History of the Olympics Page 2

Psychological Training and Fitness for the Olympics

The development of our understanding about the psychological aspects of sport, training and exercise is perhaps the area of greatest development in the era of modern sport. The discipline of psychology is not a modern area of study and development; for thousands of years the study of the mind has fascinated mankind, from Egypt to ancient Greece and Chinese culture. Even psychology within sport is not a new concept. The psychological impact of sport and exercise was well understood and used during the time of the Ancient Olympics, indeed the inseparable connection between mind and body for good health and well being was known and advocated by the philosophers Plato, Homer and Aristotle. The development of modern sport was also born out of psychological thinking. The beneficial effects not just on health but as a social tool and to improve the overall wellbeing and quality of life of the working man was a key idea behind the increase in sporting activity during the development of sport in England during the 19th century. Even the Modern Olympics itself was formed through the idea of changing the mindset of mankind towards that of the peace movement advocated by the founders of the Modern Olympics.

The use the psychological impact of Sport and the Olympics as a tool for wider social effects has therefore been a continuing development of original principals. However, the impact of psychological effects on performance and the development of psychological strategies to improve sporting success is a more recent development.

Though the effects of psychology on sporting and physical performance has also been known for centuries, it has only been with development of professional sport has our understanding of it really enhanced. Professional sport has created an increased environment of competition, and with the stakes ever increasing, anything that can give a competitor an advantage has seen significant focus of research and investment. The level of psychological understanding and management is perhaps the indicator of when a sport has moved to becoming truly professional.

Psychology in sport covers many areas; from the psychological aspects of each individual sport, the unique psychology of competition and differing competitive environments, the affect of training on an athletes psychological mindset both in and out of competition and the impact of each of these on an athletes ability to reach optimal performance levels.

Sport Specific Psychology

The unique psychological aspects of an individual sport are important to understand. To take two Olympic examples; 100m sprinting and hockey, we can see there are several differences within the elements of each sport that affect psychological condition. A sprinter must be completely self-focused; their concentration is purely on their own performance and making sure that they can produce their highest speed possible. A hockey player, on the other hand, must not only think about their own performance, but is also affected by the actions of the players in their team, the opposition and that of the referee.

Understanding the basic psychological requirements of each sport for optimal performance has been a vital first step for establishing how it is affected by competition and training, and the development of modern strategies and techniques to deal with the impact.

Psychological Effects of Competition

The competitive environment will have a varying effect on the psychological state of an athlete and their subsequent ability to perform. Take our sprinter; running on the track with the coach in training is a completely different situation to performing in an Olympic final. Even though the action about to be performed is theoretically the same in both situations, on the training track there is less to think about other than the running action. However, at the final, there are multiple affects on the athletes state of mind; the importance of the occasion, that this is the panicle and defining moment of the athletes career, the affects of the crowd, the actions of the other athletes leading up to and during the event, performances in the qualifiers, the athletes preparation and many other aspects. The study into understanding each of these areas has seen a high level of focus and advancement during the modern era of sport not only in our understanding, but also in how to manage and minimise the negative effects, while maximising the positive.

Training and Psychology

The psychological impact of an athlete’s training program both long term and short term has also become a highly important part of preparing an athlete for competition. This has not only involved preparing the athlete during their training periods for the psychological demands come competition time, but also helping the athlete manage the psychological impact of training to maximise the benefit of the training itself. Peak performance requires taking the body to the limit of what is possible, and as a result the body has natural mechanisms built in to tell the athlete to stop, in order to prevent the body breaking down. The ability to override these natural psychological inhibitions and improve ‘mind over body’ ability; forcing the body to continue to perform and override physical restrictions, increases the effectiveness of an athletes training. There is also the management of the psychological impact of the training program as a whole. Each training session will have a psychological impact on the athlete in both a positive and negative way. Structuring the program to gain the most benefit out of the positive mental impact, while minimising the negative affects, will allow an athlete to continue and complete their training program successfully. Allowing the negative impact of each training session to go unchecked will result in a compound effect, with each session increasing the negative mindset of the athlete and eventually leading to the modern term ‘burn out’. The development of our understanding and management of this psychological condition is now a key part of psychology in modern sport.

