14 December, 2014

The 1906 Olympics

I was looking for athletics related sites (by the way does anybody use the expression “surfing the web” anymore?) and fell upon a site by Marc Boucher:


Marc Boucher is an olympic historian and has been active in the olympic milieu for a very long time. His site is excellent, full of details on the past (modern) Olympiads. There is of course mention of the Olympiads which were not held because of the two World Wars: that of 1916, scheduled in Berlin, and those of 1940, scheduled initially in Tokyo and, after Japan waived the organisation, in Helsinki, and of 1944, scheduled in London.

The one thing I did not know is that in 1916 and 1944 commemorative events did take place. In 1916 two such events were staged in Stockholm and Amsterdam. In 1944 two commemorative events were held in Poland in Dobigniew and Borne Sulinowo to which Boucher refers to by their german names of Woldenberg and Gross-Born. (Borne Sulinowo is most famous for the fact that it did not exist officially from 1945 till 1992 being a secret military base. It did not even appear on maps).

My memory was also refreshed concerning the case of Denver: having been selected for the 1976 Winter Games the city ended up compelled to withdraw form the organisation after a state-wide vote decided (by a strong majority) that there would be no public financial help to the Games. (Perhaps it is this old sad story that made the US Olympic Committee turn down Denver’s bid to host the 2018 Winter Games).

Following up to those stories I ended up finding out that the 1904 Games were initially planned for Chicago but P. de Coubertin succumbed to the pressure of the organisers of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition and awarded the Games to St. Louis.

However what irked me with Boucher’s presentation was the total absence of the 1906 Olympics. I know, these Games are not officially recognised by the IOC today. In fact it was thanks to the recommendations of Avery Brundage (whose contribution to international sport is to my eyes negative and disruptive) that the 1906 Games lost their olympic status in 1949. These games are referred to now as Intercalated Games. This is really a great injustice.

After the problems that occurred in Paris in 1900 and St. Louis in 1904, with the future of the olympic movement quite uncertain, these successful Athens Games of 1906 helped resurrect the flagging Olympic Movement. Unlike the 1900 and 1904 games, they were neither stretched out over months nor overshadowed by an international exhibition. 

The Panathinaikon Stadion in 1906. It hosted also the 1896 Olympic Games.

These Games also were the first games to have all athletes registrations go through the national Olympic Committees. They were the first to have the opening of the Games as a separate event. They were also the first with an olympic village. They introduced the closing ceremony and the raising of national flags for the victors. All these are now accepted as tradition but they were first introduced in the 1906 Athens Olympics. The 1906 Games had the most international media attention. Even P. de Coubertin, who did not attend the 1906 Athens Games and was at first opposed to the idea of intercalated Games, changed opinion when he saw the success of the organisation.

So, why on earth does M. Boucher ignore the 1906 Games? Too much IOC orthodoxy can be sometimes harmful to objectivity.

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