PARIS 1924 marked sail past of the 30th anniversary of modern olympic games | Sunday Observer

PARIS 1924 marked sail past of the 30th anniversary of modern olympic games

25 April, 2021
The “Flying Finns” - Paavo Nurmi and Villa Ritola
The “Flying Finns” - Paavo Nurmi and Villa Ritola

The 1924 Summer Olympic Games, officially known as the Games of the VIII Olympiad, were celebrated in 1924 in Paris, France. It was the second time the city hosted Olympics after 1900 and precisely, after 100 years, Paris will host the summer edition in 2024. The Paris Games of 1924 were widely regarded as a major success. They marked a significant increase in the size and scale of the Games, with more NOCs and athletes taking part, and far more media coverage from around the world.

Moreover, a clutch of stars achieved feats that ensured their names would long be remembered.The return of the Olympic Games to the home city of the Founder of the IOC and the Father of the Modern Olympics Movement, Pierre de Coubertin was a source of great personal satisfaction. Indeed, Paris 1924 represented a poignant swansong for the IOC founder, as just a year later he would step down from his position as the IOC President.

These were the first Games to feature the “Olympic Motto” –“Citius, Altius, Fortius” three Latin words that mean, “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” Coubertin took the motto from his friend Henri Didon, a Dominican Priest who had coined it during a speech before a Paris youth gathering of 1891. Also, for the first time, all the athletes stayed at an “Olympic Village.” The Village comprised portable wooden houses complete with running water, and featured a post office, bureau de change, hairdressing salon and a restaurant.

At the Closing Ceremony, on July 27, 1924, the practice of raising three flags - one for the International Olympic Committee, one for the host country and one for the future host country of the Games, was instigated. It was also at Paris 1924 that the Olympic Art Competition reached its apogee.

The IOC Session held on June 2, 1921 in Lausanne, was historic for a number of reasons. It saw the award of two editions of the Olympic Games, as Paris and Amsterdam were named the host cities of 1924 and 1928 Games respectively. As Pierre de Coubertin wrote in his Olympic Memoirs in 1931: “The decision was made to move two Olympiads into the future, one that nothing could stop the IOC from making, even though it had never been done before.”

Highlights of Paris 1924 Games

A solemn tribute was paid to Pierre de Coubertin on June 23, 1924 to mark the 30th anniversary of the birth of the modern Olympic Games.

French athlete Georges Andre took the Olympic oath at the Opening Ceremony, whilst the French President Gaston Doumergue declared open the games on July 5, 1924.A total of 3,089 athletes, 2,954 men and 135 women took part in 126 events of 17 sports under 23 disciplines. A total of 44 nations were represented with China, Ecuador, Haiti, Ireland, Lithuania and Uruguay attending the Games for the first time.

The 1924 Olympics were the first to use the standard 50m pool with marked lanes.In gymnastics, 24 men scored a perfect 10. Unexpectedly, the national team of Uruguay won the gold medal in football.France’s Roger Ducret stole the show in fencing, winning five medals across all three weapons, including gold medals in the individual and team foil and the team epee.

The track and field athletes dominated the Games. Among the athletes not featured, Morgan Taylor of the US won gold in 400m Hurdles whilst Douglas Lowe of Great Britain clinched gold in 800m. “Jonni” Myyra of Finland won his second successive goldin Javelin, having won his first in 1920.

The United States won 45 gold, 27 silver, 27 bronze - a total of 99 medals. Finland came second with 14G, 13S, 10B. France secured third place with 13G, 15S, 10B. The Great Britain came fourth with 9G, 13S, 12B.

Originally called the “Week of Winter Sports” and held in association with the 1924 Summer Olympics, the sports competitions held in Chamonix between January 25 and February 5, 1924 were later designated by the IOC as the I Olympic Winter Games.

The “Flying Finns” - Heroes of Paris 1924

The legendary Paavo Johannes Nurmi and Villa Ritola of Finland, known as “Flying Finns” were an intrinsic part of the long-distance running dynasty that held sway at the Olympic Games of 1920s. They won a clutch of gold medals in a period of dominance. At Paris 1924, Nurmi won 5 gold medals to finish as the “Most Successful Athlete” of the Games. He won 1500m, 5000m, Cross Country, 3000m Team and Cross Country Team.

Ritola, who was also part of victorious Finnish 3000m and Cross Country Team, also finished as runner-up to Nurmi in the 5000m and Cross Country, while adding individual gold in 10,000m and 3000m steeplechase, to secure 4 gold and 2 silver medals. At the end of Amsterdam 1928 Olympic Games,Nurmi took his overall tally to 9 gold and 3 silver medals whilst Ritola raised to 5 gold and 3 silver to etch their names in the Olympic annals.

