Rome had been chosen to stage the 1908 Olympic Games, but the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in southern Italy had intervened. It was some 52 years later that the Games finally arrived in the Italian capital. The Rome games were broadcast by television to all European countries and were watched by millions. However, the competitions themselves were overshadowed by the rivalry between the US and the USSR. In the final medal table the USSR finished ahead of the US by 43 to 34 gold medals.
o Running barefoot, Ethiopian athlete Abebe Bikila did not go unnoticed when he entered the marathon. He refused to be daunted by the condescending remarks and left all his opponents behind to cross the finishing line victorious, near Constantine’s triumphal arch.
o Aged 20, Wilma Rudolph became the first American woman to win three gold athletics medals in one Olympiad: in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay. She achieved this extraordinary feat despite suffering from a string of childhood illnesses and recovering from a deformed leg caused by polio.
o Cassius Marcellus Clay, later known as MuhammadM/, firstgai/ied r’nfernaffonaf prominence by winning the light-heavyweight gold medal. He would later turn professional and embark on a phenomenal career.
For the first time, the Olympic Games were hosted in Asia, Japan invested heavily in the most modern sports facilities as well as in improving the infrastructure of a city containing over 10 million people. The extraordinary architectural design of the swimming stadium led to it being described as a “cathedral of sports”. Other outstanding new buildings included the judo hall, which was modelled on the architectural style of traditional Japanese temples. The opening ceremony offered a glimpse into how record-breaking the competition would be, when teams from 93 nations (10 more than participated in Rome) paraded into the Meiji Stadium. However, the high standards set by athletes at the Tokyo Games led some critics to warn about exaggerated expectations for the future development of the Olympic disciplines.
o Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser (see p.21) won her third successive gold medal in the 100m freestyle. She was the first woman swimmer to win eight medals (four gold and four silver) – over three Olympics.
o Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina (see p.20) added six more medals to her tally, becoming the first woman to win nine Olympic gold medals.
o Deszo Gyarmati won gold with the Hungarian water polo team, thus achieving the (then) unique feat of winning medals at five successive Olympic Games
Mexico City 1968
Mexico City’s high altitude – almost 2,240m (7,350ft) above sea level dominated much of the pre-Games discussion: the consensus being that athletes from lowland countries would be at a disadvantage. However several weeks of high-altitude training enhanced the performances of many of these athletes. There were violent riots in the run-up to the Games, following complaints about the exorbitant amounts of money being invested in Olympic facilities in contrast to Mexico’s own social problems. Controversy also arose over South Africa’s participation at these Games and the IOC withdrew its invitation under pressure. Doping controls were introduced for the first time and a Swedish athlete was disqualified for having too much alcohol in his bloodstream.
o American Bob Beamon was the favorite in the long jump but he exceeded all expectations. His jump of 8.90m beat the world record by 0.55m.
o Czech gymnast Vera Caslavska won four gold and two silver medals. These victories were given extra significance by beating the Soviet gymnasts shortly after Soviet tanks had invaded her homeland.
o American Debbie Meyer became the first woman swimmer to win three individual gold medals at one Olympic Games.
The 1972 Munich Games were the largest yet, setting records in all categories, with 195 events and 7,134 athletes from 121 nations. The Games were supposed to celebrate peace, and for the first 10 days all went well. But in the early morning of 5 September, eight Palestinian terrorists broke into the Olympic village [http://www.nike-trainers.com], killed two members of the Israeli team, and took nine more hostage. In the ensuing battle, all nine Israeli hostages were killed, along with five of the terrorists, and one policeman. The Olympics were suspended and a memorial service was held in the main stadium. In defiance of the terrorists, the International Olympic Committee ordered the competitions to resume after a pause of 34 hours. All other details about the Munich Games paled in significance.
o Finnish distance runner Lasse Viren fell halfway through the 10,000m final, but still set a new world record to win the first of his four career gold medals.
o The media star of the Munich Games was the petite Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut, whose three gold medals helped establish Soviet dominance in the female gymnastics events and captured the attention of fans worldwide.
