Text Bill Torbitt
The ancient Olympic Games were held for over 1 000 years, from 776 BC to 390 AD. Only free, Greek-speaking men were allowed to compete (they had to compete naked!). At first it seems there was only one event code – a race over a distance of a stede (about 150 metres). Hence the word ‘stadium’.
When the modern games were reintroduced by Baron de Coubertin in 1896, women were still not allowed to compete. De Coubertin thought their presence would be ‘impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic, and incorrect’. They started competing, however, in the 1900 games, where they won three gold medals. American women were slightly handicapped, as until 1924 they were compelled to compete in long skirts.
The Vatican City is the only sovereign state never to have competed in an Olympics. Greece is the only country to have attended all the summer Olympics as a national team under its present flag. London is the only city to host the games three times (1908, 1948 and 2012). Africa is the only continent never to have hosted the Olympics, despite a closely fought bid by Cape Town in 2004.
The only Olympian ever to be awarded the Nobel Prize (for peace) was Philip Noel-Baker of Great Britain, who won silver in the 1 500-metre dash in 1920.
South African participation
The first black African Olympians were South Africans, even before South Africa became a unified country. They were Len Tau and John Mashiani, manservants of Boer War General Piet Cronje, who accompanied Cronje when he was released from the St Helena internment camp and emigrated to America. Somehow Tau and Mashiani were entered into the marathon at the 1904 St. Louis games, and finished very creditably.
Zola Budd, a South African girl who ran barefoot, set several world-record long distances in the 1980s. She acquired British citizenship to beat the boycott on South Africa, and was involved in one of the Games’ most notorious moments, in the 3 000 metres final in 1984, when the American world champion Mary Dekker tripped over Budd and fell.
The first black athlete to win a gold medal was African-American John Taylor, who was part of the US relay team in athletics in 1908.
The first black African to win a gold medal for his country was Ethiopian marathon runner Abebe Bikila, who ran barefoot in Rome, in 1960.
The first African woman to win a gold was Esther Brand for South Africa in the 1952 high jump.
The first black African woman to win an individual gold medal was Deratu Tulu, in the 10 000 metres, in 1992.
Kenya is the most prolific African Olympic medal winner to date, with 78 medals. South Africa comes next with 70, followed by Ethiopia with 38. The large majority of the Kenyan and Ethiopian victories come, of course, from long-distance running.
The United States is the most prolific medal winner with a staggering 2 296 ‘gongs’ to date. India has the lowest number of total Olympic medals per capita.
Namibia at the Olympics
Namibia entered the games at the first opportunity in 1992, two years after becoming independent. The country’s only medals so far have come from the iconic Frankie Fredericks, who won silver in both the 100 and 200 metres in 1992, and again in 1996. Both Frankie Fredericks and Esther Brand have long streets named after them in Windhoek.
These facts relate only to the normal Summer Games, and do not include information on the Paralympics, Special Olympics or Winter Games.