As we count down to the London Olympics, it’s timely to look at the history of the greatest sporting event in the world. The Modern Olympics began in Athens in 1896, but the history of the Games dates back much further than that.
The ancient Olympics
The first recorded Olympics were held in the Greek city of Ellis, in 776 BC, but historians believe the Games started about 500 years before that. The Games were held in homage to the Greek God Zeus, but they collapsed after the rise of the Roman Empire, when in 339 AD, Roman Emperor Theodosius I cancelled the Games because of their non-Christian influences.
The modern Olympics
The Olympics were resurrected some 1,500 years later, by Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin, who was critical of his country’s armed forces when they were overrun by the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. He believed sport would instil strength, vigour and bravery in the French military. He formed the Union des Sociétés Francaises de Sports Athlétiques, canvassed delegates of other nations, and, after convincing them of the merits of resurrecting the Games; the International Olympic Committee was born.
The Australian Olympic Committee still honours the founder of the modern Olympics with an annual Pierre de Coubertin Award, which recognizes secondary school students who demonstrate the values associated with the Olympics.
Australians at the Olympics
Australia has a proud history at the modern Olympics, and is generally regarded to punch above its weight considering its comparatively small population. Edwin Flack was Australia’s first gold medallist, winning the 800m and 1500m events in Athens in 1896. Since then, the country has produced a host of Olympic champions, such as Dawn Fraser, Shirley Strickland, Herb Elliot, Marjorie Jackson, Betty Cuthbert, and Bill Roycroft.
Australia didn’t win a gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Games, and such was the sense of failure that the Federal Government promptly set up the Australian Institute of Sport, to assist talented athletes in becoming world-class competitors. Since then, Australia has claimed 72 gold medals, including 16 in 2000, 17 in 2004, and 14 in 2008.
Some memorable Australian Olympic triumphs include:
Cathy Freeman, Sydney 2000. With the hopes of a nation on her shoulders, Cathy Freeman won the 400 metres in front of an ecstatic home crowd. She then did a victory lap carrying the Australian flag and Aboriginal flag, in what is one of the most iconic images in Australian sporting history.
Ian Thorpe, Sydney 2000, Athens 2004. Australia’s greatest male swimmer won the 200m, 400m, and 4x200m freestyle relay events in 2000, and claimed gold medals in the 200m and 400m events four years later.
Kieran Perkins, Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996. Perkins smashed the 1,500m freestyle world record in 1992, but his 1996 victory was the most memorable. The out-of-form swimmer qualified eighth fastest for the final, but produced a stunning upset and relegated fellow Australian Daniel Kowalski to a silver medal.
Several ACPE students will be doing Australia proud at the London Olympics:
- Beki Lee – Athletics 20km Walk (Bachelor of Sports Business)
- James MAGNUSSEN – Swimming (Bachelor of Sports Business)
- Jayden Hadler – Swimming (Bachelor of Sports Coaching and Administration)
- Safwan Khalil – Taekwondo (Bachelor of Health and Movement (Sport)
- Simone Kennedy – Cycling (Bachelor of Sports Coaching and Administration)
- Tobias Lister – Rowing (BPE Graduate 2008)