The bloke who was the guiding force behind it was Baron de Coubertin who most of you will have heard of. His original plan was to have the first games in Paris in 1900 to coincide with the World’s Fair, but as they were starting all the planning and stuff in 1894 him and his mates reckoned that everyone might get bored with the idea if they had to wait six years, so someone came up with the idea of having the first one in Athens in 1896. They were all a bit iffy about the date, what with it not being auspicious or anything, but everyone agreed that Athens was a top place to have it what with the original Olympics being Greek and that. So they got in touch with the king who said “Yeah, that sounds like a plan, we’ll build some stuff and you make sure we get people to come and see everything.”
It was really that simple.
Nowadays the Olympics go on for about three months, but back then they didn’t have so many events so it was only on for nine days and over that period there were nine series of events. Unfortunately for posterity, there were no stupid events, just the sort of stuff we have today but done by mustachioed men in baggy sports clothes and leotards. They had:
- Athletics, which included the discus, 100 and 400m, the marathon and the shot put. Starting off as they meant to go on, team America won most of these apart from the marathon which was won by Greek chap
- Cycling, both on the road and in a specially built velodrome. These were won by variety of nationalities
- Fencing, which was done at another nice new stadium. There was no épée event as these swords got lost, but a nice French chap won the foil event (n.b. this is a type of sword and not the tinfoil you wrap meat in when you want to roast it), and the sabre and master foil events were won by two amiable Greek gentlemen
- Gymnastics, these were extremely dull, performed mostly by very unlikely looking gymnasts and mostly won by the Germans who sent an eleven-man team. In fact in the horizontal bars event they were the only team who entered. There was also a rope climbing event in this discipline which is at least a little bit silly
- Shooting, which was done with rifles and pistols. Despite trying very hard, nobody managed to kill a fellow competitor and some medals were won
- Swimming was all done in the sea with one special event for Greek sailors. They would have happened in a pool, but the organisers were too cheap to build one. Nobody drowned
- Tennis, although both the singles and doubles were won by a chap representing the UK, he was in fact a proper Irishman
named John Mary Pius Boland. Yes, that’s right “John Mary”. What was his (obviously very seriously Catholic) mother thinking
- Weightlifting. Some of the competitors wore only pants and looked utterly minging as they grunted and groaned and lifted heavy shit. No change there then
- Wrestling was all done in the old
In later Olympics there were some great events, like architecture, tug-of-war, club swinging, live pigeon shooting and duelling with pistols. Unfortunately the contestants had to shoot at a dressed up dummy and not a real life person. Oh and a really great one. The horse long jump, which an event solely for horses.
And that, laydeez and gennelmens, is what happened on this day in 1896. Not all of it. Mostly what happened then was an opening ceremony with a bit of dancing and then home for tea, but, the rest all started happening that day. Sort of.
Today was the birthday of the British painter John William Waterhouse, who was a sort of pre-Raphaelite, but not really one at all.
He was born in Rome in the Papal States. I’m guessing they mean the Vatican City. His mum and dad were both artists, so J.W. took the path of least resistance, noticed he had some talent himself and put brush to canvas and voila!
He’s not my cup of tea on the whole, but he did paint some pretty pictures and he was very popular in his day. He still is with quite a few people and apparently Andrew Lloyd-Weber has some of his paintings in his collection. Then again, it used to be thought that ALW had a big cock, but apparently this is just another lie. His most famous paintings are his various Ophelias (also a loved by the Pre-Raphaelites. Seems Victorian artists loved to paint suicidal blondes who were all pathetic and stuff), The Lady of Shalott (in a row-boat) and Hylas and the Nymphs.
Anyway, he painted, he exhibited, his stuff got bought and he died at a reasonable age after doing the whole getting married thing and not being debauched. In many ways one could say he was boring, but that would be a very reactionary bourgeois thing to say. The artist who doesn’t die in a pool of his own vomit, with a syphilitic penis and a drug habit to rival Keith Richards’, is not boring, merely differently interesting.
Also, J.W. is the ancestor of a friend of mine, so happy birthday, dead Waterhouse, your great-great nephew (I think) is a credit to you. Probably