowned when he was 13, which is where his desire to be a good swimmer stemmed from.
Hajos, from looking at quotes attributed to him, would have been an athlete I feel would have done well in the media circles of today. After the dinner the honoured the champions of Athens, he was asked where he learnt to swim so well. His reply of, “In the water”, would definitely have endeared him to the social media fans of today.
Finally, there’s the story of John Boland who bagged two gold medals for TeamGB! Boland was merely attending the Games as a spectator when he was entered in to the tennis competition by a friend. Amazingly he won golds in both the singles and doubles competitions.
When reading about the success of these men (sadly women were not officially allowed to compete at the Olympics until 1912 in Stockholm) you get a sense that these sporting achievements were carried out by mere mortals and not the honed, athletic sportsmen and women we’ve seen on TV screens every day this past fortnight. But that is to both the Olympians of the past and present a disservice. For although the physiques of athletes might have changed, the desire to compete and be known as the best in the world is still the main driver behind their participation. Usain Bolt could have retired after Beijing, but the lure of being known as Olympic champion has kept him competing.
There is also the other common denominator between the Olympians of then and now. It is the power to inspire. Merely reading about some of the victors of Athens has given me a jolt to get back into action five months on from breaking my leg in a football match. Indeed, watching the huge success of TeamGB in Rio and the other supreme efforts gets my wanting to dust off the running shoes, or head over to my local canoeing club. That’s the power of sport, to inspire others to take part. It’s why the Alliance is continuing to ask the nation to #TryYourKitOn and get active this summer. We want to hear about people who’ve been inspired to get active and for them to shout about it. It’s worth reading the blog from Adrian Ruth about how watching the cycling in London 2012 inspired him to get in back in the saddle.