"It matters a great deal who is going to win, but not at all who won"
The Olympics Games in Historical Perspective
The Olympics remain unique as a sporting event. Held every four years, the Olympic Games represent the pinnacle of sporting achievement. Athletes sacrifice everything in the preceding four-year period for the chance of winning a medal, or even just for the honour of taking part. The Olympics, more than any other sporting event, have managed to find a place for the true amateur, the representative of the tiny nation alongside the millionaire superstar American sprinter. The Olympics also have an unrivalled pedigree.
The Olympic Games, which began in 776BC in Greece, were the clearest expression of the origin of organised sport. The Games gathered competitors together on one site and integrated sport into a wider festival. They were taken very seriously. In Sparta youths were taken from their families and reared in austere conditions in preparation for combat, the forerunner of the modern training camp.
In fact, there was more in common between the ancient games and the modern ones than one might expect. Competitors were supported during their training, and successful ones richly rewarded when they returned to their hometown.
The announcement of the festival was made about a year in advance, inviting entries from all over Greece ñ only free-born Greeks could compete. Competitors undertook to train for ten months, of which the last one would be spent in the gymnasium at Olympia.
Founded on Mount Olympia, far from Sparta, Corinth and Athens, the origin of the Olympic Games is shrouded in mystery and legend. According to one legend, Hercules founded the Games to celebrate his own feats. Another legend is that they commemorate Zeusís victory over Cronus. Then there is the legend of Pelops winning his bride in a chariot escapade. It is perhaps significant that all these legends involve aggression, competition and victory.
The ancient Greeks believed that the body and the mind required discipline, and that those who mastered this discipline would best honour Zeus. They referred to it as a ìmarriage of mind and muscleî.
Whatever the origin, the link to Zeus is undeniable as Olympia was made a shrine to Zeus in 1000BC. Young Greeks competed as an act of worship to Zeus. While todayís athletes have accommodation provided in an Olympic village, only in 350BC was anything provided for the competitors. Before that it was normal for athletes to sleep in the open air.
Up to 50,000 male spectators would watch the Games and engage in religious ceremonies. The lighting of a flame at the altar of Zeus marked the opening of the Games. When they were ended the flame was extinguished.
The modern Olympic opening ceremony can be traced back to ancient times. The spectators at the ancient Games would have watched a procession of priests and officials, of animals for sacrifice, of athletes and chariots and horses. Ambassadors from many states were also present. As each competitor passed the VIP rostrum, the herald would announce his name, his fatherís name and his city of origin. Then the festival would commence with the sacrifice of the animals on the altar of Zeus.
The Olympic festival took place in August or September. This was a hot and dry time of the year, a time when the farmers were not at their busiest and were, therefore, able to attend the Games.
Women were banned ñ on pain of death - from even attending the Games. Pausanias tells the story of Pherenice who was so desperate to see her son compete that she disguised herself as a trainer and took a place in the stadium. When her son won, in her excitement she jumped a barrier, fell and was revealed to be a woman. She narrowly escaped death, but the rules were changed to specify that in future all trainers must, like the athletes, be naked.
Alongside the sporting festival, there was a significant fringe with authors reading from their books, sculptors exhibiting their art, poets seeking commissions to immortalise the victors. There was fun and entertainment with food and drink for sale. The whole area was turned into a tented village.
The first Games consisted of only one race. Gradually others were introduced, then the pentathlon, wrestling, boxing and chariot races.
From 632BC onwards, the Games became more organised, lasting five days. To be more precise, the festival lasted five days, the games themselves only two and a half. The first day was the Opening Ceremony, with oaths, prayers, sacrifices and hymn singing.
Competition began on day two, with chariot races and equestrian events. The day started with the sacrifice of a ram in honour of Pelops. In the afternoon it was the pentathlon: discus, javelin, standing jump, 200 metres and wrestling. If a contestant won three events he was instantly declared the overall champion. The pentathletes were much admired for their combination of strength and speed.
