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"Football is not a matter of life and death, it is more important than that."

Bill Shankly, Liverpool Football manager

Olympic Trivia

Accident-prone or what?

Anne Ottenbrite of Canada won the 200 metres breast-stroke in the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, despite doing her best not to be there! Shortly before the Canadian trials she managed to dislocate her right kneecap while showing off a pair of shoes!

While in LA she was involved in a car crash and also managed to sustain a thigh strain while playing a computer game. Imagine if she had been injury free!

The original naked chef

The first recorded Olympic champion was Coroebus of Elis who won the 200 metre race ñ the only event in 776. The length of the race was based on a legend that Hercules had run this distance in one breath. Not a lot of people know this, but Coroebus was a cook. Competitors in those days, of course, competed nude.

Keeping up the tradition

When a Sports Illustrated reporter asked USA goalkeeper, Briana Scurry, what she would do if the US won gold in the 1996 Olympics, she replied that she would run naked through the streets of Athens, Georgia, where the final was played. Well, the US won, and at 2.00am next morning an honour-bound Scurry, accompanied by a friend with a video camera, did a 10-metre dash wearing only her gold medal.


Four Olympic medallists later played Tarzan in films:

Johnny Weismuller, who won two swimming gold medals, in 1924 and in 1928.

Buster Crabbe, who won a swimming bronze in 1928.

Hermann Brix, who won silver in the shot put in 1928.

Glen Morris, who took gold in the decathlon in 1936.

Harold Toshiyuki Sakata, silver medallist in 1948 in weightlifting later appeared as a villain (Odd Job) in the James Bond film, Goldfinger.

Another film career

Another Olympic winner (with gold medal performances in equestrian events in 1968 and 1972) went on to appear in films, Dead Cert and International Velvet. The name? Cornishman V.

Running feat

In 1924, Finnish runner, Paavo Nurmi, won five gold medals, including the 1500 m and 5,000 m in the space of just an hour.


About 50,000 volunteers are involved in staging the Olympic Games.

Tricky team-mate

In the 1912 marathon Kennedy McArthur and Charles Gitsan, South African team-mates, were well ahead of the field. On the understanding that McArthur would wait for him, Gitsan stopped for a drink of water. McArther ran on and won by a minute and two seconds.


In 1992 Nike built an ambitious advertising campaign around the Olympics, which somewhat backfired. The poster campaign focused on four of their sponsored competitors. Posters appeared around the world telling the public how successful their champions would be. A Michael Johnson poster congratulated the reader on doing ëÖsomething few athletes would ever do - passing Michael Johnsoní. Unfortunately, a viral complaint resulted in no fewer than four people passing Michael, as he failed to reach the final.

Another poster, featuring the 1500 metres favourite, Nourredine Morceli, asked, ìEver heard the Algerian national anthem? You will.î Morcelli finished seventh. Sergei Bubka was the hot favourite for the pole-vault. ìSpanish air traffic control has been notified,î ran the poster. Bubka also failed to find his form and was out. The only one of Nike's four to succeed was Michael Jordan in the US basketball team.

Discontinued The following were Olympic sports, but are no more:

Cricket, 1900

Croquet, 1900

Golf, 1900, 1904

Real tennis, 1908

Lacrosse, 1904, 1908

Motor Boating, 1908

Pelota, 1900

Polo, 1900, 1908, 1920, 1924, 1936

Rackets, 1908

Rugby, 1900, 1908, 1920, 1924

Tug of War, 1900, 1904, 1906, 1908, 1912, 1920

Ever present

15 events have been held in every modern Olympics:

Track and field

100 metres

400 metres

800 metres

1500 metres


110 metres hurdles

High jump

Long jump

Triple jump


Shot put



Individual foil

Individual sable


1500 metres freestyle


The single sculls and coxed eight oared shell were scheduled in 1896, but cancelled because of bad weather. They have been held every time since.


Have you ever wondered about the origins of pole-vaulting? Probably not! There are several theories. It existed as a gymnastic discipline in Germany in the 1790s. A painting by AW Devis, from the same decade, shows an Eton schoolboy pole-vaulting a 6-foot railing. The earliest known competitive pole-vaulting (or ëcatgallows with polesí as it was then called) goes back to 1839 when a Mr Alcock cleared 9 feet at Greystoke Races.

