History of the Olympic Games


Site: Antwerp, Belgium
Dates: April 20 - September 12
Nations: 29
Total Athletes: 2,607
Sports: 21

Antwerp was rewarded the Olympic Games for 1920. It was quite befitting that the Olympic ideal and banner would be put in the hands of a country that had been so ruined by war. Antwerp would be given the dubious task of drawing together the world's athletes in a message of "rebirth and revitalization".

This would also be the first time that the private efforts, money, time and labor would contribute to the building of the Games' facilities and hospitalities. Unfortunately, the same feelings did not persist amongst nations. The attendees were limited to the war's victorious allied and neutral nations. This was of course against the true ideals of the Olympic message, and much to the dismay of the IOC.

The 1920 Games introduced new Olympic traditions such as the oath of athletes during the opening ceremonies and taken on behalf of all competitors (2,607) from all countries (29).

Most of the athletes of Olympiad VII were war veterans, still wearing their scars. One of the more inspirational stories was that of Frenchman Joseph Guillemot, a soldier whose lungs had been severely damaged by mustard gas and was not expected to be much competition in the distance run. However, Guillemot won the 5,000-meter against 23-year old Paavo Nurmi, who would go on to win three other gold medals, including the 10,000-meter event. In fact, it would be Nurmi's only loss to someone other than a Finn in an Olympic career spanning three Olympiads, nine gold medals and three silver medals.

Nurmi's teammate, Finn Hannes Kolehmainen, capped his Olympic career with a marathon victory, his fourth gold medal. In total, the Finns would win 11 gold medals in track and field, more than holding their own against the Americans, especially Charley Paddock, who had been tabbed as the "World's Fastest Human" after his win in the 100-meter.

Duke Kahanamoku continued his dominance of the water by capturing the freestyle races at 100 and 800 meters.

American Boxer Eddie Eagan would win the light heavyweight gold medal and 12 years later would become the first person to win gold medals in both the Summer and Winter Olympics when he was part of the U.S. four-man, bobsled team.

Albert Hill of Great Britan won the 800 and 1,500 meters at the age of 36, while the host Belgians won a few medals. Cyclist Henry George won the 50- kilometer event and the soccer team defeated the Czech team, 2-0 in a forfeit as the Czechs thought they were the recipients of unfair and biased refereeing, that they walked off the field.

IOC founder and President Baron Pierre de Coubertin introduced the official Olympic Flag. The interlocked rings stood for Olympic unity of Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas and Oceania. The colors of the flag (white, blue, yellow, black, green and red) were selected because they were found on every national flag in the world.

It is custom today that the original Olympic flag be handed over to the mayor of the next city during the closing ceremonies. The flag is to fly in the town hall until the close of that city's Games.

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