Olympic History

Acropolis, Parthenon, Athens, Greece

Pierre de Coubertin was by no means the first person to revive the ancient Olympic Games. The idea was born much earlier from the Renaissance period, with its great interest in the ancient world. Hence the first Cotswold’Olimpick Games’ were held yearly in England in the early 17th century, apart from the Cromwellian period, and there were lots of similar events in other countries well before the first of the modern Olympics in Athens in 1896.

An Olympic Association formed in southern Sweden arranged its Games at a racecourse at Ramlösa (Helsingborg) in 1834, with four series of events that included jumping over a horse and climbing a mast, as well as running various distances. They were held on the same fine summer’s day in July.

The first event was a kind of gymnastics competition, where there were seven competitions. He was granted not a laurel wreath, but a gold ring. This was followed by a race where an apprentice blacksmith finished ahead of nineteen other runners, he was likewise rewarded, while the winner of the wrestling tournament, where seven men took part, was given a silver jug.

Competitors in the last event needed to climb a slippery pole some 10m (33 ft) high, with a silver cup going into the first person to bring it down from its perch on top. However, the hearts of the audience went out not to the winner, but to a young boy who later shinned up the soapy pole in great style, and they made a collection for him.

He originally intended to hold the Games every year, but waited until 1836 before attempting again. The events were the same, with the inclusion of a writing contest where people who entered had to compare the ancient Olympics with medieval tournaments and the viability of reviving combat sports.

Scharteau later turned to Stockholm, where comparable Olympic events were scheduled for 1843 from the large open area called Gärdet. Unfortunately, they proved to be a dismal failure, not due to a lack of public support, but the reverse. They were too common! Far more people came than the officials anticipated or could cope with. Tickets were sold, but there were thousands of gatecrashers and all ended in chaos. Additionally, the winner of this slippery mast-climbing event had only just received his prize when it had been snatched from him by one of the audiences, whereupon a new event was added to the program, a great chase after the offender, who turned out to be a 14-year-old boy.

Scharteau did not try to hold his Olympics again and sixty-nine years were to pass before Stockholm was the host city for Olympic Games once more. This time, however, they were on a much grander scale and enjoyed much greater success.

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