London Spy

Olympic history: Paris 1900

London Spy

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Long jumper Meyer Prinstein competing

Our Olympic countdown continues with a look at the chaotic Paris Games which ushered in the start of the 20th Century.

Baron de Coubertin was able to resist the strong pressure for Greece to become the permanent home of the Olympic Games, securing Paris as hosts in 1900; however he was less successful when it came to securing a high profile for the Games in the shadow of the

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Olympic confusion with World Fair

Exposition Universelle - World Fair - held simultaneously in the city.

The level of confusion was such that many events were labelled as being part of the trade fair and it would be some time — in some cases,  years — before competitors realised theyhad actually taken part in the Olympics.

There were concerns about the experience of the officials and the quality of the venues. Track and field events took place on uneven turf at the Croix-Catelan stadium, presenting problems for the many participants, who had never run on grass.

And in spite of the fact that the organisers stretched the events out from May until October, they still found themselves having to stage events on a Sunday, with agonising consequences for Meyer Prinstein.

The world record-holder for the long jump, Prinstein occupied first place after Saturday's

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Medal from 1900 Olympics

competition. Whether because of an instruction from Syracuse University or as the result of an agreement with other athletes, Prinstein refused to compete the following day ­— and lost the gold-medal position to fellow American Alvin Kraenzlein.

Victory took Kraenzlein's total of gold medals to four — a record for an athlete at one edition of the Games, which has since been equalled but never beaten.

Konrad Staheli won three shooting golds and a bronze for Switzerland in Paris, while John Jarvis, of Great Britain, collected two swimming golds and another in water polo.

But Ray Ewry's achievement in claiming three gold medals was more remarkable as he overcame the effects of polio. The American's exercise regime gave him great strength in his legs, which he duly used to strike gold in the standing versions of the high jump, long jump and triple jump.

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Ray Ewry clearing the bar in the standing high jump

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Charlotte Cooper competing in Paris

One of the few positive aspects in the organisation of the 1900 Games was the admission of women, albeit in lower profile events.

Hélène de Pourtalès of Switzerland became the first woman to compete in the Games and the first to win a medal as part of a crew of three in a mixed sailing event, while Great Britain's Charlotte Cooper was the first woman to take an individual Olympic gold medal with victory in the women's singles tennis tournament.

With more than 1,200 competitors taking part and more than two-thirds of them from the host nation, it was little wonder that France finished top of the medal table, although there is some debate about whether they won 26 or 27 golds in a total of 101 or 103.

It is generally accepted that the 1900 Games featured the youngest-ever gold medallist, when a boy was recruited from the ranks of the spectators to assist the winning Dutch rowers in the coxed pairs. Reports suggest he may have been as young as seven or as old as 10, but such was the level of organisation that nobody asked his name or age.

Top three performances

1-Alvin Kraenzlein (USA) - Scooped four track-and-field gold medals.

2-Ray Ewry (USA) - Won the standing high jump, long jump and triple jump after suffering from polio.

3-Charlotte Cooper (GBR) - First woman to win an individual Olympic gold in the singles tennis.

Did you know?

- The Games were held concurrently with a trade fair, meaning some competitors did not know that had taken part in the Olympics.

- Prior to the coxed pair final, the Dutch team jettisoned cox Hermanus Brockmann and brought in a young Parisian boy to save weight. They won gold.

- The Games lasted 167 days, from May 14 to October 28.

Medal table

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