Saturday, June 16, 2012

Olympics: Brief history of the Modern Games: 1912, Stockholm

The 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm were the fifth modern Games. Swedish organisers benefited from having the full four years to prepare and they learned a lot from previous mistakes. They ensured the Games were a stand-alone event and the schedule was shortened to two months. For the first time, competitors in the Games came from all five continents symbolized in the Olympic rings. The Stockholm Olympic Games were attended by 28 countries, comprising 2,500 athletes, of which 55 were women. The modern pentathlon was introduced at the instigation of Baron Pierre de Coubertin. The event symbolically depicted a messenger fighting his way through enemy lines. This was the last Olympic Games where the gold medals made entirely out of gold. Today the Olympic medals are designed for each individual Olympic Games by the host city's organizing committee. Each medal must be at least three millimeters thick and 60 millimeters in diameter. Gold and silver Olympic medals must be made out of 92.5 percent silver, with the gold medal covered in six grams of gold. The Swedish hosts introduced the use of unofficial electronic timing devices (capable of registering to the tenth of a second) for track and swimming events. Public address systems helped organise athletes and allowed the crowds to follow events. Chalk was used instead of cord to outline the lanes for races in the main stadium. No boxing was held at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics because the sport was illegal in Sweden.

The hero of these games was Jim ‘Bright Path’ Thorpe, the half Sac-Fox Indian, half Irish athlete from Carlisle Indian School. He won Olympic gold medals for pentathlon and decathlon. Thorpe was the easy victor in both his chosen events, scoring twice as many points as his nearest pentathlon rival and breezing to the decathlon title. Legend has it that King Gustav V asked for an official visit to congratulate Thorpe, but the Indian claimed he was engaged in weight lifting and begged not to be disturbed. What he was lifting was tankards of Swedish beer. Gustav did meet Thorpe, finally, to present a bronze bust of himself for the decathlon win, and a jeweled Viking ship model for his pentathlon victory.

George S Patton, who would later become a famous U.S. general, competed in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics pentathlon, an event combining pistol shooting, swimming, fencing, cross country and steeplechase. Patton performed poorly in his best event, pistols, but shined in fencing, defeating the French army champion. 'Old Blood and Guts' finished fifth overall, the only non-Swede to make the top seven.

Hannes Kolehmainen, "the Flying Finn," won gold medals in the 5,000-m., 10,000-m., and cross-country events of 1912. A brother competed in the 10,000-m. and marathon. The marathon was won by K. K. McArthur, South Africa, ahead of Lewis Tewanima, one of Thorpe's Carlisle teammates. The race was marred by a fatality when Portugal's Lazaro collapsed after 19 mi. and died the next day. A Japanese marathon runner failed to complete the course when he stooped exhausted and joined a family on a picnic. He then fell asleep woke up, and realized it was too late to finish the race.

Surprise shot-put victor was Pat McDonald, a policeman who directed traffic at Times Square, well-known for stopping traffic to escort ladies across the street. The shot-put favorite, 2-time champion Ralph Rose, lost (legend has it) because the event was held in the morning and Rose's trainer had great difficulty getting him out of bed.

The Hawaii born, Duke Kahanamoku won an Olympic gold medal for the first time in the Stockholm 1912 Olympic Games. "The Duke", as he was commonly known was a passionate surfer and promoted the sport around the world. He became the "Father of Australian Surfing". A Greco-Roman wrestling match lasted more than 11 hours. Although momentarily victorious, the winner was so exhausted by the end of the match that he was unable to compete in the championship and was forced to settle for a silver medal.

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