On day three were the foot races from 200 to 4800 metres. Day four was given over to the heavy events: wrestling, boxing, armoured foot-races, etc. Day five was taken up with prize-giving and feasting.
Dio Chrysostom, quoted by HA Harris in Greek Athletes and Athletics, 1967 p139, describes the Isthmian Games in the First Century as follows. (While the Isthmian Games are not the Olympics, it seems likely that this would be an accurate picture of the atmosphere around the Olympics too.) ëThen round the temple of Poseidon you could see and hear the accursed sophists shouting and abusing one another, and their so-called pupils fighting with each other, many authors giving readings of their works which no one listens to, many poets reciting their poems and others expressing approval of them, many conjurors performing their tricks and many fortune-tellers interpreting omens, thousands of lawyers arguing cases, a host of cheap-jacks selling everything under the sun.í
When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, Christians insisted that all pagan temples be closed. In 393-94AD, the religious rites associated with the ancient Olympics were severed, by order of the Christian Roman Emperor, Theososius. This closed the sanctuary and the Games gradually died. Then in 522 and 551 two massive earthquakes levelled the temple and changed the course of the river Cronus, washing the Hill of Cronus into the valley.
Signs of interest in reviving the games were first seen in Britain in the 17th century. Robert Dover started the Olympick Games in Chipping Campden in 1612. They included running, equestrian events, wrestling, hunting, coursing and throwing as well as a cultural festival. The Games continued until 1852 when they were banned for ìrowdiness and dangerous activitiesî. In 1850 William Penny Brookes, a Shropshire doctor, started the Wenlock Games at Much Wenlock, which included traditional English sports.
Baron Pierre de Coubertin was born in Paris in 1863. He was concerned about the state of French education and wanted to introduce an element of physical education into France. He visited Much Wenlock and was impressed. He was also intrigued by the development of sport in the English Public Schools, through the influence of the ìMuscular Christianityî movement.
De Coubertin first proposed the idea of the modern Olympics in 1892 and spent the next three years getting support for the idea. He held an international conference in Paris in 1893. Twelve countries were represented and another 21 wrote to express support for his ideas. The conference formed the International Olympic Committee. The modern Olympic movement had been born. The first Games were set for 1896.
De Coubertin regarded the opening and closing ceremonies as a vital part of the Olympics, without which the Olympics would just be ìanother World Championshipî.
The first modern Olympics took place in April 1896 in Athens. There were 245 participants from 14 countries ñ 9 sports and 43 events (compare 10,000 participants, 200 countries, 25+ sports and nearly 300 events in the 21st Century). King George I of Greece declared the Games open. When the decision was taken in 1894 to hold the Games in Athens, 15 sports were proposed. However, this proved unrealistic and only nine survived to make the programme of the first Games. Some of the more bizarre events included one-handed weightlifting, and 100m freestyle swimming for members of the Greek navy ñ in the sea off Piraeus. Winners were awarded silver medals.
Fittingly, a Greek shepherd, Spiridon Louis was the hero of these Games, winning the marathon - a race which commemorated the legend of Pheidippides, the man who allegedly carried news of the Greek victory at the Battle of the Marathon in 490BC by running all the way from Marathon to Athens.
While the athletic standards were modest, the enthusiasm and good sportsmanship of the Greek spectators ensured the success of the event.
If Athens was the appropriate location for the first modern Olympics because of the Greek legacy, Paris was appropriate in 1900 because France was the homeland of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics. However, there were those who felt that the modern Olympics, like the ancient, should be permanently held in Greece.
By 1900 the number of participants had grown to 1,225, including, for the first time, 19 women. 26 countries were represented and the number of events was now 166. One ludicrous aspect of the Paris games was that they lasted from May to October! They were reduced to a mere appendage of the World Exhibition taking place in Paris that same year.
