AUGUST, 1928. This is the year and this the principal month of the Olympic Games, the modern sporting revival of those sacred games of ancient Greece held in the valley under the shadow of Mount Erymanthus in western Sparta over two thousand years ago. The news despatches suggesting the friendly intermingling of the athletic youth of more than fifty nations make it seem jolly and delightful; there is a pleasant air of informal good sportsmanship about the reports that flutter daily across the ocean from Amsterdam. Yet occasionally a paragraph creeps in that leads one to wonder whether all is really well upon the sporting Potomac, whether these modern Olympic Games are working out quite as Baron de Coubertin and his committee hoped and expected when they first met in Paris in 1894. Indeed, in certain outspoken quarters there is a belief that it would be best to drop them altogether. Thus a recent editorial in the London Daily Express said, “The British nation, profoundly interested in sport, is intensely uninterested in the Olympic Games.”
Everyone familiar with sport, as well as every student of the classics, is vaguely aware of the existence of the Olympic Games several thousand years ago; but not everyone realizes what an important position they held in the Greece of 400 B.C. or thereabouts. For more than six hundred years, no matter who was fighting or what kind of warfare was being waged, a truce was always proclaimed throughout the land at the time of the Games in order to allow spectators and athletes to make the journey to Sparta in safety. A winner was escorted home in triumph in a chariot and taken into his native city through a breach in the walls made to signify that a town capable of producing such a man needed no protection. Poets like Pindar and Simonides composed hymns of praise in his honor; for a long time the Olympic victor was regarded as the expression of Grecian culture at its highest. But as the Games grew in importance and prestige their spirit and that of the victors changed immeasurably.
This change seems to have come about first of all through the addition of various events to the Olympic program. Originally the single contest was a footrace within the Stadium; then the chariot races were added, next came other races of various distances between the contestants. Very soon it was found that the earlier winners, men who devoted little or no time to preparing for the Games, were being beaten by men who took months to train seriously for the different events. Towns and cities discovered how beneficial it was to produce the winner at Olympia: grants of money and assistance were given their athletes, and before long the simple wreath of olives was by no means the only prize the victor at Olympia received. Indeed, so open and so apparent were the commercial recompenses dispensed, so far did the games begin to drift from the Olympic ideal of old, that men like Plate and Socrates denounced them in public, doubtless receiving the same sort of derision as those who venture to question our sporting panorama of the twentieth century. Then, as now, a class came into existence which openly devoted its time to the serious business of athletics. Its vocation, as well as its avocation, was the Olympic Games.
Before long whole towns began to compete for the services of athletes in much the same manner as our professional baseball players are bought and sold in the open market to-day. Thus we are told how Astylus of Crotona declared himself to be a citizen of Syracuse, and how Sotades of Crete became a citizen of Ephesus, both men receiving large sums of money in the transaction. Furthermore, not only were the amounts bestowed upon the winners by grateful townsfolk enormous, but not infrequently the victors were given the right of “Sitesis,” or free subsistence for life, in other words a kind of athletic pension. Solon alone among the Athenian lawmakers of his time dared protest at the corruption of the Games; indeed, it was principally owing to his efforts that the prizes for winners, which for some years had been given in the form of money, were limited to five hundred drachma apiece. So open was the venality of the ancient Olympics that the religious atmosphere in which they originated was lost sight of, and when athletes became out-and-out professionals, abandoning all other occupations, interest in the contests began to abate. It was the beginning of the end of the famous Olympics of Greece. These Games, conceived in a spirit of religious purity, became the victim of corrupt professionalism, and after a period of more than seven hundred years of existence, came to an end in 293 A.D.
The more one studies the history of the original Olympic Games and compares them with their modern counterpart the more is one struck with the resemblance between them. Like the present Games, the Olympics of Sparta were held in summer and in the month of August. Like the Games of old, the present Games were begun in a spirit of almost religious devotion to an ideal. It was agreed among the committee which met in the Sorbonne in Paris at the invitation of Baron de Coubertin that the principal result of the reinstitution of these great sporting gatherings would be the friendly feeling they would generate between nations and individuals. Acting on the theory that to know a man well is to like him, and that the peoples of the world would be drawn into close contact through athletics, the committee looked forward to the immense benefit the Games would bring to nations unable to understand one another except upon the meeting ground and through the common language of sport. That in many and devious ways the peoples of three or four continents have grown to know more about one another through their sporting representatives in field and track is true enough; but that the Games have been a vital factor in the promotion or the cementing of international friendships is something not quite so evident to the casual observer.
