Olympic Games Trivia

18 Jul

 Received from a friend. It’s a bit long and is in three parts for easier reading, but it’s an interesting read. For expediency I have posted all three parts here. I don’t know the author and I cannot vouch for the authenticity or accuracy of the material, but I enjoyed reading it and I hope you do to. Or download the pdf version here


By Pitout Horn

(PART 1)

Author’s Note: This article is not a treatise on the Olympic Games, but serves as a  vehicle to order  trivia about the Games, collected over many years, in some kind of order.   The concept ‘Games’ is used in singular mode unless context dictates otherwise. Where sources disagree, outlier sources were discarded and convergence was sought amongst the rest. The abbreviation OG is used throughout for Olympic Games. The concept ‘athlete’ is used in a broader context meaning contestant. The author is resident in South Africa, hence the slight bias towards SA trivia. This trip down memory lane was most enjoyable to compile – trust you will also derive some enjoyment as reader.

The Olympics – a pre-amble

The Olympic Games – a supreme test of honour and a celebration of humanity in motion. It is the ultimate test of strength, endurance, skills, timing, balance, grace, BMT, character, pride, nationalism, understanding, friendship, tradition, sportsmanship and  competitive spirit.   The OG started more than 2700 years ago, and the symbolic power of the Games has swept aside obstacles and barriers down the ages to make the Modern Olympics the largest, most enduring and best-known sporting pageant on our planet.

Olympic code of honour: Cycling was part of the Olympic Programme by 1896. Leon Flameng of France and Georgios Kolettis of Greece were the only two competitors in the 100km race. They raced around the 333.3m track 300 times! During the race Georgios’ bicycle needed repairing and being a sportsman in the true sense of the word, Leon waited for him.  This gentlemanly gesture did not cost our man Leon the race but it did set the scene for many more memorable Olympic moments of integrity to come.

The Ancient Games – where and when did it all start?

The Ancient Olympic Games were a series of competitions held between city states from ancient Greece. The origins of these Olympics are shrouded in mystery and legend, and the exact date of the first event is unknown. Most scholars accept the date for the inception of the Ancient Games to be 776 BC, mainly because no records were preserved of earlier events.  The Ancient Games featured running and jumping events, discus and javelin throwing, wrestling, boxing, equestrian events, chariot-racing and so on.  Tradition has it that Coroebus, a cook from the city of Elis, was the first Olympic champion. He won the ‘dromos,’ a sprint event over one length of the stadium (about 200m). The Games expanded over the centuries and longer running events were included such as the ‘dolichos’ comprising 24 lengths of the stadium – equivalent to our 5000m today. A notable difference, however, was that in ancient times athletes ran up and down the length of the stadium, and not around the track as in modern athletics.  Winners were admired and immortalized in poems and statues and were often looked after financially, not having to work for a living nor paying taxes ever again. The Olympics was of religious importance featuring sporting events alongside ritual sacrifices to divine heroes such as Zeus. These Games were held every four years and this period was known as an Olympiad. An Olympic Games was held over five days with the 5th day being devoted to prize-giving, a closing ceremony and a banquet. Only men were allowed to take part, and then only so-called freeborn Greeks, excluding slaves and foreigners. The Olympic Games reached their zenith in the 6th and 5th centuries BC but then gradually declined as the Romans gained power and influence in Greece. Most scholars believe that the Games  ended in 393 AD when the  Christian Roman emperor Theodosius I declared that all pagan cults and practices be eliminated. Athletes are often portrayed naked, but many scholars believe that athletes may have only stripped for boxing and wrestling.

Olympic friendships: For more than 50 years NZ’s Lord Arthur E Porritt and Englishman Harold Abrahams had dinner on the 7th July at 19h00, with their wives in attendance. This was the exact time of the final of the 1924 Paris Olympics 100m race which the Englishman won. The race was immortalised in the movie Chariots of Fire. The movie did not name Porritt by name who took the bronze.  These two gents dined together until 1978 when Abrahams died. Porritt passed on in 1994, aged 93.  The OG was instrumental in forging many lasting friendships down the ages.


Sports, disciplines and events

In 1900 the croquet final was attended by one solitary paying spectator, the first and last time this sport was part of the Olympic Programme.

The OG programme consists of sports, disciplines and events.  Whereas wrestling, for example, is a sport,it has two disciplines, namely Greco-Roman and Freestyle. Furthermore it is broken down in different weight and gender classes yielding 14 wrestling events for men and 4 for women. The Olympic Games program, including the Winter Games, consists of 35 sports, 30 disciplines and almost 400 events.  Sports are reviewed regularly, and during such revisions sports can be included or dropped from the program based on a two-thirds majority of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) members. Seven criteria are applied to judge whether a sport should be included in the Olympics Program. In 2009 the IOC, for instance, voted to instate golf and rugby union as Olympic Sports for the 2016 and 2020 Summer OG, whereas in 2005 it was decided to exclude baseball and softball from the 2012 OG.  The 2012 OG in London will feature 26 sports.     The modern Games converges towards mainstream sports and with all respect to croquet lovers, the inclusion of the latter during 1900 was akin to admitting marbles or hop-scotch, activities you perform at a picnic with a beer in one hand between helpings of potato salad and sandwiches.   Some very unusual “demonstration sports” have tried for permanent inclusion such as fishing, fire-fighting, ballooning, kite-flying, pigeon racing and cannon shooting. Thankfully, and I am speaking to animal lovers, shooting at live pigeons was an event that did not last long.

