Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Helsinki 1952.

The 1952 Olympic Games were a reflection of the Cold War. The Soviet Union, after having been out of the Games since 1912, rejoined but instead of staying with the other athletes in the Olympic Village they set up their own village for Eastern bloc countries in Otaniemi, near the Soviet naval base at Porkkala. Their athletes were chaperoned by Soviet officials everywhere to prevent communication with athletes from the West.

In equestrian events non military competitors and women were allowed for the first time.

Israel competed in the Olympics for the first time.

More records were broken at Helsinki than at any other games until 2008.

Japan and Germany (represented by three states post partition) were invited back and 1952 is still the only year the Germans failed to win a single medal. Perhaps because of this a systematic routine of state endorsed steroid ingestion by East German athletes was about to commence.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

London 1948.

The Olympic Community took 12 years out from sport and spent it waging war with itself across Europe.

When they reconvened the mood was one of sobriety. The 1948 Games became known as the Austerity Games, no new venues were built and there was no Olympic village. Germany and Japan were not invited and Russia chose not to send any competitors and the athletes that did attend (a record number) had to cope with rations, even if they were given the same bulked up allocation as dockers and miners.

Here are some austerely trivial facts.

Victoria Manalo Draves and Sammy Lee became the first Asian Americans to win gold medals at an Olympic Games and Alice Coachman, in the high jump, became the first coloured woman and the first African American woman to win a gold medal.

Emil Zatopek (pictured) won the 10,000m. His explanation for his odd facial expression was that he was "not talented enough to run and smile at the same time."

In the 50km walk John Ljunggren, the 1946 European Champion, led from start to finish, having opened up 40 seconds after only five kilometers. He completely dominated the event and won by almost seven minutes.

In shooting Karoly Takacs had been a member of the Hungary's world champion pistol shooting team in 1938 when a grenade shattered his right hand – his pistol hand. Takacs taught himself to shoot with his left hand and, 10 years after his injury, won a gold medal.

Starting blocks were introduced for sprint races.

Harold Toshiyuki Sakata from Hawaii won a silver medal in weightlifting and later went on to appear as Odd Job in the James Bond film Goldfinger.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Berlin 1936.

Germany certainly holds the record for hosting contentious Olympics.

Both Spain and Russia chose not to appear at the 1936 games and America very nearly boycotted it. It is remembered as the Nazi games and for Jesse Owens winning 4 gold medals beneath a sour faced Fuhrer.

Goebbels appropriated the games as a platform for the Nazi propaganda machine. German sentiment in the 1930s was that sport was a way to 'weed out the weak, the Jewish and other undesirables'. That the Olympic salute and the Nazi salute are pretty much the same thing, and even without seeing the encouragement of Olympic champions as slightly Aryan, and setting aside the notion of one nation trampling over weaker adversaries, you can see what an opportunity the Olympics are if you have sinister supremacist ambitions. Any suggestion of Fascist leanings on behalf of the Olympic Committee is purely conjecture and we would like to remind you that the games were awarded to Berlin before the Nazis came to power.

So lets get back to the facts.

The games featured closed circuit TV and was the first to feature live TV coverage. It also had radio that broadcast to 41 nations.

Basketball made its first appearance.

Diving blocks made their first appearance in the swimming events.

India continued its run of form in the hockey (and would go on to win every gold medal until 1956). The Germans considered them to be Indo-Aryans so had no real beef about being beaten 8-1 in the final.

US Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage requested a system to examine female athletes for "sex ambiguities" after observing the performance of Czechoslovak runner and jumper Zdenka Koubkova and English shotputter and javelin thrower Mary Edith Louise Weston. Both individuals later had sex change surgery, changing their names to Zdenek Koubek and Mark Weston.

The eagle eyed among you will notice that team Insider have purloined a poster from the Berlin games. It's from the very first torch relay from Athens (and a fine piece of slightly Fascist graphic art). We would like to make it clear that we are not Nazis and anyone found indulging in anti semitic/Czech/Polish/French/Dutch/Russian behaviour, or showing any signs of political leaning or athletic training in advance of the Insider Olympiad is getting back on the coach.

Slight ribbing of the Belgians is permitted.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Los Angeles - 1932.

Yo yo yo. The year is 1932 and the city - Los Angeles.

The world was in the grip of the Great Depression so only LA bid to host the games and many competitors from 1928 couldn't even afford to attend. As it happened the 1932 games made a profit of nearly $1 million, which was real big money back then.