The 1976 Montreal Games were marred by the boycott of 22 African nations protesting the fact that despite the New Zealand rugby team touring South Africa in defiance of international sporting sanctions, New Zealand was still allowed to compete. To compound the situation, the host nation suffered an unusually long winter, industrial disputes, and a lack of funds, which made it impossible to finish work on the Olympic facilities in time for the opening ceremony. However, the performances of the athletes did not suffer from the political and national disputes. Despite the problems, the Games were well organized and, following the 1972 terrorist attack in Munich, security was tight.
o Nadia Comaneci was the star of the Games. She achieved her first perfect 10 on the uneven parallel bars, and the judges awarded her the maximum mark seven times.
o With his victory in platform diving, Italian Klaus Dibiasi became the first Olympic diver to win three successive gold medals, and to win medals in four Olympic Games.
o The US and East Germany dominated the swimming events. Only Great Britain’s David Wilkie and the Soviet Union’s Marina Koshevaya (both winning their 200m finals in record times) upset the monopoly.
As a result of the US-led boycott in protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, only 80 countries were represented at the Moscow Games [http://www.nike-trainers.com]. Notable absentees included Japan, West Germany, and the US. Western countries have frequently referred to the Moscow Games as being of a low standard, and have raised doubts about the sporting value of the results and medals. Nonetheless, although not of the highest calibre, the Moscow Games were hardly sub-standard: 36 world records, 39 European records, and 73 Olympic records bore testimony to the high level of talent and competition on display.
o Soviet swimmer Vladimir Salnikov won three gold medals: in the 400m and 1,500m freestyle, and 4x200m relay. He was also the first to swim 1,500m in a time of less than 15 minutes.
o British middle-distance runners Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe faced each other in two memorable duels. In the 800m, Ovett won the gold medal just ahead of his compatriot. Six days later, a determined Coe redeemed himself in the 1,500m, taking gold while Ovett could only manage bronze.
o By winning the decathlon, Great Britain’s Daley Thompson became “king of the athletes”, beating home crowd favourite Yuri Kutsenko into second place.
Los Angeles 1984
Although a revenge boycott led by the Soviet Union depleted the field in certain sports, a record 140 nations took part in the first privately funded tournament in Olympic history. More than 30 sponsors together contributed more than $500 million, while other companies funded the building of new sports facilities, in a deal that allowed them to advertise on the admission tickets. The ABC television network paid $225 million for the exclusive television rights, thereby ensuring that most events started in the evenings during prime television time in the US. With these vast amounts of money involved, many critics held the view that what had once been a festival of amateur sport was now a purely commercial spectacle.
o American diver Greg Louganis remained unbeaten from the 3m springboard as well as from the 10m platform.
o Sebastian Coe became the first repeat winner of the men’s 1,500m.
o In the women’s 400m hurdles, Nawal El Moutawakel led from start to finish, becoming the first Moroccan athlete to win a gold medal.
o British decathlete gold medallist Daley Thompson finished just one point off the world record.
Happily, the large-scale boycotts of Moscow and Los Angeles did not recur at Seoul. For the first time in 12 years, all leading Olympic nations, except Cuba and Ethiopia, took part in the Olympic Games. Although the drug disqualification of sprinter Ben Johnson became the biggest story of the 1988 Olympics, the Seoul Games were highlighted by numerous exceptional performances and 27 new world records. Once again the Soviet Union (55 gold medals) and East Germany (37) demonstrated their sporting superiority over the Western nations by finishing first and second in the medal table.
o American swimmer Matt Biondi won seven medals, including five gold. His gold medals came in the 50m and 100m freestyle, and all three relays.
o Soviet pole-vaulter Serguei Bubka won his first gold medal, clearing 5.90m at the third attempt. Despite being a world record holder and dominating the sport for 14 years (1983-97), it was his only Olympic medal.
o West German speed skater and cyclist Christa Luding-Rothenburger made Olympic history after becoming the first person to win Summer and Winter Olympic medals in the same year. After winning gold and silver in the speed skating at Calgary, she won silver in the 1,000m sprint cycling.