The swimming events were notable for producing some outstanding times - mainly because they were held in the river Seine, swimming with the current! The Games closed with no ceremony and several competitors went away from their events not knowing who had won. For example, the American Margaret Abbott won a nine-hole golf tournament, but died in 1955 without realising that it had been an Olympic event!
Another interesting feature of the 1900 Games was the introduction of five team-sports ñ tennis, football, polo, rowing and tug-of-war - in which teams from different countries competed. The 1900 programme also included some unusual one-off events, including the equestrian high jump and long jump, and the swimming obstacle race, which required competitors to climb a pole, scramble over boats and swim under them! Professionals were allowed to compete in some events and receive cash prizes.
Several American competitors withdrew from their events when they discovered that they were scheduled for a Sunday.
St. Louis 1904
The 1904 Olympics in St Louis were a mixed success. Again, they lasted six months. The location meant that less than half as many nations were represented as in 1900. In St Louis there were only 687 participants from 13 countries, 6 sports and 104 events. However, only 84 of these events are generally agreed to have been Olympic events and of them, only half included a non-American competitor. 1904 saw gold, silver and bronze medals awarded for the first time.
1904ís contribution to Olympic history was to add the ìplunge for distanceî event. Contestants dived into the swimming pool, remained motionless for 60 seconds or until their head broke the surface of the water, when they had their distance measured. The winner was William Dickey with 19.05 metres. One wonders why the event didnít catch on!
St Louis was lucky to get the Games at all. They had been awarded to Chicago, but as St Louis was hosting the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition, a kind of world fair, President Theodore Roosevelt decided to transfer the Games to St Louis to avoid the possibility of the two events competing with each other.
An interim Olympic Games was then held in Greece in 1906, to revive the Olympic spirit after the problems of 1900 and 1904. They were, however, not awarded official status.
The 1908 Games were originally scheduled for Rome and Naples, Italy but Mount Vesuvius had other intentions and erupted at an inconvenient moment. London was the second choice. Within ten months a stadium had been built at Shepherdís Bush, which included a running track, cycling track, football field, swimming pool and facilities for gymnastics and wrestling. Compare that with the problems we have had with the New Wembley stadium and Pickettís Lock debacle!
The marathon captured the imagination of the crowd and remained in the memory of spectators, as Dorando Pietri of Italy entered the stadium way ahead of the field only to collapse five times, eventually having to be helped over the line, which meant he was disqualified.
There were 2,035 participants ñ including only 36 women ñ from 22 countries, 21 sports and 110 events. For the first time at the opening ceremony, athletes marched into the stadium by nation.
Electronic timing was introduced for the first time in Stockholm. The ëAthlete of the Gamesí was undoubtedly Jim Thorpe of the United States. He won the pentathlon, then came fourth in the high jump, seventh in the long jump and finally won the decathlon with a points score that would have won him the silver medal up until 1948.
The top four in the menís 800m all broke the world record, while Gottfried Fuchs of Germany scored an incredible ten goals in a consolation football match against Russia.
The Games were now stabilising in size with 2,547 participants, 28 countries, 13 sports and 102 events.
Sweden refused to allow boxing. This lead to a change in procedures, with the international, rather than the local organising committee having the final say in what sports were included in the programme. Following this the IOC decided to distinguish between three categories of sport. There were the primary individual sports, which had to be included in every Olympic Games. The second category was mandatory team sports and the third optional sports, where the local organising committee had discretion as to their inclusion.
The 1916 Games were scheduled for Berlin but were cancelled due to the outbreak of war. This was in stark contrast to ancient Greece where the practice was to suspend wars to allow the Games to proceed.
The first Olympics after the Great War were beset by problems. Numbers were depleted with the banning of Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey. They were also hit by financial problems. Antwerp was chosen, partly to recognise that Belgium had suffered arguably more devastation in World War I than any other country.
