February 17, 2006 Features & Images » Feature Story

A North American Perspective on the Olympics 

By G.D. Maxwell

The flame and the fever were ignited again in Italy last Friday as the Olympics fired up the sports business machine and Canadians, from coast to coast to coast, hoped against hope for glory… or at least a less embarrassing showing than we’ve become used to. Since a sense of history is always worth packing along on an endless journey, here, as we grind toward our date with destiny four years hence, is a reminder of where we’ve been.

776 B.C. : The Olympic Games are recorded for the first time. Held in the stadium at Olympia, Greece, they were probably run a number of times before anyone thought to write down the results. The first event was a sprint. The winner’s booty included an olive leaf, poems to his prowess, and official status as "hero forever". The winner’s name has been lost to history. There was no television coverage.

394 A.D. : The Ancient Olympics are staged for the final time in Olympia. Roman Emperor Theodosius I abolishes the Games as part of a series of reforms against pagan practices. The Athens Daily Times however reports the games are suspended because of the unpopular demand by athletes they be allowed to wear clothing while competing and because of a general lack of interest best summed up by the phrase, "Been there; done that," only in Greek.

1894 : French educator Baron Pierre de Coubertin proposes resurrecting the Olympics. The International Olympic Committee is formed.

1896 : The first modern Olympic Games are held in Athens. Harvard student James B. Connolly wins the triple jump and becomes both the first person and the first American awarded an Olympic medal. No women are allowed to compete since de Coubertin finds them "…impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic, and incorrect." Half a million Greek sheep applaud his decision. Home country Greece tops the medal race with 47 but the US’ 20 beats the pants off the Soviet Union… which is yet to come into existence.

1900 : Held as part of the Paris Exposition, the second Games incorporate women who the French, de Coubertin notwithstanding, find intensely interesting and aesthetic competing in lawn tennis and golf. Margaret Abbot of Chicago becomes the first American woman to win an Olympic medal and Alvin Kraenzlein of the US becomes the first person to ever win four gold medals, all in track and field events.

Two Canadians, though not part of any official national team, compete. George Orton, studying in Pennsylvania, accompanies a group of Americans to Paris and brings Canada its first Olympic glory, winning the 2,500 metre steeplechase and finishing third in the 400 metre hurdles. The other Canadian fails to win Olympic glory but his name lives on as an official Olympic sponsor: Ronald McDonald.

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