Saturday 14 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 Several facts may now be outdated or inaccurate.

The first modern revival of the Olympics by the Greeks themselves came in 1859. They were the brainchild of businessman Evangelis Zappas who also funded them. Zappas based the games in the Greek capital, and since then the Olympics have been associated with Athens more than Olympia.

Two further Olympics were funded by Zappas and these are now called the Zappas Olympics. The 1870 and 1875 games was based at the Panathinaiko Stadium. This was the same stadium that was used in ancient times during the Great Panathenean Games – what I call the Gayest Games in Ancient Greece. This stadium was enlarged and rebuilt in 140 AD by Herodes Atticus.

Herodes Atticus rebuilt many public buildings. His young lover, Polydeukes, was an athlete who may have attended both the Olympics and the Great Panathanean. However, Polydeukes died young and Herodes organised a massive funeral sports festival for the boy at his recently rebuilt Panathinaiko Stadium. Herodes was so heart-broken that he himself died soon afterwards and his own funeral was also held there.

The Zappas Olympics are not recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), even though it benefited from the financial input to Greek sport from Zappas himself. Their excuse is that the Zappas Games were a primarily Greek affair. But the 1856 Cotswold Games were a primarily English games, yet the IOC recognise them as a founding influence.

The official modern Olympics were founded in 1896, founded by Baron Pierre de Coubertin. Once again, the Panathenaiko Stadium was to play a large part in the event. The IOC soon decided to hold games in between the main ones, like the Winter Games have been recently. And so the Intercalated Olympics were formed.

The 1st Intercalated Games were in 1906 in Athens and were again based around the Panathinaiko Stadium. De Coubertin objected to them being held in Greece. He was a snob and did everything he could to prevent Greece from hosting the Olympics ever again. The Paris 1900 and St. Louis 1904 Olympics weren’t very successful, but the 1906 Intercalated Athens Olympics were a huge international hit. De Coubertin wasn’t happy! However, Greek politics and World War I prevented any further Intercalated Games from being held, and it wasn’t until 2004 that the Panathinaiko Stadium was used again at the Olympics.

Such was de Coubertin’s influence and snobbery against Greece that all medals and world records from the 1906 Intercalated Athens Olympics were deleted from IOC records. This is in spite of the fact that they were the first we would recognise today, with the first ever opening and closing ceremonies and the athletes’ parade into the stadium behind national (i.e. political) flags.

The earliest possible known gay Olympian could easily have been the Danish gymnast Niels Bukh at the 1908 London games. He had trained for the games but, unfortunately, body-fascism raised its ugly head when he wasn’t selected for his team because he was too “thick-set” (too muscular?) and didn’t fit in with the uniform look of the rest of the team! Ironically, fascism was to play an even greater part in his later life.

Determined to turn Olympic setback to his advantage Bukh changed the style of gymnastics for ever. He became a trainer and opened many gyms which taught new methods which he developed. More intensive weight-training was introduced, stretching techniques, and something which was unheard of – bodily contact. Gymnasts worked in pairs, doing resistance exercises with each other. Other gyms using his techniques opened across Europe. It seems ironic that the techniques developed by this gay man, who was turned on by young muscular male bodies, turned out so many straight young muscular male bodies.

During the 1920s and 30s Bukh’s gyms and training techniques became very popular and successful globally. But a dark cloud was beginning to gather over the continent and Niels Bukh began to move across to what became the “wrong side”. I’ll return to Niels Bukh on 27th January when I’ll describe the opposing influences on sport and the modern Olympics.

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