Olympics Trivia – From London 2012


In 2005 when Pope John Paul II died, during the 17 days before Pope Benedict XVI was elected, I send an email blog about historical trivia about the previous popes. I now intend to write one about historical Olympic trivia when the London Olympics are going on. If you would rather not receive this email, please let me know, if you are interested, this is the type of information you will get:-

In the Olympiad, the ‘Marathon’ commemorates the heroic activities of Pheidippides in 490 BC when he ran from Marathon to Athens to announce victory over the Persians with his last breath. He actually ran 150 miles in two days during the battle in his position as an Athenian herald, then on his last day, he ran 25 miles form the battlefield near Marathon to Athens to announce the victory, saying “Hail, we are the winners.” Then he collapsed and died. There is no record of how long it took him to run from Marathon to Athens, but having run 150 miles over the two previous days, his death is more understandable.

If you are like me, and have never achieved or even aspired to achieve a ‘good time’ or good placement in a race, this next item is for you:-

In more recent times, at the Stockholm marathon of the 1912 Olympiad, Japanese runner Shizo Kanakuri was running past a villa in the outskirts of Tureberg when he noticed spectators watching from their garden, drinking cold glasses of juice. He begged a sip, then another, then a glass, then another…..and ended up taking the train back to Stockholm. Overcome with shame, he did not try to rejoin his teammates, and managed to slip back to Japan without speaking to anyone, his disappearance a mystery.

In 1962 a Swedish journalist tracked him down in Tamana in southern Japan, and convinced him to return to Stockholm and finish the race, picking up from where he left off. His time for the marathon, fifty-four years, eight months, six days, eight hours, thirty-two minutes and 20.3 seconds. But on the way, he had acquired a wife, six children and ten grandchildren, which does take a while.

originally Published 7/3/2012 to limited email list

Day 1

Today is the big day!

The XXX Olympiad will begin, and it will make London the first city to have hosted the modern Games of three Olympiads:-

1944 (which was cancelled due to hostilities)

1948 (Germany and Japan were not invited)

2012 (it also hosted in 1908 but that is not ‘modern’ and was meant to be in Rome but was changed to London after the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 1906) the US is the only other country to have hosted more Olympiads, but in different cities.


As the games begin, I think it would be appropriate to reflect on how much effort the athletes have gone through to get to the Olympiad. In similar circumstances to today, the athletes traveling to the 1932 Olympiad in Los Angeles were traveling in difficult financial circumstances following the Wall Street Crash of 1929. The hosts made every effort to help athletes compete, many teams were desperately short of funds, and there was none of the sponsorship we see today. The Brazilian team pleaded with their government for funding, but their coffers had no US Dollars, but, they did have plenty of coffee beans. The Brazilian Olympic Committee persuaded the government to lend them a ship, and load it with 50,000 bags of coffee beans, the idea being they would sail from Rio to Los Angeles, and on the way sell off the coffee beans to pay for their expenses.

Unfortunately the world already had plenty of coffee, and at rock-bottom prices. When the ship arrived in Los Angeles, only 24 members of the team had enough money to disembark, the rest had to continue sailing around trying to sell the coffee. They were unable to sell much more, and were only able to afford enough fuel to return to Los Angeles to pick up the 24 athletes and return home to Brazil. Bad luck seemed to have plagued them that year, none of the 24 athletes won any medals

Originally posted 7/27/2012

Day 2

Well the opening ceremony managed to go off without a hitch, and with the Queen parachuting into the arena with James Bond! I figured out why they chose “hey Jude” as the sing-along song, because everyone from every nation can pronounce the words…….nah nah nah na na na nah. But have you ever wondered about the flame? It looked pretty breezy in London to me, I saw the flame bearers turning some sort of valve on as they received the flame to their torch to turn the fuel on. But what if something happened to the flame or the torch? Well of course there are lots of ‘alternate’ flames, and back-up plan, but was there ever a time when they were not so prepared?

All of which brings us to the 1968 games in Mexico City. The Organizing Committee decided that the torch would follow the course of Columbus’s first voyage to the New World, symbolizing the union of the classic culture of the Mediterranean and the New world of the Americas, following a route celebrating the places and events of the discovery of the New World, a circuitous 4,500 mile journey.