An alternative theory is that it was invented by in the mid-nineteenth century in Ulverston, North Lancashire by shepherds who found vaulting the best way to cross streams and ditches. Eventually it became a competitive sport in Cumberland and Westmorland, including the Grasmere sports. Originally the rules allowed a competitor to climb up the pole and jump!

PS If it originated in Germany then the old joke may be very old: ìAre you a Pole, Walter?î ìNo, Iím German - but how did you know my name?î

(Sources: Paul Lovesey, AAA Centenary History and Dan Birtwistle, Ulverston Heritage Centre)

Pole-vault winner

When Wolfgang Nordwig of Germany won the menís pole-vault in 1972, he was the first non-American to win the pole-vault in the modern era. US had a 100% record 1896-1968.

Eric the Eel

Eric Moussambani of Equatorial Guinea - Eric the Eel, as he has become known -epitomises what the Olympics are about. He apparently only learned to swim a year before the 2000 Olympics, and had never swum a full 100m race. Then the other two swimmers in his heat were disqualified for false starts! Eric swam alone - pretty slowly ñ but, to the roars of the crowd, he finished! His time was 1:52.72. (The gold medal was won in 48.30.)

Winners and losers

For every medallist there are seventeen Olympians who go home empty handed. Behind this bald statistic there are stories of great human tragedy and achievement.

Sad endings

Andrea Ruaducan, the victorious Romanian gymnast in the 2000 games, who failed a drugs test and lost her medal ñ she had taken a cold-cure.

Vicky Dunn, the British Judo player who travelled all the way to Sydney, but failed to make the weight.

Oldest and youngest

Lorna Johnstone, UK, became the oldest ever female Olympian in 1972 at the age of 70 in the dressage.

Dimitrious Loundrous of Greece was 10 years 218 days old when he finished third in the parallel bars in 1896.

Majorie Gestring of the USA won the springboard diving in 1936 at the age of 13 years 268 days.

Oscar Swahn was 72 years 279 days when he took silver in the Running Deer Shooting in 1920. In 1912 he was the oldest-ever gold medallist.

Keeping it in the family

Irina Nazarova won a relay gold medal in 1980, following in the footsteps of her mother, Elizabeth Bagrinaseva who took gold in the discus in 1952.

Willy and Lottie Dod of Great Britain were the first brother and sister to win Olympic medals in 1908. Team tactics

In the 1908 Olympics in London, the final of the 400 metres was between three American runners and Wyndham Halswelle of the UK. The Americans used team tactics to block Halswelle and an official broke the tape and declared the race void. The London OOC ordered the race to be re-run but the US athletes refused to take part. Next day Wyndham Halswelle ran on his own - to win. Only the gold medal was awarded.

Long careers

Hurbert Raudaschl of Austria competed nine times in Olympic sailing competitions (1964-96). Four Olympians - Magnus Konow of Norway, Ivan Osiier of Denmark, Paul Elvstrom of Denmark and Durwood Knowles of the Bahamas ñ competed in two (or more) Olympic Games, 40 years apart.


The only swimming event in the 1896 Olympics was the 100 metres freestyle - in the sea off Piraeus. In 1900 at the Paris Olympics, swimming events were held in the Seine. Times were fast as the swimmers swam with the current. From 1904 events were indoor. Womenís swimming was introduced in 1912.

Remarkable gymnast

In 1904 American George Eyser won three golds, two silvers and a bronze in gymnastics, all achieved even though he had a wooden leg.

Class issue

JB Kelly, Olympic gold medallist rower and father of Princess Grace of Monaco, was banned from competing at Henley because he had once been a bricklayer, thus falling foul of the Amateur Rowing Associationís rules, which banned manual workers from competing.


1908 was the last year in which the host country supplied all the officials. This is to avoid accusations of bias against officials ñ for example, using megaphones to urge on their home team, and allegedly deliberately breaking the tape to force a re-run of the 400 metres race, after a British runner had been beaten.


