The influence of 1900,1904,1908,1912 and 1916 Olympic Games on the world

The Olympic Games is the most celebrated sporting event for all nations in the world. Almost every sporting discipline is included in the itinerary and most of the countries in the world participates in it. It showcases human virtues such as perseverance, courage, determination, etc and in this respect it serves as a theatre of drama. It also brings forth such intense emotions as ecstasy (upon winning a medal) and dejection (upon failing to win) in its participants. At a political level, the games bring together people from many nations, with different religious, cultural and economic backgrounds. This makes the Games a mosaic of the entire gamut of human civilization. (Wallechinsky, 2004) This essay will pertain itself those episodes of the Olympic Games that took place in the early decades of the twentieth century. These episodes are quite significant in that they played an influential role in shaping social and political developments to follow. The rest of this essay will further elaborate on this thesis.

The 1900 Summer Olympic Games was a very colorful event, given that it took place in the cultural capital of Europe – Paris. In the Olympic events of this period, there were no awarding of Gold, Silver and Bronze medals. Hence, medals were awarded to the top three athletes retrospectively. It then emerged that France, the host nation won most of the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals, followed by the United States and Great Britain. Competitions were held for a total of 20 disciplines. These disciplines included Archery, Tennis, Rugby, Swimming, Athletics, Sailing, Equestrian, Polo, Golf, among many others. (Kamper & Mallon, 1992) But most importantly, it included events for women athletes and in this respect can be viewed as a path-breaking event. For example, Charlotte Cooper was crowned the first ever female tennis Olympic champion after she won the women’s singles competition. For this reason, the 1900 edition can be considered a watershed event in women’s liberation movement. At the same time, this edition was not free of controversy, as three marathon runners from the United States accused French competitors of cheating by taking short-cuts in the race. (Wallechinsky, 2004)

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The next edition of the Games was held in the United States, which was at the time an emerging global power. Hosted by St. Louis, Missouri, this event cemented United States’ status as an important imperial power in global politics. New sports such as Dumbbells, Freestyle wrestling, Decathlon and Boxing were introduced in this event. The host nation won a majority of the medals, followed by Germany and Cuba. Since many of the athletes were amateurs at this time, their long naval voyage across the Atlantic had sapped them of energy and fitness. This made the competition skewed in favor of host nation’s athletes, who easily won on many occasions. Yet, Germany managed to upstage other European nations in the medals tally – a sign of its growing stature in Europe. The political relations between America and European countries was amicable at this stage. But it would turn uncertain in a few years time, as the United States and Germany would be facing off on opposing sides during the First World War. (Crowther, 2007)

The following edition of Summer Olympics saw the Games’ return to Europe, with London being the host city. It is interesting to note that all the nations that played host to the Games during the early decades of the twentieth century were imperialist powers with global political ambitions. So the Olympics were not merely an exhibition of sporting talent, as there was also national pride and political prestige at stake. The number of participant teams increased in this edition. As expected Great Britain, the host nation, topped the medals tally, with 56 Golds, 51 Silvers and 39 Bronzes. It was followed by the United States, Sweden and France. The historical diplomatic relations between Great Britain and the United States, which dates back to the discovery of the New World and the colonization of America, is symbolically represented by theirs positions in the medals tally. Germany and Hungary, which occupied 5th and 6th places in the tally, would be in military confrontation with Great Britain and its allies in the coming decade. Hence, the Olympic Games can be seen to represent the evolving political equations of the period. (Tompkins, 1996)

The 1912 Olympic Games was held in Stockholm, Sweden. By this time the participation of women has become a norm; and consequently the percentage of female athletes rose. This improvement gave encouragement to parallel movements for women’s emancipation such as the suffragette movement, which demanded equal voting rights for women. This event saw the participation of the first Asian nation in the form of Japan. The host nation won most medals, totalling sixty-five, followed by the United States. But international relations, especially within Europe were to turn sour in two years, that by 1914 the camaraderie and spirit of sportsmanship exemplified by the Olympics were to turn into bloody battles and perennial vigils in trench warfare. (Crowther, 2007)

But there is no doubt that the early editions of the Olympic Games paved the way for important social progressions such as liberating women from their erstwhile subordinate role to men. In the American context, the political and personal freedoms won by women would fully bloom during the 1920s, as the Jazz Age was ushered in. The Games also served as a small political theatre, in that a nation’s standing in the medals table boosted or diminished its image as an imperial power. This improved the competition to an extent, but unfortunately it did not prevent the unfolding of the First World War in 1914.

Works Cited:

Vincent Tompkins, American Decades – 1910-1919, Gale Publishing, 1996. ISBN-10: 0810357232

Kamper, Erich; Mallon, Bill (1992). The Golden Book of the Olympic Games. Milan: Vallardi & Associati. ISBN 978-88-85202-35-1.

Wallechinsky, David (2004). The Complete Book of the Summer Olympics, Athens 2004 Edition. SportClassic Books. ISBN 978-1-894963-32-9.

Crowther, Nigel B. (2007). “The Ancient Olympic Games”. Sport in Ancient Times. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0-275-98739-6.

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