Story of Abrahams and Liddell at Paris 1924

The film “Chariots of Fire” and its memorable soundtrack by Vangelis, spread the story of British sprinters Harold Maurice Abrahams (b. Dec 15, 1899) and Eric Henry Liddell (b. Jan 16, 1902), the respective Olympic champions in 100m and 400m at Paris 1924.

The 1981 film begins with a group of young British athletes running on abeach, to the sound of Vangelis’ uplifting keyboards. Directed by Hugh Hudson and the winner of four Oscars – Vangelis’ music won an Academy Award of its own – it tells the story of two athletes: Abrahams, an Englishman studying at Cambridge University, and Liddell, a devout Christian from Scotland who was working as a missionary in China.

Abrahams and Liddell were rival sprinters. Legend has it that they met once over 100m, with Liddell emerging the winner. The British duo were among the favourites at Paris Games.Yet, when Liddell learnt that 100m heats would be held on Sunday, July 6, he refused to take part as he was a devout Christian and was obliged to observe the Sabbath. He also withdrew from 4x100m and 4x400m, the finals of which were to be held on a Sunday. From that moment, he devoted all his energies to prepare for 400m.News of his refusal to compete in the 100m travelled around the world.

His decision is at the heart of the screenplay for Hudson’s film, written by Colin Welland, in which the Scottish sprinter only learns of the event program when sailing across the English Channel in early July. Despite intense pressure to reconsider, he abides by that decision.

The heats in 100m thus took place without the Scotsman. Abrahams won his comfortably, as did Charles Paddock of the USA and his compatriot Jackson Scholz. Abrahams, Paddock and Scholz also won their respective quarter-finals same day.

Taking up the story of what happened next in an interview with Roger Bannister, in the Olympic Review 1956, Abrahams said: “I can remember every millimeter of the semi-final. I went to Paris knowing that I was facing four expert American sprinters and really not regarding myself as having much chance of winning.In the semi-final, I was left at the start and I still managed to win. Many people think that that was the best effort I ever made and they tend to say, ‘Well, what would have happened if you hadn’t been left at the start? Wouldn’t you have done a better time?’ My answer is no, because I produced something that I never would have produced if I hadn’t been left behind.”

In 100m final on July 7, a confident Abrahams lined up against the four Americans: Paddock, Scholz, Chester Bowman and Loren Muchison. The Briton proved too fast for them all, winning from Scholz and Porritt in a new Olympic record of 10.6 to become his country’s first Olympic 100m champion.

In the meantime, Liddell readied himself to take to the track, with his first appearance coming in the 200m, which began on July 8, and which also featured Abrahams. When the final came around, the two British sprinters found themselves up against five Americans, among them Scholz, who won in a time of 21.6 from Paddock, with Liddell taking the bronze and Abrahams finishing sixth.

After easing through the rounds in 400m, he was in for a shock when he came out for the final: he was handed the outside lane, which meant he would be running “blind.” Liddell set off fast and maintained his speed.Speaking to the British newspaper The Guardian years later, he said: “I ran the first 200m as quickly as I could and, with the help of God, I ran the next 200m even more strongly.” Liddell broke the tape at 47.6 an Olympic record and his tactics permanently transformed the 400m.

Following their exploits in Paris, Liddell and Abrahams went their separate ways. At Liddell’s graduation, the University of Edinburgh capped him with a crown of wild olive and the now-famous words: “You have shown that none can pass you but your examiners.” The congregation gave him an ovation, and afterwards he was chaired from the University to the High Kirk of St. Giles. He returned to China, continued with his missionary work and died aged 43 in a Japanese internment camp.

Abrahams was forced by injury to give up his career in 1925. He captained Great Britain’s Olympic team at Amsterdam 1928. Then worked as a journalist for 40 years and commentated for the BBC on the Olympic Games. He also wrote several books on the Games. He died in 1978, aged 78, and his funeral provides one of the closing scenes of “Chariots of Fire,” which ends where it begins.

Harold Osborn’s Unique Double

When Harold Osborn sustained a severe eye injury as a teenager, it put a huge dent into his potential athletic career as he became unable to judge distances easily.It was a condition which made his later success in the decathlon, where skill, precision, endurance and raw speed are put to their most severe test, all the more surprising.

And for an athlete who finds it difficult to assess and perceive objects, it’s hard to imagine a more difficult event to succeed in than high jump. Raised in an athletics-keen family, Osborn had always been encouraged to jump, run, and leap further and faster.

