Friday, May 30, 2008

A Look Back: London '08!

Where were you in 1908? The Olympics were in London!

Queen Elizabeth II hosted a reception at Windsor Castle today to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the IV Olympiad. Of course, it's only roughly the 100th anniversary, as the games were held between April and October, 1908. (They were serious about endurance back in those days.)

We here at Mount Olympics are going to celebrate the only way we know how: showing silly photos and telling entertaining stories. Happy 100 years, 1908 Olympics!

First, we must look at why the games were held in London in the first place. It was the first time in the history of the Olympic Games that two cities, Rome and London were vying to host Unfortunately for Rome, Italy decided that 1908 was a fairly good year to explode.

Vesuvius BLOWS UP!

The Italian government decided that it should probably allocate its funds to, you know, rebuilding Naples rather than hosting an Olympic Games. So London it was!

London! Totally manly! Indubitably!

From the beginning, the Games were controversial. But it wasn't genocide/severe human rights violations/Communism/terrorism controversy. No, this was the adorable type of controversy. It mainly involved flags. According to a list from Wikipedia, the controversies included:
  • The Finnish team was expected to march under the Russian flag rather than the proud Finnish one. Many on the Finnish team chose to march in the Opening Ceremonies without a flag at all.
  • The Swedish team decided not to march in the Opening Ceremonies at all after the Swedish flag was not displayed above the stadium.
  • The US flag was also snubbed from the display above the stadium (that must have been some kind of an awesome display for people to get so worked up about it!) In retaliation, the American flag bearer refused to dip the flag to the royal box. And the proud tradition of not dipping the American flag to nobody was begun. (At least they didn't sing Toby Keith songs, that's all I'm saying.)

Enough controversy! Let's get on with the silly pictures!

Remember how Tug of War was totally a sport?

In 1908, the Gold Medal was awarded to a British team from the City of London Police Club. A small part of me can't help but think of the Ankh Morpork City Watch.

Let's hear it for the British Lady Archers!

It doesn't matter that they were the only female archery team in the games! They totally rocked.

The winners' certificate.

The games were again held in London in 1948 and will be held there in 2012. Luckily enough, they've unveiled their logo, so we can see how far we've come.

Good lord, it burns.

Sources:,, Wikipedia, NYTimes

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The New York Times steals all my good ideas

No really.

Somewhere in New York, someone is getting paid cashy money to do what I do for you here every day (or really about once a week, when I feel like it) for FREE. The New York Times unveiled their very own blog about the Olympics earlier this month. It updates daily and everything!

What is their blog called? Rings. This one? Five Rings. I have FIVE of them, people. I am clearly better qualified. Also, I came first. So there. Suck it, New York Times.

Also, they're doing that whole "Clever Comment: Relevant Subtitle" thing! That was my thing, New York Times. Mine.

Let's compare, just really quickly.

Five Rings, April 11: An Adventure in Symbology, Part 1: THE FLAME
Rings, May 28, 2008: The Starting Line: Smog, Golf, Stadiums, and Banned Swimmers

Mine uses all caps. Clearly it is MORE IMPORTANT.

I HAVE MORE RANTING. But, if you'll excuse me, I'm going off to read about smog and some banned swimmers.

Monday, May 26, 2008

I Heart Quatchi

I am so excited for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Not because I might actually be able to go to the Games. Not because the skeleton is perhaps the craziest sport ever invented by deranged minds.

It's because of Quatchi.

Meet Quatchi, the Sasquatch from Quebec.

Remember that epic mascot blog I did a while back? (Of course you do, it's really the only reason to visit this nook of the internet.*) I left out my favorite mascots of all time, the Vancouver 2010 team!

They just didn't fit in with the other crazies. After all, they haven't exactly had their time in the sun yet. And with good reason! The spend most of their time hiding! Or so one would suspect, seeing as they are completely ridiculous cryptozoological creatures. One is an orca-bear monstrosity.

Here, just... watch the video. It explains absolutely nothing, but it does it far better than I could.

But the Quebecois Sasquatch who has a passion for photography and hockey is perhaps the greatest thing to ever happen to the Olympics, ever.

World? This totally makes up for Izzy. Just when I thought nothing ever could.

*Hell yes I'm revolutionizing the online lexicon. None too shabby for this here cranny of the webbernaut, eh?**
**Oh my God, Quatchi, I've gone native. Pretty soon Mount Olympics will be bilingual and the dollar will be replaced by the Loonie! Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Have you seen how strong the Loonie is these days? Currently worth one US dollar and one US penny and rising.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

An Adventure in Symbology, Part 2: THE RINGS

The Olympic Rings: just the sight of those five wants to make you start humming that triumphant John Williams trumpet solo, doesn't it? But the real story behind the symbol is full of intrigue and falsehoods, everything from the false involvement of Swiss psychiatrists to faked ancient symbolism. Just smell that Adventure History starting to cook!

Let's explore, shall we?

The five-ringed symbol we all know and love was initially brought before the world Congress of 1914 (back when they could take anything called "the world Congress" seriously) to "represent the five parts of the world which now are won over to Olympism and willing to accept healthy competition." (That's the problem with those damn penguins-- they play too damn dirty.)

The six colors are meant to represent the flags of the world, with at least one color appearing on every flag in the world. Not all at the same time, clearly. Otherwise we would have many more amazing technicolor flags. We can't all be as cool as Ethiopia.