Back then the torch was fueled by a compressed mixture of nitrates, sulphur, alkaline metal carbonates, resins and silicones. The torches have to remain lighted for long periods of time, in all weather, and produce a bright yellow flame, but still be non-toxic and harmless to handle.

On September the 1st 1968, runner Gregorio Rojo, running into Barcelona, discovered the mixture could be unexpectedly volatile, when, in front of a large crowd, it exploded in his face, he was not injured. This also occurred to another runner later in the town of Medinaceli, but in both circumstances there were many ‘spares’ nearby, all kindled in the approved fashion from the original Olympic flame. It was not only explosions that the torch bearers had to face, bad weather led to torches going out 28 times! Each time a spare had to be called up form its’ reserve position to relight the torch.

While the torch was passing though Corsica, a plot was discovered to kidnap the torch and hold it to ransom, however once the existence of so many reserve flames was revealed, the plot was foiled.

Of course not everyone wants to do things the right way. During 1978 at the Montreal Olympics, at one point the heavy rains put the Olympic Flame out in the stadium, but no one except for a custodian noticed the flame was out (did I mention the heavy rain?). so he re-lit the Olympic Flame with a rolled up newspaper kindled with his lighter. Once officials leaned of this, they had the flame properly extinguished, and re-lit in the correct manner with the flame kindled at Mount Olympia.

 Day 3

I was asked last night which team I am supporting and I can confirm I am supporting team USA, although I am thoroughly enjoying watching the venues and sights, may of the older ones I have visited. However I am not a big fan of NBC’s highly restrictive coverage, which is just awful for actually watching events, and terrible commentary, so I am mostly keeping track by text updates.

I have also been asked if any of my family will be going to watch the Olympics, since they all live close to London. I can only say that they are celebrating London hosting the Olympics by going on vacation to France for a couple of weeks, and thus avoiding a lot of the disruption associated with the games.

I have been enjoying the swimming events today, and while watching I was looking behind the action, looking at the specially constructed Aquatics Center, a far cry from the facilities at the 1896 games held in Athens. The aim of the games organizer, Baron De Coubertain, was to keep all events in the classical tradition. Therefore when it came to the swimming events, contestants were taken out the required distance from shore, and dived from the boat, the first one onto shore was the winner! Events took place at Phaleron, near the Bay of Piraeus, and the shorter distance events fared well in the lee of the bay, but the longer distance events, such as the 1200 meter, were hit by a squall which produced 12 foot waves. To make matters worse, rather than the heated water of an indoor pool, contestants had to face the icy cold water of the Agean. The winner Alfred Hajos credited his win to having thoroughly smeared himself with grease beforehand, some of his fellow competitors neglected to do so, and while no-one drowned, three-quarters of the contestants had to be rescued from the water by boat.

Day 4

I have had a couple of conversations with people about the ‘amateur’ nature of Olympians, and how this has evolved. Most of us operate under the assumption that Olympians had to be amateur, i.e. not highly paid professional athletes. This was codified in the 1978 Amateur Sports Act, but has since been revised in 1998 and now removes amateurism as a requirement for competing in international sports. The concept of a ‘Gentleman Amateur’ dates back deep into Olympic history to the mid 18th Century English concept of the gentleman as educated in Independent schools (think Eaton). These schools put forward a belief that sport formed an important part of education, mens sana in corpore sano – a sound mind in a sound body. However the gentleman sportsman was to be a good all-rounder, not an expert in one specific thing. Therefore those who practiced one sport or event professionally were thought to have an unfair advantage over those who practiced it as one among many, and merely as a hobby.

This concept has obviously become highly outdated. The former USSR would field whole teams of ‘amateur’ athletes, all of whom were members of the military, but in reality did nothing more than train constantly for their event. Since then the amateurism requirements have been gradually removed and currently only boxing and wrestling do not have professionals. In boxing the fight rules are significantly different as to prevent professional boxers trying their hand. And obviously having WWE wrestlers try out for the Olympics would cause so many problems (and amusement), if any of them could pass a drugs test, so they do not contend, for which we are all grateful. In football (that’s soccer to you) only three players over the age of 23 are allowed on each team, and since David Beckham is only three years younger than me, he would not qualify.