The Athlete of the Games was Nedo Nadi of Italy who won five gold medals in six fencing events, a feat still unequalled. (His was a talented family as his brother won four medals!) Suzanne Lenglen won the Olympic tennis womenís singles, losing just four games in ten sets. For the first and only time, ice-hockey was included in the summer Games.
A new Olympic pledge was introduced in 1920: ìIn the name of all competitors, I promise that we will take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honour of our teams.î
The Paris Olympics in 1924 were, in a way, a tribute to Baron de Coubertin who was to retire the following year. They also gave France a chance to redeem its international reputation after the unsatisfactory 1900 Games.
For the Games in 1924 the number of competitors topped 3000 for the first time ñ although including only 136 women. The performances of Harold Abraham in the menís 100 metres and of Eric Liddell in the 400 metres was immortalised in the film Chariots of Fire.
1924 also saw the first independent Winter Olympics ñ also in France. They continued to take place in the same year as the summer games until 1992, when it was decided that future Winter Olympic Games would take place two years after (or before) the summer games.
The Olympic motto ñ Citius, Altius, Fortius (Swifter, Higher, Stronger) ñ was first used in 1924.
There were some problems, attributed to the fanaticism of the Parisian spectators. Ill-feeling was particularly strong between the French and Americans. During a rugby match between France and USA, an American spectator was beaten up by a French one. After the Games some newspapers called for them to be abolished, but their view did not prevail.
The 1928 Games proved to be very open, with competitors from 28 nations winning gold medals. Women competed in track and field and gymnastics for the first time, although some anti-feminists argued that some events were too dangerous for women. Asian athletes won their first-ever gold medals, while India won the field hockey, a feat they would repeat every time through to the 1960 Games in Rome.
It was in Amsterdam that the Olympic flame first burned in the stadium and doves were released at the opening ceremony for the first time.
Los Angeles 1932
The Los Angeles Games in 1932 were held in the middle of the Great Depression of the 1930s. For the first time, they were compressed into a two-week period. The economic climate resulted in only 1400 participants which meant that participation was the lowest since 1906. Only three countries entered the field hockey, and the football competition had to be dropped. Not surprisingly, the USA dominated proceedings, winning, for example, all twelve diving gold medals.
However, the Games were deemed successful, with 18 world records broken or tied and record crowds in attendance. They were held in the period of ìprohibitionî but the USA lifted its ban on alcohol to allow some of the teams to import and drink wine. (The French team claimed that wine was an essential part of their diet.)
The photo-finish made its Olympic debut in 1932
Berlin saw a Games with over 4,000 participants from 49 countries. These Games are remembered for Hitlerís attempt to use them for propaganda purposes and for Jesse Owensí fabulous contribution on the track. When the decision was taken in 1931 that Berlin be awarded the 1936 Games, few could have foreseen the rise of Hitler and Nazism. As 1936 approached, some countries called for a boycott. An alternative Games was planned for Spain but was, ironically, cancelled because of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.
The black American, Jesse Owens, won the 100m, 200m, long jump and sprint relay and, despite the growing strength of the Nazi state, the German people took him to their hearts - so much so that a street in Berlin would be named in his honour, after his death in 1980. The Games were broadcast on television for the first time ñ although only within Berlin, where 25 large TV screens were set up in theatres around the city, allowing people to see the Games free of charge.
1936 saw a new Olympic motto: ìThe most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well.î 1936 also saw the introduction of the Olympic torch relay.
The Summer and Winter Games were awarded to Japan. However, when Japan invaded China, it lost the Games. The Winter Games were re-scheduled for Germany, only to have that cancelled when Germany invaded Poland. The Summer Games were then awarded to Helsinki, but when Russia invaded Poland, they were, like the Winter Games, cancelled altogether.
As the second World War was still in progress, no games were scheduled for 1944.
The Olympics resumed, after a gap of 12 years due to World War II, with 50 countries represented. Germany and Japan were banned for their participation in the war. London was chosen ñ like Antwerp in 1920 ñ in recognition of the damage the city had suffered in the war. For the first time the action was widely viewed on television in homes.