The Olympic Games “Family”

Whereas the Summer Olympic Games is topmost in the minds of most with the London Games of 2012 just around the corner, the generic concept ‘Olympic Games’ is multi-dimensional, including the Summer Olympics, the Winter Olympics, the Paralympic Games (for athletes with physical disabilities), the Youth Olympic Games and the Special Olympic Games, (for athletes with learning and intellectual disabilities).

One of the most significant forerunners to the Modern Games was an Olympic Class started by a Dr Brookes at Much Wenlock in England in 1850. This annual sports festival continues to this day and is known as the Wenlock Olympian Games. In 1890, after attending this event, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a French educator, was inspired and founded the IOC. Through his enthusiasm and driving energy it was subsequently decided to resurrect the ancient Olympic Games.  His dream was to give young people the world over the opportunity to compete in sport, nurture a sense of solidarity and ultimately contribute towards a more peaceful world.

The first Summer Games in the modern era was held under the auspices of the IOC in the Panathenaic stadium in Athens in 1896.  The Winter Olympic Games (first held in Chamonix, France in 1924) followed to feature snow American Eddie Eagan has won gold medals at both the Summer as Winter Games. He was a boxing champion in 1920 and also won gold as part of a bobsled team in Lake Placid in 1932.


and ice sports logistically impossible to hold during the Summer Games. Up to 1994 the OG were held every four years. Since then the Winter and Summer Games have alternated every two years. In 1948 Sir Ludwig Guttmann, determined to promote the rehabilitation of soldiers after World War II, organised a multi-sport event between several hospitals to coincide with the 1948 London Olympics. This event became known as the Stoke Mandeville Games.  For the 1960 Rome Games, Guttmann brought 400 athletes to compete in a parallel Olympics which became known as the first Paralympics. Since then the Paralympics have been held in every Olympic year. The first Winter Paralympics was held in 1976. Since the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul the host city for the Olympics has also played host to the Paralympics. An agreement that host cities are contracted to manage both the Olympic and Paralympic Games came into effect at the Summer Games in Beijing in 2008, and the Winter Games in Vancouver 2010.  The family of Games was further extended by the Youth Games giving youth 14-18 a chance to compete.  The first Summer Youth Games was held in Singapore in 2010 while the inaugural Winter Games will be in Austria during 2012.  Whereas the 2008 Summer Olympics hosted about 10 500 competitors, the scale of the Winter Games is smaller and the Winter Olympics in 2006 in Turin, for example, hosted 2 508 athletes. The Summer Youth Games is capped at 3 500 athletes and the Winter Youth Games at 970 athletes. The first Special OG was held in Chicago in 1968.

Also pertaining to the bigger ‘family’ of the Olympic Movement (OM), it is worth noting: The umbrella organisation of the OM, the IOC, is responsible for selecting the host city, overseeing the planning of the Olympic Games and approving the sports program. Further elements include firstly the International Federations (IFs) which are governing bodies supervising a sport at international level. There are currently 35 IFs in the OM, such as FIFA – the International Federation of Association Football (soccer).  Secondly, National Olympic Committees (NOCs) represent the OM within each country and currently 205 NOCs are recognised by the IOC.  Thirdly,   entities known as Organising Committees are temporary structures responsible for organising a specific Games, but they then dissolve after each OG.

Olympic sportsmanship and integrity: Australian swimmer, surf lifesaver and gold medallist Cecil Healy is responsible for one of the greatest acts of sportsmanship in the OG. On the 1st September in 1912 in Stockholm, when it was time to swim the 100m semi-final freestyle, the American contenders did not show up owing to an error, and were disqualified. One of the Americans was the fastest in the quarter-finals by far. Healy refused to swim unless the Americans were also given a chance to swim. The judges eventually relented. In the final, the favourite, America’s Duke Kahanamoku,  beat Healy into second place by 1.2 seconds. The American never forgot the Australian’s kindness and visited him in Australia afterwards. Healy epitomised the Australian surf lifesaver – brave, fair and unafraid to take an ethical stand.




Symbols, ceremonies and customs

The Olympic Flame is a tradition continued from the ancient OG and forms a link between the ancient and modern OG. At the ancient site of Olympia (Greece), a flame was ignited by the sun using a parabolic mirror and then kept burning for the duration of the OG.  The flame was first introduced at the modern Olympics during the Games of 1928. The flame symbolizes purity and the endeavour for perfection. Only in 1936 was the Olympic Torch relay introduced however, and since then the Olympic Flame has been lit at the ancient site of Olympia by women wearing ancient-style priestess robes and then passed from runner to runner to the Olympic stadium of the host city.  The design of the Olympic Torch is based on the leaf of an olive tree. Down the years the flame has been transported by plane, ship, submarine, canoe, camel and even underwater by divers (Sydney Games). The only time that the Olympic Flame has ever gone out during the Games was in Montreal, Canada on July 27, 1976. It was doused by a cloudburst but rekindled a minute later by a plumber Pierre Bouchard with a cigarette lighter and a rolled-up newspaper!

