Physical Culture at the Olympics Games

An in-depth look at the history of the Olympics featuring famous athletes, records, photos and clips.

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Harry Hayfield
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Physical Culture at the Olympics Games

Post by Harry Hayfield » Sat Aug 13, 2016 10:54 am

Whilst digging around the Internet looking for the results of past Games, I came across the official reports for every Olympics since 1896 (thanks mainly to the LA84 Foundation, established as part of the legacy of the 23rd Games of the Modern Olympiad) and thought that members might be interested in the reporting of the physical culture events at those Games with quotes from the formal after Games reports which will be in italics

First of all, what sports in the Olympic programme over history are "physical culture" ? Well, taking the definition as "the development of the body by exercise" then it would seem reasonable to include gymnastics, weightlifting, wrestling and boxing as the Olympic physical culture programme. So let's get started with the first ever Games of the Modern Olympiad in Athens way back in 1896.

The first physical culture event of those Games was the "Weight Throwing" which was held on March 26th 1896 (Day 2) and from a field of 15 entrants only seven actually took part "amongst them Mr Gouskos, a member of the Panhellenian Club, and Mr Papasideris of the National Club of Athens" however it wasn't long before there were just two left and "Mr Garrett however was declared victorious having thrown his weight to a distance of 11.22m only a few centimetres farther than his rival". That was then followed by the weightlifting contest where "each Competitor in his turn had to stoop and to lift up weights of different sizes beginning with the smallest". Now as we know the winner was (and still is) Britain's only Olympic medallist in weightlifting but for the first time we know what he looked like "This young gentleman attracted universal admiration by his uncommon type of beauty. He was of most imposing stature, tall, well proportioned, his hair and complexion of surprising fairness.

Now at all Games there are moments that come as a surprise and 1896 was no exception, but the source of the surprise was an even bigger surprise "A servant was ordered to remove the weights, which seemed a difficult task for him ;the popular Prince came to his assistance, picked up the heaviest weight, and threw it with the greatest ease to a considerable distance". That's right, Prince George, of Greece and Denmark, was a strong 'un.

Day Four saw the gymnastics events gets started with the parallel bars with three teams having entered, Greece, Athens and Germany. "The Greek teams comprised a larger number of champions, and we cannot help praising the gracefulness and agility which were remarked in everyone. The applause of their countrymen was showered on them after each exercise. The first team was under the command of Mr Chrysaphis, the second under that of Mr Athanasopoulos, the German as well as the Greek teams showed in their attire their national colours the Greeks wore light blue and white, the Germans black and white. The Germans carried off the first prize, having gone through their difficult exercises with a precision and regularity that everybody recognised the superior training they had received" and as such Germany won their first medal of the Games. Next came the fixed bars, won by Germany again, and that was followed by the vault with 17 people taking part from all over the place but Germany won the title again thanks to Schumann who is reported as being "was an Athlete of small stature, but of strong and muscular build". Next came a combination of vault and rings which was won by the Swiss then just the rings themselves which went to the home team and concluded with the Fixed Bars and another German win.

Day Five saw more gymnastics take centre stage. The parallel bars saw another German win, and then that was followed by "Arm Exercises with smooth cord". Now this produced a right battle royal between Greece, Denmark and Great Britain, but in the end Greece won out and "The National Colours hoisted on the flagstaff were greeted with a storm of applause". By now the weather had started to turn from what you expect in Greece to a more British type of spring and as a result, the potential for the first Olympics scandal could have broken as "strengthening cordials had to be taken by all the competitors who had taken part in that sport". The official report does not say what these cordials were, but there might be some people with rather suspicious minds. After the marathon arrived (from it's hometown) the wrestling got underway and just like today's wrestlers, they didn't take it easy with Christopoulos of Greece finding out the hard way as he was thrown "with such energy on the ground, that he received some injury on the shoulder, which though slight disabled him for the rest of the Games, and confined him several days to his bed".

