|Illustration of King Edward VII officially opening the 1908 Olympic Games, published in The Illustrated London News (Image: Wikimedia Commons)|
"The Olympic Games"
(originally appeared in the Auckland Star, 24 Aug 1908)
In spite of rain, mud, mackintoshes, umbrellas, and other prosaic accessories, there was something very impressive about the opening ceremony at the Olympic Games . One felt that it was a privilege to be present at the scene the like of which England has never known before, and cannot see again for another sixty years. It gave one a sense of the continuity of history, a feeling of kinship with the men of old, to watch in the stadium of London , in A.D. 1908, a revival of the famous games at which the athletes of the ancient world competed for the crown of wild olive two thousand years ago. The world is a larger place now than it was in the days of the Greek Olympic games. No fewer than nineteen countries have sent their athletic champions to London to compete at the stadium in the friendly rivalry of sport. The world has grown larger, and it has also grown more peaceful, since the days of Ancient Greece .
|The athletes of the United Kingdom parade during the opening ceremony in 1908 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)|
|King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra arriving at the royal box at White City Stadium during the opening ceremony of the 1908 Games (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)|
|Norwegian athletes march in the parade during the opening ceremony of the 1908 Games (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)|
|The parade of athletes during the opening ceremony at the 1908 Games (Photo: Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)|
|Flags displayed during the opening ceremony of the 1908 Games (Photo: Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)|
1. The 1908 Olympic Games were held in London. The Games had originally been scheduled to be contested in Rome, but they had to be shifted to England after Mount Vesuvius erupted in 1906. The eruption killed 100 people and devastated the city of Naples, and the money that had been earmarked for the Games had to be reallocated to rebuilding efforts in Naples. The opening ceremony of the London Games was held on April 27, 1908.
2. The White City Stadium was built for the 1908 Games and stood until 1985. It also hosted a match during the 1966 World Cup. For many years, the stadium was used for greyhound racing. And here's a good bit of trivia: the distance of the modern marathon was officially established at the 1908 Games. The starting point was at Windsor Castle (just below the nursery window, at the request of Princess Mary); the finish line was inside the stadium, just in front of the royal box (and the king). Remember, marathon runners: you're essentially running from King George VI to King Edward VII when you finish those 26.2!
3. Ah, hindsight. Only six years after these games, World War I broke out in Europe. It was one of the deadliest conflicts in recorded history.
4. White City Stadium held 68,000 spectators in 1908. Curiously, a number of the photographs from the opening ceremony show that large sections of seats in the arena appear to be empty.
|Queen Alexandra presents a special gilded cup to Dorando Pietri (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)|
6. Some of the Swedish athletes apparently refused to participate in the opening ceremony because their flag had not been displayed above the stadium.
7. A number of Finnish athletes apparently also refused to participate, as they were compelled to march behind the Russian flag rather than the Finnish flag. (Finland was part of the Russian empire in 1908.)
8. Always rebellious, the American athletes did more than just disappoint sartorially. The defiant American flag bearer, Ralph Rose, refused to dip the American flag before the king in the royal box during the parade of athletes.
9. "Blues" are awards earned by athletes at Oxford and Cambridge. There are complicated sets of rules for who gets a blue and the different classifications of blues. Some Australian universities also award blues.