So tonight’s story is in keeping with this aspect, and involves Dwight Stones, an NBC commentator, who won an Olympic bronze medal in 1972 and 1976, and world-record holder in high jump at the 1973 Munich World Championships. In 1977 he was invited to appear on the ‘Superstars” TV show, which came with a $33,000 fee. He was advised by a lawyer he would not loose his amateur status if he donated the money to a charitable institution or organization set up to further sport development. So he took part in the show, and the money was paid to the Desert Oasis Track Club. Officials were suspicious and investigated, finding that the Desert Oasis track Club consisted of only one person, Dwight Stones, and he was suspended.

Speaking to my mother today, she tells me my hometown has taken out adverts in London, trying to get tourists to come down to the coast for the day, these adverts are placed on cab’s, and apparently one tourist did take up the offer, only to discover that while England may look very small on the map compared to Texas, it can take hours to get anywhere in the heavy traffic. And so two and a half hours later the taxi arrived in Bognor Regis, apparently the tourist, who had to be woken, took a quick look around, it was raining after all, and told the taxi driver to take him back to his hotel, in London. As you can imagine, the taxi fee was considerable.

Day 5

   I think I mentioned previously my dislike of the quality of NBC commentators, and my appreciation of the white water kayaking competition. So I thought I would combine them with this story. At the 1972 Munich Games, the Kayaking was held in Augusburg, during the slalom event, where the kayakers have to thread their vessel through gates which they may have to navigate against the strong flow of the water, one of my favorite events. One unfortunate British kayaking pair, serious medal contenders, became wedged against a rock, and inverted by the force of the water. As they were pinned there, time was ticking away, with no signs of life from the kayak, with thousands of pounds of water crushing it against the rock, a BBC commentator was heard to dryly remark, “I don’t wish to appear pessimistic, but I sense our medal chances are slipping away.” It was later discovered that one of the pair had lost his expensive watch during this experience, and the whole artificial water course had to be turned off and drained while it was searched for.

Day 6

In the last edition I had mentioned a story from the 1972 Munich Olympics, and I felt I couldn’t let the opportunity go without also mentioning another story from that Games, the ‘the most controversial game in international basketball history.” This refers of course to the final of the men’s basketball with the US against the USSR in a close fought match up of the two superpowers. Until this point the US had won every basketball final in the history of the Olympics, but the USSR had a very strong team, and right up until the last few seconds of the game, the USSR was marginally ahead. With six seconds to go before the end of the game, the USSR led 49-48.

American guard Doug Collins stole the ball and raced to the basket, only to be knocked down by two Russian players as he went up for the shot. A two-shot foul was called with three seconds left on the clock. Collins calmly sank both shots, putting the US up 50-49.

The USSR put the ball into play, and with their coach screaming for a time-out from the sidelines, the player in possession took a wild shot at the basket as the horn sounded. The US players were leaping for joy as the shot missed, but then an official came up form the sidelines, and explained there had been a timing problem, and there was still a whole extra second of play.

All the players returned to the court, and exactly nothing happened in that second. For the second time the US players began to relax and celebrate, when another time official intervened with the news that there was another three seconds left in the game.

Yet again the players took their places, a long pass found USSR player Aleksandr Belov, guarded by two US players beneath the hoop. He knocked down one guard going up to catch the pass, and the other going down, leaving himself standing all alone under the hoop to make an easy two points as the horn sounded for the end of play –for the third time, but this time with the USSR leading 51-50.

Understandably the US team was furious, and left the games without claiming their silver medals, which are still kept in a vault in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Of course the 1972 Games should not be mentioned without a tribute to the eleven Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists belonging to the Black September group. Moshe Weinberg (wrestling coach) Yossef Romano (weightlifter) Ze’ev Friedman (weightlifter) David Berger (weightlifter) Yakov Springer (weightlifting judge) Eliezer Halfin (wrestler) Yossef ZGutfreund (wrestling referee) Kahet Shorr (shooting coach) Mark Slavin (wrestler) Andre Spitzer (fencing coach) and Amitzur Shapira (track coach).