Initially, the colors were assigned to very specific flags. The blue was for Sweden, the blue and white was for Greece, blue, white, and red were for the English, American, German, Belgian, Italian, and Hungarian flags. The yellow and red were for the Spanish flag (with the Brazilian and Australian innovations, whatever the hell that means). Also Japan and China. As Coubertin himself wrote, "Voilá vraiment un embléme international!" (The exclamation point is mine.)

I just want you all to know that I just translated that from French. I don't speak French. I sacrifice so much for you people. FYI.

The countries that Coubertin listed are significant for what they omitted. South Africa, for instance, was not mentioned, although South African athletes had competed at every Olympic games since 1896. (Upcoming blog post alert: Imperialism and the Olympics, YAY.)

Wikipedia infers that the original interlocked ring design originally came from Carl Jung (yes, that Carl Jung) because somebody doesn't know how to read academic texts. Jung's involvement is, in fact, a lie. The good doctor merely enjoyed the nature of interlocking rings in general, not necessarily the Olympic symbol in particular. This is actually what the official Olympic pamphlet says:
Circles, after all, connote wholeness (as we are told by the psychologist Karl Jung), the interlocking of them, continuity.
Oh, Wikipedia, when will you tell me true facts? I was all excited, too, because that Carl Jung reference was really cool. Damn my academic training and my propensity to look at primary sources!

Anyway, back to the rings.

For the great big 1936 torch relay (we discussed this in Part 1, if you recall), the Germans decided to go all out, visiting all kinds of historic Greek sites. With a flair for drama and ancient symbolism, the organizers carved the five rings into an ancient pillar at Delphi (as in "the Oracles at").

Nazis are vandalizing ancient treasures?!
Where is Indiana Jones when you need him?

In the 1950s, two historians visited Delphi, found the stone, and thought they had unearthed a crucial link from the past. In their history of the ancient Olympic games, they mistakenly reported that they had found an authentic relic. Whoops!

This reference was then spread by people too lazy to figure out (as Paul Harvey would say) the Rest of the Story. But now you know.

Ultimately, the appeal of the Olympic rings lies not in their ancient history, nor their more recent slightly imperialist history, nor their tenuous ties to significant Swiss psychiatrists. The five rings represent an image that is indelibly burned into the brains of billions across the globe: the symbol itself constitutes some common knowledge that the whole world shares.

Plus, it's just so easy to riff off the image, be it for the purpose of parody, protest, or ceremony.


Image sources: Wikipedia,,,,

References: "This Great Symbol: Tricks of History" by Robert Knight Barney, Wikipedia (though it gave me lies),

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Torch is on Top of the World

As of today, the torch-wielding Chinese climbing team made it to the very tippy top of the world. Even though there is very little oxygen that high in the atmosphere, the torch blazed true.

This torch is different than the one that traveled around the world-- it was specially designed to blaze on Mount Everest. It was unsullied by controversy, by protests, and by that awkward incident where it actually got extinguished in Paris. Its only job is to burn freely, as high as we can go.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Mount Everest: Closed

I really need to go to bed, but before I do, here's this little tidbit.

China has closed Mount Everest.


Mount Everest is situated in the Himalayas on the border between Tibet (to the north) and Nepal (to the south). The Tibetan side of the mountain has been closed for some time to Westerners, nobody can get in or out of the area, let alone up the mountain. But as the torch climbs up and down the tallest peak on earth, there will be nobody to impede it or plant any Free Tibet flags at the summit. An American climber found with a Free Tibet flag at base camp got deported last week. They're not screwing around.

Chinese officials expect to reopen the mountain on May 10th at the latest... unless, you know, the torch gets delayed or something. All they're saying is that the torch will go up on a day in May when conditions are favorable. In the meantime, everyone else gets to play the waiting game.

They haven't begun quite yet-- the team is hanging out at base camp, waiting for storms to abate.

See that tiny little flame up near the tippy-top? No?
Well, you will on a day in May when the weather is favorable.

Also, man, if there's ever a sherpa hall of fame, I'm willing to bet the sherpa torch bearer guys are going to be in it.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Tug-of-War was once an Olympic sport!

And the world was a much better place for it.

About two weeks ago I got really excited about starting a blog about the Olympics and politics and weird sports. I went to the library and checked out a ton of books-- all of which would be due two weeks later. In an effort to not hold the entire Olympics collection hostage, I've been trying to figure out which books to send back. Some of them have stuff that is just too good to lose without mention.

So here we go-- random trip through random factoids from random library books. Awesome!

Sports that weren't:
The pankerton was basically a super intense game of uncle-- no rounds, no time limits, and few rules. Competitors were only restricted from gouging eyes and biting, but apparently "pankratiasts often got away with both."
Pigeon shooting was an official sport in Paris in 1900. Now they use clay pigeons, the spoilsports.

Speaking of spoilsports, my Eyewitness Olympics book (you know the brand-- lots of pretty pictures and lengthy informative captions) has an entire two pages devoted to spoilsports. Here is the list of spoilsports, as far as I can tell:

Palestinian terrorists in 1972
Idi Amin
World Wars. Just, you know, in general.

Hitler was the spoilsport, not Jesse Owens.

Eyewitness Books, Olympics, published 1999.
Image comes from and is the cover of a VHS tape, I think.

Edit: For a more detailed discussion of just how Hitler was a spoilsport and a more thorough discussion of the Jesse Owens story, see my new blog post: Jesse Owens and Hitler.