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Fascinating facts straight out of archives

india Updated: Jul 25, 2008 20:34 IST
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London 1908: John Hayes is one of the few winners of the Olympic marathon who languishes in obscurity. Italy’s Dorando Pietri crossed the line first but was subsequently disqualified for being helped over the line by officials — including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Hayes and the American team launched a successful protest just as Pietri was carted off to hospital. According to statements by the two officials who followed him round the course, the tiny Italian had been taking atropine and strychnine capsules during the race which almost resulted in him suffering cardiac arrest.

Not even a gold cup offered by then Queen Alexandra could console him — nor a subsequent victory over Hayes in New York.

“I thought the British were the masters of fair play. Well I spit on that because I know exactly what their understanding of the word is and it isn’t what the civilised world believes it means,” he said years later.

Pietri was even cheated in death. A man, who had stolen his identity, was given a virtual state funeral in Italy; the real Pietri was to die in 1942 and, because of it being in the middle of World War II, had a much lower key service.

Paris 1924: Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell brought glory to British athletics in Paris but both were motivated not by patriotism but by personal crusades which were immortalised in the Academy Award winning film ‘Chariots of Fire’. Abrahams was Jewish and sensitive to the anti-Semitism that pervaded establishment circles and was desperate to prove himself which he did in devastating style in the 100 metres flat.

Liddell was a devout Christian — born in China son of a Scottish missionary — who refused to run on Sundays and as a result was to be found preaching in a Paris church the day of the 100 metres heats.

However, such was his talent, he ran the 400m for the first time and the 'Flying Scotsman' triumphed easily. Both men picked up minor medals as well with Abrahams taking silver in the 4x100m relay and Liddell bronze in the 200m.

Liddell, who was interned by the Japanese in 1943, died of a brain tumour in 1945. Abrahams retired in 1925 but remained in the sport as an administrator till virtually his death in 1978, aged 78.

Berlin 1936: This was meant to be the crowning moment for Nazi leader and German Chancellor Adolf Hitler as he expected his Aryan race to show they were the best athletes in the world. So imagine his chagrin as black sprinter Jesse Owens, deemed by Nazi ideology to be ‘non-human’, won four golds — the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump.

It wasn’t as if he had come out of nowhere as Owens had broken three world records the year before and tied one in the space of just 45 minutes in a meet in the United States — not bad for a man who smoked a pack of cigarettes a day all his adult life.

While Hitler never handed out a medal to Owens he did acknowledge him from his box and later received him with other medal winners from the Games at the Chancellery though of course not in front of the cameras.

However, as Owens remarked when he returned to the States he was obliged to get on buses at the back as blacks were not allowed to ride up at the front. Owens, like Pietri, went on to run against horses, opened a public relations firm and was awarded the Medal of Freedom. He died of lung cancer aged 66 in 1980.

Mexico City 1968: American athletes Tommy Smith and John Carlos were outstanding 200m runners and proved it by taking gold and bronze at the Mexico Olympics.

However, both men staged a remarkable protest on the medals podium. Both wore one black glove at the medals ceremony - 24-year-old Smith on his left hand Carlos, 23, on his right - and raised their arms in protest at the lack of rights for blacks in the United States.

They also wore no shoes to reflect the poverty of blacks and beads as an image of the lynching of blacks.

Their protest outraged the white head of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) Avery Brundage who had them stripped of their medals and sent home.

But they inspired a whole generation of black athletes - even the silver medallist, Australia's Peter Norman showed solidarity by grabbing a sticker which stood for Olympic Project for Human Rights so he wouldn't look out of place on the podium. Smith and Carlos went on to coach athletics to students and the former remains unrepentant. "Would I do it again? Sure I would."

Los Angeles 1984: South Africa-born Zola Budd had enough pressure on her slender shoulders after having her British citizenship rushed through thanks mainly to a campaign by then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's favourite newspaper, the Daily Mail. In the final of the 3000m, she was up against American darling Mary Decker-Slaney.

The barefooted, pacesetting Budd stumbled and in the process brought down Decker-Slaney allowing Romanian athlete Maricica Puica to win.

Budd carried on but failed to land a medal as she was heckled and booed by the partisan crowd and was rebuffed by a tearful Decker-Slaney, who was carried from the track by her giant of an English husband. Budd, won two world cross country titles but never really fulfilled her talent, returned to South Africa whom she represented in the 1992 Games.

Decker-Slaney carried on running failing to qualify for the 2000 Games aged 42. However, her image was tarnished when she failed a drugs test and was banned for two years.

Sydney 2000: Dressed in a bodysuit, Cathy Freeman handled the pressure unbelievably in front of her Australian compatriots as she stormed home to take the 400m gold amid the roar of the crowd and the lights of thousands of flashbulbs as they tried to capture the moment their Aboriginal darling seized Olympics glory.

She sank to the track in stunned disbelief as she sought to take in exactly what she had achieved - nothing could ever be the same again. It wasn't. She took a year out to help her then husband recover from cancer, had a turn at commentating for the BBC before returning to sample relay gold in the 2002 Commonwealth Games. She then separated from her husband and finally announced her retirement last year. None of that though will ever take away the iconic moment of the Sydney Games.

Athens 2004: The farce or scandal whichever way one wants to see it over Greece's leading Olympic sprint hopes Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou, who were in deep trouble over missing another doping test though they claimed they had a motorbike accident on their way to the test on the eve of the Games overshadowed Athens. Barred from competing, although they were in hospital in any case, home based emotion came to the boil prior to the men's 200m final - for which Kenteris had been favourite to defend his title. On several occasions such was the cacophony of noise - deliberately done by the home crowd - everytime the athletes settled in their blocks that the finalists could not hear the starter and had to get up. Finally veteran Frankie Fredericks managed to calm the crowd down and the gun went. The winner was 100m champion Justin Gatlin.

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