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Olympics during a pandemic: Antwerp 1920 Summer Olympics haunted by war & flu pandemic

By: AP |

Up to date: July 28, 2020 2:50:00 pm

On this August 26, 1920, file photograph, the Olympics are held on the Antwerp Stadium, exhibiting the U.S. contingent main all of the athletes within the procession across the area on, after which they proceeded to steer all competitors within the athletic occasions. (AP Photograph)

When the Olympic Video games resumed after World Warfare I, the occasion was not designed to flee the horrors of struggle. The Antwerp Video games have been used to recollect.

Belgium hosted after being a battleground two years earlier than. Many athletes have been veterans. The opening ceremony celebrated the army may as a lot as peace.

On their approach into Antwerp’s Beerschot Stadium, attendees walked previous a statue of a Belgian soldier throwing a grenade, then heard artillery salutes punctuate the ceremony. The Belgian fencer who took the Olympic oath to compete “in a spirit of chivalry, for the consideration of our nation and for the glory of sport” was Victor Boin, an air drive pilot, flanked by two troopers.

Many Olympians from the final video games in 1912 had been killed or wounded in the course of the struggle when beginner gentleman athletes flocked to function army officers. But extra athletes have been killed by the Spanish Flu pandemic that ravaged the world quickly after.

In Antwerp, a brand new technology of athletes got here to the fore. The Olympics have been nonetheless very a lot centered on white, male athletes from privileged backgrounds, however instances have been slowly altering.

Feminine athletes overcame social disapproval and resistance from some Olympic officers to compete, and Japan received the primary medals for an unbiased Asian nation.


Of the roughly 2,600 athletes, solely about 60 have been ladies. However French tennis participant Suzanne Lenglen transcended the Olympics as a world star.

Nicknamed “La Divine,” she was a nationwide hero and a family identify world wide. The ladies’s trophy on the French Open and the second-largest court docket each bear her identify.

In Antwerp, Lenglen didn’t drop a sport in her first three singles matches and didn’t drop a set all event in her run to the gold medal. She added gold within the combined doubles and bronze within the ladies’s doubles.

Sickness meant Lenglen couldn’t defend her title on house soil on the subsequent Olympics in Paris in 1924, the final time the game could be on this system till 1988.

Tennis in Antwerp was additionally a breakthrough for variety, as Japan received its first medals. Ichiya Kumagae received silver in males’s singles and added a doubles silver with Seiichiro Kashio. No unbiased Asian nation had received a medal earlier than, although India had received two silvers in 1900 below British rule.


The Winter Olympics have been but to be invented, so ice hockey joined the Video games in a program in any other case full of summer season sports activities. Canada received the inaugural males’s hockey gold medal, however it was a Canadian group with a twist.

Workforce Canada was really the Winnipeg Falcons, an beginner group arrange by Icelandic immigrants. Their identify was taken from a falcon on Iceland’s outdated coat of arms at a time when it was nonetheless a part of Denmark.

With future two-time Stanley Cup winner Frank Fredrickson as captain, the Falcons demolished the opposition in Antwerp, beating Czechoslovakia 15-0, the US 2-0. The Falcons’ shutout run ended within the gold-medal sport in opposition to Sweden however they nonetheless received 12-1.

Hockey and determine skating have been held a full 4 months earlier than the opposite sports activities in an Antwerp rink referred to as the Ice Palace. The Worldwide Olympic Committee drew on that have when it created an “worldwide winter sports activities week” in Chamonix, France, in 1924. That was later formally acknowledged as the primary Winter Olympics.


Lately Finland is greatest identified for its hockey gamers and cross-country skiers, however in 1920 it was the undisputed distance-running superpower.

On this 1920 file photograph, Charles (Charley) Paddock, second from proper, of the USA wins the 100 meters last together with his well-known “flying end” on the 1920 Summer season Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium. Morris Kirksey, far proper, of the USA was second, and Jackson Scholz of USA, left, was fourth. Third place Harry Edward not proven. (AP Photograph)

Hannes Kolehmainen had received three gold medals in 1912 and cemented his place in historical past by profitable the 1920 marathon in world report time regardless of heavy rain making the course muddy. Antwerp was the 12 months when Kolehmainen metaphorically handed the torch to a different all-time nice, his fellow Finn Paavo Nurmi. Aged 23, Nurmi received three gold medals in Antwerp and would later win six extra.

When Finland held the Olympics in 1952, Nurmi handed the torch again — actually. Nurmi carried the Olympic torch into the stadium in Helsinki in the course of the opening ceremony and handed it over for Kolehmainen to gentle the flame.


Most Olympic champions want coaching, willpower and luck to win the gold. In 1920 it was sufficient simply to show up.

Norwegian sailors received 5 gold medals in Antwerp utterly unopposed after no different crews entered their occasions. They nonetheless needed to sail out alone on the water, around the buoys and cross the road with out sinking to earn a gold medal.

Out of 13 totally different crusing competitions, just one featured greater than three boats, which means virtually everybody went house with a medal. One occasion was a shootout between two Dutch crews, who have been allowed to complete off the competition again house within the Netherlands.

With the Tokyo Olympics postponed for a 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic, here’s a look again on the historical past of the Summer season Video games. This story was printed within the St. Albans (Vermont) Every day Messenger newspaper on August 23, 1920. The story is printed because it seems within the newspaper, utilizing the up to date type and any printed errors. The marathon winner was Hannes Kolehmainen, not Kolehminen, and his challenger within the race was Chris Gitsham, not Charles Gitsham.

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