This is what went down.

They built the first Olympic village (then sold it).

They used the trademark 3 tiered Olympic podium for the first time.

Takeichi Nishi became the first (and to date only) Japanese winner of a gold medal in an equestrian sport.

The hockey tournament was the first appearance of an Indian team on American soil and spawned a couple of records that stand to this day. The biggest score ever achieved in an international hockey match is the 24-1 victory India scored over the USA. The record for the most number of goals in a single match belongs to Roop Singh who slammed home 10 in that same game.

As for the one American goal, the Indian backs had decided to let the Americans have a run but when they looked behind them their goalkeeper was already signing autographs behind the goal posts.

The last Olympic polo tournament was won by Argentina in front of a capacity crowd of 45,000.

Rowland 'Flip' Wolfe became the first and only Olympic gold medal winner in the sport of tumbling. His key move - the backflip with a double twist - is shown below.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Celebrity Profile - Jonny Weissmuller.

Better known as the brawny, monosyllabic, loincloth clad friend of the apes, husband of Jane and father of Boy, few (ouside this privileged circle of Olympic enlightenment), know that Weissmuller was swimming's first superstar.

Born in 1904 the son of Banat Swabians (modern day Romania) the Weissmuller family emigrated to the States when Jonny was three. He would later claim to have been born in Windber, Pennsylvania to ensure his eligibility for the US Olympic team. He contracted polio at the age of nine and started swimming on Doctors orders but went on to set 67 world records, among them being the first man to swim the 100m in under a minute.

Tarzan was an immediate hit. Seeing that he was wildly popular with girls, the studio told him to divorce the first of his five wives and paid her $10,000 to agree to it.

Weissmuller had a close call in Cuba during the time of the Cuban Revolution. While playing golf, he and his friends found themselves surrounded by a group of Castro's soldiers intent on kidnapping them. Thinking fast, Weissmuller gave his trademark Tarzan yell. The soldiers recognized it and were so delighted to meet him that they escorted the group to a safe area.

He was always grateful for the hand that life had served him, on his role as Tarzan he is quoted as saying 'How can a guy climb trees, say "Me, Tarzan, you, Jane," and make a million? The public forgives my acting because they know I was an athlete'.

He was the first Olympian to endorse Coca Cola.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Amsterdam - 1928

This week the 1928 Amsterdam games gets the Insider Olympiad treatment in our rundown of not very useful and largely unsubstantiated facts.

This was the first time the Olympic flame was lit.

Track-and-field and gymnastics events for women were introduced. There had been much resistance to these additions by Coubertin and others who feared that having women compete in these events would cause them to become "masculine", ruin their health and make them unable to have children.

Johnny Weissmuller, better known for his role in Tarzan movies, returned and won two more gold medals in swimming.

1928 saw the first appearance of Coca Cola as sponsor of the games. At the same time the IAAF became the first International Sport Federation to ban doping but restrictions remained ineffective because no tests were performed.

Art competitions were held with medals awarded in the categories of architecture, literature, music, painting, and sculpture, all for works inspired by sport. William Nicholson of Great Britain won gold in the graphics event with his Almanac of Sports.

The 1928 Games lost a mere $18,000, setting a new record.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Paris 1924.

The 1924 Olympics earned its place in cinematic history (and immortalised Vangelis) through the 1981 film 'Chariots of Fire'... The film told the story of Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams. Liddell was well known as the fastest man in Scotland and for his devout Christianity. He was forced to withdraw from the 100m after refusing to run a heat on a Sunday and set his sights on the 400 instead. When the day of the Olympic 400 metres race came an American team masseur slipped a piece of paper into his hand with a quotation from the book of Samuel: "Those who honor me I will honor."

The pipe band of the 51st Highland Brigade played outside the stadium before the race and inspired by the biblical message and the pipe music, Liddell scorched the first 200 metres to be well clear of the favoured Americans. He was challenged all the way but held on to take the win, breaking the existing world record with a time of 47.6 seconds.

Abrahams won the 100 m in a time of 10.6 seconds. In third place was Arthur Porritt. The race took place at 7pm on 7th July and Abrahams and Porritt dined together at 7pm on 7th July every year thereafter.

Jonny Weissmuller, better known for his role in the Tarzan movies, made his first Olympic appearance, taking 3 medals in swimming and one in water polo.

The Paris Olympics is reported to have lost a smidge over 450,000 francs, well worth it for the spectacle of Nigel Havers in his shorts.