Psychological Traits of the Individual

While there are general psychological aspects of each sport, competition and training that can be applied in a general sense, the psychological profile of the individual is highly important in determining how they will be affected by each, and what strategies are needed and will be effective in managing the affects. Our general understanding and development of psychology within sport is only effective in improving performance if it can be appropriately applied to and used by the athlete for their unique psychological situation. Training for the Olympics must include the individual psychological conditioning of the athlete, using the knowledge of the general areas of their sport and environment but applying it to their unique profile. Understanding the psychological variations of an athlete, that are both predictable and unpredictable, and training an athlete to cope with them during competition must be a key aspect of this individual psychological training.


R. Harris

Bsc Physical Education, Sports Science and Physics, Loughborough University Founder

Advancement of Women at the Olympics

The development of women’s events at the Olympics has been even more rapid than the men’s events in recent years. However, although relative equality between the men’s and women’s events has only occurred in the past few decades, women have played a part in the Olympics since the Ancient Games of Olympia.

Initially, women were not allowed to participate in the ancient games, and even married women were barred from attending as spectators, partly because many of the events were performed nude, although prostitutes or virgins were deemed suitable to watch. Indeed, in the very early games women were given away as prizes to the winners of chariot races. Gradually, though, women started to participate in the Ancient Olympics, first through coaching, such as Kallipateria in 440BC who coached boxing, and then through competition with the likes of Kynisca, who was a Spartan princess that became the very first female Olympic Champion in 392 BC, and later the first female champion horse trainer.

Although it took several centuries for women to be included in the ancient Olympics, they did have their own Games of athletics competition, the Heraea, which started around 1000BC. These games involved races between virgins grouped by age, with the winners receiving olive crowns, a share of the sacrifice to the goddess Hera and pomegranates, the symbol of fertility. The formation of Heraean Games comes from the legend of the goddess Hippodamia, who assembled the ‘Sixteen Woman’ and arranged the Heraean Games to pay tribute to Hera, who helped Hippodamia defeat her father in order to marry Pelops. These games were highly important in Greek mythology, and likely gave the name to the month Parthenios, in reference to the virgin (Parthenia in ancient Greek)  racers of the games, and the tribute of the event to Hera Parthenos (Hera the Virgin), who had her virginity continually renewed thanks to her marriage to the Zeus, the Greek ‘God of Gods’.

In the modern Olympic Games, women did not participate at the very first Olympics in Athens in 1896, but in 1900 the Games coincided with the World Fair events in Paris celebrating the new century. Though not officially allowed to compete by the Olympic Organisers, the Olympics was seen as part of the overall celebrations and the organisers of the World Fair allowed women to compete in a number of sports including tennis, golf, yachting, equestrian, croquet and ballooning.  

The first female Modern Olympic champion was Helen de Pourtales, with the first team medal won in 1912 by the British 4x100m freestyle relay team. Since then, women’s events have continued to be added to the Olympic Schedule, with gymnastics in 1928, along with athletics, although only 5 women’s athletic events were allowed. Because of this, the British team, the most successful at the time, boycotted the Olympics in protest at the handful of accepted events.

At the London 2012 Olympics, for the first time women will be able to participate in all the same sports as men due to the introduction of women’s boxing for London 2012, though events still vary to suit the differences in participation around the world in men’s and women’s sports. Women also have their own exclusive events, while rhythmic gymnastics and synchronised swimming are only on the women’s schedule. Several women’s events at the Olympics are also now of a higher status than the equivalent men’s events, with beach volleyball and Football two examples where the women’s event is of greater importance. Women also compete in some events along side men in the Equestrian sports.


R. Harris

Bsc Physical Education, Sports Science and Physics, Loughborough University Founder

Gender Differences: The Development of  Differences in Training and Fitness Programmes Between Men and Women


As the Olympic movement has grown and become more scientific and professional, so too has the training methods used to prepare athletes for elite competition. A natural consequence of this, particularly with the advancement of women’s sport as a separate competition of equal standing, has been independent development of training and fitness methods used for men and women which has resulted in significant differences in approach and desired outcomes.

Along with the obvious differences in training requirements as a result of variations between some men’s and women’s events, there are clear biological, physiological and even psychological differences between men and women when it comes to sport and sporting competition. With the Olympics being the very elite level for most athletes, the implications of these differences for training and fitness preparation become even greater in order to achieve sporting success. Biological differences include variations in hormonal types and balances, genetic variations and other body functions and processes, while physiological differences such as muscle fibre composition, body fat levels and distribution, bone structure and density, lung and heart capacity, joint structure and flexibility can all have a significant impact on the training methods used for Olympic preparation. Potential differences in psychological and emotional responses to competition, competition environment and training itself also need to be understood in order to develop appropriate, personalised coping strategies to optimise performance, while the inseparable interaction between body and mind should also be taken into account with regards to differences between men and women in a sporting context.

