Thursday, August 14, 2008

Antwerp 1920

Wherein from this book: The Story of the Olympic Games, 776B.C. to 1960 A.D.

Does anyone else think the first paragraph screams Oscar-winning motion picture?
Antwerp was selected as the site and war-swept Belgium had only a year in which to build a stadium and prepare for an influx of athletes from all over the world. Though the peace treaty had been signed, the shadow of the World War still hung over the games. Little Belgium, shattered by shell fire and occupied for four years by enemy forces, wasn't quite up to the task of doing the games on a grand scale. Germany and Austria, late enemy nations of Belgium and the Allies, were not invited to send athletes to Antwerp. There were war veterans competing in many events on the Olympic program.[...]

There were 1,500 athletes...down to the little brown brothers from Japan.

The first version of this book was published in 1936. My guess is that much that appears in this book was collected from their own earlier columns. Also likely that no felt like giving much thought to editing these chapters that were completed 20 years earlier. Otherwise, I'm thinking that by 1960 "little brown brothers" should've gotten a rewrite. Or maybe not.
The stadium was built to accommdate 30,000 spectators but it was filled only on one occasion and that was when, mournful at the sight of so many empty seats every day, the Belgian officials opened the gates and invited school children and the genreal public to step in and witness the greatest athletic show on earth free of charge. The truth is that Belgium, as a nation, was not particularly interested in track and field sports and, moreover, the natives had little money to spare or to spend after going through the hardships and privations of the World War. Admission was only about 20 cents but that was more than most of the inhabitants of Antwerp could afford to spend for such amusements. So the games were a handsome deficit when the affair was concluded.

So it'll be a bittersweet story. Ah, comedy. Love this sentence:
Late in the afternoon of the same day the United States tug-of-war team was metaphorically pulled all over Antwerp by a mastodonic team of "bobbies" from the famous Metropolitan Police Force of London.

Maybe here's our story of triumph among the ruins:
But probably the most significant event of the day was the 5,000 metre[sic] run. Guillemot, the great Frenchman, won it, which was cause for rejoicing on all sides. Here was a French war veteran who had been gassed badly at the front and whose lungs were supposed to be ruined.

This chapter also includes an account of the Mutiny of theMatoika (wiki). And a NY Times story of how the athletes trained onboard the Matoika.


Blogger Outis said...

Here was a French war veteran who had been gassed badly at the front and whose lungs were supposed to be ruined.

The gas attack story was just a front to cover up his doping regime.

8/18/2008 08:36:00 AM  

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