 Day 7

After the recent accusations of cheating in Swimming, and trying to loose in Badminton, I thought we should look at the fine history of cheating at the Olympics.

During the 1976 Montreal Games, British Pentathlon Team Captain Jim Fox was fencing Russian 1972 Olympic Pentathlon Silver Medalist Boris Onishenko. The event was a one-touch epee tournament as part of the pentathlon, and during the bout, Jim noticed that Boris’ epee was registering ‘hits’ when it had not actually hit Jim.

The epee was confiscated and taken to Carl Schwende the “Chief of Discipline”, who discovered the weapon had been tampered with, so instead of the epee registering a hit when the tip was depressed with 750 grams of force, completing a circuit formed by the epee, a body cord, and sensing box, instead there was a small button in the handle, depressing which would register a hit.

The news of course sent shockwaves through the games, Boris said he was ‘dumbfounded’ and had no idea it was rigged, and continued the bout with a regulation epee, winning by a large margin. However he was disqualified from the competition afterwards, and suffered at the hands of the press. Even fellow USSR team members decried him, he had to be escorted back to the USSR, where it has been alleged he was taken in front of Brezhnev for a personal dressing down, dismissed from the Red Army, stripped of all his honours and fined 5000 rubles. When last reported, he was working as a taxi driver in Kiev.

As for doping, that has an even longer Olympic History, back to the Ancient Olympics where Olympians would eat a certain preparation of lizard meat supposed to enhance performance. The first documented ‘modern’ doper at the Olympics was US athlete Thomas Hicks, who won the marathon at the 1904 St. Louis Olympics mostly due to being given strychnine and brandy during therace, unsurprisingly he collapsed after crossing the finishing line.

Day 8

While fact-checking yesterdays entry, I came across a hitherto unknown-to-me sordid tale of Olympic level cheating. As we all know, along with the Olympics, we have the Paralympics, the Special Olympics and the Blind Olympics. The Blind Olympics is unique in that otherwise perfectly healthy persons are allowed to compete since they are the guides for their sight-disabled partner. The Paralympics have many levels of qualification, in a vein attempt to level a playing field for athletes for whom the playing field has been made spectacularly un-level. The Special Olympics is for athletes who have an intellectual disability.

The specter of drug doping has reared its ugly head in the Paralympics, complicated by the fact that many of the athletes are prescribed large amounts of various drugs just to survive everyday life. One form of ‘boosting’ performance is unique to the Paralympics, autonomic dysreflexia, a method of artificially boosting blood pressure to give the athlete a boost during competition. For paraplegic athletes, this can involve strapping extraneous limbs overly tightly, or using high pressure compression bandages. In extreme examples, athletes break their bones below a spinal injury, which for them is totally painless, but has the effect of increasing blood pressure and boosting performance by up to 15%.

But the best example, for a number of reasons, occurred during the 2000 Sydney Games. A basketball player on the Spanish team revealed himself to be an investigative journalist, who was investigating cheating by the Spanish team. He alleged that ten of the twelve basketball players had no intellectual disability, and should not qualify to play in the Olympics, but had been allowed to do so by team officials who wanted a more competitive team. An investigation found the ten team members were in breach of the rules regarding Intellectual disability, and also found that the issue was not restricted to the Spanish team, or even basketball. As a direct result, all competition involving intellectual disability athletes were suspended, and my personal hope of an Olympic medal was dashed.

Since 2008 the rules for intellectually disabled athletes have been tightened, and some events will be held in London for athletes with intellectual disabilities.

 Day 9

Today’s story has to do with the bizarre spectacle that is a modern Olympic Games, from the showmanship of the Opening Ceremony, to the celebration of the Closing Ceremony. For a number of years, the Olympics ran alongside a World Fair, and at this time, 1900 and 1904, before the Olympics became the established spectacle it is today, the two events merged in people’s consciousness to become one massive World Fair of Sports. It probably did not help that at the 1900 Worlds Fair in Paris included a sideshow of circus freaks, where pygmies and people with grotesque deformities performed a mock Olympics. One Pygmy is recorded having managed to throw a shot put three whole meters.