Physiological Gender Differences and Impact on Training for the Olympics

It is known that, in general, men have greater muscle mass compared to women both in absolute terms and in percentage of overall body mass. Men also have a higher aerobic capacity, with a greater amount and percentage of haemoglobin that transports oxygen in the blood. Women, by contrast, have an overall lower body mass, with a higher percentage of body fat. While these differences can be manipulated through training, they are largely down to hormonal and genetic makeup of men and women, particularly crucial in the physical development phases of early adolescence. As a result, there are limiting factors that have significant implications in many sports when comparing the training methods required for men and women.

For example, the greater predisposition of men for increased muscle mass and physical size gives a distinct advantage and creates a significant difference between men and women when training for strength and power events such as sprinting and weight lifting. Men also have a greater ability to use the anaerobic and phosphocreatine energy systems in maximal power exercises than women, who rely to an increased extent on the aerobic energy systems for the same types of exercise. This enables men to not only produce greater force, due to the increased muscle mass, but also continue to exert this maximum force for a longer period of time. This is shown in the greater ability of men to maintain top speed during sprinting for longer, where as women experience greater speed drop off as they are unable to maintain the anaerobic fuel supply required for maximal contraction.

However, other Olympic events are more complex, with the increased aerobic capacity and haemoglobin count offering an advantage to men in the marathon, but the disposition of women for lower overall body mass and a more efficient breakdown of fats for energy, with reduced toxic effects, provide them with an advantage in the same event. Understanding these types of differences, their impact on each other and the implications for an athlete’s events are critical to effectively develop and maximise the physical potential of each athlete.

Biological Gender Differences and Impact on Training for the Olympics

Biological processes such as menstruation also cause a significant variation in training methods for female athletes. High intensity exercise of long duration experienced by elite athletes places a large amount of strain on the body and its processes, and this can disrupt and even halt menstrual periods, though this is not inevitable as a result of elite level physical activity. These potential effects of exercise will affect the training of young women going through the crucial initial menstrual period, the menarche, while women who have reached menarche may have to alter training methods if it causes a disturbance in the usual menstrual pattern, a condition known as secondary amenorrhoea, common among female athletes at a significantly increase proportion compared to the general population.

Variations in the effects of menstruation and pre-menstruation problems, or PMT, will also cause variations in training between male and female Olympic athletes. Effects can include significantly increased water retention as well as psychological disturbances. While physical exercise has been shown to help with the physical disruptions, psychological impacts of PMT can cause significant disruptions to physical performance and training ability.

Psychological Gender Differences and Impact on Training for the Olympics

While many psychological traits within sport are similar for men and women, and appropriate strategies to effectively mange them can be used across gender, there are distinct areas of psychological predispositions that vary between men and women, both as a result of biological and environmental influences, which can have an effect on training and subsequent overall performance.

One of these areas is the issue of body image and the increased vulnerability of female athletes, particularly in their adolescence and early adulthood, to develop anorexia and other eating disorders. There have been significant increases in eating disorders in the past few decades, particularly among women, as a result of a multitude of factors such as media imagery of the ‘perfect’ body, increased peer pressure to conform to supposed ideals and the increased availability and quantity of food in our diets that can cause difficulty in maintaining a suitable body weight. Athletes, even at beginner level, have an increased risk in developing eating disorders due to the increased pressures it can place on food intake. For optimal performance, appropriate nutrition is vital, thus placing an extra stress on food selection and quantities consumed. While a diet suited to optimal performance will also improve overall health, including body weight, problems can occur when the focus of this increased attention to detail of food eaten shifts from performance to body image. This is particularly a concern for young female athletes, who often grow up playing sport and as a result have an athletic figure. However, praise and affection too often results because of this, conforming to today’s ‘ideal’ look, instead of because of their athletic achievement. This can cause young female athletes to value their look above that of their athletic ability, and their objectives in their eating switch to maintaining how they look, rather than suited to athletic performance. This can lead to a downward spiral, as reduced eating often occurs, causing drops in performance which lead to changes in body composition, causing further reduced eating and so on. Understanding the potential, particularly of female athletes, to develop anorexia and other eating disorders and the psychological developments that go with it are important to maintain a healthy psychological approach to sport and exercise that is performance based, not imaged based, that also retains high levels of enjoyment for the individual.