Spanish IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch brought the Games to his home city of Barcelona, expressing his gratitude to the Games’ sponsors at the final celebrations. The IOC received millions of dollars in revenue from the sale of television broadcasting rights, although many athletes complained that the start times of many events were arranged to suit primetime television advertising slots. Teams from a post-apartheid South Africa and a unified Germany were welcomed back onto the world stage. Men’s basketball was open to professionals for the first time, allowing the creation of an American “Dream Team”, which included Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Charles Barkley.
o Spaniard Fermin Cacho Ruiz was not one of the favourites in the 1,500m. Taking
advantage of the fact that the race was run at an unusually slow pace, he started his sprint with half a lap to go and with the crowd behind him, took gold, becoming the first Spanish runner ever to win a gold medal.
o Great Britain’s Linford Christie is the oldest man (32 years) to win Olympic gold in the 100m. He added the World Championship title the following year.
o In the closely fought women’s 100m, Jamaican Merlene Ottey was just 0.06 seconds behind the winner yet still only finished in fifth place.
The 1996 Atlanta Games were given a poignant start when the cauldron was lit by a visibly shaking Muhammad All, by this time suffering from Parkinson’s disease. On 27 July, during a concert held in the Centennial Olympic Park, a terrorist bomb killed one person and injured a further 110 people, but the Atlanta Games are best remembered for their sporting achievements, including Michael Johnson’s extraordinary 200m and 400m double victory. A record-setting 79 nations won medals, 53 of them winning gold.
o French runner Marie-Jose Perec won the 200m and 400m, breaking the 400m Olympic record and becoming the first woman to win the 400m at two consecutive Olympics. She is the most successful French female athlete of all time.
o Russian swimmer Aleksandr Popov won two gold medals in the 50m and 100m freestyle – overtaking American swimmer Gary Hall, Jr on both occasions – and two silver medals in the relays.
o Maim Suleymanoglu of Turkey became the first weightlifler to win three consecutive Olympic titles.
o American Michael Johnson’s double gold over 200m and 400m was the first for a man in Olympic history.
The Sydney Games were the largest yet, with 10,651 athletes competing in 300 events. Despite their size, the Games were well organized, renewing faith in the Olympic Movement. Athletes from North and South Korea marched together under the same flag, while four athletes from East Timor (it only became a sovereign state in 2002) were allowed to participate under the Olympic flag as individual athletes. Cathy Freeman, an indigenous Australian, was given the honour of lighting the Olympic flame in the opening ceremony, and repaid the compliment by winning the 400m final in front of an ecstatic home crowd.
o After being kept away from competitions for over a year by serious shoulder and back problems, French judo champion David Douillet won his second consecutive Olympic gold by beating Shinichi Shinohara of Japan in an exciting final.
o 17-year-old Australian swimming sensation Ian Thorpe won his first gold medal in the 400m freestyle by breaking his own world record. He then swam the anchor leg in the 4x100m freestyle to win again. A third gold came from the 4x200m freestyle, and he added a silver medal in the 200m freestyle.
o German canoeist Birgit Fischer won two golds in the K-2 and K-4 500m to become the first female Olympian to win medals 20 years apart.
In 2004 the Olympic Games returned to Greece, home of both the ancient Olympics and the first modern Olympics, For the first time ever, a record 201 National Olympic Committees (NOCs) participated in the Olympic Games, The overall tally for events on the programme was 301 (one more than in Sydney 2000). The popularity of the Games soared to new heights as 3.9 billion people had access to the television coverage, compared to 3.6 billion for Sydney 2000.
o Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj became the first runner since Paavo Nurmi in 1924 to win both the 1,500m and the 5,000m. In the 1,500m, he was passed by Bernard Lagat in the home stretch, but came back to win. In the 5,000m, he came from behind to defeat 10,000m champion Kenenisa Bekele.
o Turkish weightlifter Nurcan Taylan won the gold medal in the women’s 48kg category. She was the first Turkish woman in any sport to win an Olympic championship.
o Argentina’s men’s basketball team put an end to the domination of the US’s professionals, defeating them 89-81 in the semi-finals. The Argentinians went on to beat Italy 84-69 in the final.
o German canoeist Birgit Fischer became the youngest and oldest Olympic canoeing gold medallist, winning her gold medals in K-1 and K-4 500m -24 years apart, and the first female athlete to win gold in six different Olympics.