One can imagine the leaders of the Olympics of, say, the year 100 B.C., the executives of the Spartan, Theban, and Athenian Amateur Athletic Associations, talking blandly of the vast benefit of sport in international relations to anyone presumptuous enough to question the lasting value of the Games. Yet it appears that international relations do not always get the best of it in such encounters. “After boxing for four hours thou hast been so altered that neither dogs nor any person in town could recognize thee,” says an old report about a man who had just competed in the Olympics of ancient Greece. And in the last of our modern Olympic Games Bruisse, the French one-hundred-and-fifty-pound champion, so lacerated the breast of Mallon, the English boxer, that he was disqualified for biting! But perhaps boxing is a sport that tends to arouse the ugly passions of the healthy young animal. Let us have a look at some sport of less rough-and-tumble a nature.
For instance, fencing. Yet a little investigation will prove that fencing is hardly a case in point for those who hold that these games bring about amity and good feeling. For it appears that in the Olympics of 1924 the Italian team, “dissatisfied with the decision of the referee, behaved in a most unsportsmanlike manner and withdrew from the competition.” Perhaps they were within their right in so doing; but at any rate there was little justification for their star fencer, Signor Pulitti, who, being disqualified by one of the judges, met him later and promptly knocked him down. For this he was barred by the Jury d’Honneur, the Supreme Court of the Olympic Games, from taking part in any future Olympics, and a severe reprimand was administered to the entire Italian Fencing and Saber Team.
Study closely the history of the modern Olympics, and you will have difficulty in discovering many which did not leave a series of unfortunate incidents in their train. The aftermath of the Games of 1908 in London was a series of booklets and pamphlets attributed to Mr. Gustavus Kirby on our side, and on the British side to Mr. — now Sir — Theodore Cook, each man pointing out the inaccuracies of the other in no uncertain manner. In fact, it was Mr. Cook who set us down properly by remarking that “the 1908 Olympic Team from America will go down in history as the team on whose behalf more complaints were made than any other.”
It may have been true that our 1908 team did win the International Olympic Complaint Record; but was it not actually the British that year who protested over the decision in the four-hundred-meter run? In the final heat of this event there were four Americans running against a single Englishman, Lieutenant Halswelle. As they came into the turn the Englishman found himself unable to get past his four opponents, and after the race the claim was made that he had been boxed, that is, deliberately pocketed so that he could not get by his competitors. This all the Americans energetically denied, stating that it was every man for himself, and that if Halswelle had been pocketed it was his own fault. British judges sustained the British protest, however; Carpenter, the winner, was disqualified, and the race ordered rerun. The American captain refused to permit his men to compete again, and Halswelle ran the race alone as the winner.
A few hard names were called by both sides during the rest of the meet, and one American correspondent wired home that the sentiment in London was “anything to beat the Yankees.” Certainly the evidence tended that way when a little later Dorando, the Italian Marathon runner who had collapsed in the Shepherd’s Bush Stadium four hundred yards from the finish, was picked up by officials and carried across the line as Johnny Hayes, the American, entered the field. The decision, first given to the Italian, was later reversed, but not until some heated words had been exchanged by British and American officials.
After the recent disclosures of Mr. Charles Paddock, there is occasion, as The Sportsman of Boston remarked, to lose our faith in American sportsmanship at the Olympics. You may remember the admissions of Mr. Paddock, made over the radio, and later confirmed in a letter to the Amateur Athletic Union. It seems that in the finals of the hundred-meter run in the 1924 Games, in which four Americans and one Englishman were running, the former agreed that each American in turn would “jump the gun. This would cause the Englishman to jump the gun also and thereby get penalized. “Of course,” calmly added Mr. Paddock, “if the first American was not called back he would undoubtedly win.” Actually the idea fell through, the race was fairly run and the Englishman won. But the fact remains that the trick had been deliberately planned. The Sportsman in commenting on it says, “It was as if they (the Americans) had said, ‘We planned to win by sticking a rake handle between Abrahams’ legs at the fifty-yard mark. It was a good scheme and it seemed sure to succeed. But at the crucial moment we didn’t do it. This is real sportsmanship. . . .’ Heretofore we have naïvely believed that the protests of the English in 1908 and of other foreign teams in later Olympics against the morals and manners of the American delegation were inspired by nothing more than the chagrin of defeat, but now — now our faith begins to falter.”