During the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis a rather lackadaisical attitude seems to have been prevalent throughout the whole organization.

One of the marathon runners, a Cuban postman called Felix Carvagal, turned up for the race wearing a nightshift. He stopped a number of times to speak with spectators, he stole some peaches to eat from an orchard he passed, yet still placed fourth.

A wild dog chased two South African runners two miles off the marathon course.

After the hurdles, race winner US runner Harry Hillman was told they would not register his record time of 53 seconds, since he knocked over the last set of hurdles. Harry pointed out it would never qualify as an Olympic Record, since the hurdles were only 30 inches high, not the regulation 36 inches.

The best however was yet to come. During the start of the men’s 200 meter there were a number of false starts. Three times the starter fired his gun, three times someone broke ranks. As they began the fourth attempt at a good start, the judge became angry, and threatened the runners that if they couldn’t make a decent clean start, he would punish them by making them run an extra meter. Thus shortly thereafter, they lined up for a 201 meter race, this time managing a clean start on the sixth attempt. So the winner US runner Archie Hahn, is unique in being able to claim the Olympic Record for the 201 meter race, 21.6 seconds, it should stand for some time.

Day 10

Seeing all the athletes who win their medals, has been great, especially little Gabby, it is wonderful to see someone who has worker so hard for so long, receive a medal they really deserve. I should imagine they keep good hold of them, but what if they didn’t:-

At the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, Russian oarsman Vqacheslav Ivanov was so delighted to win Gold at the single scull that after the presentation ceremony he started dancing, up and down he danced, then he started throwing his medal up and down. Up, up it went, down down, into the waters of lake Werdouree, where is may remain to this day. Ivanon dived in looking for it repeatedly; professional divers were called in, but could not locate it.

The Olympic Committee took pity on him, and presented him with a replacement medal, and he also went on to win himself gold in Rome in 1960. He has held on to these two.

 Day 11

The modern Olympics is certainly a wonder of scheduling and organization. Thousands of events happening with hardly a hitch, everyone in the right place at the right time, but was it always that way?

At the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Suriname sent only one athlete, a runner Wim Essajas in the 800 mete revent. Suriname as I am sure you will all be familiar, is a small South American country, formerly Dutch Guiana. After traveling all the way to Rome, Wim was a little tired, and took a nap, followed by a light lunch, arriving at the stadium fully prepared for his race. He was greeted by the Suriname ‘Team Leader’ who notified him his 800 meter race had been run while he was napping. Wim was understandably furious that the “Team Leader” with only one person on the team, had messed up so badly.

Unfortunately Wim was not alone. At Munich in 1972 three US sprinters were sitting in a room in the Olympic Village following a light lunch, resting before their event, the second round of the 100 meters, which they knew was at 5pm, watching the days competition live(apparently NBC did not get the contract that year). At 2.45, or 1445hrs, the sprinters received the shock of their lives when they heard the race being announced live on the television! They had confused 1500hrs with 5pm. This may be the reason Olympic Villages are close to much of the arenas, the athletes sprinted from their lounge into the arena, only one of them made it in time to compete, Robert Taylor, who went on to  win the Silver with a time of 10.24.

 Day 12

I thought we might look a bit more at cheating today, and while it may be relatively easy to break complex Olympic rules by accident, more often it is the human element, both competitors and officials, who are at fault.

In the 1932 Summer Olympics, Swedish equestrian (and a nod here to Colbert, who maligned dressage during a recent program, which has actually led to a lot of positive press for equestrian sport) silver medalist Bertil Sandstrom was demoted from a Silver medal to last place, for allegedly ‘clicking’ his horse in encouragement to win. He claimed it was his leather saddle making the sounds.

In the 1936 Summer Olympics, held under the Nazi regime, the ‘cheating’ may have had official approval, as the Nazi regime strove to make the supremacy of the Aryan race a political point at the Olympics. During the cycling sprint final German cyclist Toni Merkens fouled Dutchman Arie Van Vliet. Instead of being disqualified, he was fined 100 Riechsmarks and allowed to keep the Gold.