The Olympic Flag

was created by Pierre de Coubertin in 1914. It contains five interconnected rings on a white background. The five rings symbolize the five significant inhabited continents – the Americas, Asia, Australasia, Africa and Europe, and their colours from left to right are : blue, yellow, black, green, and red. These colours plus the white were chosen because at least one of them appears on the flag of every country in the world.  The rings are interconnected to depict the friendship and camaraderie to be gained from sport.  The Olympic Flag was first flown during the 1920 Olympic Games.

In 1921 Pierre de Coubertin borrowed a phrase from a friend, Father Henry Didon, used during a church sermon, for the Olympic Motto. “Citius, Altius, Fortius” which is Latin for Swifter, Higher, Stronger.

The Olympic Oath was written by our friend Pierre and first taken during the 1920 Olympic Games. During the opening ceremony the oath is recited by one of the athletes on behalf of all participants: “In the name of all competitors, I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games respecting and abiding by the rules that govern them, in the true spirit of sportmanship, for the glory of sport and the honour of our teams”

The Olympic Hymn, played when the Olympic Flag is raised,was composed by, no not our friend Pierre this time, but Spyros Samaras with words by Kostis Palamas. Whereas the hymn was first played during the 1896 Games, it was only declared as official hymn by the IOC during 1957.

The Olympic Medals aredesigned for each Games by the organizing committee of the host city.  Medals must be at least three millimetres thick and 60 millimetres in diameter. The last Olympic gold medals made entirely out of gold were awarded in 1912. Since then the silver and gold medals are made out of 92,5% silver, with the gold medals covered in six grams of gold. From 1948 onwards athletes placed 4th, 5th and 6th have received certificates (victory diplomas). In 1984 victory diplomas were added for 7th and 8th places. At the 2004 Games in Athens, medal winners were also given olive wreaths. One source claims that medals were not awarded to all winners during the 1900 Games in Paris, but that athletes were given objects of art instead as the French believed that the latter would be more valuable. Apparently, medals were, however, retrospectively awarded to these athletes later. It is also reported that during the 1896 OG silver medals were awarded to winners and bronze to runners-up.

An Opening Ceremony was first held during the 1908 Games in London, but many OG rituals were initiated at the 1920 OG in Antwerp. The ceremony typically starts by hoisting the host country’s flag and a performance of its national anthem. The host nation then presents artistic displays of music, song, dance and theatre representative of the local culture. This part of the opening ceremony has taken on spectacular dimensions down the years and it is reported that the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Games cost a staggering $100 million.  The athletes then parade into the stadium. The procession of athletes is led by the Greek Team, followed by the other participating teams in alphabetic order (in the language of the host city), except for the team of the host city which is always last. The OG is formally opened by speeches and finally the Olympic Torch is brought into the stadium and passed on until it reaches the final torch carrier who ignites the Olympic Flame in the stadium’s cauldron. This honour is often reserved for a well-known Olympic sports personality from the host nation. Incidentally, when choosing the location for the OG, the IOC always gives the honour of hosting the OG to a city, not a country.

The Olympic Mascot,

a figure representing the cultural heritage of the host country, was introduced as late as 1968 when Mexico used a red jaguar and a white dove in their Olympic message.

A Medal Ceremony  is held after each Olympic event when the winning team/individual as well as the 2nd placed and 3rd placed competitors stand on a three-tier rostrum to be awarded their respective medals. The national flags of the three medallists are hoisted while the national anthem of the winning team/individual is played.

Olympic dedication and perseverance: Dan Jansen, American speed skater, spoke with his dying sister Jane, for the last time, before his 500m event at the 1986 Calgary Winter Olympics. Jansen had hoped to win the gold for her but fell. At the 1990 Games he was beaten by a whisker for the gold. At his last Games in 1994, Lillehammer, Norway, he was disqualified in the 500m and stumbled at the beginning of the 1000m. An audible gasp rippled through the crowd, but Jansen dug deep and skated to victory, finally achieving his promise to himself, setting a new world record in the process. There were scenes of ecstatic jubilation, but also tears as he skated a lap of honour with his baby daughter in his arms. Her name? Jane -  in memory of his late sister.

The Closing Ceremony takes place after the last sporting event. Flag bearers from all participating countries enter the stadium, followed by all athletes who participated. This time, however, athletes are mixed and enter at random to signify unity of countries/participants. Three national flags are hoisted while the respective national anthems are played – the flag of Greece honours the birthplace of the OG; the flag of the host country follows and finally the flag is raised of the next OG host. The president of the organizing committee and the president of the IOC make their closing speeches, the Olympic Flame is extinguished and the OG is officially closed. The mayor of the host city then transfers a special Olympic Flag to the president of the IOC who passes it to the mayor of the city hosting the next OG.  The next host nation briefly introduces itself with artistic displays of dance and theatre representative of its culture.








