The modern Olympic games began in 1896 in Athens as the modern successor to the ancient Olympics which used to be held in Olympia in Greece from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. The International Olympic Committee was founded in 1894 with the first games being held in Athens two years later. There are two kinds of Olympics, the Summer and Winter Olympics alternating every two years in the four-year period.
After the Second World War during which the Olympics were not held, the Paralympics were started for soldiers who had been wounded and injured during the War. The games were initially referred to as ‘Parallel Olympics’ as they took place parallel to the Olympics. The name was later modified to ‘Paralympics’.
The Olympics are considered to be the world’s foremost competition with the participation of the majority of the world’s nations. Though there have been times in the 20th century when the games have been boycotted by a particular grouping of nations due to geopolitical causes such as the Cold War, by and large, the Olympics have managed to bring the comity of the world’s nations together on a common platform for performance in different types of sporting events.
Also, though the games have become increasingly commercialized in the century since they started, the Olympics have helped in bringing together and forging deep ties between nations that are separated from each other due to geographical distances, cultural, social, economic, and political distances, and thus helped to bring about enhanced cooperation between them.
During the times of the earliest Olympics, various amusing events took place which were unexpected and inexplicable. 5 such incidents are listed below:
- The Olympic Marathon
The Olympic Marathon which includes a long-distance foot running race of around 42 km (26 Miles), is a sporting event held both in the Olympics as well as as a separate event outside the Olympics in memory of and as a tribute to the prowess of Pheidippides, a Greek soldier who, following the Greek victory over the Persian army at Marathon in the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC on the Greek coast ran the said distance of 42 km / 26 miles from Marathon to Athens for conveying the news to the citizens of Athens.
According to some versions, Pheidippides is believed to have reached Athens, delivered the news, and then died of exhaustion. Seventeen runners participated in the inaugural marathon and Greek athlete Spyridon Louis won the gold with a finish in two hours, 58 minutes, and fifty seconds. However, the Marathons in subsequent Olympics didn’t proceed as smoothly. In the Olympics held at Saint Louis, Missouri, in 1904, the US, Cuban athlete Felix Carvajal saved enough money to travel to the venue. But during a stopover at New Orleans, Louisiana, he lost the rest of his savings in gambling and was forced to hitchhike and walk the rest of the way. He arrived at the race dressed in street clothes and quickly got the legs of his trousers cut to make them look like shorts as he had no shorts of his own.
Carvajal did well in the race despite stopping to converse with onlookers and stealing some peaches from an onlooker’s car. Later in the race, he came across an apple tree and stopped to eat some apples which turned out to be putrid. After stopping to sleep and rest, Carvajal finished fourth in the event at the end.
However, Carvajal’s story was not the strangest of the marathon at the 1904 Olympics. In the marathon at the 1904 Olympic Games, Lorz ceased running because of fatigue after nine miles (14.5 km). His coach gave him a lift in his car and driven for the next eleven miles (17.7 km), after which, he (Lorz) continued on foot back to the Olympic stadium, where he broke the tape of the finish line and was feted as the champion of the race with a winning time of three hours and 13 minutes.
Just as the daughter of then US President Theodore Roosevelt, Alice Roosevelt was about to give Lorz his medal, many spectators claimed that Lorz had not run the entire course of the race. Lorz was confronted by furious officials with these accusations, following which he admitted his deception and was banned for life, but was reinstated after a year after it was discovered that he had not intended to deceive. In the same year, Lorz honorably won the Boston Marathon in a time of two hours, 38 minutes, and 25 seconds.
Thomas Hicks was declared the actual winner of the race, He also had used a special kind of concoction of strychnine and brandy. His coaches had given him a dose of around 1 mg of strychnine and some brandy because he was lagging in the race. Since the first dose of strychnine did not revive him for an extended period, he was given another dose. Consequently, he foundered after crossing the finishing line. Strychnine is now banned for athletes under the Olympics’ doping rules.
The Intercalated Games were held in Athens in 1906. These games, intercalated in the Olympic Games cycle, were to be always held in Athens and were to have equal stature with the international or Summer Olympics. But these Games were only held in 1906. After this, the idea of an Intercalated Games was dropped.
For the 1906 Intercalated Games in Athens, Canadian runner William Sherring didn’t have enough money to get to Greece. It was left to him, a brakeman at the Grand Trunk Railway and having meager resources, to finance his journey to Athens himself. He decided to bet his small reserve of $75 on a horse named Cicely, which won at good odds. Sherring made it to Athens arriving in the city seven weeks before the city and starting work as a porter at the Athens railway station. Sherring won the gold in two hours and 51 minutes. He was awarded a statue of the goddess Athena and a live lamb.
2. Brief Olympic medal announcements
Though Canadian George Goulding won the gold in the 10,000-meter walk in the 1912 Olympic Games held in Stockholm, he didn’t waste any money on extra words when he sent a telegram to his wife with the news. The telegram he sent to his wife consisted of only two words, ‘Won—George.’
3. Basketball in the early Olympics
Basketball as a sporting event at the Olympics debuted in the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936. However, the German organizers of the games didn’t build actual Basketball courts and the events were played in lawn tennis courts of clay and sand. This caused difficulties in the dribbling of the basketball on the clay and sand of the courts. The situation became even tougher when the match for the gold medal between Canada and the US occurred parallel with a thunderstorm. The US team won the match with a 19-8 victory over the Canadians.
At the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland, the Uruguayan team displayed bad sportsmanship. In the match against France, the Uruguayan team fouled so much that by the end of the game, only three of its players were left on the court. After France scored a match-winning goal, the Uruguayan team attacked the American referee. During Uruguay’s match against the Soviet Union, they also injured three Soviet players who had to take first aid. In their match against Argentina, the Uruguayans made 42 fouls out of a total of 66 in the entire game. There was also a riot-like situation in the match until it was broken up by a large security force which had been brought in because of the Uruguayan’s earlier attack on the American referee.
4. Alcohol considered a performance-enhancing drug at the Olympics
In 1968, the Swedish team participating in the modern pentathlon seemed like they had won the bronze medal. However, one of the team members, Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall failed a drug test for alcohol. It was common for modern pentathletes to have a drink to calm their nerves before an event. However, Lilhenwall had ‘two beers’ which was above the prescribed limit. He thus became the first person ever to be disqualified for drugs from the Olympics after his blood alcohol content was found to be above the limit.
5. Many winners did not necessarily know that they had won at the Olympics
Many of the initial Olympics were held parallel to other historical events. This used to distract popular attention from the games to these events. For example, the 1900 Olympics were held parallel to the World’s Fair in Paris. This meant that many events were happening at the same time. Since then, many Olympic historians have attempted to discover which events were Olympic and which were not.
For example, golfer Margaret Abbott who won a nine-hole golf tournament near Paris had no idea that she was participating in an Olympic game. Many decades after Abbott’s death in 1955, Paula Welch, a professor at the University of Florida found out that not only was Abbott an Olympic champion, but she was also the US’s first female Olympic champion.
In another case, in the 1980s, historians Max and Reet Howell had argued that the Australian Donald Mackintosh had won a gold medal in live-pigeon shooting. The IOC initially acknowledged in 1988 that Mackintosh had won a gold medal in-game shooting. But by 2012, the IOC took away Mackintosh’s gold medal. But the Australian Olympic Committee is not consistent in considering Mackintosh as an Olympic champion. However, the event of live-pigeon shooting has been discontinued as a sporting event at the Olympics.