More hi-jinks at the 1936 Games during the football (that’s soccer to you folks).  During the early rounds, the Italian team (Il Duc the Italian Dictator was allied with Hitler and the Nazis) was playing the American team, when one of the Italian player, Archillie Piccini fouled two American player, for which he should have been sent off. But the Italian players surrounded the German referee, restrained him and covered his mouth, then played on, winning the game.

Then in the quarter finals, Peru played Austria in a very contentious match. In overtime, Peru scored 5 goals, 3 of which were declared null by the referee, but the still won 4-2. The Austrians protested that firstly the pitch was not regulation size, and secondly that there were put off by Peruvian fans storming the pitch heavily armed. The match was eventually scheduled to be replayed without an audience, but continuing protests from the whole of Peru led to the match not being played, and Austria being declared the winner, despite ‘loosing’ 2-4.

And last but not least, what would you do when faced with blatant cheating by officals? During the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, which 62 countries including the USA boycotted, Polish Gold Medalist pole vaulter Wladyslaw Kozakiewcz felt so strongly about the Soviet officials who kept opening the stadium door to allow a breeze to disturb his competing that he showed them the ‘bras d’honneur’, the historical equivalent of  ‘the finger’.

Day 13

Today is one of my favorite stories, from the 1908 Olympiad in London. During the 400 meter race, the runners were coming around the final corner into the straight. British runner Wyndham Halswelle move to challenge for the lead, but US runner J. C. Carpenter moved out from the inside and blocked Halswelle, who had to move out across the track.

Now at this time, the International Amateur Athletic Federation had yet to be formed, and American rules about blocking and overtaking were different from the British rules. And the Vice President of the British Amateur Athletics Association felt a violation had taken place, and went out onto the track and ordered the ribbon cut, the race declared void, and J. C Carpenter disqualified.

There was considerable heated discussion about the re-run, the US runners felt J. C. Carpenter had been unfairly disqualified, and that the judges were showing partiality because Halswelle was the only British runner in a field US runners.

The British Olympic Association later published a 60 page booklet, mostly a justification of the “Carpenter Decision”.

In the meantime the race had to be re-run. J. C. Carpenter remained disqualified, the remaining two runners, both American, refused to participate in protest to the disqualification. British officials were determined to continue in face of the protests, and so Halswelle took his place at the starting line, all alone, and ran the race with the certainty of a pre-ordained victory.

Day 14

One of the more pleasant surprises I have had this Olympics was watching the sailing competitions (live not on NBC), which was a lot more exciting than I thought it would be. The races I have most enjoyed involve the ‘laser’ fiberglass boats I have sailed myself. They are standard and provided by the Olympics, so each competitor can take any boat, and since they are all the same there is no advantage.

However it did not used to be this way. Teams used to commission special boats, and transport them to the games, which can get expensive. In the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, the British Tornado Class yacht has a mishap during one of the early rounds, and struck a submerged object. Emergency repairs had to be made, the hull was left uneven, the materials used added weight, and the weight was uneven down the centerline of the boat, none of which was going to add to the streamlining of the boat.

The boats performance went form bad to worse, and did not place. At the end of the games, the disheartened crew had to decide what to do with the boat. Enquiries revealed no-one wanted to buy a patched-up boat that failed to win anything. The cost of transporting it back was prohibitive, and they couldn’t just leave it there, since it had been imported on a temporary permit for the Games, if they left it they would end up paying import tax.

So the spectators were treated to a special sight in the racing area after the last race, they watched the crew apparently very involved in something at the stern, then suddenly a wisp of smoke could be seen rising forward, from the hull. Soon the flames spread throughout the boat, as the crew stood stiffly to attention in the stern, at attention with their caps doffed, climbing into the tender as it sank beneath the waves.