Audrey Patterson became the first black woman to win a medal, when she took bronze in the 200m, while two people, Ilona Elek and Jan Brzak successfully defended titles from 1936. Fanny Blankers-Koen won four events, the 100m, 80m hurdles, 200m and sprint relay, having entered the Games as a world record holder in six events.
The Helsinki Olympics belonged to the Zatopek family, and more especially Emile. Wife Dana would win the javelin, but Emile entered history with a long-distance treble. Having won the 10,000m in 1948, he repeated the feat in Helsinki and then won the 5,000m three days later. To cap it all, he then won the marathon and is still the only man in Olympic history ever to win all three at the same Games. The Soviet Union entered a team for the first time, and dominated the gymnastics. West Germany also competed for the first time. Taiwan withdrew as a protest over the acceptance of the Peopleís Republic of China. The number of athletes stayed at just over 4,000 but the number of countries had grown to 69.
The number of participants dropped to 3,184 from 67 countries. This included several new countries, as the Olympics were hit by two boycotts - Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon were absent in protest at the Israeli-led invasion of the Suez Canal, while Holland, Spain and Switzerland refused to participate after the Russian invasion of Hungary, just one month earlier.
Ironically, a Hungarian, Laszlo Papp, became the first boxer to win three gold medals. When Hungary met Russia in water polo, everything boiled over and the game was stopped after a brawl occurred. Hungary won the match 4-0 and ultimately the gold medal.
This was the first-ever Olympics in the Southern Hemisphere and the latest in the calendar year ñ the summer Games ended on 8 December.
Equestrian events were held in Sweden, as Australian quarantine regulations were so strict that the entry of foreign horses into the country was too difficult. At the end athletes marched together ñ not by nation ñ as a symbol of their unity.
After the volcanic activity robbed them of the Games in 1908, Italy waited 52 years for another opportunity. In 1960 participants exceeded 5,000, with 83 countries involved. Ghanaian boxer Ike Quartey became the first-ever black African medallist in the Olympics by winning a silver medal. Five days later Abebe Bikila, of Ethiopia, won black Africaís first gold, in the marathon.
Sante Gaiardoni of Italy pleased the home crowd when he became the first man in Olympic history to win both cyclingís time trial and the match sprint events.
1960 saw the first global TV broadcast of the Games. At the other end of the historical spectrum, the wrestling bouts took place on a site where the ancient Romans had held their wrestling competitions.
The gold medal in boxingís light-heavyweight division went to an 18 year old American, Cassius Marcellus Clay, later to become World Champion as Muhammad Ali. Whatever happened to him?
The first Games to be held in Asia saw South Africa banned for apartheid and another batch of world records set in the swimming events. World records went in eight of the ten menís pool events, with American Don Schollander taking four golds and Dawn Fraser winning the 100m freestyle for the third time. Larysa Latynina of Ukraine joined the select band of people to win nine gold medals.
Mexico City 1968
The Games were held at altitude (7347 feet), which resulted in world records in the shorter events but was problematical for endurance events, giving a significant advantage to athletes who lived or trained at high altitude. The Games hurt the long distance runners but gave sprinters and jumpers a huge advantage as new world records were set in all menís sprint events of 400 metres or shorter, while five different athletes broke the record in the triple jump.
Lee Evansí time of 43.86 for the 400m would stand for 29 years, while Bob Beamon will be remembered for ever for his spectacular long jump of 8.90 metres, a mark which would only be broken 23 years later. On the other hand, the winning times in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres were the slowest for 16 and 20 years respectively.
For the first time, over 100 countries were involved. On a sad note, the Games saw the first drug disqualification, as modern pentathlete Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall tested positive, and was disqualified, for excessive alcohol. In 1967 the IOC had taken the pioneering step of establishing a medical commission.