R. Harris

Bsc Physical Education, Sports Science and Physics, Loughborough University Founder

Lessons Learnt from the Beijing Olympics for London 2012

One of the key aspects of the continuation of the Olympic Games in meeting the ever increasing demands and improving quality and standards of the event as a whole is the transfer of knowledge gained from previous Olympics. The Beijing Olympics was widely praised for its organisation and grandeur, creating a unique Olympics and producing significant advances in many of the fields that are involved on organising and hosting an Olympics. The London Olympics in 2012 will provide the setting for a unique and contrasting Olympics compared to Beijing, with Britain being the birthplace of modern sport and the home of many of the worlds top sporting competitions, while also still being at the cutting edge of sporting excellence and technological development. However, with less than half the budget and a fraction of the manpower that was used for the Beijing games, the London Olympics will not only have to use all of its existing knowledge and infrastructure, but will also benefit greatly from the lessons learned from Beijing, both what went wrong and what was a success.

In November 2008, the International Olympic Council (IOC) hosted its week long Official Debriefing of the Beijing 2008 Games, specifically designed to pass on the knowledge gained from the event to the next host city, London. This forms a key part of the IOC’s Olympic Games Knowledge Management (OGKM) program, which is broken down into three main areas; personal experience, services and information. The debriefing covers a wide range of areas from access to stadiums, personal experience of spectators and athletes, sufficient facilities and quality, information on events and services both Olympic and non Olympic, communications and media provisions and various logistics requirements. 

London is also drawing on lessons learnt from other past games, such as Athens and Sydney, by creating a more compact Olympic Village with shorter travelling distances between most venues for the athletes, their support staff, officials and spectators to enhance the personal experience of all those attending the games. Carefully integrating the unique history and culture of London and the wider United Kingdom, both sporting and non sporting, to create a unique identity and feel to the London Olympics is also a key part of the objectives of London 2012, as is the continuing theme of creating a sporting legacy.

One of the main lessons learnt from recent Olympic Games that have been highly successful, such as Atlanta, Sydney, Athens and Beijing, has been to make sure that once the Olympics is over and the worlds focus has gone, there is something significant and substantial left behind; a permanent change left by the Olympic movement. This involves producing significant and lasting redevelopment of the East London region where the Olympic Park is situated, improved infrastructure and transportation linking, long lasting increases in sporting participation and interest throughout the UK, long term economic growth in the specific areas of the host boroughs of London and the wider United Kingdom, a lasting cultural legacy and long term, world class sporting facilities and venues that are readily accessible and used by the local and wider communities.

One of the noticeable improvements with the London Olympics, and part of the focus of the London Games on creating a lasting legacy, is the development of areas and communities outside the United Kingdom. The Olympics has always had a major impact on the host city and nation, as well as the wider continent, but London 2012 has initiated a lengthy development program in countries in Africa and Asia as well as other developing nations to bring about lasting change, both sporting and in a wider context. As the founding nation of modern sport, Britain continues to play host to top sporting events throughout the year, and has produced and has access to some of the biggest sporting institutions and superstars in the world, such as the Football Association Premier League and its past and present stars like David Beckham, the past two Formula 1 world champions in Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, major sporting events seen around the word such as Wimbledon, the Snooker World Championships and many more. By using a combination of this unique expertise and icons of word sport, London 2012 is aiming to reach out further than ever before to small communities around the world in the build up to, during and following the London Olympics to leave its mark not only on those in the UK, but on the lives of millions around the world. 


R. Harris

Bsc Physical Education, Sports Science and Physics, Loughborough University Founder

Improving Standards at the Olympics

Since its inception in 1986, the Modern Olympics has seen an ever increasing rate of development, particularly in the past few decades as modern professional sport has boomed. This has lead to a dramatic increase in standards when compared to the very first games. The Beijing games in 2008 saw significant advances in standards in a wide range of fields, while London is promising to provide further advances still as well as embarking an a different direction in the identity of the Games.

