BEIJING 2008 is finally over and we have thrilled to the pageantry and to big time sports such as track & field, swimming, boxing, football and also enjoyed, for once every 4 years, the rowing, canoeing kayaking, table tennis, beach volleyball, taiquando, triathalon..
At the handover ceremony at the Birds Nest Stadium and the post-ceremony London 2012 party, mayor Boris Johnson gave a part funny, part bumbling, part politically incorrect speech. He said that table tennis derived from a country weekend house party invention on the dining room table with the English gentry, to the game that the Chinese claim to have invented and now reign supreme. He said that PING PONG IS COMING HOME ! He also mentioned the London Police Tug of War victory in 1908.
EURO 1996 was held in England with stadiums and streets decorated with images of former England legends, Matthews, Moore, Wright, Charlton, Mannion, Carter, Shackelton etc., and the theme song and banners 'Football's Coming Home'. I watched matches in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham, Birmingham and will never forget the goal that 'GAZZA'- Paul Gascoigne scored for England in the 2-0 victory over Scotland at Wembley Stadium.
Most of the the British team returned on a chartered British Airways flight from Beijing to London, with a golden nose cone. Twelve years ago at ATLANTA 1996, Team GB won one gold medal. In Beijing, following massive funding from The National Lottery, Team GB won 19 gold and 47 medals overall.
East London is already being transformed into an Olympic Park, for the third such Olympiad held in the city. I have aleady referred to 'The Austerity Olympics' of 1948, but the 4th Olympiad in 1908 was the first where teams were pre-selected, rather than any individual who could afford it showing up and taking part. A huge 60.000 stadium called White City was built free by the organizers of the Franco-British Exposition on a 140 acre site that surrounded it. In exchange they kept 75% of the receipts. There was a banked cycle track inside of which was a three laps-to-the mile cinder running track. On the large infield was a 100 metre length outdoor pool (twice the normal size) with no filtration, a high diving board, and platforms for fencing, wrestling and gymnastics., and the soccer field.
There were 22 sports including rugby, polo, power boat racing, and racquets with 2,008 competitors including 37 women. In the soccer tournament there were only 6 teams including two from France. France 'B' was beaten 9-0 by Denmark, who then beat France 'A' 17-1. Great Britain beat Sweden 12-1. In the final Great Britain beat the Danes 2-0. Attendances were poor from 1,000 to 2,000 except for the final which attracted 8,000 fans. Holland beat Sweden for bronze.
By far the most memorable event was The Marathon. 22 year old Italian Dorando Pietri was the first into the stadium with two laps remaining at the end of the 26 mile 385 yds (42.196 km) race. He was wobbling around on unsteady legs and the race umpire helped him up more than once, and over the finish line. After a protest the gold medal was awarded to Johnny Hayes of USA. Queen Alexander who was present ,later awarded Pietri a silver cup and he returned to Naples, turned pro and made lots of lira for many years as a professional runner.