By Pitout Horn

(PART 2)

Author’s Note: This article is not a treatise on the Olympic Games, but serves as a  vehicle to order  trivia about the Games, collected over many years, in some kind of order.   The concept ‘Games’ is used in singular mode unless context dictates otherwise. Where sources disagree, outlier sources were discarded and convergence was sought amongst the rest. The abbreviation OG is used throughout for Olympic Games. The concept ‘athlete’ is used in a broader context meaning contestant. The author is resident in South Africa, hence the slight bias towards SA trivia. This trip down memory lane was most enjoyable to compile – trust you will also derive some enjoyment as reader.

A brief helicopter flight over the Olympic Games : 1896 – 2008

By 2016 the Summer/Winter OG would have been hosted by 44 cities in 23 countries. Cities outside Europe and North America have hosted the OG on only eight occasions.  Three major regions,  Africa, South America and Antarctica have never hosted an Olympics. The 2016 OG in Rio de Janeiro will be a first for South America, whereas no bids from Africa have ever succeeded.  The Winter Games has never been hosted in the Southern Hemisphere despite suitable sites in New Zealand, Australia, Argentina and Chile.

1896 – Athens: After a gap of 1503 years 245 men from 14 countries participate to herald in the new era of Olympics. Sports contested are Athletics, Cycling, Fencing, Gymnastics, Shooting, Swimming, Tennis, Weightlifting and Wrestling. All of these, with the exception of tennis, have been featured at every subsequent Games.  Tennis was dropped in 1928 and reinstated in 1988. James B Connolly (USA), winner of the hop, step and jump in the 1896 Olympics, is the first champion of the modern OG. The youngest confirmed Olympic medallist ever is Greek gymnast Dimitrios Loundras,  aged 10. (Apparently a young French boy aged 7 was hastily recruited as part of the Dutch rowing team as coxswain at the 1900 Games. He unfortunately wondered off before anyone could record his name). 43 events are contested. USA takes most gold – 11.

The Olympic competitor who has won the most gold medals to date is the American athlete Ray Ewry with 10 gold during 1900 – 1908. He achieved this in the standing jump (high, long, triple) categories at the time. Not bad for someone who suffered polio as a child!

1900 – Paris: The second OG is a sideshow of theWorldExhibition. It lasts a full five months. Twelve women are amongst the 1225 athletes from 26 nations contesting 95 events. France takes most gold – 26.  Charlotte  Cooper from Great Britain becomes the first female gold medallist in OG history, winning the tennis event.

1904 – St Louis: Only 687 athletes from 13 countries turn up, and 525 of the competitors are from the USA.  Againinterest for the OG is low and the sporting events are again a sideshow to a World Fair. 91 events – USA takes most gold – 79. This was the first OG that South Africans participated in – two black athletes Len Tau and Jan Mashiani ran the marathon barefoot,  finishing 9th and 13th respectively.

1908 – London:  Reg Walker from SA wins gold in the 100m  event. South African athletes wear green shirts with a yellow springbok on the chest. The OG makes a break-through as a global event through good publicity.  The White City Stadium has a capacity of  100 000, and 2035 athletes from 22 countries compete in 110 events. UK takes most gold – 54. Dorando Pietri, a sweetshop owner from Italy, collapses four times just yards from the finish in the marathon. He is helped over the line to win, but despite protests, is disqualified. The first parade of athletes with national flags is seen.

1912 – Stockholm: 2547 competitors from 28 countries contest 102 events. USA takes most gold – 25.  Swimming and the modern pentathlon are included for the first time. Electronic timing devices are a first at this OG.

1920 – Antwerp: Many of the OG ceremonial customs are established here. Oscar Swahn, Swedish shottist, makes Olympics history by becoming the oldest competitor ever at the age of 72.  2669 competitors take part in 154 events. USA takes most gold – 41.

1924 – Paris: 3092 people from 44 countries take part – the OG is growing in stature! 126 events are staged, USA takes most gold – 45. The Olympic motto is introduced. Swimmer Johnny Weissmuller (USA) wins three gold medals and adds two more in the 1928 Olympics. Even greater fame awaits him as Hollywood’s most famous Tarzan. Paavo Nurmi, Finnish distance runner, wins five gold medals. This OG forms the background to the movie Chariots of Fire. Eric Liddell (UK) wins the 400m gold and becomes a sporting hero in Britain.  The Winter Olympics is introduced for the first time. Rugby and tennis are phased out as Olympic sports.

1928 – Amsterdam: This is the first time that women compete in athletics. Previously women featured mainly in events such as tennis, gold, swimming, archery, fencing and yachting.  The Coca-Cola company, with the longest continuous relationship with the Olympic Movement, first sponsored the OG in 1928. 3014 athletes from 46 nations compete for highest honours in 109 events. USA takes most gold – 22.

1932 – Los Angeles: Just 1408 competitors from 37 countries take part in 117 events owing to the Great Depression. Three-tier podiums for award ceremonies are introduced as well as the playing of the national anthems of winners and raising of flags. The favourable weather plays a role in that, excluding long jump, new records are set in all other athletic events.  Walking is introduced as an Olympic event. For the first time the OG features an Olympic Village. Sarie Marais is incorrectly played as South Africa’s national anthem. (it was messed up then already).   USA takes most gold – 41.

