University of Calgary

History lesson

UToday HomeAugust 1, 2012

As the spectacle of the Games of the XXX Olympiad unfolds in London this summer, Doug Brown, a sports historian in the Faculty of Kinesiology, will take time to reflect upon the history within the history of the Olympic Games.

“First of all, London is the only city in the world to host the Games three times,” says Brown. “And in many ways, England is the birthplace of the modern Olympic movement.”

The Olympics were just a dream in the 1890s when Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the organizer of an international congress on physical education, came to England looking for information on how to integrate physical education into the school system. He placed an ad in English papers, and received an enthusiastic response from Dr. Penny Brookes, an English physician in the town of Much Wenlock who had long been a champion of physical education and, who, created his own version of the Greek Olympiad in the tiny hamlet.

He staged his mini-spectacle for de Coubertin, an eclectic mix of sports performed by school children, amateurs and dedicated athletes that came complete with pennants and pageantry.

The Baron was blown away and wrote an article for the December issue of 'La Revue Athletique' that famously stated: "If the Olympic Games that modern Greece has not yet been able to revive still survives today, it is due, not to a Greek, but to Dr. W.P. Brookes.”

As a result, says Brown, the Olympic Games and movement was modelled after the English sport system and even the English approach to sport.

“I certainly think from the promo and motifs that are surrounding the Games, that there will be that sort of British gentility brought to the event, the ‘tea and crumpets, the strawberries and cream’ type of approach. White flannels and blue blazers, I’m sure, will be a prominent.”

As a nod to England’s role in creating the modern Olympiad, one of the bizarre mascots is, in fact, named Wenlock after the site of the world’s first modern Olympiad.

Read the full conversation with Brown here.