At the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, one of the 75kg middleweight Graeco-Roman wrestling semi-finals lasted 11 hours and 40 minutes. The competitors were Martin Klein, an Estonian representing Tsarist Russia, and Alfred Asikainen of Finland who was eventually defeated.

Unfortunately, Klein was too exhausted to wrestle in the final and had to settle for second place.

Talking in class

In 1972, American 400 metres runners Vince Matthews and Wayne Collett, were banned from the Olympics for disrespectful behaviour to the national anthem when receiving their gold and silver medals. The pair chatted on the podium during the anthem.

No medal

In 1900 a local boy was a last-minute replacement as a cox in the coxed pairs rowing team which won gold.. He disappeared without trace afterwards and never got his medal.


Stella Walsh (born Stanislawa Walasiewiczowna in Poland) won the 1932 womenís 100 metres dash. When she was killed in 1980 the post-mortem revealed one big surprise ñ she was a man!

ìWho cares whoís third?î

In his excitement about David Hemeryís world-record breaking gold medal in the 1968 400 metres hurdles, David Coleman shouted out, ìHemery first, Hennige second, who cares whoís third?î Shortly afterwards he had to admit, rather sheepishly, that it was John Sherwood of Great Britain who was third.

Prior to 1904, Coleman would have been right, as only the winner got a medal.

Officially perfect

In 1976 the gymnastics judges awarded Romaniaís Nadia Comaneci seven perfect 10s.

Killing the competition

When Bob Beamon stepped up to take his fourth jump ñ following two no-jumps and an average jump - in the 1968 Olympic long jump, the world record stood at 8.35 metres. Beamon jumped 8.90 ñ 55 centimetres further than anyone else had ever jumped. The competition was over. This world record was to stand for 23 years.

Seven gold medals!

In the 1972 games Mark Spitz won seven gold medals:

100 metres butterfly

100 metres freestyle

200 metres butterfly

200 metres freestyle

4 X 100 metres freestyle relay

4 X 100 metres medley relay

4 X 200 metres freestyle relay

Dawn Fraser

The Australian swimmer, who won four gold medals in swimming, was banned for ten years after the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, when she and some friends celebrated her victory by acquiring the national flag from the Japanese Imperial Palace.

Ancient superstars

Leonidas of Rhodes was the first superstar, winning 12 championships between 164BC and 152BC. Milon of Kroton won the boysí wrestling title in 540BC. He won the senior title in 532BC and successfully defended it four times before losing in the final in 512BC to Timasitheos of Kroton.

First woman

The first recorded female Olympic champion was Kyniska of Sparta who won the tethrippon in 396 and 392BC.v

Eight individual gold medals

Ray Ewry of USA won eight individual gold medals ñ still a record ñ including three in the standing long jump and the standing high jump. He won his final medals in 1908.

Ten-goal Sophus

Sophus Nielsen scored ten goals (football) for Denmark against France in 1908. France had entered two teams and Denmark, who finished second overall, beat their B team 17-1. Amazingly Gottfried Fuchs equalled the feat for Germany against Russia in 1912.

Longest event

The longest ever Olympic event was the 320 km cycle race in 1912. The winner, Okey Lewis of South Africa, finished the course in 10 hours 42 minutes 39 seconds.

Avoiding boredom

In 1912 Jim Thorpe won the 5-event pentathlon and later the 10-event decathlon. In between, he came 4th in the high jump and 7th in the long jump.

Evelyn Ashford

After coming 5th in the 100 metres sprint, Evelyn Ashford said, ìParticipating in the Olympics seemed bigger than life to me.î She missed the 1980 Games when the USA boycotted the Moscow Games. In 1984, she won three gold medals.

One way to win

In 1920 Norway won seven yachting events ñ in five of them there was only one entrant!

Summer and winter

Eddie Eagan is the only Olympian to win gold in summer and winter games ñ boxing in 1920 and bobsledding in 1932.

That will show them!

USA did not select Robert Legendre in the long jump in 1924, but only in the pentathlon. However, he broke the world long jump record while competing in the pentathlon.

Author and rower

Ben Spock of ìThe common sense book of baby and child careî fame won a rowing gold in 1924.