After nine days of competition, the Games came to a close and who those who had won their events were presented to the King to receive their awards and their names were recorded for posterity. Those names included:

Weight throwing: R. Garrett, United States, America. Weight-lifting with one hand: L. Elliot, England. Weight-lifting with both hands: W. Jensen, Danemark. Wrestling: K. Schumann, Germany, Parallel Bars: Team of Mr Hoffmann, Germany. Fixed Bars: Team of Mr Hoffmann, Germany. Parallel Bars: A. Flatow, Germany. Fixed Bars: H. Weingärtner, Germany. On vaulting horse without rings: Schumann, Germany.On vaulting horse with rings: L. Zutter, Switzerland. Rings: I. Mitropoulos, Greece. Arm Exercise with smooth cord: N. Andriacopoulos, Greece.

After which came the call to gather in Paris four years hence where the youth of the world would gather to contest the Second Games of the Modern Olympiad
"Great heavens, what is there to adulate in me? Am I particularly intelligent, or remarkably studious, or excruciatingly witty, or unusually accomplished, or exceptionally virtuous?"
(The Duke of Dunstable, Patience by Gilbert and Sullivan)

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Re: Physical Culture at the Olympics Games

Post by peter yates » Sat Aug 13, 2016 1:26 pm

HI HARRY,
THANKS FOR ANOTHER OF YOUR GREAT REPORTS. I ACTUALLY FIND THIS MUCH MORE INTERESTING THAN WHAT PASSES FOR THE OLYMPIC GAMES TODAY.
REGARDS, PETER.
Peter Yates

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Re: Physical Culture at the Olympics Games

Post by DannyBoy » Sun Aug 14, 2016 2:55 pm

Awesome idea and good report Harry, many thanks! :)

I'd like to add that I believe athletics/track & field and swimming qualify as being "physical culture" and could/should be included as well, and both have been a part of the modern Olympic Games since the first one in 1896 so they have a long history also. I think a track & field great like Jim Thorpe and a swimming great like Johnny Weissmuller are excellent representations of physical culture. Judo probably qualifies as "physical culture" as well and could be included too (there was even an old book from the early 1900s titled "Judo: Japanese Physical Culture"). Of course this is all up to you Harry, I'm just throwing it out there.

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Re: Physical Culture at the Olympics Games

Post by Harry Hayfield » Sun Aug 14, 2016 4:29 pm

The second Games of the Modern Olympiad were held in Paris, France in 1900 and just as in Athens an official report was published, however there is for me one tiny little problem with the official report. It is written entirely in French and as I can only say "Bonjour", "Bon nuit" and just to impress my friends in the Renn Faire community "Un pour tous, tous pour un", it might as well have been written backwards, but as I am sure there are people here who can read French fluently I shall post the link to the report http://library.la84.org/6oic/OfficialRe ... 0/1900.pdf and do the only reasonable thing I can and carry on to 1904 (when the Games were held in St. Louis, Missouri)

Now, there was another small problem with the St. Louis Games, namely they were taken as rather a back stage enterprise because St. Louis was far more interested in the 1904 World's Fair that was being held at the same time and sadly, the Olympic Games did rather suffer for it (lasting only five days in total) but they managed to get a lot done in that time. Take the schedule for day one for instance 60-meter dash, 400 meter run, 2590-meter steeplechase, throwing the 16-pound hammer, standing broad jump, and running high jump

The first event was the 400m and boy, did they all go for it. When the field of sprinters in the 400-meter dash left their mark at the crack of the pistol, they emerged from the chute in a bunch and seemingly lined across the track as they left their marks eventually they managed to spread out a bit and with seventy five yards to go, four people had a chance of the medal Straining every muscle in his body, his teeth tightly clenched, the muscles and veins in his neck standing out like whipcords, springing as high upon his toes as his failing strength would allow him, and with a look of determination and exhaustion in his face, Hillman crossed the line one yard in front of Waller, of Milwaukee and he even set a new Olympic record of 49.2 seconds. The sixty metre dash also saw the previous Olympic record being equalled (7 seconds) .