“The VIII Olympiad,” said Colonel Robert M. Thompson after the last Games, “ marked one more step forward in the promotion of understanding and good will among the nations.” Reading the voluminous report issued by the American Olympic Association, one gets a slightly different impression. Manager Sam Goodman, in speaking of the visit of the American rugby team to the Olympics in Paris, wrote, “ Without going into details about our stay in the French capital, it is only necessary to remark that we were accorded anything but hospitable treatment; in fact, many times were treated with open hostility.” And later on, he remarked casually in his account of the game between the American and Roumanian teams, “Throughout that game the ten thousand or more French spectators cheered the Roumanians and booed the Americans with great consistency. That attitude seemed to us unnecessary; at any rate, it failed to improve our feeling and love for the French.”
This one can readily understand, for—according to Mr. Goodman’s report—did the finals in which the American team defeated the French appear to show the step forward so plainly indicated by Colonel Thompson. For, said Mr. Goodman, “Athletically speaking, public feeling generally was intense, which probably accounts for the jeering, booing, and hissing which the American flag and the American players received at the conclusion of the match.”
Much the same thing happened at the Games in Antwerp in 1920, when the crowd of Belgian spectators became weary of the continual American victories in track and field and the continual hoisting of the American flag to the top of the pole as a symbol of our triumphs. The report on the Games of that year, in its naïve explanation of how we managed to win the fencing events, also gives an insight into the tactics used by some of the athletes of the United States to obtain victory, and may possibly explain our unpopularity at the Olympics.
Denmark used epee methods, fought bitterly, and employed all the rough tactics of which they were capable. When the score stood 7 to 3 the United States braced. They found that very little attention was being given to the right of riposte and the conventions of foil fencing made so much of in England and the United States. “Form” was forgotten, and they went in and fought. Denmark’s savage rushes were met with solid body-checking, and by seizing the attack and adopting the fighting methods of the Danes, the United States won six consecutive bouts.
And a very good job, too, you can almost hear the author of this enlightening document say to himself. In other words, anything to win. We must have a victory to show the folks back home, because, alas, Americans worship victories, and some day we shall be asking for money to come over again to these Games that do so much for the promotion of good feeling among the sporting nations of the world. Sometimes one is tempted to wonder whether opinions expressed about the beneficent effects of the Olympics on international relations always coincide with opinions felt. Thus, Mr. Edward L. Farrell, one of the assistant track and field coaches and not one of the least capable, says bluntly in his report upon the last Olympics:
Colonel Thompson in his public speeches said, “It is not so much the winning or the losing as that good will must prevail among the nations.” Very good; but yet I overheard Colonel Thompson bewail the fact that we lost the one-hundred-meter run and the Marathon. In my opinion he was holding the coaches responsible.
That the Olympics are a great international gathering of the best athletic stars of the entire world no one can deny; that they are productive of keen competition, new records, immense crowds, profitable weeks for the hotel-keepers and shop-owners of the city in which they are held, no one will for a moment question. But that they have succeeded in becoming a beneficial force in the spreading of peace and good will throughout the world, or that they bring together the various competitors in friendly social intercourse is not so certain. For, as Mr. George Trevor of the New York Sun said recently, in what close observers will agree to be a conservative statement: “The history of the Olympic Games since their arrival in 1896 has been marked by sporadic dissension, bickering, heartburning, and one or two old-fashioned rows.”