He enjoyed a successful collegiate career and went to Paris as the favourite in the high jump but as something of an unknown quantity in the decathlon. The high jump turned into a one-man show. He cleared every height using an accurately measured run-up which helped him assess the precise moment he should execute his leap.

In Paris 1924, he set an Olympic record of 6 feet 6 inches.Later in the week he faced the ultimate Olympic test; the decathlon. Spread over two tiring, hot days, Osborn secured the gold. It was a world record of 7,710.775 points, and resulted in worldwide press coverage calling him the “World’s Greatest Athlete.”Osborn remains the only athlete to have won the Decathlon along with an individual event in the Games history.

Bud Houser Throws His Weight Around

There are some landmarks in the Olympic annals that the passage of time and the development of sport render a repeat almost unthinkable.One such feat was performed by American throwing legend Clarence “Bud” Houser who won Olympic gold medals in the discus throw in 1924 and 1928 and in the shot put in 1924.He remains the last man to win discus throw and shot put and it is difficult to picture the achievement being emulated in the modern era.

He was very much an innovator, and pioneered the rotation-style throw now used universally in the discus and he was also the first to see the benefits of the explosive, staccato throwing style in the shot.In Paris 1924, he first produced an imperious performance in the discus, winning the event with a throw of 46m with an Olympic record. Then, came shot put final and Houser again threw an imposing 49 feet 2.25 inches to enter his name to the record books.

Albin Stenroos’s Glorious Marathon Gold

During the formative years of the modern Olympic Games only a few events such as the marathon raised much excitement.Its early years were mixed with tragedy and drama. Like many Olympic marathons that had gone on before it, the race at Paris 1924 was contested in searing heat.

The start was delayed to allow the oppressive conditions to calm but even by the time the 58 athletes took the start temperatures remained stubbornly high.An array of improvised headgear and caps were on show.Refueling stations were a far cry from those of the modern era, with pales of water available for competitors to refresh their faces and wet rags handed out to appease the heat.

Albin Stenroos made his own mark on the sport’s biggest stage at the age of 35, surging clear of the field and entering the Olympic stadium with an unbeatable lead.With a casual lift of his cap to acknowledge the standing ovation, he finished in 2:41.22.

Swimmer Weissmuller’s Story as Tarzan

Johnny Weissmuller of the United States was crowned Olympic champion in 400m freestyle, 100m freestyle and 4x200m freestyle relay. He also took a bronze in water polo. The ululating cry invented by Johnny Weissmuller for the 1932 film, “Tarzan the Ape Man,” which he used again in 12 other global box-office hits up until 1947, transcended the decades that followed, appearing in animated film versions of Tarzan and countless live-action remakes.

The legend of Weissmuller began in Paris 1924, before he became an actor, when he was a swimmer. At 9, he contracted polio, and his doctor suggested that he take up swimming as a way to battle the disease. As a teenager in Chicago, he was spotted by the coach, Bill Bachrach, and at 18 became the first to swim 100m under a minute, in a world-record time of 58.6 in 1922. He beat his own world record in 1924, clocking 57.4. In 1923, he became the first to swim 400m under 5 minutes, setting a new world record in a time of 4:57.0.

The first event at 1924 Games was 400m freestyle. “Out of all the Olympic swimming events, 400m was probably the one with the most tightly contested final. Much was expected of the meeting of three great champions in this Olympic competition: Johnny Weissmuller, Australia’s Boy Charlie and Sweden’s Arne Borg. And indeed, from start to finish, the contest between these true mermen produced an aquatic battle the likes of which we have seldom seen and might never see again,” enthused Emile-Georges Drigny in the Official Report.

Weissmuller, aged 20, beat the Olympic record in the heats (5:22.2), smashed it again in the semi-final (5:13.6). In the final, he gave every last ounce of energy to clock 5:04.2 and shatter his own mark.The 100m freestyle brought the Olympic swimming program to a fitting end. Weissmuller, the future Tarzan, broke clear from the start and finished well ahead, his time of 59.0 broke one-minute barrier in the event, beating the Olympic record.

In 4x200m freestyle final, his team claimed a clear victory with a world-record in 9:53.4. Weissmuller was crowned Olympic champion in 100m freestyle and 4x200m relay in Amsterdam 1928, and was voted the greatest swimmer of the first half of the 20th century. He remained the only five-time Olympic swimming gold medalist until the exploits of Mark Spitz in 1972.


(The author highlights spectrum of sports extravaganza. He is the winner of Presidential Academic Award for Sports in 2017 and 2018 and recipient of National Accolades for Academic pursuits. He possesses a PhD, MPhil and double MSc)