Whilst that was going on the hammer was being thrown and as today, the competitor's physiques came under close examination Instead of the military bearing possessed by Dewitt and Flanagan, Rose had an overgrown stoop in his shoulders, but possessed excellent physical development. On the other hand, Dewitt stood about two inches taller than Flanagan, well proportioned, and was as brown as a berry. Flanagan was the best rounded man of the three. His waist is small, his shoulders strongly built, though his small hands would lead one to believe that he is not a weight thrower. Charles Chadwick and James S. Mitchell, both of New York Athletic Club, were the other two competitors. Mitchell carried 265 pounds of weight, and appeared to be very, very much overweight to swing a hammer. Chadwick did not look athletically well, either. But it was Flanagan who won throwing the hammer 168 feet 1 inch (51.23 metres) compared to the 81 metres that won the Olympic title in 2012

The marathon (which was held on day two) was a real torture being held in temperatures close to 32°C (90°F) but that didn't seem to phase the winner in the slightest as Frederick Lorz crossed the finishing line first. However accusations soon started to arise and he admitted that he had not run the whole course (having been given a lift by his manager from mile nine to mile twenty (when the manager's car broke down). The report comes down on him like a ton of bricks when it notes the perfidy of Lorz will never be forgotten. He has cast a blot upon his own hitherto good record, and the incident was the only one which marred the greatest athletic carnival of modern times and thus the winner was Thomas Hicks, however he wasn't entirely blameless either because if the race had been run now in 2016, he would have been banned. The reason? He had, in his system, one milligram of strychnine, so the less said about that the better but this is happily reported in the official record and no one bats an eyelid

On day three, the muscle was on show as the weightlifting started and the winner certainly caught the author's attention Perikles Kakousis, of the Panhellenic Gymnastic Club, Athens, Greece—a man weighing 192 pounds, 5 feet 8 inches tall, as solidly constructed and proportioned as the Rock of Gibraltar—lifted a bar-bell, weighing 246 pounds, over his head, thereby breaking the record by a trifle—four ounces . That was followed by the shot put where Rose, standing 6 feet 6 inches, and weighing 235 pounds, towered above his closest opponent, Coe, who weighed 210 pounds and was but 5 feet 10 inches tall, being well proportioned. Georgantos was a decided contrast to his American opponents, with his dark complexion and raven-black locks, his well-knit frame being unlike the adipose make-up of Coe. However the Greek didn't like the American method of putting the shot and threw it twice, causing him to be thrown out of the contest and he grumbled about it a lot and so it was Rose who won and by putting it 48 feet 7 inches set a new world record.

Day four saw a bit more muscle in the form of throwing the 56lb weight and saw the return of an old favourite The heavyweight events brought together Charles Henneman, now Chief of Police of Keokuk, Iowa, who had won Amateur Athletic Union championships away back in 1889, and James E. Mitchell, of New York, who has won more championships than any amateur in the world. Both men had grown to enormous size, and when Mitchell entered the ring amazement held the spectators spellbound, for he weighs 256 pounds, and his great size was a revelation to the spectators, almost as much so as was the height of Rose but it was Canada that won the day with a throw of 34 feet 4 inches.

Day five (the last day of the Games) saw another weightlifting challenge, this time for points and in that event Oscar Osthoff won the prize beating Fred Winters by just three points and rounding off a successful games, if you ignore the fact that most of the other teams came to blows over the point scoring of the track events. So what did the author make of the Games overall? The track conditions at St. Louis were perfect, but the men who competed at St. Louis were better men, athletically, with one or two exceptions, than those who competed at Paris.America can be proud of the boys who competed at St. Louis and won the Olympic championship, an event that neither Harvard, Yale, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Chicago, or any other of the big universities can say that they had a hand in winning. Perhaps it is this view that encouraged America to bid for the Games again although they did not the next chance until 1932.
"Great heavens, what is there to adulate in me? Am I particularly intelligent, or remarkably studious, or excruciatingly witty, or unusually accomplished, or exceptionally virtuous?"
(The Duke of Dunstable, Patience by Gilbert and Sullivan)

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Re: Physical Culture at the Olympics Games

