From Ancient Greece to Modern Times: 40 Surprising Facts About the Olympics

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1Bob Beamon

Bob Beamon

In 1968, Olympic long jumper Bob Beamon's first attempt exceeded the limit of the official measuring equipment. It took over 15 minutes before a distance was posted, and only then did he realize he had broken the world record by nearly 2 feet (0.6m).


2. Luxembourg's gold medal at the 1952 Olympics was so unexpected that the organizers had neglected to give the band a score for their national anthem. The musicians "hurriedly improvised a tune which bore little resemblance to the Luxembourg anthem".


3. Young Greek hoplites (citizen soldiers) had to dress in heavy armor and run a foot race of 1,300 ft in the Olympics. This was done to develop the battlefield tactic of rushing to the Persian lines in rapid pace so as to counter their archers.


4. MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) was included in the ancient Olympics. It is called Pankration and is the only event that wasn't reinstated with the creation of the modern Olympics.


5. Czechoslovak runner Emil Zátopek decided to compete in the marathon in the 1952 Olympics, despite never having run that distance in his life. Zátopek asked fellow runner Jim Peters, who he was racing alongside if the pace was fast enough. When Peters said "no", Zátopek sped up and won the race


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61936 Berlin Olympics

1936 Berlin Olympics

During 1936 Berlin Olympic games, the Nazis ridiculed the US for relying on "non-human black auxiliaries." American black athlete Jesse Owens went on to win 4 gold medals and beat a German at Long Jump in front of Hitler. Four years after Owens' death, a street in Berlin was renamed after him.


7. The night before the Olympic final, Michael Jordan apparently spent the night drinking and gambling all night, then he went on a long day of press appearances, plus 18 holes of golf in Barcelona, before he went on to lead Team USA in a gold-medal winning victory over Croatia.


8. Betty Robinson, an Olympic runner, was involved in a plane crash in 1931 and was wrongly pronounced dead upon first being discovered. She spent 7 months in a coma and it took her 2 years to learn to walk normally again. In 1936, she returned to the US Olympic team and won gold in the relay.


9. The state of Kuwait is banned from the Olympics due to government legislation that permits the state to interfere in elections of sporting organizations. As a result, Kuwaiti athletes compete as independent athletes under the Olympic Flag instead of their own flag.


10. Jesse Owens, winner of four golds in the '36 Olympics said, "Hitler didn't snub me – it was our president who snubbed me. The president didn't even send me a telegram."


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11Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens

After a ticker-tape parade to celebrate his Olympic medals, Jesse Owens was not permitted to enter through the main doors of the Waldorf Astoria and instead was forced to travel up to the event in a freight elevator to reach the reception honoring him.


12. A gymnast at the Rio Olympics named Marisa Dick created a new move for the balance beam and was the first to use it in competition. A “change-leg leap to free-cross split sit” is now known as The Dick Move.


13. An Olympian named Laura Trott was born with a collapsed lung, diagnosed with asthma, stands little over 5ft, weights 115lbs and is now a double Olympic gold medalist in track cycling.


14. Mack Robinson, brother of Jackie Robinson, medaled in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Upon returning home to California, the only work he could find as an African-American was sweeping streets, which he did while wearing his Olympic 'USA' sweatshirt.


15. During the first Olympic marathon in 1896, a Greek named Spyridon Louis, stopped during the race for a glass of wine. He would later go on to win the race and become a national hero.


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16Manga Akira

Manga Akira

The 2020 Olympics will take place in Tokyo, as predicted in the manga Akira in 1982.


17. The USA has never won Olympic medals in just 3 sports: handball, badminton, and table tennis.


18. After Kirani James won Grenada's first-ever Olympic gold medal in 2012, the country was so proud that the government held a giant 3-hour celebratory rally attended by thousands, gave him US$186,000, printed new stamps, named a new stadium after him, and built a museum/gym in his hometown.


19. An American gymnast named George Eyser won 6 medals, including 3 gold, in a single day at the 1904 Olympics. He was the only Olympian to have competed with a prosthetic limb for the next 100 years, until 2008.


20. Amy Van Dyken, a 6-times Olympic gold medalist swimmer, has been an asthmatic her whole life, proving that children with asthma can grow to be Olympic-level athletes!


21Duke Kahanamoku

Duke Kahanamoku

At the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, Hawaiian-American Duke Kahanamoku overslept and missed his qualifying heat in the 100m freestyle. His main rival, Cecil Healy of Australia, convinced judges to hold a special qualifying race for Duke. Duke ended up going on to win the gold, and Cecil took silver.


22. Finland and Sweden are the only countries in the world that have earned a medal at every Olympic game since 1908.


23. 7 of the first 8 Olympic Gold Medals in the hammer throw, were won by Irishmen born within a 30-mile radius of each other.


24. Some Koreans are trying to rename their country back to "Corea". They believe that Japan changed the spelling to "Korea" so Japanese athletes would march first at the 1908 Olympics.


25. By analyzing the faces of Olympic medalists after their events, a peer-reviewed study found that silver medalists feel worse, on average than bronze medalists. Silver medalists feel unlucky, while bronze medalists feel lucky.

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