About the time the Olympic Games were beginning to decline, when the professional athlete superseded the amateur, the winning of first places became a business for which intensive preparation was necessary. Galen tells us something of the severe course of training the contestants underwent for nearly ten months before the Games started; it included special dieting, gymnastics, massage, breathing exercises, and other exercises for runners, wrestlers, boxers, and weight men. Indeed, the similarity between the modern and ancient methods is sometimes amazing. As we have developed a great system of try-outs held all over this country for places upon the American Olympic teams, so in ancient days the Isthmian and Pan-Hellenic Games fulfilled exactly the same function for the Games at Olympia. We are even told that the athletes of 200 B.C. were forbidden at meals to discuss anything but the lightest topics for fear that headache and dyspepsia might be produced by the mental strain. This custom has carried over to the present time, and prevails, so we are informed by those who have first-hand knowledge, at our university and athletic club training tables to-day.
Anything more out of keeping with the wishes of Baron de Coubertin or the ideal spirit of the Olympic Games than the American system of training would be difficult to imagine. What is the purpose of training tables, managers, trainers, try-outs, practice on shipboard, shutting up athletes in remote villages while the contests are going on, and all the rest of the system built up by our professional athletic directors at present? Simply the desire to place American competitors in the field in the pink of condition, to insure by every possible means a string of victories. Now this intense training, this stressing of the wish for victory, is one of the things which many observers believe is tending to destroy the Games as it has obviously destroyed their aim and their purpose. Any informality, any levity, any suggestion of a friendly and opne spirit in the preparation for the Games is frowned upon, with the obvious resuly that the atmosphere becomes so charged that one might be excused for thinking the American forces were going into battle instead of into an athletic encounter. Indeed, this is no mere figure of speech, as one would doubtless discover if one could see the games from the inside. As it is, one of our assistant track coaches in the last Olympics admitted that his duties consisted of “scouting the teams of other nations.” Shades of the God of American Football! Who can say after this that we are not an efficient nation in sport?
Victory! That’s the ideal of our teams. Win. Come in first. Don’t stop to bother about friendly intercourse with the athletes of other lands. We didn’t come to Amsterdam for that. As another coach expressed himself after the 1924 Olympics, we should make “the winning of games the real and only incentive within the realms of decent sportsmanship and curtail to a minimum the social functions.”
No one can deny that this incentive prevailed at Paris in 1924. The American athletes were lodged in the little village of Rocquencourt nine miles from the scene of the Games, in frame shacks and huts. It appears that the authorities wished to keep the men away “from the temptations of Paris.” A laudable desire but one carried rather to excess in the selection of so inconvenient and uncomfortable a place. To practice, the men were obliged to travel over rough roads for two hours by motor bus. Frequently during the actual contests they got back so late at night that no food was provided for them at the camp. Naturally under such conditions the reaction on both men and women runners and swimmers was unfavorable; indeed, it could hardly have been otherwise. Long, monotonous evenings in a dismal cantonment — that was what the leads of the organization thought necessary to keep the athletes “trained.” One coach, even after this, had the temerity to recommend that in future a special committee of non-athletes be selected to represent the United States at all social functions.
It is easy to understand the amazement of the British team who, at the time our men were living like prisoners, escorted back and forth to the Games in auto trucks under the ever-watchful eyes of their elders, were living a normal life in a hotel on the outskirts of the city. One can also imagine the British taking wine or ale with their meals, smoking a pipe or two after dinner, seeing an occasional show if they so desired, and acting more like normal human beings than is consistent with the best form in American training circles. Very likely our trainers and executives were shocked at this attitude of license in sport. Can they not point with pride to the large number of victories won by American athletes and the small number won by the British? Very likely also, the British might retort, “What of it?” Yet they would be greeted with derision if they ventured mildly to suggest that their attitude toward sport was closer to the true Olympic ideal than that of the American machine with its trainers, coaches, managers, and other supernumeraries so necessary to the efficient twentieth-century athlete.
This summer it would appear that the business of serious training is to be carried to a still further extreme. According to a plan made in advance and quoted in a despatch in the New York Evening Post of April 11, 1928, our team was to assemble at Hoboken on July 11th (after the final try-outs in the Harvard Stadium on July 6th and 7th). The SS. President Roosevelt was to sail on the 11th, the entire boat having been chartered for the American Olympic Team, officials, and camp followers. Once on board this floating prison, the athletes were not to leave it, except for the brief moments when they were to be unleashed for competitive purposes, until their return late in August. Unless this preliminary plan is altered —— and as I write at the end of May it is still unchanged — the athletes are to remain constantly under the eagle eye of the leaders of the American Olympic Expeditionary Forces for a period of seven to eight weeks. Thus at Amsterdam while the games are in progress it is planned to transport these unhappy warriors each morning to the scene of their labors and, once the daily stint is over, they are to be rushed back aboard the liner anchored in the harbor of the city. At the end of a period of five or six weeks — the Games last until well into the middle of August — one can easily imagine how much love of sport for the sake of sport will remain in these three hundred and twenty-six young men and women who have been cooped up like performing animals in a zoo.
