Friday 17 February 2012

1912 Summer Olympics Stockholm: V Olympiad

Nations 28 (+6)
Competitors 2407 (+399)
Sports 14 (-8)
Events 102 (-8)

5 May - 22 July 1912 Stockholm, Sweden

In 1909, with only one application to host the V Olympiad Stockholm was duly selected as the hosts for the 1912 games.

It was the fourth time in the five official Olympiads that we had been in Europe. However, the final continent Asia finally had representation at these games with Japan taking part for the first time. The other newcomer also broke new ground as Egypt was the first Arab Nation. Portugal, Iceland, Turkey (as the Ottoman Empire) were also new nations.

Stockholm had wanted to expand on London including ice skating in the games by adding a week of winter sports into their Olympics. However, the Swedish based Nordic Games didn't want multiple sports in the early part of the 1912-13 season detracting from their own event scheduled once again for Stockholm.

There was no boxing at the 1912 the last time it would be missing from the Olympic programme. However, the three day event which appeared in St. Louis returned and has never left, as did road cycling which had only appeared at the first Games in Athens.

An introduction to these games was the use of electronic timing for the athletics events. But there were also the introduction of some multi-event disciplines.

Jim Thorpe the greatest sportsman on earth

Jim Thorpe
The Pentathlon had already been around in the Olympic programme since the Intercalated Games of 1906 this time there was the addition of the 10 sport event, the decathlon had arrived. The event arrived in the format we still recognise today apart from the fact that is took part from Saturday 13th July to Monday 15th over 3 days instead of the normal two these day. But the order of the events was the same starting with the 100m, then long jump, shot put, high jump and 400m which now concludes the first day. Then discus, 110m hurdles, pole vault, javalin and 1500m which now round off the event on day two.

One man dominated the pentathlon on 7 July and this event a week later. He was a mixed race Caucasian and Sac and Fox native American called Jim Thorpe. He won 4 of the 5 events in the pentahlon then a further 4 from the 10 of the Decathlon. Indeed between the 26 Pentathletes and 29 Decathletes his worse event placings were two fourths in the Decathlon's 400m and javelin.

The Pentathlon did award points on the basis of position, but the Decathlon brought with it a new scoring system based on the performance of the athlete on the day against a base. Thorpe's score of 8412.955, which equates to 6649 on today's points system, using a sand pit to land the pole vault with wooden not fibre glass poles, and other equipment differences would have been good enough to stand as Olympic record until 1932. 

Thorpe as well as the two multi-event wins also came 4th in the High Jump (he jumped the same height in the Decathlon) and 7th in the Long Jump (although the 7.07m he jumped in the Pentathlon would have been 4th in the individual).

However, in 1913 Thorpe was stripped of his two Olympic gold medals as he had been a semi-professional baseball player while a student with Rocky Mount in the Eastern Carolina League and therefore in breach of the then strict amateurism rules. Thorpe unlike other college athletes had not used an alias for these summer payments of as little as $2 ($47 today) per game and a max of $35 ($877) per week. He wrote to the Amateur Athletic Union saying:
 "I hope I will be partly excused by the fact that I was simply an Indian schoolboy and did not know all about such things. In fact, I did not know that I was doing wrong, because I was doing what I knew several other college men had done, except that they did not use their own names". 
But the AAU revoked his amateur status retrospectively, a decision upheld by the IOC. There were several appeals against the decision but even his team mate from those Games, later IOC President Avery Brundage said, "Ignorance is no excuse."

Eventually in 1983, thirty years after his death, the IOC decided to reinstate Thorpe as co-champion with Ferdinand Bie (Nor) in the Pentathlon and Hugo Wieslander (Swe) Decathlon, though both men always considered Thorpe to be true champion. King Gustav V 

Birth of the Modern Penathlon
The USA's 2nd Lt. Patton in the Modern Pentathlon

Baron Pierre de Coubertin created a new event for the 1912 games; an event that is still with us today. Initially it was designed as a military only event as the disciplines where those that the baron believed were necessary for a military officer.

First there was 10 metre pistol contest firing 20 shots with 40 seconds allowed for each shot. This was followed by a 300m swim (this is now 200m). Epée fencing where each competitor takes on everyone else in a one minute duel, a hit counts as a win, no hits counts as a loss for both. Next up there was jumping on a strange horse after just 20 minutes acclimation. The final event was a 4000m cross country run.

The Swedes took this new event very well, they took six of the first seven places in that first event in 1912. The man who broke in amongst them was 2nd Lieutenant George S. Patton of the US Army. He was an expert swordsman, indeed he helped the following year Model 1913 Cavalry Sabre, but was let down by his shooting. He claimed that his larger .38 caliber pistol made the holes in his target larger than the .22 caliber rounds used by his opponents, and that some of his shots went through earlier holes. However his was still penalised for one and came a lowly 20th in that event, he would be 7th in the swim, 4th in the fencing, 6th in the equestrian and 3rd in the run, to finish 5th.

He never complained about the incident in the shooting but said:

The high spirit of sportsmanship and generosity manifested throughout speaks volumes for the character of the officers of the present day. There was not a single incident of a protest or any unsportsmanlike quibbling or fighting for points which I may say, marred some of the other civilian competitions at the Olympic Games. Each man did his best and took what fortune sent them like a true soldier, and at the end we all felt more like good friends and comrades than rivals in a severe competition, yet this spirit of friendship in no manner detracted from the zeal with which all strove for success.

He would later rise to the rank of General eventually famously taking command of the US Third Army in World War II.

Marathon tales

Two men in the marathon were to face different fates. Portuguese athlete Francisco Lázaro had carried his nation's standard in the parade of athletes at the opening ceremony on 29th June. On 15th July he lined up with 68 others at the start of the Marathon. It was an exceptionally hot day and Lázaro rubbed wax over his body to prevent sunburn. At the 30km mark he collapsed and suffering from severe dehydration later died, he was the first fatality in competition at the Olympics.

Kanaguri Shisō at the start and end of his
Stockholm Olympic Marathon
The other is Kanaguri Shisō of Japan. In the heat of that marathon he fell unconscious and was cared for by a local farming family. Once he recovered he returned to Japan without notifying officials.Swedish officials considered him missing for 50 years until it was discovered that he had competed in intervening marathons including coming 16th in the 1920 Olympic marathon in 2'48:45.4 and a DNF in the 1924 event. He ins considered the father of the Japanese marathon running tradition.

However, in 1966 after he had been rediscovered Swedish Television contacted him to see if he wanted to complete his first Olympic Marathon. He did and therefore completed the full  40.2km in a time of 54 years, 8 months, 6 days, 8 hours, 32 minutes and 20.379 seconds.

Proud Finn but the Russian Flag

Finland had sent a separate team to the Games but on the nine times that they won gold the Russian flag was raised in their 'honour'. One man had the dubious honour three times, the first of the so-called Flying Finns. He took gold in the 5000m, 10000m and individual Cross Country (which helped his nation pick up silver in the team event). 

However, despite winning these three medals he saw the white, blue and red flag of Russia being raised and not the flag of Finland. It made him say that he "almost wished he hadn't won." 

The First World War interupted his sporting career and when the next Games came around in 1920 he was 31 and taking part in the Marathon. He finally got to see the flag of Finland raised in his honour and his national anthem played. 

When the Games came to Finland in 1952 he was, along with his successor in Finnish distance running Paavo Nurmi chosen for the honour of lighting the flame.

See also: The full list of my blog posts covering the past Olympics

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