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The Olympic ideal imploded earlier than you thought

Roar Guru
20th July, 2016
1

Unless you’re a student of ancient Greek history you may be unaware that the Olympic Games first fell into disrepute as far back as 380 BCE.

Winners were escorted home by cheering crowds and given expensive gifts. In some cases, a handsome stipend for life.

» VIEW THE OLYMPIC MEDAL TALLY HERE

It wasn’t long before the towns and cities that wanted a measure of renown began to compete for the services of top athletes. For example, Astylus of Croton, who excelled in the diaulus, today’s 800 metres, declared himself to be a citizen of Syracuse. And Sotades of Crete, a dolichos champ, today’s 5,000 metres, became a citizen of Ephesus.

This kind of professionalism, denounced in public by men as eminent as Plato and Socrates, destroyed the ancient games and they petered out under a cloud of dishonour around 393 CE.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that a wealthy Greek philanthropist, Evangelos Zappas, offered to sponsor a “new” Olympic Games. His offer was accepted and these revived Games were duly held in Athens in 1859. Thirty-one years later Baron de Coupertin founded the IOC and the modern, movable Olympics were launched.

The Paris Olympics of 1900 were the first to include women. Four years on, the Games were held in St. Louis, Missouri. 650 athletes took part, 580 of them from the U.S. Needless to say, America won.

The next Games, in London in 1908, saw a wonderful piece of absurdity: four men contested the 400 metres final, an Englishman and running world record holder named Wyndham Halswelle, and three Americans. Halswelle was boxed out by the Americans, and the English judges tore the tape before the finish, declaring the race void.

Halswelle further protested after the race, noting that one American elbowed him clear across the track. The English judges accepted the complaint and ordered the race rerun. The American team captain refused to allow this so the judges decided that the race would be run without them. Halswelle re-ran the race by himself, although reluctantly, and was declared the winner.

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And so to next month’s contentious Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

It doesn’t look too good for the home country, the experts predicting just four golds for Brazil: Talita Antunes and Larissa Franca, reigning world champs in women’s beach volley ball, and Alison Cerutti and Bruno Schmidt, world’s number one in the men’s event.

The home crowd is expected to lift the soccer team to the top of the podium, and the men’s floor volley ball squad is tipped to win. Outside of that, gold medals will be a surprise for Brazil..

But whatever the event many contestants will have to compete with the anopheles mosquito, vector for the dengue and zika viruses, horribly contaminated sea water and kamikaze traffic that ignores red lights and stop signs.

Here’s hoping that the mozzies, the Americans and the motorists behave themselves so that nobody ends up running a race by themselves.