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The Olympics in the North

      Since the first Games were held at Olympia in 776 BC, the Olympics have generally been regarded as the ultimate competition for the world's athletes. In the 2,774 years since those first Games, the North has only hosted 3 Summer and 2 Winter Games, but all have brought a great deal of honour to the host countries.

      The Olympics in the form that we know them now exist largely as a result of the efforts of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, with the Ist (modern) Olympics held in Athens in 1896.

Vth Olympics - 1912, Stockholm

      Stockholm won the privilege of hosting the Vth Games in 1912. They were larger than any of the previous Games, and are also remembered as being among the grandest in presentation, with specially-constructed facilities that became a model for future organizers. As well, electronic timers and cameras were used for the first time to record times and finishes. A total of 2,541 athletes from 28 countries participated in Stockholm, which was the first time that competitors were registered by their citizenship, not as individuals. For the first time, as well, women were allowed to compete in swimming events - prior to 1912, the only sports open to them were tennis and golf (in the ancient Greek games, women could not even watch).

Oscar & Alfred Swahn

Oscar and/or his son Alfred competed in shooting events at every Olympic Game from 1900 until 1924, and in 1908, 1912 and 1920 they were teammates. Oscar was 73 years old when he competed at his last Olympics, and between them they won 6 gold, 4 silver and 6 bronze medals for Sweden.

      Another first for the 1912 Olympics was an exhibition game of baseball, between the United States and Sweden - the American team, to nobody's surprise, won 13-3.

      At Stockholm, a man often called one of this century's greatest athletes came to the world's attention. Jim Thorpe won both the decathlon and the track-and-field pentathlon (which consisted of the long jump, javelin, 200-meter dash, discus and 1500-meter run). It was later discovered that he had received a very small amount of money for playing football (thus making him a "professional" according to Olympic rules), and his gold medal was removed. To their credit, both Hugo Wieslander and Ferdinand Bie refused to acept the gold for their second-place decathlon and pentathlon finishes. Thorpe's medals were re-instated in 1982, but he had died in 1953.

      Finland made an extremely strong showing in track and field events, led by the first of the "Flying Finns," Hannes Kolehmainen. Another athlete at Stockholm went on to gain enormous fame, but not for his athletic ability. George Patton, commander of the American 3rd Army in World War II, placed 5th in the "modern" pentathlon (which consists of riding, fencing, shooting, running and swimming).

      Political controversy reared its ugly head at Stockholm as well, when the Danish government refused to allow the Icelandic athletes to parade into the station under an Icelandic flag.

XIIth Olympics - 1940, Helsinki

      The 1940 Games had been scheduled to take place in Tokyo, Japan. The start of World War II cancelled those plans, however, and preparations were rapidly made to hold them in Helsinki instead, despite threats from the Soviet Union that made planning almost impossible. When the Soviet Union attacked Finland, that also became impossible, and the Games were cancelled entirely. Helsinki, however, had already constructed a magnificent new stadium, so were ready when another opportunity arose.

XVth Olympics - 1952, Helsinki

      The Helsinki Olympics are fondly remembered as one of the most 'intimate' of the Games - Helsinki was the smallest city ever to host the Games, and the athletes received an extremely warm welcome.

      The Olympic flame at Helsinki was lit by one of the most famous of Finnish athletes, Paavo Nurmi. At Helsinki, another record number of athletes attended - 4,925, from 69 countries.

      After a 40-year absence, the Soviet Union sent a large team, and gave clear indications that they would soon be a force to be reckoned with in international cometition. These Games were dominated by the successes of Czechoslovakian army officer Emil Zapotek, nicknamed "the Czech Express." He won the gold in the 10,000-meter, 5,000-meter and in the marathon, which was the first he had run - in his career, Zapotek set 18 world records! Danish equestrian competitor Lis Hartel won a special place in the hearts of Olympic fans - she won a silver medal despite having polio so severe that she had to be lifted on and off her horse.

VIth Winter Olympics - 1952, Oslo

      Oslo was awarded the VIth Winter Olympics despite a feeling by many that the city's committment was not strong enough. Any shortage of initial enthusiasm was quickly countered by Norway's very strong showing in the competitions.

      The Olympic flame for the games was lit from the fireplace in the home of Sondre Norheim, the most famous of early Norwegian skiers. The first-ever torch relay on skis was performed by 94 skiers, and the stadium torch was lit by the grandson of Arctic explorer Fridtjof Nansen.

      A total of 880 athletes from 30 countries competed, and facilites were built over a wide area, causing many logistical problems for athletes, spectators and the media.

XXIInd Olympics - 1980, Moscow

      Coming eight years after the terrorist nightmare at Munich, the first Olympics to be held in a communist country were nearly the last Olympics. In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and many nations boycotted the Games as a result. The absent countries included the United States, Canada, Norway, Japan, West Germany, Israel, Turkey and Kenya. A total of 36 world records, however, were still broken. Of particular note, Soviet swimmer Vladimir Salnikov became the first swimmer to break the 15-minute barrier in the 1,500-meter freestyle, with a time of 14:58.27.

XVIIth Winter Olympics - 1994, Lillehammer

      The Lillehammer Games were the first to use the Internet extensively, and hundreds of sites remain posted, including large photo archives.

References & Further Reading:

  • Olympic Games - the official Web site.

  • Inside the Olympics: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Politics, the Scandals and the Glory of the Games
  • The Complete Book of the Olympics
  • The Complete Book of the Winter Olympics
  • The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games

    More Sports & Recreation Links