1936 – Berlin: 4066 competitors from 49 nations participated in 129 events. This OG is the first to be televised. Hitler tries to turn the OG into a Nazi propaganda event but is thwarted by the success of non-Aryan athletes with African-Americans taking gold in every track event from the 100m to the 800m. J. C. Owens (better known as Jesse owing to his initials) takes four gold medals. This OG is the first to be preceded by the torch relay.  Germany takes most gold – 33.

1948 – London: 4099 competitors from 59 countries take part in this post-war event. Germany and Japan are not invited. Communist countries are involved for the first time and some East to West defections take place for the first time. (Remember the joke about the East German pole vault champion who became the West German pole vault champion?). The opening ceremony was a moving event and did much to heal the wounds of war. A pregnant 30-year old mother of two, Fanny Blankers-Koen, from the Netherlands, the ‘flying housewife’, wins four gold medals. She is later named as female athlete of the century. 136 events are staged. USA takes most gold – 38.

1952 – Helsinki: 69 nations and 4925 athletesenter in 149 events. The USSR competes for the first time. A separate Olympic Village is built for Eastern Bloc athletes. The Games is superbly organized. The heroes of the Games are the Zatopeks. Czech runner Emil wins an incredible triple, taking gold in the 5 000m, the 10 000m and the marathon, whereas his wife Dana wins  gold in the javelin event.  USA takes most gold – 40.

1956 – Melbourne: 3342 athletes from 72 nations attend the first Olympics in the Southern Hemisphere. Obstacles pertaining to season, distance and travelling expense have a negative effect on numbers.  The equestrian events are held in Stockholm some 15 500km away owing to rigid quarantine laws in Australia. Betty Cuthbert, sprinter of the host country, takes three gold medals on the track. The Australians dominate the swimming, winning 8 out of 13 events. Athletes enter the closing ceremony together to symbolize unity.  145 events are staged. USSR takes most gold – 37.

1960 – Rome: The OG is going from strength to strength. 5348 competitors from 83 countries take part in hot conditions in the 150 events. Herb Elliott sets a world record in the 1500m and Ethiopian Abebe Bikila  takes gold in the marathon. The first Paralympics is held. Cassius Clay wins boxing gold and Wilma Rudolph, dominates the sprints with three gold. The Russian females impress in gymnastics. USSR takes most gold – 43.

1964 – Tokyo: Asia hosts an OG for the first time and the Japanese display their passion for detailed planning. SA is not amongst the 93 countries taking part. Judo and volleyball are introduced. Abebe Bikila achieves a marathon double; swimmer Don Schollander (USA) takes four gold and Dawn Fraser from Australia wins gold in the 100m freestyle swim for the third successive Olympics.  Gymnast Larissa Latynina (USSR) wins two gold, two silver and two bronze.  (She eventually finished her Games career with 18 medals in total, the most in history to date).  5140 contestants enter 163 events. USA wins most gold – 36.

1968 – Mexico City: 5531 people from 112 nations form part of the colourful fiesta atmosphere at a well-run OG. The altitude (2 200m) is controversial with explosive events having a field day, while endurance athletes find the going tough with 30% less oxygen. Bob Beamon (USA) improves the world long jump record by an extraordinary 55cm as he soars 8,90m which is still an Olympic record. He is in shock and suffers a seizure but recovers. Dick Fosbury (USA) takes gold in the high-jump with his famous Fosbury Flop. 172 events are on the programme. The USA takes most gold – 45.

1972 – Munich: 7123 competitors from 121 countries experience superlative German planning-for-perfection at its best. Full-scale drug testing is introduced. Olga Korbut (USSR) charms the world with three gold in gymnastics and American Mark Spitz wins seven gold in the pool, the most by one person at a single OG at that time (world records in all seven events). The big blemish of the Munich event is the hostage crisis with 11 Israeli team members murdered by Palestinian terrorists. The oldest female to have ever competed in the OG is British equestrian Hilda L. Johstone who, at the age of 70, takes part in the Dressage Event. No less than 195 events are contested. USSR takes most gold – 50.

1976 – Montreal: 6028 athletes from only 92 countries take part. African nations boycott the OG in protest to the IOC not banning New Zealand after a rugby tour of SA by a NZ team. The Games is less well planned than the previous event and is a financial disaster.  The 14-year old gymnast from Romania, Nadia Comaneci, astounds the world with the first perfect 10 in an Olympics gymnastics event. She wins three gold. Lasse Viren of Finland takes gold in both the 5 000m and 10 000m.  198 events are contested. USSR takes most gold – 49.

1980 – Moscow: Once again the turnout is relatively poor. 5217 competitors from 80 countries take part. The USA, Canada, West Germany and Japan are amongst 60 countries to boycott the Games in protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  Middle-distance British runners battle it out – Steve Ovett (gold) and Sebastian Coe (silver) in the 800m, while in the 1500m the honours are reversed with Coe (gold) and Ovett (bronze). Gymnast Aleksandr Dityatin (USSR) takes eight medals with three gold, four silver and a bronze – the most by any man in a single Games.  203 events. USSR takes most gold – 80.