As these games begin to draw to a close, I must admit to having mixed feelings. On one hand I am glad, since I am rapidly running out of legitimate material, but on the other hand, sadness, since we will soon be relegated to a constant diet of election coverage, instead of the Olympics coverage. At least I can feel involved in the Olympics! Although not in the same was as some:-

In the 1948 Winter Olympics, female Swiss skier Hedy Schlunegger won the Gold in 2min 28.3 seconds. What surprised everyone was not this win, But rather they were surprised when the same skier returned a couple of years later to try out for the Olympic MALE team. Apparently after winning gold in 1948, she had visited the Heidelberg University hospital, and returned to compete legitimately as a male. However he was unable to compete on the same level, and failed to qualify.

 Day 15

Well here we are at the penultimate day of the XXX Olympiad, and while I have saved some stuff for tomorrow, I have a few tid-bits to share that I couldn’t seem to place anywhere else.

First, as we have seen, the rules change over time, and failing to change with them can have disastrous results. The Norwegians’ learned this when they refused to use the artificial ‘monster jumps’ that we are so familiar with today. The Norwegian team, who had dominated the long-jump up until the 1956 Olympic Games, felt that using an artificial jump, and having to form your body into a wing to keep lift, was wholly artificial and they would have nothing to do with this form of ‘flying’. The old world records were being easily smashed, going from 87 meters in 1936 to 120 meters in 1948. it was not until 1964, when they had changed their policy, that a Norwegian achieved a medal in this event again.

Sometimes the problems the athletes encounter reach almost comic proportions. During the Munich Olympics, in the early rounds a boxer had his gum-shield fall out in the middle of a fight, he scrabbled about on his hands and knees trying to pick it up with his gloved hands, as the referee counted him out, dashing his Olympic hopes.

Tomorrow – more Marathon fun for the last day

Final Day

During the 1986 Marathon at the Athens Games, Greek runner Spyridon Belokas came in third, but the fourth place runner successfully lodged a protest that he had seen Spyridon exit a carriage (as in horse and carriage) a short distance from the end of the race. Spyridon protested that it was a symbolic representation of the goat that the original marathon runner was meant to have used for part of his epic journey. He was disqualified. We should note that the 1986 route was 25 miles or 40 kilometers, which becomes more important with the next item.

Do we really know why the marathon is 26miles and 385 yards (or 41.86 km)? Well it has changed quite a lot, and has little to do with the distance from the field at Marathon to Athens. Most famously, during the 1908 London Olympics, the course was laid first, and then measured. Certain interested parties wanted the course to go outside the ‘public’ schools of Eaton and Harrow, and begin at Windsor Castle (the scene of many of today’s Olympic events) and end at the stadium (it is interesting to note that the route was set before the stadium was built also).

On a dry-run shortly before the games began, it was found that the route of the marathon into the stadium used the royal entrance, however this entranced has been raised to enable the Royal Family to be driven into the arena, then alight from their carriage and go to their  seats. So anyone coming to this entrance without a carriage was faced with a drop, so another entrance had to be used. However that entrance did not go past the Royal box on its way to the finish line, so the route was changed to make the runners turn the other way upon entering the arena, so that they would pass in front of the Royal box. By the time all these changes had been put in place, the marathon distance has gone up from 25 miles to 26 miles and 385 yards.

It is not surprising then that the first runner through the alternate entrance, Dorando Pietri, became confused and turned the wrong way on entering the arena, became distressed on being directed, and two officials had to physically assist him. The second placed runner Johnny Hayes of the US protested this assistance, and Dorando was disqualified.

Later marathons used the 25 mile rule, and it was not standardized until 1921. Even today marathon routes have to be certified. The elevation from the start to the finish has to be within tolerances, the elevation of the whole route cannot be too high or it will be recorded as a ‘high elevation’ route and therefore harder than a low elevation one. The route must also have a built-in leeway for small ‘shortcuts’ caused by runners staying within the route, but taking the ‘racing’ line more effectively than the one measured.

Perhaps the most famous marathon ‘cheat’ was during the 1972 Munich Games, the first athlete into the arena for the end of the marathon was a rather fresh looking, certainly more fresh than US runner Frank Shorter. As the crowd cheered, the mystery runner ran to the finish, only to be led away by security as it was revealed he was Norbert Sudhaus, a 22 year-old student who had joined the race just outside the arena.



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