The Games ended on a controversial note when American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, were removed from the Olympic Village by the IOC. In protest at the Mexican governmentís killing of at least 250 unarmed demonstrators on the eve of the Games, the two staged a silent Black Power protest with a raised fist salute, during the 200m award ceremony. It didnít go down well with the IOC, who promptly ordered the USA to send them home.
Peter Norman, the Australian silver medallist in the 200 metres, wore a civil rights badge on the podium in opposition to his countryís White Australia immigration policy.
The largest Olympics to date, with 121 nations bringing more than 7,000 athletes, is sadly remembered more for the killing of 11 Israeli competitors by eight Palestinian terrorists, than for the sports competition itself. After a 34-hour pause, during which time a memorial service was held, the Games resumed.
Although the remaining events were overshadowed by the tragic deaths, there were still some top performances. Mark Spitz was the most successful competitor, winning seven golds in the pool to take his overall Olympic total to nine, while Olga Korbut became a world star in the gymnastics, failing to take the individual gold but rallying to win team and apparatus golds.
The Games almost crippled Montreal and Canada financially, but were a success in sporting terms, although 22 African nations boycotted the Games over the apartheid issue.
The undoubted star of the Games was 14-year-old Romanian Nadia Comeneci, who stunned the world by scoring the first-ever perfect 10 on the asymmetrical bars and the beam, going on to score seven perfect 10s in all.
The pool saw more world records than any other discipline, as records were set in 21 of the 26 events, while another was matched. East German women won 11 of their 13 events, having not won a single gold four years before. How the East Germans made such rapid progress in four years can only be a matter of conjecture.
The Soviet Union and East Germany finished way ahead of the rest in the overall medals table. At the other end of the scale, Clarence Hill won Bermudaís first-ever medal ñ a bronze in boxingís super-heavyweight division. Bermuda is the smallest island ever to win a medal.
With the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the previous year still uppermost in the minds of the western world, US President, Jimmy Carter, ordered a boycott of the Games by the US team. Other countries, including Canada, West Germany, Japan, Kenya and China, were also absent, leaving the Games with just 5,200 participants from 80 countries. Some of those who attended boycotted the opening ceremony.
Despite this, it was a great sporting event. In fact, more world records were broken than in Montreal. Not surprisingly, the Soviet and East German teams once again wrapped up most of the events, particularly on the track. Incredibly, every one of the 54 East German rowers participating won a medal, while East German women again won 11 of the 13 events in the pool, and Russian gymnast Nicolai Andrianov was the most successful athlete of the Games, taking five golds to make his Olympic total to 15.
Womenís hockey was held for the first time. However, the boycott resulted in five of the original six entrants not taking part. Zimbabwe was invited to be a replacement just five weeks before the Games. Their team was selected just one week before and, with minimal preparation, won gold!
Los Angeles 1984
The summer Games returned to the United States for the first time since the Second World War, and to Los Angeles for the second time. The Games suffered from counter-boycotts with almost all the communist world boycotting the Games in retaliation for the United Statesí refusal to take part in Moscow four years previously.
In the absence of the awesome Eastern European track team, the Americans were, predictably, the biggest beneficiaries. Carl Lewis emulated the great Jesse Owens 48 years before to win the 100m, 200m, long jump and sprint relay, and was the true track star of the Games. France won the first football tournament where professionals were allowed to compete.
The Games made a profit of $215 million and are seen as the origin of modern corporate sponsorship. In 1976 some 600 companies had had an involvement, but by 1984 the number had been reduced to about 70 in three categories ñ official sponsor, supplier and licensee.
Despite the tension between the two Koreas, the Olympic truce was respected and Russia and East Germany, traditional powerhouses, returned to the fold after their boycott of Los Angeles four years earlier. 8,465 athletes from159 countries took part, with 237 events in 23 sports.
A hard track made the Games perfect for sprinting, and it was reflected in both the menís and womenís sprints as both world records were smashed. Ben Johnsonís awesome run of 9.79 to beat Carl Lewis did not stand, as Johnson was found guilty of taking steroids. He thus became the first big-name athlete to test positive for drugs.
