Written By: Micki D’Amico (C.T. editor in 1992)
Alvin Kraenzlein, from the Univ. of Pennsylvania, won four Gold medals in track & field.
Ray C. Ewry won Gold in standing high jump, standing long jump and standing triple jump, events no longer held.
Editor’s note: As the 31st Games of the Olympiad approaches, August 5-21 in Rio de Janeiro, I thought it would be interesting to resurrect stories of former Olympics as written in Coconut Times in the summer of 1992, year of the Games in Barcelona, Spain.
by Micki D’Amico (C.T. editor in 1992)
As successful as the 1896 Olympic Games were, the 1900 version of the Olympics were disastrous. It almost brought about the demise of the games.
Try as he did, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the “father” of the revised Olympic Games, could not keep “politics” out of the games. The Greeks wanted the games to remain in Athens, Greece. They believed that since the original ancient Olympics were held in Greece, in Greece they should continue. Baron de Coubertin’s dream, when he envisioned the new games, had them being played in a different country of the world every four years.
“..... the Olympic games shall be profoundly democratic and rigorously international.”
The Greek press got involved in the controversy, and just as in so many political issues today, the media controlled the destiny of the Olympics. Money was a very big factor as to why the Greeks wanted the Olympics to remain in Greece. “They were preparing to capture the exclusive possession of the Olympic Games, and the idea of seeing, every four years, such huge crowds jammed into the restored stadium filled them with joy and hope.” But, with the help of the Crown Prince of Greece, he was able to get the games moved to Paris, France.
Baron de Coubertin went back to Paris to ensure the continuation of his dream. Political turmoil in Greece, that eventually evolved into war, put any desires of the Greeks to actively seek the permanent return of the games on hold. That should have been the end of his problems, but it was not!!
The committee for the 1900 Paris Exposition considered the Olympics as just a side show to the Exposition. The Baron knew that he must take a very active role in the management of organizing the games. The Exposition management committee had relegated the gymnastics and fencing competition along with the sports of the school children on their program. The Exposition committee had no concept of what Baron de Coubertin was trying to accomplish.
He elicited the help of his school buddy, Viscount Charles de La Rochefoucauld and Robert Fournier-Sarloveze to embellish his concept. Everything was going great, finally. This was when the Baron conceived the idea of a special award for the games. He had French artists design a statue, a medal, and a diploma. The mold or cut for these awards would be destroyed after the award was run off, thus adding value to their worth by limiting their number.
Politics again somehow managed to sneak into the Olympics. The Baron was able to contend with the Amateur Athletic Union of the United States; but when his own group, the Union des Sports Athletiques of France, of which he was secretary general, created problems, “in a moment of disgust that he later regretted, he resigned from the Organizing Committee.” Things then went from bad to worse!
Accommodations for the foreign athletes were either down-graded or eliminated entirely. They had to find places to stay in an unfamiliar country without any help from the new organizing committee. The German team was not met at the train; they had no idea where the games were being held. They walked across Paris looking for the Olympic Games.
The field on which the track and field events took place was atrocious. There was no cinder track, no pits for the jumpers, the surface of the grassy fields were uneven, and the area set aside for the discus throwers was too small. The fifty-five American athletes who competed in the track and field events were appalled. They had better fields at high schools back home.
In spite of these horrid conditions, the American athletes ran away with the show. Of the 23 events, the United States went “Gold” in 17 of them, and all of the existing records from the 1896 Olympic games were broken.
Nineteen-year-old Alvin Kraenzlein, from the University of Pennsylvania, was the first Olympian to win a “Gold” in four events. He won the 60-meter sprint, 110-meter high hurdles, 200-meter low hurdles, and the running broad jump, smashing all of the previous records.
Another remarkable performance by an American athlete was the efforts put forth by Ray C. Ewry. At 27 years of age, he was competing in his first Olympics with the team from Purdue University. As a child, he had been sickly, and his doctor had suggested to him that exercise could build up his body. He took the Gold in the standing high jump, standing broad jump, and the standing triple jump. The United States won 18 Gold medals, France won 16, and Great Britain won 12.
The Olympic Games somehow managed to survive the atrocities associated with the 1900 Olympics. Although the admission was free, only 1000 people watched the competitions. That’s a far cry from today’s attendance figures! These Olympic Games had more participants than spectators.
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