London Olympics History

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London Olympic History 2012

London Olympics Origins 2012

Many cultures the world over and back through the centuries, have staged events celebrating sporting achievement, but the source of inspiration for the modern Olympics are the games, first held nearly three thousand years ago near Mount Olympus in ancient Greece.

Those games were part – religious festival, part warrior – fight – off; a celebration of Gods both mythical and superhuman. The ancient Greek games carried on for close to twelve – hundred years and saw a general rise in importance of the sporting element, as long as we bracket blood – thirsty fighting events as sport. One famous wrestling final ended with the crowd acclaiming as champion a dead man – in his death throes, our hero had managed to force surrender from his rival. Even the running events often contained a large slice of brutality, with competitors routinely shoving and kicking each other off the track. A bit like Zola Budd, complete with bare feet.

Between the ancient games abolition in 393 AD and the late nineteenth century nothing much was heard of the Olympics. Then along came Baron Pierre de Coubertin. He was steeped in the traditions of ancient Greece through the classical education common to the propertied classes of the day, but his direct inspiration for the modern Olympic movement was an event in the village of Much Wenlock in the English midlands. There, in 1890, de Coubertin witnessed the Olympian Society Annual Games, a traditional gathering of local people who took part in country sports.

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Suitably impressed, de Coubertin floated the idea of a revival, this time on an international basis, of the ancient Olympics and within a few years the first modern games were held in Athens.

The 1896 games involved 14 nations, 241 athletes and 43 events, numbers that have increased at every games since. The next two games, at Paris ( 1900 ) and St Louis ( 1904 ) were held alongside World Fairs and, it was felt, were swallowed by them. By 1908 in London, however, the Olympics had become its own justification.

In 1908 teams were, for the first time, organised completely on national lines, a development that led to much criticism during the politically highly – charged inter – war years. Many thought de Coubertin and his crowd were pandering to base nationalism, an insight that perhaps bore bitter fruit at Berlin in 1936 when Adolf Hitler used the games to glorify the Nazi regime.

Politics was never far away from things for most of the post-war period. Increasingly, the Cold War was fought out on the Olympic medal table as both the USA and USSR and their allies strove to prove their superiority over one another via sport. In 1980, the USA boycotted that year’s Moscow games and in 1984, the USSR retaliated by refusing to attend the Los Angeles event.

Since then, it would be fair to say money has replaced politics as the dominating negative factor both behind the scenes – the Olympics these days that host cities feel bound to involve massive sponsorship deals and even to provide their inhabitants with a financial gain when the gates close – and among competitors who are now mostly professional.

Nevertheless, rising above all the troubles, the Olympics has provided the world with some of its most precious public moments, from Jessie Owens’ gold medal haul in 1936, through Bob Beaman’s extraordinary long – jump in 1968, gymnasts Olga Corbet and Nadia Komeneci captivating a generation in the 1970s, to Athens this year where the discuss event was held at the awe – inspiring ancient site by Mount Olympus where it all began.

London Olympics 1908 & 1948

London has hosted the Olympics twice before, in 1908 and 1948. For both, the Olympic movement was grateful to London for filling in when other candidates were thin on the ground, a debt London hopes the International Olympic committee will make good for 2012.

In 1908 London came to the rescue when Rome dropped out following a serious eruption of its nearby volcano, Mount Vesuvius, while the 1948 games were the first after the ravages of the Second World War when many other cities were devastated.

Though much smaller than the gargantuan mega – circuses of more recent times, the 1908 Olympics managed to host over 2,000 athletes from 22 competing countries. As one of the first of the modern Olympics, London 1908 was in on plenty of the rule – making that still governs the games today.

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Among things sorted out as a result of the 1908 games were the exact length of the Marathon ( which is still 26.2 miles, the distance between Windsor Castle and White City Stadium ), the establishment of the International Amateur Athletic Association and the organization of the whole event around national teams. One event that didn’t make it beyond 1908 was Tug of War, which is a bit of a kick in the teeth for all those who have since taken part in the event at school sports days.

By 1948 the Olympics had grown substantially. This time around there were more than 40,000 competitors from 59 countries and the main stadium was switched from one west London venue to another, White City to Wembley. ( Wembley, the best stadium in the world in its day, was demolished a few years ago – a new version is to be opened next year. )

Despite all those big numbers, one name is usually associated with the 1948 games, Fanny Blankers – Koen, the Dutch woman athlete who won four gold medals in various sprints. Starting blocks and photo – finishes were used at an Olympics for the first time in 1948, as well as broadcasts to home TV sets.

Past London Olympics Bids

London wins the right to gold the 2012 games, it’ll be 64 years since the big show was last in town. Why haven’t we come close in that achingly long interim?

London was not considered at all in the 30 or so years after 1948, for the simple and just reason that it had recently hosted an Olympics. By the 1980s, noises were being made that London should have another crack at the thing, so a bid was made to hold the 1992 games.

Ignominy, disaster and shame followed as centuries – long big – city jealousies helped Britain’s Olympic committee pick the country’s ordinary second city, Birmingham, as its representative in the bidding auction. Unsurprisingly, poor old Birmingham was more or less laughed out of the process in favour of beautiful Catalan capital Barcelona.

Eight years later, London was again overlooked by its own kith and kin when Manchester got the nod. Again, a fair dollop of hubris convinced many from England’s interesting, if conventionally ugly, northern city that it stood a chance against Sydney, one of the world’s most naturally spectacular places.

Lessons were learned. Parliament commissioned a report and the great and the good of the land finally reached a conclusion already obvious to most of us – Britain would only stand a chance of hosting the Olympics if London was its candidate city.

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JEE Main

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