1984 – Los Angeles:  6797 athletes from 140 nations are involved in 221 events.  USA takes most gold – 83. This time the USSR boycotts the Games, probably in retaliation for the Moscow boycott earlier although other reasons are cited.  Daley Thompson (UK) wins gold twice in a row in the decathlon and sprinter Carl Lewis (USA) takes four gold in athletics. Zola Budd from SA is involved in a tripping incident with the American favourite Mary Decker. (Sydney Maree, black athlete from SA is part of the SA team and after the infamous tripping incident the following joke does the rounds: What do you get when you cross Maree, Budd and Decker? A Black & Decker with a trip switch). The USA basketball team falls out early to Yugoslavia – the biggest upset at the Games.

1988 – Seoul: 8465 athletes from 159 nations seek gold in 237 events. USSR takes most gold – 55. Sprinter Florence Griffith-Joyner (Flo Jo) shows her grace and magic and takes three gold and a silver. She shatters the 100m record by 27/100ths of a second and more than two decades later her record still stands. Ben Johnson (Canada) wins the 100m in a world record time but is then stripped of his gold (steroids). Kristin Otto (Germany) swims her way to six golds, the most by any woman at a single Olympics.   Professionals are officially allowed to take part.

1992 – Barcelona: 9367 competitors from 169 countries are present, amongst them SA, back after 32 years. The events tally breaks through the 250 mark with 257. The EUN (Unified Team consisting of the former Soviet republics) takes most gold – 45. Elana Meyer takes the silver in the 10 000m. A united German team takes part. UK cyclist, Chris Boardman, astounds the world with a very aerodynamic and futuristic bicycle.

1996 – Atlanta: 10 744 athletes from 197 countries celebrate 100 years of the modern Olympics during this 271-event festival of sport.  Michael Johnson (USA) takes the 200m and 400m gold, the 200m in a new world record. A bomb goes off in the Centennial Olympic Park, killing two. Former boxer Muhammad Ali, crippled by Parkinson’s Disease, makes a courageous appearance to light the Olympic Flame.  The USA takes most gold – 44.

2000 – Sydney: 10 651 athletes from 199 nations battle for highest honours. Steve Redgrave (UK) rows his way to a fifth consecutive Olympic gold, making Olympic history in the process. Russian gymnast Alexei Nemov adds two more golds to his two of Atlanta, and takes an additional silver and three bronze medals. The Sydney Games is almost universally regarded as the most perfect Games to date. 300 events are contested and the USA takes most gold – 39.

2004 – Athens: A record 11 099 athletes from 202 countries take part. Michael Phelps, American swim sensation helps himself to six gold and two bronze. The SA 4x100m freestyle team takes gold. 301 events are contested and the USA takes most gold – 35.

2008 – Beijing: 11 028 athletes from a record 204 National Olympic Committees (NOCs) participate for gold medals in 302 events. It is our man Michael Phelps again. He surpasses the record of Mark Spitz and becomes the first Olympic athlete to win eight gold medals at one OG event.  SA has a disappointing outing with only one silver in the men’s long-jump. 43 world records are set and 132 new Olympic records established. A record 87 countries win at least one medal. The 2008 Beijing Olympics is the most-watched sporting event ever to date with some 4,7 billion watching on TV.  China takes most gold – 51.

The most successful countries at the Summer OG : 1896 – 2008 in terms of their medals haul are depicted in the table below:

Country Gold Silver Bronze India is an Olympic underperformer, and this country has produced the lowest number of Olympic medals per capita of all countries.Total
USA 929 728 647 2304
Soviet Union 395 319 296 1010
Great Britain 207 255 252 714
France 191 212 233 636
Germany 163 163 203 529
Italy 190 158 174 Norway is the most successful Winter Olympics country with a harvest of more than 300 medals to date.522
Sweden 142 160 173 475
Hungary 159 141 159 459
Australia 131 137 164 432
East Germany 153 129 127 409
China 163 117 106 386


Almost from its inception the OG has been riddled by politics, war, ideology and boycotts. Whereas sources differ pertaining to countries represented at all Summer OG (owing to different definitions of ‘representation’) most scholars agree that Australia, Great Britain and Switzerland are the only countries to have sent a team to every OG since 1896. There were no OG held in 1916 owing to WW1 and similarly WW2 prevented the OG of 1940 and 1944 to happen. Political turmoil leaves its mark and some lowlights are: Nazi Germany, hosting the 1936 Games, tried to further the notion of Aryan supremacy – Hitler’s attempts were thwarted, however, by African American Jesse Owens winning four gold. It is interesting to note that the Soviet Union did not take part until 1952.  An infamous incident took place when two Americans, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, performed a Black Power salute on the victory stand during the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Then some 22 African countries boycotted the 1976 OG in Montreal in protest to New Zealand being allowed to take part after a NZ rugby team toured SA. In 1980 and 1984, Cold War opponents boycotted each other’s Games when 60 nations refused to compete in Moscow owing to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (reducing it to 81 participating countries). The Soviet Union and 14 Eastern Bloc partners in turn boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics, claiming that the safety of their athletes could not be guaranteed.  South Africa, owing to its internal political policies at the time, was expelled from the OG for 32 years, participating the last time in Rome in 1960, and being re-admitted in 1992.  In 1972, during the Summer OG in Munich, eleven members of the Israeli Olympic Team were killed by a terrorist group, Black September. A German police officer and five of the terrorists also died.  During the Summer Olympics in 1996 in Atlanta a bomb was detonated at the Olympic Park killing two and injuring 111 others. Security measures at the OG have been stepped up over the years, especially since the September 11, 2001 Twin Tower terrorist attack in the USA.