Dr. James J. Walsh, who besides being eminent in his profession is a close student of modern athletics and was at one time a competitor in college sports himself, said recently:
We carry this training business to an absurd length. Of course this is what gets the men so keyed up that they readily break down and go stale. We hear about men weeping over the loss of a game, and scenes of this kind are described as if they represented heroics instead of hysterics. Surely this is pushing the cult of the trivial to the last degree.
Was Paavo Nurmi, the Finnish distance runner, a professional? If so, why? Did Charles Hoff, the Norwegian pole vaulter, recently declared by his own authorities ineligible to compete in the present Olympic Games, receive money for entering in our amateur track meets? When Charles Paddock, the sprinter, comes east to engage in a track meet, does he pay his own way? And if not, does that make him a professional? Just what is the reason why amateur athletes hire managers as theatrical stars and movie actresses do? And what function exactly do these managers fulfill for the amateur athletes in question? Anyone able to answer these problems with any degree of accuracy would go a long way toward solving the great amateur-professional issue which has troubled the world since the days of the Olympics of Sparta.
To decide just when the Olympics of old began to decline is a difficult problem; even classical scholars do not try to fix the date precisely. But it is certain that when the Games began the winners at Olympia — indeed all the contestants — were men of “high social quality,” men who frequently held office in their native cities. Their victories were typical of “purity, vigor, and beauty,” and they were looked up to on every hand. But about the time of Plato we begin to hear of the first professional, a man who abandoned all other occupations and “professed” the business of devoting himself to the Olympic Games. Interest then slowly but steadily declined. The fine and cultivated men who had seen a noble ideal in the Games found this ideal no longer being adhered to. The spectators who came to see them as a magnificent spectacle discovered that the competitors thought only of the rewards to be obtained, and had but little interest in the towns they happened to represent. Corruption of athletes crept in; at one of the Isthmian Games, Philostratus tells of a victory bought for the sum of three thousand drachmae, and of wealthy communities contributing to bribery funds. The end of these sacred festivals was, of course, in sight once these practices began.
Professionalism has bored its way into the modern Olympics in a much shorter time. Its presence became clear this past winter when the International Olympic Committee, “which was meant to be the very center and focus and shrine of international purity in sport,” as Sir Theodore Cook so eloquently puts it, declared that it would sanction “broken time” in football. This expression simply means that when a player gives up a job to compete in the Olympics he shall be paid by the authorities of the Games his salary for such time as he is playing, in order that he may lose nothing financially by his absence from work.
This worthy idea, carried to its logical conclusion in other sports, would throw open the games to everyone, amateur and professional alike, and would, of course, mean the eventual disappearance of the amateur athlete with everything that he has represented. The English Football Association protested vigorously at such a ruling, and has firmly refused to send a team to Amsterdam this summer; but the harm has been done with the repudiation of the principle of amateur sport which underlay the reinstitution of the Games by Baron de Coubertin in 1896. The editor of the London Field, evidently not overfamiliar with American sport, predicts or rather suggests in a recent article the secession of England and the United States “those countries which value pure amateurism,” from the Olympic Games in the near future and a meeting between them after the pattern of the Olympics.
One would like to believe, as he points out, that amateurism is valued and appreciated in the United States at its true worth; but little incidents such as the following cause one to wonder. As I have already indicated, the status of many of our leading track and field athletes is somewhat uncertain. Are they amateurs or professionals ? That, no one seems able to decide; but a significant announcement on the subject came recently from such an amateur body as the Illinois Athletic Club of Chicago, which stated publicly that it was going to cut down its staff of amateur athletes because they cost too much money!