The standard of athletic and sporting ability of the athletes has unquestionably improved since over the past few years, with world and Olympic records continually being broken at successive Olympics. However, the increase in technology has lead to questions about the validity of many results as to whether new records are down to improvements in athletic standards or equipment. The increased sophistication of performance enhancing drugs has also placed a further question mark over how much standards have improved because of the athlete or because of science. However, in more recent years Olympic sports have seemingly become cleaner, with more rigorous and advanced testing regimes, yet records continue to be broken. While the relationship between science, the athlete and improved performance will continue to be debated, there is little doubt that the boundaries of basic physical and mental ability have been dramatically pushed back as the Modern Olympics has developed.

The standard of the Olympics in a non sporting context have also seen substantial improvements in standards over the past few games. As the Olympics has grown, with increased numbers of athletes and their support staff and spectators interested in watching the events, the infrastructure and facilities required to host the Olympics successfully and meet the ever increasing demands have developed at a fast rate. The need for improved venues with greater capacity, improved facilities and enhanced spectator experience has resulted in substantial improvements in architectural construction, design and innovation to meet these needs. With the number of sports and events also increasing, the number of venues has also risen, leading to a need for greater and more efficient transport between them.

Information provisions during the Olympics have probably seen the greatest improvements over the last 10 years. The advancement of the internet and in traditional media provisions such as television and reporting has brought the Olympics to almost every person on the planet. Accessibility for viewing the Olympic events continues to develop ahead of the London Olympics, with multi-level viewing and user manipulation advancing further. Information surrounding the Olympic events and as a whole has continually increased in volume and accessibility, bring huge improvements in the understanding of spectators in the various sports and relevant fields. Speed of information transfer with the continual improvements in mobile devices and speed of processing allows provides further accessibility to not only access,  but also to contribute to and participate in the reporting and discussions of all aspects of the Olympics, both sporting and non-sporting. However, there is a debate as to whether this increase in usability and access to information and information provision has increased the standard of what is available and not just the volume.


R. Harris

Bsc Physical Education, Sports Science and Physics, Loughborough University Founder

The Development of the Internet and its Impact on the London 2012 Olympics

Although the internet has been with us for some time and has played an important role at previous Olympics, the internet has continued to develop and for London 2012 will play a greatly enhanced role in expanding the reach of the Olympics and enhancing peoples experience around the world.

Since Beijing in 2008, video streaming via the internet has significantly improved in quality, speed and reliability of broadcast. Live sporting events can now be viewed reliably online without interruption that used to spoil the experience for the user. With broadcasting over the internet now much similar to that of normal television broadcasting, the advantages and benefits of the internet can now be integrated with high quality viewing. Multi-option viewing that is commonplace with television broadcasting can now be replicated, and even enhanced, with internet viewing. For London 2012 all events will be broadcast live over the internet, giving users much greater control over which events they want to view, even allowing for multiple, simultaneous viewing of events in a way that is not possible on television.

This will have important consequences in brining the London Olympics closer to people and make them feel more involved not just in the UK, but around the world. With the ever increasing portability of computers and other mobile devices that can access the internet, such as mobile phones and pads, people will be able to watch any event live wherever they are in a way that has not been possible before. Watching an event unfold live is a unique experience that can never be replicated viewing a replay. Knowing that the event has not been decided yet, and that anything could still happen to affect the outcome, that the person or team that the spectator is supporting still might just win through, greatly enhances the excitement and experience of the spectator. For London 2012 people will be able to experience this many more times than they have previously due to the much greater access to very high quality live video streaming via the internet. As a result, people all around the world will feel much closer and involved in the London Olympic Games, able to watch their preferred events live and cheer on their country’s athletes.

Not only will people around the world be able to watch any event live, but they will also be able to watch any event again whenever they like. Some people will still not be able to watch some events they want to live but instead of missing out, at London 2012 they will be able to go online and watch the events they missed anytime. This is something that has not been available at past Olympics to the same degree, and something that is not yet available on normal television broadcasting. As a result, fewer people will feel like they have ‘missed out’ at the Olympics, enabling everyone to watch all the events and all the competitors they had been looking forward to seeing, brining people closer to the games even more.

Interaction and Understanding Through the Internet

Perhaps the greatest success of the internet has been to allow people to connect and interact with each other all over the world in a way never before possible. With the development of social networking, blogs, forums and others, information can be brought to people incredibly rapidly and also allows people to comment and pass analysis of their own. With live streaming of events over the internet, people will now be able to watch the events while communicating with people around the world at the same time while the events unfold in a way that has not been possible before. People from all corners of the globe can watch the same events live together at the same time, while talking and commenting. As a result, London 2012 will bring people around the world closer together than ever before, enabling people to watch any event when they like, and with who they like.  