Men and women compete against each other in shooting, yachting and equestrian events.

Hero to villain and back

Jim Thorpe won the pentathlon and decathlon in 1912. On his return to the USA he was accorded a heroís welcome and a tickertape parade. Then it was discovered that he had played a few professional baseball games, which disqualified him from amateur status. He was stripped of his Olympic titles. After his death, the IOC re-instated him and presented duplicate medals to his children.

First marathon winner

When Spiridon Louis , a Greek postal worker, won the 1896 marathon, he was showered with prizes: a lifetime supply of clothes, shaves and haircuts, chocolate, wine, jewellery, sheep and cattle. He was even offered the hand of a wealthy benefactorís daughter which, however, he refused, being already married.

Ahead of her time

Mildred Didrikson won gold medals in 1932 in the 80 metres hurdles and javelin. She broke the world record and finished equal first in the high jump. However, her proto-type Fosbury flop ñ 36 years before Dick Fosbury - was ruled illegal.

The nearly people

Nathaniel Cartmell, Hans Grodotzki, Ivo van Damme and Raelene Boyle each won two silver medals at an Olympics but never a gold. In 1904 Cartmell lost both sprints to compatriot, Archie Hahn. Grodotzki took silver in the 5,000 and 10,000 in 1960. Van Damme came second to Juantorena in the 800 and John Walker in the 1500 in 1976. Boyle actually got three silvers ñ 100 and 200 in Munich and 400 in Montreal. Four great athletes, but not an Olympic gold between them.

Greg Louganis

Greg Louganis won the gold medal in the menís springboard diving in 1988 after hitting his head on the board in the preliminary competition so severely that he required stitches.

Sir Steve Redgrave

Everyone knows about Steve Redgraveís five rowing gold medals. However, it is less well-known that during the 1989/90 season, he was a member of the British bobsleigh team.

Fosbury Flop

Perhaps the highest accolade for an athlete is to have something in the sport named after you. In 1968 Dick Fosbury won the gold medal in the menís high jump, using a novel technique, in which the jumper goes over the bar headfirst and backward. The technique so caught on that by 1980, thirteen of the sixteen finalists in the Olympic high jump were using the ëFosbury flopí.

US coach, Payton Jordanís, concern expressed at the time, ìKids imitate champions - if they try to imitate Fosbury, he'll wipe out an entire generation of high jumpers because they all will have broken necksí, proved unfounded.


When Jean Boiteux won the 1952 400 metres freestyle, his father was so excited that he jumped into the pool to celebrate!

Worth the wait?

In 1924 Bill Havens was chosen to represent the USA in the rowing but as his wife was pregnant, he opted to stay with her rather than compete. 28 years later that child, Frank Havens, took gold in the 10,000 metres canoeing!

Close shave

In 1956 American bantamweight weightlifter, Charles Vinci, found himself 200 grams overweight only 15 minutes before the weigh-in. Savage measures included cutting off all his hair. He made it and won the gold medal!


Walker, Don Thompson, was worried about the heat and humidity in Rome for the 1960 Olympics. He equipped a room in his house with heaters and boiling kettles and trained there! He won the 50,000 metres walk.

Amazing finish

In the cycling road race in Rome in 1960, a great pack of riders approached the finish together. After 195 kilometres, Mario Zanin of Italy won the gold medal, while Sture Petterson at the back of the pack took 51st place just 0.16 seconds behind the winner.

Bizarre record

Giovanni Pettenella of Italy and Pierre Trentin of France hold one of the most bizarre Olympic records. In their cycling sprint semi-final in 1964 ñ where the tactics tend to be ìcat and mouseî, the pair stood without moving for 21 minutes 57 seconds!

How long is a marathon?

42.195 KM (26 miles 385) ñ the distance from Marathon to Athens. Well actually it is the distance from Windsor Castle to the Royal Box inside the White City Stadium. The distance was settled at the 1908 London Olympics. The 1908 Marathon was 42.2 Km and in 1920 the distance was 42.75. From 1924 the distance has always been 42.195.

This article first appeared in, The Ultimate Prize ñ Great Christian Olympians, Stuart Weir, Hodder, 2004

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