Commenting on this amazing declaration, the sporting editor of the Chicago Tribune, Don Maxwell, said, “The very theory of amateurism held by our leading athletic clubs is based on the premise that the public is simple-minded enough to believe that our young men are willing to go from Chicago to New York and run their heads off for the pleasure of making the trip. Some of them may be. I doubt it of many.”
Without wishing to show as much brutal skepticism as Mr. Maxwell regarding the standards of our principal amateur athletes, I think it can hardly be denied that on the Continent, at any rate, there is hardly the slightest conception of what an amateur sportsman is, nor any keen intention or desire to help athletes live up to the spirit of the rule in the Olympic Games. The successful agitation for “broken time” showed this only too clearly. Many of the leading French tennis players not only make a living out of lawn tennis and constantly violate the amateur ruling under the eyes of their officials — perhaps a not extraordinary occurrence, for it has been known to happen in other lands — but see no harm in what they are doing. They are actually hurt and surprised if one ventures to question their athletic integrity. And just as professionalism creeping into the Olympics of old foreshadowed their eventual abandonment, professionalism creeping into the modern Games through Continental sources may be the beginning of the end. Dr. R. Tait McKenzie of the University of Pennsylvania, who accompanied our last Olympic team abroad, said in his report to the National Collegiate Athletic Association:
Another impression I got was the vagueness in the minds of a good many European competitors and committees of the distinction between the amateur and the professional. I remember going out with a group to a military school and speaking to some of the instructors there; it was taken for granted that they should represent the nation. I believe that such is a very general impression through a good many European countries. . . . Of course, if that feeling grows instead of dwindling, it means that our amateur athletics will not progress as they should, because we all know that the amateur and the professional competition cannot mix, never have mixed, and always end when they are mixed in the extinction of the true amateur competition. It is inevitable.
The first of the series of modern Olympics was held in a Stadium erected outside the city of Athens, partly by the Greek government and partly by private subscription. It was an informal affair compared with the complex and highly organized system of events now being run off at Amsterdam some thirty-two years later. In those Olympics of 1896 the vital spirit of the Games of old was faithfully embodied. Historians with a cynical turn of mind might observe that lack of money prevented anything else.
What a difference between those Games at Athens and the gigantic carnival at Amsterdam! Instead of a small army of many thousands of competitors from fifty nations all over the world which are competing to-day, there were less than a thousand athletes in action at Athens, and of this number four hundred were Greek. Instead of being concentrated in camps and on boats like prisoners of war, the entire assemblage lived simply and modestly together in a few schoolhouses thrown open by the Greek government. Their friendly and sportsmanlike attitude toward the Games and toward one another was in direct contrast to that of the pampered athletic stars of the present day. At the Olympics of 1920 in Antwerp, American competitors, housed by the Belgian government in schoolhouses, openly revolted at such “conditions,” and one of the coaches of the team of 1924 attributed the poor showing of some of his athletes to the fact that the food was poor, stating that “you could not get an egg cooked the way an athlete wanted it,” and that they “ran out of shredded wheat and corn flakes.” A serious matter, this, to those who engage in the serious business of Olympic competition nowadays. The Olympic Games lost (or nearly lost) for lack of shredded wheat and corn flakes!
Except for what was contributed toward the building of the Stadium, there were no government grants to those early Olympics for the good reason that the Greek Treasury had no money to grant; but if the Games were much more haphazard and informal than they are to-day they seem strangely enough to have attained a truer success. Officially, the French won the majority of prizes, although thirty-two Americans — a modest team compared with the three hundred and twenty-six athletes plus their official retinue who are making the trip this summer to Amsterdam — ran away with the track and field events. As showing how casual the proceedings were, it is worth noting that the discus throw at Athens was won by Garett, an American who had never seen a discus until he reached Greece. Trainers, coaches, managers, assistant managers, assistant coaches, team chefs, attendants, rubbers, chaperons, nurses, doctors, officials, newspapermen, and all the rest of the great army who nowadays accompany our athletes abroad were totally lacking when this little body of athletic pioneers ventured across at the request of Baron de Coubertin to compete in this athletic revival in 1896. Just what their expenses were is a little hard to discover at this late date; possibly no one kept an accurate report to present to His Excellency the President of The United States as is customary to-day. However, the entire cost of running the Games was less than a quarter of a million dollars. Now it is estimated that the American team in Amsterdam will spend an Olympic Fund of something like four hundred thousand dollars before returning to these shores. An expensive victory!
