The Olympics have a long history. But let’s focus on the abbreviated version, starting from the modern games in 1896. There are pages of trivia on the web, and plenty of facts and figures to be had on Wikipedia. Here are some of my favourites, with a slightly British bias – of course.
- Great Britain is the only country to have sent a team to every Summer and Winter Games. And Great Britain is also the only country to have won a gold medal at every Summer games, although we almost lost that record in 1996 when we managed just a single, solitary gold.
- There are lots of disputes to be argued over as far as participation in the Summer Games is concerned. Australia, Greece, Switzerland, France and Britain all claim to have sent a team to every Olympiad. However, France did not send a team in 1904 and rather tenuously claim to be on the list due to a Frenchman competing for the US team. The Swiss boycotted the 1956 games, but their equestrian team had already competed in those events a few months before the tournament started for real. The Australians competed in a combined Aussie New Zealand team in a couple of tournaments. The British too competed in a slightly altered style having originally competed as the United Kingdom on Great Britain and Ireland. Only Greece can truly, perhaps, claim to have participated at all Summer games under a single national style.
- In 1976 all female participants in the Summer games had to undergo gender testing. Except one. A decision was taken to take Princess Anne’s word for it.
- In 26 Olympiads, Great Britain has won 207 golds and 715 medals in total. Only Germany (247/851), the United States (929/2296) and the Soviet Union (395/1010) have won more golds, and also more medals. We will possibly catch up and surpass the Soviet Union one day. In the distant future. But probably not before we have been overtaken by China and others.
- Ever thought the Decathlon was a bit wimpy? Perhaps it is. Fifteen events have been ever present at all Olympiads – 100 metres, 400 metres, 800 metres, 1500 metres. Marathon, 110 metres hurdles, High jump, Long jump, Triple jump, Pole-vault, Shot put, Discus, Fencing, Individual foil, Individual sabre, 1500 metres freestyle . Methinks that a new event featuring all of these should replace the decidedly girlish decathlon.
- Ever wondered why the marathon is 26 miles and 385 yards? It was once exactly 26 miles, after all. The answer is simple. Because Queen Alexandra said so. Really. She wanted the race in 1908 to finish below the Royal Box so that she could see the end. Rather than move the start forwards a little, they added 385 yards to the end to make it so.
- In 2012, London will host the Summer Games for a record third time. The logo for the 2012 games is below, along with 1908 and 1948 emblems, and was designed at a
wastecost of £400,000 by Wolff Olins. Although it will be the first time that the Olympics and Paralympic games have shared the same logo.