Post by DannyBoy » Mon Aug 15, 2016 12:10 am

^Good job again Harry! Though I'm think that the report you read wasn't entirely accurate, because the entire 1904 Olympic Games didn't take place in just 5 days. Those Olympic Games were stretched out and it's various sporting events took place over the course of July, August, September & I believe into October 1904. As for the 1900 Olympic Games, it was the same thing that ended up happening in 1904, they took a back seat to the Paris World's Fair. After the great success the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens was, the 1900, 1904 & 1908 Olympic Games were all overstretched & overshadowed and just a mess, if not debacles. France, the United States & England frankly just dropped the ball in hosting their first Olympic Games. It's a shame the 1906 Olympics (again in Athens), now just referred to as the Intercalated Games, today aren't recognized as a "true" Olympic Games by the IOC because it was much better organized & far more successful than the 1900, 1904 & 1908 Olympics and perhaps even saved the Olympic movement at the time.

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Re: Physical Culture at the Olympics Games

Post by peter yates » Tue Aug 16, 2016 5:29 pm

THANK YOU HARRY AND DANNY FOR THIS INTERESTING INFORMATION REGARDING THE EARLY OLYMPIC REVIVALS. AS I MENTIONED PREVIOUSLY MUCH MORE INTERESTING THAN WHAT IS HAPPENING TODAY.
REGARDS, PETER.
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Re: Physical Culture at the Olympics Games

Post by Harry Hayfield » Wed Aug 17, 2016 2:42 pm

The Fourth Games of the Modern Olympiad (as the Intercalated Games of 1906 held in Athens to celebrate the tenth anniversary are not generally counted) were held in London but really were not supposed to have been held there at all. Indeed, London was beaten to the Games by Rome, however in 1906 Naples was devastated when Mount Vesuvius erupted and so London stepped into the breach. The report mentions this in a typically Edwardian fashion stating:

The Olympic Games of 1908 had been fixed to take place at Rome, but some unexpected difficulties prevented the Italian Committee from carrying out their intention, and at the celebration of the Athenian Olympic Games in 1906 (a festival of a separate cycle organised by Greece to take place in their magnificent stadium) a meeting of the International Committee was held, and I was asked whether I thought it possible for the games to be held in London in 1908 instead of at Rome. An organisation already existed in the British Olympic Association which had been formed, with others representing each of the countries acting together, under Baron de Coubertin’s scheme, and upon my return to England I addressed a letter to the great athletic and sporting associations in England, asking whether they would approve of holding the games in England and give their assistance. The answers received being entirely favourable, the British Olympic Council was formed by the election of delegates accredited by each of these great organisations, and it was decided to accept the invitation given at Athens by the International Olympic Committee to hold the Olympic Games of 1908 in this country.

So how did London cope with a rather high speed Olympic preparation? Quite well actually because on July 13th 1908, the opening ceremony got underway (notwithstanding the fact that the first medals had been won in April when the racquets competition had concluded) but there were very specific rules about the ceremony most notably The International Committee and Representatives will next parade before His Majesty, who will then declare the Stadium open. The National Anthem will then be performed by the band, all flags being lowered to the salute and three cheers will be called from the whole of the teams for His Majesty. The Americans took great exception to this with Martin Sheridan alleged to have said "This flag dips to no earthly king!" with the problem being that it was first reported in 1952 (44 years after the event and 24 years after he had died), but they were not the only ones a little upset as Finland didn't know whether to march under the colours of Russia or Finland (and a number of them did neither) and because someone forgot to hoist the Swedish flag in the stadium, Sweden boycotted the ceremony (which is strange as in the report is a picture titled NORWEGIAN AND SWEDISH TEAMS IN THE PARADE OF ATHLETES ON JULY 13, 1908 so that one will need to be investigated.