People around the world will also have access to information about the games on a whole new scale. Preview programs, build-up, documentaries, interviews, analysis and much, much more will be available in even greater quantity then at previous games, and with greater access via the internet people will be able to read and view this whenever they like. Also, with the ability to watch events again at any time, people all over the world can relate all this information much more closely to the events and athletes themselves, giving people a much greater understanding of the sports, their events, athletes and the games as a whole.

The increased development of the internet will also give people a much greater ability to directly influence the games. With new networking such as Twitter and increased use of others such as Facebook, people around the world can now directly contact the athletes taking part at the Olympics. As well as this, broadcasters and organiser use these new mediums to reach out further to spectators, not only providing greater information to them but also to get feedback from them. The speed at which people can now comment and critique on almost any aspect of the London Olympics allows organisers to adapt and make changes quickly to the mood of the public, giving people a direct influence on the London Olympics in a whole new way. As well as this, people will be able to get involved in events, both sporting and cultural, much more easily than before, as well as organising their own events and occasions to enhance their enjoyment and directly influence the overall feel and uniqueness of the London Olympics in 2012.

The Internet and the Olympic Legacy

The improvements in internet technology and its dramatically increased ability to bring the London Olympics to more and more people around the world will have a significant role in producing a lasting legacy of the London Olympics in both the UK and around the world. Just one moment at an Olympics can inspire a whole generation, a single child can be touched and in a way no one could imagine that changes their life forever. It is therefore a key aim of the London Legacy objectives to reach out to as many people around the world as possible, and the internet will play a vital role. Not only will the internet be able to bring the live events to more people than ever before, but it will also help bring communities closer together and allow people to directly help in the many projects that will be taking place around the world before, during and after they London Olympics to improve the lives of people in some of the most deprived areas in the UK and around the world.


R. Harris

Bsc Physical Education, Sports Science and Physics, Loughborough University Founder


Bridging Cultural Barriers and Bringing Nations Together Through the Olympics

The idea of brining nations together in peace and developing increased understanding and tolerance between different cultures lies at the very heart of the Modern Olympic movement; indeed, it was the very purpose for its formation. The Peace Movement, developed during the latter half of the 19th century, chose the Olympics as its main tool to develop its cause and spread its message as the very principles of the Ancient Olympic Games were ones of peace, unity and the celebration of mankind.

During more than a century of competition, in which the Olympic movement has expanded to become the biggest peace time global event in history, the Olympics has played an important part in both symbolising and actively enhancing the quest for peace and togetherness.

Even during its infancy, the Olympics at its first few games at the turn of the 20th century grew rapidly and attracted huge numbers of spectators and participants from across the world. The Olympics in London and Paris in the first decade were hugely popular and brought people together from all over the world, and the Olympics has continued to expand ever since.

However, the importance and reach of the Olympics quickly made it an attractive target for political influence and manipulation. The Olympics soon became an important opportunity for nations to show to the world how good and successful they were, and success at Olympics was soon to be closely associated with the success of a nation as a whole. As a result, Olympic Games throughout the 1930s during the rise of fascism and those throughout the Cold War period and the standoff between capitalist and communist countries were often blighted by political and radical influences. However, the principles of peace and unity shone through on most of these occasions, often against the attempts of those who tried to manipulate the Games for political purposes.

The 1936 Games were held in Berlin under a relatively newly formed Nazi Regime. Hitler saw it as a key opportunity to showcase to the world the strength of his ‘New Germany’ and that of the Aryan above all other races, as well as win support from like-minded people in other nations. However, the Berlin Games only served to highlight the radical nature of the Nazi Party and further unite and strengthen other nations in opposition to the fascist movement. This was symbolised in one of the most famous Olympic moments, when the Black Sprinter ‘Jesse’ Owens from the USA won an unprecedented four Gold medals in track and field. With the games supposedly meant to show to the world how Hitler’s new, Aryan Germany was vastly superior to those of African origin, the German leader was left with world humiliation as he refused to shake Owens’ hand and later withdrew himself from the Games altogether.