The scandal rocked the Games and cast doubt on the truly outstanding performances of Florence Griffith Joyner. The American, who had won silver at 400m in 1984, broke the world records beyond all recognition in the 100m and 200m finals. Her time of 10.49 would have given her seventh place in the menís final, and though she would "retire" under a cloud not long after the Olympics, her times remain a reminder of the most incredible sprinting ever achieved by a woman.
Matt Biondi and Janet Evans were the American stars in the pool, winning eight golds between them. Tennis returned to the Games for the first time in 64 years with Steffi Graf winning the womenís title and Miloslav Mecir the menís.
For the first time in 20 years, all nations were represented as the new world order took over. South Africa, having abolished apartheid, competed as Olympic unity was restored after the spate of boycotts in previous Games. There were 9,364 participants from169 countries.
Barcelona was an inspired choice for the Games of the 25th Olympiad. It is a vibrant and colourful city with spectacular architecture and the famous Ramblas promenade running down from the heart of the city to the port, which bustles with boats large and small. Towering over the port is Montjuic, at the top of which stands the Olympic stadium. The steep climb up Montjuic each morning was made easier by the escalators - a luxury denied the marathon runners - and the slow descent after the dayís competition was enlivened by the dancing fountains accompanied by a fantastic music and light show.
Inside the stadium, the atmosphere was tremendous - even though the Spaniards had a habit of whistling and jeering false starts, and gave Khalid Skah the rudest of responses after that controversial 10,000 metres. The Games were full of incident and accident - Gail Devers falling over the last barrier when leading the 100m hurdles, Carl Lewisí revenge in the long jump, the gold medals of Linford Christie and Sally Gunnell, the downfall of the three hottest favourites, Messrs Morcelli, Johnson and Bubka.
Linford Christie became, at 32, the oldest ever winner as he raced to a superb victory over a host of top Americans. Carl Lewis, who hadnít made the US team in the sprints (just a year after setting a world record in the 100m) gained consolation by anchoring the sprint relay team to victory and won his eighth Olympic gold with a third long jump win in consecutive Olympics ñ which he was to make 4 in a row in 1996.
There were two dramatic finishes. Spain won the football final, scoring with just 72 seconds left to play. In the water-polo final it took six periods of overtime for Italy to beat Spain.
Atlanta pipped Athens for the right to host the centenary Games and they proved a success, at least on the sporting field, with over 10,000 participants from 197 countries.
However, the Games were hit by organisational problems and then a bomb was set off in the Olympic Park, killing one person and injuring more than 100. The Games went ahead, though, and as always there were some outstanding performances both on the track and outside. The USA took the medal glory with 44 golds, and it was one of the best American athletes of all time, Carl Lewis, who carved himself another niche in history. His leap of 8.50 metres won the long jump gold and made him one of only three Olympians to win a total of nine golds.
The problems with drugs continued to blight the spirit of the Olympics as Michelle Smith stunned the world with three golds in the pool, causing her rivals to accuse her of taking illegal substances. She tested negative but was later banned for refusing to take a test.
Sydney 2000 was a wonderful Olympics. Who can forget the night Australia stopped to watch as Cathy Freeman took the 400 metres for the host country, or the womenís water polo when the Aussies scored the winning goal, in literally the last seconds?
The atmosphere in the city was electric. If you could not get tickets, there were many other places around the city where big screens were set up for the crowds of people to watch the events in a great atmosphere.
And so the wheel has come full-circle as the 2004 Olympic Games return to their original venue in Greece. A magnificent experience is in store.
This article first appeared in, The Ultimate Prize ñ Great Christian Olympians, Stuart Weir, Hodder, 2004
This article first appeared in, The Ultimate Prize ñ Great Christian Olympians, Stuart Weir, Hodder, 2004