So what happened in the actual Games, well, in the athletics, there were twenty seven events planned with races over 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1,500m, hurdles over 110m and 400m, a steeplechase, a race walk, a marathon, a 4 x 400m relay and several throwing events. In fact your modern day Olympic programme. However, home advantage did not seem to help the Britons as they only won seven of the athletic medals up for grabs. But that said some of the atheltes had some very beady eyes watching them, after all why would we get such as R. E. Walker, aged 19, came from Natal, where he was born, and had not been originally selected in the South African team. He was 5 ft. 7 in. high, and weighed 9 st. 4 lb. or R. Kerr, aged 26, was born in Enniskillen, in Ireland, and went to Canada when three years old. He was 5ft 7½ in high and weighed10 st. 10 lb. Of all the Olympic events in 1908, the marathon was either famous or infamous for it's outcome. The race started at Windsor Castle and was twenty six miles in length, as tradition stated, however the organising committee said "Any chance of them finishing in front of Her Majesty?" and so they tacked on the extra 385 yards so that's what could happen and so at 2.30pm on July 24th the race started with seventy five people at the start. However it was the end that was far more interesting.

[video]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDAEl27aRDE[/video]

And how the report mention this incident? With typical reserved Britishness:

Dorando was almost unconscious when he reached the cinder path, and turned to his right instead of his left. The slope from the archway was apparently the final stroke. He collapsed upon the track. As it was impossible to leave him there, for it looked as if he might die in the very presence of the Queen and that enormous crowd, the doctors and attendants rushed to his assistance. When he was slightly resuscitated the excitement of his compatriots was so intense that the officials did not put him on an ambulance and send him out, as they would no doubt have done under less agitating circumstances...Meanwhile, Dorando lay between life and death for two hours and a half. The tidings that Her Majesty the Queen had given him a Gold Cup, as a token of her gracious sympathy with the courage she had watched, was the first thing that turned the scale in the Italian’s favour. His heart had been more than half an inch displaced, but by the next morning he looked as well as ever

That was not the only problem as the Americans objected to the presence of Thomas Longboat who America thought was a professional not an amateur, in fact so incensed were they, they lodged a formal complaint but were told they had to pay so forty eight hours later the following letter arrived to the head of the British athletics association

“ American Committee, Olympic Games, London. “ 2—3 Hind Court, Fleet Street, E.C. “ July 15, 1908.
“ P. L. Fisher, Esq. “ 10 John Street, Adelphi, W.C. “DEAR SIR,—Mr. Gustavus T. Kirby informs me that our protest against professional Thomas Longboat should be sent to you as Secretary,* and should be accompanied by £1. “ I enclose you herewith £1 1s., and you can consider the communication from our Committee men as our official protest against professional Thomas Longboat. “ Yours truly, (Signed) “JAMES EDWARD SULLIVAN.”


Thankfully all the other events went smoothly and the report (which really goes into the details of each event even going to far as to list the dimensions of equipment used) lists the winners of each event and their best efforts. Take for instance the hammer throw. The report states The head and handle may be of any size, shape and material, provided that the length of the complete implement shall not be more than four feet (1·219 metres) and its weight not less than sixteen pounds (7·258 kilos.). The competitor may assume any position he chooses, and use either one or both hands. All throws shall be made from a circle seven feet (2·134 metres) in diameter. Each competitor shall be allowed three throws, and the best three competitors of the first trial shall be allowed three more throws each. The farthest throw of all shall win. All distances shall be measured from the circumference of the circle to the first pitch of the hammer along a line drawn from that pitch to the centre of the circle. Foul throws and letting go of the hammer in an attempt shall count as trial throws. and goes on to record that J J Flanagan of the United States won with a throw of 170 feet 4.25 inches (or 51.92m).

Because of the large number of sports mentioned in 1908 that have a physical culture element, I shall mention those in another posting.
"Great heavens, what is there to adulate in me? Am I particularly intelligent, or remarkably studious, or excruciatingly witty, or unusually accomplished, or exceptionally virtuous?"
(The Duke of Dunstable, Patience by Gilbert and Sullivan)

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Re: Physical Culture at the Olympics Games