Amateurism and professionalism

Today it sounds unreal, but there was a time, many decades ago, when there was a prevailing ethos amongst the aristocracy that it would be un-gentlemanly and unfair towards other participants to actually  practise or train for an event. In fact, it was considered tantamount to cheating! The notion of an amateur athlete as an aristocratic gentleman was, however, eroded down the years and there was increasing pressure on amateur athletes to compete against state-sponsored full-time amateurs from some countries. In the 1970s amateurism rules were gradually phased out of the Olympic Charter and after the 1988 Games, the IOC decided to make all professional athletes eligible for the OG. As of 2004 the only sports which still resist full-blown professionalism are boxing and wrestling, whereas in soccer only three professional players over the age of 23 are eligible to participate per team.  Olympic humour: Who still remembers the character Harry Burns (played by Billy Crystal) saying the following in the movie “When Harry met Sally” (1989)? : “Had my dream again where I am making love, and the Olympic judges are watching. I had already nailed the compulsories. So this is it, the finals. I got a 9,8 from the Canadians, a perfect 10 from the Americans and my mother, disguised as an East German judge, gave me a 5,6. Must have been the dismount”.

The 100m event for females was won by Stanislawa Walasiewicz in 1932. Only at her death in 1981 was it discovered that Stanislawa was actually a man.

Gender perspectives

Women athletes were first allowed to compete in the 1900 Summer Olympics, albeit on a very limited scale. The number of sportswomen increased gradually over time, but as recent as the 1992 OG there were still 35 countries fielding all-male delegations only! By 2010 only three countries had never sent female athletes to the Games, namely Brunei, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.  The latter country is the only one globally where legislation prohibits women from competing at the Olympics, and pressure is growing on the IOC to expel this country from the OG should they not address their outlier status pertaining to women’s rights in sport. It is reported of late that these three countries will now field a female competitor or two in 2012 making use of a special ‘wild card’ dispensation of the IOC to promote the ‘concept of universality’ which means that berths are reserved for unqualified athletes in athletics and swimming.

The only Olympic sport where both genders compete together is the equestrian disciplines. With the addition of women’s boxing to the 2012 OG, female athletes will now be able to compete in all the same sports as their male counterparts.

A last word on gender – the IOC has tried various measures to test for gender.  In the 1960’s female athletes had to walk nude in front of physicians to verify the presence of certain characteristics – let us not go there – but this was unworkable owing to a medical condition where some people are born with the genitalia of both genders. Beginning in 1967 the IOC resorted to chromosome testing, but once again some males are born with an extra X chromosome and some females are missing one, complicating matters. Currently the IOC uses testosterone levels as a measure, where levels in men are normally higher than in females.  This method is also considered as unreliable by many.


The first athlete to test positively for the use of performance-enhancing drugs was Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall, a Swedish pentathlete who was stripped of a bronze medal in 1964.  In the late 1990s the IOC intensified their battle against doping, and there was a sharp increase in positive drug tests at the 2000 Summer Games and 2002 Winter Games. The IOC-established drug testing regimen has set new standards in fighting this scourge in modern sport, and the IOC seems to gain the upper hand.  During the most recent Beijing Summer Games, 3667 athletes were subject to blood and urine tests, and only three athletes failed tests while in competition in Beijing.  I wonder whether a bar of chocolate, being dangled one meter in front of my wife’s forehead during a 100m dash, would in fact qualify as a performance-enhancing substance?















By Pitout Horn

(PART 3)

Author’s Note: This article is not a treatise on the Olympic Games, but serves as a  vehicle to order  trivia about the Games, collected over many years, in some kind of order.   The concept ‘Games’ is used in singular mode unless context dictates otherwise. Where sources disagree, outlier sources were discarded and convergence was sought amongst the rest. The abbreviation OG is used throughout for Olympic Games. The concept ‘athlete’ is used in a broader context meaning contestant. The author is resident in South Africa, hence the slight bias towards SA trivia. This trip down memory lane was most enjoyable to compile – trust you will also derive some enjoyment as reader.

