Olympic Archives

The Olympics return home and the emergence of lightning Usain Bolt (Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008)

Today Melosport publishes its final historical publication on the Olympics. So far every Olympiad has been covered commencing with the ancient Olympics and it’s journey through to the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Quite fittingly, this final post begins in Athens, 108 years after King George I stood at the foot of the Acropolis and addressed the crowd: ‘I hereby proclaim the opening of the first International Olympic Games at Athens.’

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Athens 2004 Olympics

“Welcome Home’ – that was the motto of the 28th modern-day Olympiad. Seven years after Greece lost the right to host the 1996 Games, they returned to the negotiating table with a bid to host the 2004 Olympics. In contrast to their previous bid, the Greeks were very detailed, contained a focused message and were commended for their diligence and modesty. Crucially, one month before the voting, Athens successfully hosted the 1997 Athletics World Championships, diminishing fears that the city was unable to host major, international sporting events.

Just two months prior to the commencement of the Games, the construction of some Olympic projects were still behind schedule. An executive decision was made not to build the ‘non-vital’ roof on the aquatics centre and more worryingly, infrastructure such as the new tram line linking southern Athens with the city centre and numerous Olympic venues, was behind schedule. In spite of international criticism, the Greeks remained calm and the projects were completed before the Opening Ceremony. Also, for the first time in Olympic history, coverage of the Olympics was broadcasted via the internet.

New medals were introduced at the 2004 Olympics as Giuseppe Cassioli’s design, which had been in place since the 1928 Games, was replaced rectifying the error of the Roman Colosseum being the backdrop on the face of the medal rather than the original Greek venues.

On the eve of the Olympics, the home nation was rocked as two of their leading stars withdrew from the Games. Kostas Kenteris, the defending Olympic 200m gold medalist and his training partner, Ekaterini Thanou, 100m Olympic silver medalist, staged a motorcycle accident, conveniently enabling them to miss a drugs test. Once the truth about their ‘accident’ became public knowledge, they had little choice but to withdraw.

Michael Phelps, the American swimmer, won six golds and two bronze medals at the Games. Still a teenager, he produced the second best ever Olympiad performance as he was one gold medal behind Mark Spitz’s record seven gold medals in 1972.

On the track, the middle distance runners stole the headlines as Britain’s Kelly Holmes won both the 800m and 1,500m events. Meanwhile Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj became the first man since Paavo Nurmi, the flying Finn in 1924, to win both the 1,500m and 5,000m events. In spite of the sprinting withdrawals, the home nation did win a gold on the track as Fani Halkia won the women’s 400m hurdles.

The Olympic marathon followed the same route as in 1896, starting in the town of Marathon and finishing in Athens’ Panathenaic stadium. Brazilian Vanderlei de Lima was leading the race with less than 10km to go before being pushed into the crowd by Irish priest Cornelius Horan. A Greek spectator dragged Horan away and helped de Lima back onto his feet who continued to run. The Brazilian lost 20 seconds of his 48 second lead. Around 3 km later he was overtaken by Italian Stefano Baldini and American Mebrahtom Keflezighi finishing with the bronze medal. He was later awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal for sportsmanship.

In the medals table, China broke up the American-Russian dominance by winning the second highest number of gold medals (32 compared to the USA’s 35 and Russia’s 28). However, both USA and Russia each amassed over 90 medals overall compared to China’s 63.

From a sporting perspective the 2004 Olympics were a success but financially, they were also the most expensive games in history at €10bn (US$15bn). The first Games, post 9/11, understandably had a huge security budget of almost €1bn. The fiscal impact of the Games resulted in Greek national deficit reaching 5.3% in 2004, well above the 3% allowed by the European Union at the time. In light of this, the huge financial burden suffered by Greeks in today’s economic crisis far outweighs the romantic notion of the Olympics returning home. Due to financial constraints, many of conversion schemes of the 2004 Olympic sites have either failed or stalled, although many of the facilities now belong to either domestic sporting organisations or the private sector.

Beijing 2008 Olympics

Beijing was awarded the 2008 Olympics after only two rounds of voting after it held an absolute majority over Toronto, Paris and Istanbul. They were the third Asian Olympic Games, following Tokyo in 1964 and Seoul in 1988.

No expense was spared in Beijing. According to Forbes, the Beijing Games became by far the most expensive ever and almost three times the cost of Athens 2004, at US$40bn.

The Olympic stadium, named the ‘Bird’s Nest’ was like no other. It had a skeletal structure and took almost five years to construct. It was designed by architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron with help from Li Xinggang, from China Achitecture Design and Research Group.

Michael Phelps created Olympic history in 2008. Phelps improved on his superb Athens showing by winning eight golds – setting seven world records in the process. He beat Mark Spitz’s record for the most gold medals won at a single Olympics. Phelps now also holds the all-time Olympic gold medal record – 14.

Along with Michael Phelps, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt stole the headlines in 2008. Going into the Olympics, Bolt had already stamped his authority in both the 100m and 200m sprints and was considered a favourite for both events. However, nobody expected him to dominate in the manner which he did. Bolt, fresh from setting a new 100m world record at the end of May in New York, blew the rest of the field away in the 100m final. He won in a time of 9.69s leaving commentators speculating how quick the Jamaican would have run had he not seemingly cruised the last 10m of the race. If the 100m was impressive, the 200m was bewildering. Michael Johnson set the existing 200m world record at the 1996 Olympics with a time of 19.32s. Never close to being broken, Bolt was in his league of his own powering home in a time of 19.30s. He also anchored the 4x100m Jamaican relay team to another gold and another world record. The world sat up and took notice.

In road race cycling, the organisers chose to follow the Great Wall and the riders passed in front of the Forbidden City – two significant symbols in the 2,000 year history of the city.

Beijing 2008 facts

  • The Beijing Games resulted in 43 world records plus 132 Olympic records. Furthermore, 86 countries all won at least one medal.
  • BMX and open water 10km swimming marathon made their debuts at the 2008 Games.
  • There was an over half a century age gap between the youngest and eldest athletes. At 67, Japanese horse rider Hiroshi Hoketsu participated in his third Olympic Games, whilst 12 year-old Antoinette Joyce Guedia Mouafo represented Cameroon in swimming.
  • Beijing became the first Olympics to be broadcasted by the hosts entirely in high-definition technology.
  • According to research agency Nielsen Media Research, 4.7bn viewers globally watched some of the coverage, beating the previous, 3.9bn viewers, record set in Athens.

China finished as the top ranked nation with 51 golds and 100 medals overall. The USA finished as runners-up with 36 gold but 110 medals overall. Great Britain did extremely well finishing fourth overall, ahead of Germany and Australia.

At the closing ceremony the Olympic Flag was handed over to London Mayor, Boris Johnson. London 2012 kicks off in less than two weeks time with the Opening Ceremony on Friday 27th July.

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RELATED ARTICLES

From gallantry in Spain through to the self-confessed Greatest Of All Time (Barcelona 1992 to Sydney 2000)

– The Good, Bad and the Ugly of the Olympic Games (Moscow 1980 to Seoul 1988)

– First Asian Olympics through to the Munich Massacre and African boycotts (Tokyo 1964 to Montreal 1976)

 The Olympics after the first World War and during the Great Depression (Antwerp 1920 to Berlin 1936)

Categories: Olympic Archives

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