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.