Post by Harry Hayfield » Fri Aug 19, 2016 8:59 pm

(Source: BBC Sport news report)
Kyrgyzstan weightlifter Izzat Artykov has become the first Rio medallist to test positive for a banned substance and has been stripped of his bronze. Artykov finished third in the men's -69kg weightlifting competition. The Court of Arbitration for Sport said the 22-year-old's "medal is forfeited" and "he is excluded from the Games" after testing positive for strychnine
Yes, you read that right. The same drug that Dorando used at the 1908 Games has been found in a sample given at the 2016 Games and my immediate reaction was "Say what?"
"Great heavens, what is there to adulate in me? Am I particularly intelligent, or remarkably studious, or excruciatingly witty, or unusually accomplished, or exceptionally virtuous?"
(The Duke of Dunstable, Patience by Gilbert and Sullivan)

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Re: Physical Culture at the Olympics Games

Post by Harry Hayfield » Sun Sep 04, 2016 2:23 pm

Other events held at the London 1908 Games that could be classed as demonstrating physical culture were:

The Hammer Throw
The head and handle may be of any size, shape and material, provided that the length of the complete implement shall not be more than four feet (1·219 metres) and its weight not less than sixteen pounds (7·258 kilos) is one element of the Olympics that hasn't changed over the years but the distances thrown have. The winner in 1908 was Flanagan of the United States who threw his hammer 51.92m (around 170 feet), in order to qualify for the competition in Rio you had to throw 77 metres and in the end the gold medal was won by someone from Tajikistan who threw it 79 metres (meaning that the gold medal winner in 1908 would have been placed last in the qualifying group)

Putting the Weight (aka Shot Put)
The winner was Rose of the United States with a throw of 14.21 metres (around 47 feet) and the author of the report noted that he was ... 22 years old, 6 ft. 5 in. tall, and weighed 16 st. 6 lb. stripped.

The Tug of War
This was the third Games to have this event but there was no chance of the USA defending their title from 1904 as the British ruled the roost. In fact in the very first heat ...at the word “ Heave ” pulled their opponents over with a rush. The Americans then withdrew so as it was the British won all three medals. And who made up the three teams? The police forces of the Metropolitan (London) and Liverpool (with London submitting two teams) and I dare say that because The winning team owed much of their victory to the splendid coaching of Inspector Duke said inspector probably rose up the ranks a few notches afterwards

Boxing
Held at the Northampton Institute in Clerkenwell, five titles were decided over the course of twelve hours on October 27th. The winners (all from the UK) came from Birmingham, Surrey, Eton, Belsize and Oldham.

Wrestling
As in the modern Games there are two types Greco-Roman and Freestyle (called Catch As Catch Can). In the Freestyle class the UK won three golds to the US's two and in the Greco-Roman class the golds were divided between the Italians, Swedes, Finns and the Hungarians with the author noting George N. Mehnert (United States) stands 5 ft. 3 in., weighs 118 lb., and has been wrestling some nine years. In 1901 he won the Metropolitan and American Championships, the former being an event open to a 90 miles radius of New York. These events he has now secured for six years in succession. In 1906, at St. Louis, he won the Bantam Weight Championship. He holds an unbeaten record. W. J. Press (Hammersmith A.W.C.) stands 5 ft. 3i in., and weighs 8 st. 5 lb. He commenced wrestling nine years ago, and won the Northampton Institute open competition in his first year. A. Cote (Canada), who secured third place, is 27 years of age, stands 5 ft. 3 in., and weighs 8 st. 3 lb. In 1905 he was second in the 115 lb. and 125 lb. Championships of Canada, having then been wrestling some four years. He won both the above events in 1906. Since he came to the front he has not been beaten until this event.
"Great heavens, what is there to adulate in me? Am I particularly intelligent, or remarkably studious, or excruciatingly witty, or unusually accomplished, or exceptionally virtuous?"
(The Duke of Dunstable, Patience by Gilbert and Sullivan)

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MICHEL BROILLET

Post by François » Thu Jan 19, 2017 8:23 pm

Harry, I'd be glad, if I could find a video of this extraordinary guy (a Swiss, like myself, be WRH in Oly lifting, European RH in PL, and 3rd in IFBB World championships in 1981!!!):

http://goo.gl/N2iZam

(Google-translated interview by Emmanuel Legeard, the most prominent strength sports specialist in Europe right now)

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