Arguably the most significant Olympic Games in the spreading of Peace among nations was that of the first Olympics held after the Second World War. With the world still recovering and many tensions still remaining between nations, the Olympic Movement resumed in 1948. Many nations were unable, or unwilling, to hold the Olympic Games at this time but London stepped in to host its second Games and what would prove to be perhaps the most successful of them all. Although many stadiums, such as Wembley Stadium, were ready and waiting, the cost and toll of the war meant that little money or resources were available but despite this, millions of people travelled to watch the Games, with countries from all over the world coming together in peace to take part in the biggest Olympic Games to date. Although Germany and Japan were not invited, and the USSR did not send athletes, coming so soon after the end of the War, this is largely seen as an important step in the rebuilding of the world and peaceful relations between nations that had only recently been fighting against each other in battle. It also provided a change in focus for many people of the world who had for so long been concerned only with survival, and helped renew the spirit, hope and ambition of many people across the world.

Throughout the Cold War, the Olympics were the focal point of tensions between capitalist and communist countries, mainly between the USA and what was then the USSR. Though it can be said that some Olympics in this time heightened the tensions between these nations, most notably the US boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980 and following Boycott of the Los Angeles Games by the USSR in 1984, it is undoubted that the Olympics helped improve understanding between the two nations.

These Olympics, with high political tensions, have in the end only served to highlight and bring focus to problems between nations and prompt action to resolve them. This has been the case in many other areas, such as protest against the Apartheid Regime in South Africa during the 1976 Montreal Games and the Boycott of North Korea and other communist countries during the South Korean Games in 1988. Perhaps the most famous, and worst moment of they Olympics came in 1972 when 11 members of the Israeli Olympic Team were murdered by Palestinian separatists. These, and other incidents, though totally against the Olympic ideals, in the end served only to highlight the need for action through peaceful means and ultimately contributed to resolutions in these areas.

Overcoming cultural and racial differences have also been a prominent part of the Olympic movement over the years. As well as those of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the Olympics have played an important part in the advancement of both black equality and the Women’s equality movement. Women’s equality at the Games has been a prominent topic for many decades, and London 2012 will be the first Games where women can truly compete on an equal footing in all sports. The advancement of equal rights for black people has equally been of high focus at the Olympics, with notable occasions such as the ‘Black Power Salute’ by Tommie Smith and John Carlos during the 1968 Games in Mexico City. The Olympics has arguably played an important role in not only maintaining focus on the improved equality of Black people around the world, but also increasing tolerance and acceptance of black people on an equal footing in wider society and hence advance the black equality movement that in some cases has taken so long to achieve. Indeed, sport, and particularly the Olympics, has often been there first arena for many nations where black and white people have worked on an equal footing.  


R. Harris

Bsc Physical Education, Sports Science and Physics, Loughborough University Founder


Greatest Individual Olympic Achievements

Since the first modern Olympics in 1896 there have been many individuals that have left a lasting mark on the Games. Some have also defined an Olympics, while others have helped shape and change the very course of the Olympic Movement itself.

‘Jesse' Owens

In 1936 the world gathered in Berlin as the Olympic movement proceeded to perhaps its most controversial Games ever. With Germany under the control of Hitler and his Nazi regime, Hitler set about using the Olympics to promote his Fascist ideals and his prejudices against those he saw as inferior races; mainly Jews and black people, among others. Keen to promote the superiority of the German, Aryan people, Hitler was determined that Germany would become triumphant. With Germany topping the medals table, this would have been achieve if it were not for one men; Jesse Owens. A black man from a poor family in the south USA, Jesse Owens outshone all at the Berlin Olympics by winning four Gold's in the 100m, 200m, long jump and 4 x 100m relay, a feat unheard of and not equalled until Carl Lewis half a century later. This amazing feat of unique sporting achievement and the refusal of Hitler to shake Jesse’s hand, humiliated the German leader and completely reversed the propaganda message he sought to gain from those games.

Emil Zatopek

Commonly regarded as the greatest long distance runner of all time, Emil Zatopek not only dominated his sport throughout his career but also revolutionised its training, so much so that the training methods he used in preparation for events are still common place today. He set 18 world records, including the first to go under 29 minutes for the 10,000m and the first under an hour for 20,000m. In 1952 he won the 5,00m, 10,000m and the marathon at the Helsinki Games, a truly astonishing achievement.