The London 2012 Games

The 2012 Summer Olympic Games, also known as the Games of the XXX Olympiad, is to take place in London during the period 27 July – 12 August 2012. London will become the first city ever to host the modern Olympic Games a third time.  Some 204 nations are to participate and some 10 500 athletes are expected to turn up to participate in 26 sports, 39 disciplines and 302 events. The 2012 Paralympic Games Programme features 20 sports and 21 disciplines. These events will be contested at some 34 different venues, but the main focus of the Games will be a 200 hectare Olympic Park, constructed on a former industrial site at Stratford in the east of London. Since Victorian times the Lower Lea valley, site of the OG, has been used for ancient landfills and industries with dubious environmental credentials.

Some 2 million tonnes of contaminated soil underwent a massive “washing” process and the river Lea was rehabilitated. Modern eco-friendly buildings were erected and the 80 000 seat Olympic stadium is the lightest OG stadium ever built. Some 20% of energy used in the park will come from renewable sources. The Olympic Park, with its riverside gardens, markets, cafes and bars is the largest urban park built in the whole of Europe in the last 150 years. In addition to the athletes, some 21 000 media members, 3 000 technical officials, 7 500 team officials, 375 medical doctors, 10 000 members of police, supported by 13 500 members of the armed forces and thousands of spectators will descend upon London.  The logistics of the OG is mind-boggling and just as example some 600 basketballs, 2 200 dozen tennis balls, 2 700 footballs, 356 pairs of boxing gloves and 6 000 archery targets will be used.   A British summer is not complete without a downpour or seven and some 250 000 ponchos are on standby should the heavens open.  The Olympic Torch has been made weatherproof to withstand rain and wind speeds up to 60km/h.

The mascots for the OG in London are Wenlock and Mandeville (see earlier for rationale). They are animations depicting two drops of steel from a steelworks in Bolton and were reportedly created from the last drops of steel left over from the construction of the final support beam for the Olympic Stadium. The official logo of the 2012 games is a representation of the number 2012 with the Olympic Rings embedded within the zero. The logo will be displayed in a number of colours, and for the first time in history the same logo design is to be used for both the Summer and Paralympic Games.  Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh will officially open the Games.  The Opening Ceremony promises to be a spectacular event and the extravaganza is entitled “Isles of Wonder” depicting a simulated British countryside, complete with farm animals and a cloud that will, hold onto your hats, apparently produce real rain.  The Programme of the Games, can be found at:

South Africa and the Olympic Games

Latest news is that a team of some 125 athletes (67 male and 58 female) will represent SA at the OG. They will be accompanied by 46 officials and a contingent of 12 medical staff.

The first SA winner of a gold medal was Reginald Walker in the 100m dash during the 1908 OG.  SA produced gold medal winners in 1912 (4); 1920 (3); 1924 (1); 1928 (1); 1932 (2); 1948 (2) and 1952 (2). Owing to political pressure SA did not participate in the OG during the years 1964 – 1988. Then in 1992 SA produced silver medals (3); in 1996 gold (3), silver (1) and bronze (1).   The country followed this up with two silver and three bronze medals in 2000.  During 2004 our swimmers excelled and SA managed to come home with four gold medals, three silver and three bronze. In one of the most thrilling races of the Athens OG, our swimming team won SA’s first Olympic gold honours in the pool by taking the 4x100m freestyle relay. Roland Schoeman, Lyndon Ferns, Darian Townsend and Ryk Neethling set a world record of 3:13:17 against the world’s best. South Africa has had a very disappointing OG in 2008 and managed to secure only one silver medal when Khotso Mokoena came second in the long-jump event.  SA athletes and administrators have set themselves an objective of returning home with a harvest of 12 medals.

A last word : The Marathon

Olympic courage: In 1938 Karoly Takacs of the Hungarian army was the favourite to win the gold in the pistol shooting event (1940 OG scheduled for Tokyo). A hand grenade exploded in his right hand, blowing his shooting hand to pieces. Takacs refused to accept that this was the end of his OG dream and through incredible mental toughness, he started training relentlessly with his left hand. Both the 1940 and 1944 Olympics were cancelled owing to WW II, but at the age of 38 this courageous competitor won gold at the 1948 London Games. Four years later he did so again at the Helsinki OG, establishing him as one of the greats in the Olympics Hall of Fame.   The Olympic Spirit at its best!

The Marathon is normally the last event at the Summer Games, so what better way to end off this article than with a few words on the Marathon.  In 490 BCE, Pheidippides, a Greek soldier, ran from Marathon to Athens (about 25 miles), to inform the Athenians of the outcome of the battle with invading Persians. The distance had many punishing hills and other obstacles to overcome. Pheidippides arrived in Athens totally exhausted and with bleeding feet. After conveying to the townspeople the success of the Greeks in battle, he fell to the ground dead. In 1896, at the first modern OG, a race was held over the same distance to commemorate this heroic deed of the Greek soldier/messenger. At the 1908 OG the organisers discovered that the British Royal Box was 385 yards further down route than the 26 mile finishing mark. The Marathon was then duly extended to finish exactly in front of King Edward VII and the distance has been 26 miles and 385 yards ever since!

1 Comment

Posted by on 18/07/2012 in Olympics


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One response to “Olympic Games Trivia

  1. Chubby Chatterbox

    18/07/2012 at 15:22

    Thanks for the history lesson. So much of this I didn’t know.


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