As the Games of old increased in importance it was observed that many new events were added to the original number of exercises. At the outset all ceremonies and contests took place between dawn and dusk on a summer’s day, the first strictly athletic contest as we understand it being what would be called the two-hundred-meter run, for it consisted in a sprint the length of the Stadium which was approximately two hundred and thirty yards long. Later a double sprint was added; in the seventeenth Olympiad was also added the long course of seven times around the Stadium, the forerunner of our modern distance events. Then came the Pentathlon, in the twenty-third Olympiad the boxing, and later the Pancratium in which boxing and wrestling were combined. Curiously enough, these events which had been included to increase the interest and attention of the nation at large, were at least a symptom of the decline of the Olympics of old. At the very time when new extraneous contests were added — contests in which the majority of the people had little interest — the Games began to lose their hold on the public imagination.
Those who try to account for the loss of spontaneous enthusiasm for the modern Games attribute it partially to the fact that there are too many Olympic competitions in which only a small number of people or only a few nationalities are interested. At present the Games start officially in the month of February: with winter sports in French Switzerland at Chamonix. Just why there should be winter sports in Olympic competitions, sports in which nations in South America and the East and even European countries like Portugal, Spain, Roumania, and Bulgaria have little interest, has never been explained; but that these contests held in French Savoie are a splendid advertisement for the local hotel industry no one can very well deny. The Olympic Games are a good thing: so let us have more of them! That seems to be the spirit in which they are conducted at present. The City of Los Angeles in its enthusiasm for amateur sport even proposes to go so far as to offer to charter ocean liners to bring foreign competitors to California free of charge if the Games of 1932 are assigned to it. “Los Angeles Knows How!”
We are told that the chariot races in the ancient Olympics were added to make sure of the attendance of the wealthy people who cared for this kind of sport. New events were added to our modern Games for similar reasons. The Swedes and Norwegians do not care overmuch for the track and field events because they have few runners and jumpers? Very well, let us add winter sports to the official list. The South Americans never saw a ski or a bob-sled? All right, let us get up a competition in soccer football, in which they excel. Canoeing was included for the first time at the Olympics of 1924, and it appears that lacrosse is to have its place this summer. New contests like these are being continually added, many of them totally out of keeping with the spirit in which the Games were conceived, and most of them introduced as an incentive to some nation which has lost heart or is not enthusiastic about sending representatives. Surely the acme of absurdity was reached with the inclusion of women’s teams from several nations in the various swimming events. For not only were the Games in Sparta limited to men competitors; but for many years attendance even was restricted to the male sex.
Polo and hockey, football and curling, bicycling and lacrosse, these sports are in no broad sense international and have no place at all in any international sporting gathering like the Olympic Games. The fact that they are included is a confession of weakness on the part of Olympic authorities, a sure sign that a definite attempt is being made to overcome the apathy of the smaller nationalities, to conciliate everyone while the Games are getting farther and farther away from the ideals of their founder and the spirit in which they were begun.
It took seven centuries for the Olympics of Greece to originate, grow strong, flourish, decay, and finally perish, a victim of professionalism and of divergence from the Olympic ideal. It has taken considerably less than half a century for these modern Games to reach a point where the advisability of continuing them is a subject for general debate in international sporting circles. There is grave doubt as to whether, in the manner in which they are conducted at present, they contribute anything toward the improvement of international relations; it is certain that they contain too much insistence on training for victory at the sacrifice of natural friendliness and good sportsmanship; that there is about them a great deal of unnecessary ballyhoo and a good deal of money wasted; and that there is too frantic an attempt to sustain popular enthusiasm by adding in substance what has been lost in spirit. As a writer in the Loudon Daily Express said just before they began this summer, “The instinct of the Olympic Games is all right. We all of us love to have foreign competitors at Wimbledon, at Olympia, in the Grand National, at St. Andrews, and at Henley. But for semi-professional, Geneva-like gatherings that usurp the time-honored name of the Olympic Games there is from one end of the kingdom to the other no enthusiasm whatever. The best thing we could do would be to drop out of them altogether.”