Monday 9 January 2012

Olympic Countdown

Since this article first appeared a lot of new information has been revealed and new research has been carried out. This article should be seen as a mere snapshot of the information known at the date of its publication. Several facts may now be outdated or inaccurate.

In 200 days time the (second) biggest (behind the Gay Games) sporting show on earth comes to the UK – the 2012 London Olympics. It’s also a special year for the UK because World Pride takes place in London in June and its also the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Perhaps its appropriate that the Olympics are in the UK this year because it also marks the 400th anniversary of the first Olympic games in Great Britain. Yes, I said 400th anniversary.

The Great Britain Olympic Committee recognises the Cotswold Olimpycks, first recorded in 1612, as the prelude to the British Olympic movement and they emphasised this in its bid for the 2012 Olympics. The name “Olimpyck” was first used for the Cotswold games in 1636.

The Cotswold Olimpycks were organised by Robert Dover (I wonder if he’s an ancestor of the present Robert Dover, who has competed in more Olympics than any other lgbt athlete). Events included horse riding, wrestling, running, dancing and chess, making them more like the modern Gay Games than the modern Olympics.

The games were supported by our old friend James I of Great Britain - “Queen” James – who donated a ceremonial costume for Robert Dover to wear at the games. James I was a big fan of sport, writing in 1599 that “certain days in the year would be appointed for delighting the people with public spectacles of all honest games”. In 1617 he wrote “The Book of Sports”, listing sports permitted on Sundays and Holy Days.

Unfortunately, the rise of Puritanism and its opposition to enjoyment made the Cotswold Olimpycks increasingly unpopular. Eventually, in 1642, the Puritans established a republic and banned games and celebrations of all kinds (including Christmas). The Olimpycks stopped.

An attempt at a revival occurred in the 1660s, but over the years it deteriorated into an unruly, often drunken, free-for-all. The most recent successful revival of the Cotswold Olimpycks was in 1951 for the Festival of Britain. The games are still held every year during Spring Bank Holiday weekend.

The present International Olympic Committee acknowledges that their origins were influenced by England’s other, more famous, Stoke Mandeville games and the Wenlock Olympics (Mandeville and Wenlock are the names of the official 2012 mascots). But there was another Olympic revival in Athens in the same year as the first Wenlock Olympics that was air-brushed out of the Olympic movement by the IOC. I’ll tell you about that in 5 days time, and how echoes of the “Gayest Games in Ancient Greece” had a role in the Olympic movement.

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