Sir Steve Redgrave

Though five Olympic Gold Medals is an incredible achievement by any standards, it is not a unique one and many have won many more. However, look closer and what Sir Steve did at the Olympics is nothing short of astounding. As a rower, Sir Steve competed in his first Olympics in 1984. Rowing is considered to be one of the toughest sports of the Games, requiring huge amounts of physical endurance and power. However, Steve won gold in his first ever games, and never looked back. 4 years later, he won Gold again. Gold’s at consecutive Olympics is a rare achievement, but Steve went one better, winning again 4 years later, making it three in a row, almost unheard of. Not stopping there, Sir Steve went on to win again in Atlanta in 1996, and won a 5th consecutive Gold in Sydney in 2000. 5 Gold medals at 5 consecutive Olympic Games has never been done by anyone else, and in a sport as physically demanding as rowing makes it even more remarkable. To remain at the very highest level of competition and be the best of them all for over 16 years is something we will likely never see again.

Eric "The Eel" Moussambani

Look down the list of Olympic Winners and you won’t find Eric ‘The Eel’ Moussambani, but none the less he has gone down in Olympic folk law and arguably had as great an impact as some of the greatest medal winners. Coming from Equatorial Guinea , a country with no Olympic sized swimming pool, Eric only trained for 8 months prior to the Olympics, and it showed. Quite probably the worst swimmer ever at an Olympics, Eric was struck by good fortune and a moment of Olympic history was made. After several turns of events, Eric found himself in a heat with only two other athletes. Both international swimmers, and Eric barely able to complete the 100m distance, both the other athletes only had to finish. However, both false started, leaving Eric to start the race again on his own. This he did, and finished in a time of 1 minute 52 seconds. This, although a national record, was well over a minute outside any sort of competitive time for the distance. However, Eric has become the embodiment of the Modern Olympic Movement. With the progression into a more and more professional setup, the focus on winning ever increases. Eric’s achievement reminded the world that although the Olympics is about celebrating what mankind can achieve, the coming together of nations is more important and the taking part of all should be celebrated. Eric had earned the right to be there as the best in his country, and duly humbled the sporting world by progressing against the odds, reminding us all that playing the game is more important than the result.

Fanny Blankers Koen

Widely regarded as the greatest female Olympian, and voted the greatest female athlete of the 20th century, Fanny Blankers Koen was a Dutch multi discipline athletics athlete who held word records over 100 yards, 100m, 200m, 80m hurdles, long jump and the high jump, as well as her national shot-put record. However, when primed to compete in her first games, and in her prime, in 1940, the War halted the competition and it seemed that Fanny would never have the opportunity to fulfil her Olympic destiny. However, in 1948 the Olympics resumed, and although Fanny was now 30 and widely believed to be past her best, she wowed the crowds be winning the 100m, 200m, 80m hurdles and 4 x 100m relay. Many believed she could also have won the high jump and long jump but for the restriction on women to only compete in three individual events. Being the first games after the war, the Olympics needed a star, and Fanny became that star, as well as significantly enhancing the role of women at the Olympic Games for future generations.

Carl Lewis

Carl Lewis is often regarded as the greatest Olympian of them all. Not only did he win multiple Gold medals, he did so in many different events and across many consecutive Olympics. Already an international star by the early 1980s, in 1984 Carl won four Olympic Gold’s in the 100m, 200m, long jump and 4 x 100m relay, the first time this had been achieved since Jesse Owens half a century before. In 1988 in Seoul he won the 100m and long jump again, narrowly missing out on the 200m Gold and only missing the 4 x 100m again as the USA team were disqualified. 4 years later he won Gold in the Long Jump again and the 4 x 100m relay, and in Atlanta in 1996 he won the long jump Gold again at the age of 35. This took Carl’s tally to an incredible 9 Gold medals over 4 consecutive Games, with 4 consecutive long jump Gold’s and repeating the achievement of the great Jesse Owens. All this at a time when the Olympics was the subject of intense political influence during the 1980s, as well as several high profile drugs scandals that threatened to do irreparable damage to the reputation of the movement. Although Carl later admitted to failing a test just before the Seoul Games, this was a minor infringement and his reputation remains intact, with his iconic status throughout that time as the leading light in the Olympic movement at a critical stage in its history firmly in place.


R. Harris

Bsc Physical Education, Sports Science and Physics, Loughborough University Founder

<Page 1

<Page 3

< Olympics 

<< Home Page