Olympic Tales

Olympics will be here soon. For many of us it is pure excitement, baggy eyes and daily routine timed to the Hungarian team’s appearance. It is an event that sticks people in front of the telly, even those who are not real sport fans. There are newsreel excerptions in our collection, reporting from the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936, but you can also see parts of the London Olympics in 1948, about Olga Gyarmati’s triumph, who won Hungary’s second gold medal on the competition. You can browse among Olympic badges and stamps issued in the honour of our winners. Besides that, you can see the Olympic relics and medals of gymnast Olga Törös, fencer Zoltán Horváth and Áron Szilágyi and wrestler István Majoros. Finally, you can find out about the hopes of the person who revived the idea of Olympics, and answer for the questions: which were the most troublesome Olympic Games and when was the Hungarian team the most productive.

Sport means peace

The history of Olympics is well-known by almost everybody, but you may not know the fact that the first modern Olympic Games (Athens, 1896) were planned to be held in 1900 as part of the World’s Fair, but later they decided to hold it in 1896 for fear that waiting would deteriorate the participation enthusiasm. It is not well-known either that our famous Olympian Alfréd Hajós came home with a silver medal instead of a gold one for the first place. It had no financial reasons, but the use of gold medals was not spread yet. The winner received a silver medal, the second place a bronze medal and the third place deserved the bays.

Levelezőlap, Stockholm, olimpiai játékok - Gróf Esterházy Károly Múzeum, Pápa, CC BY-NC-NDAlthough the Greek thought the Olympics would always take place in Greece, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) decided otherwise. Pierre de Coubertin, the reviver of the Olympic Games, insisted on his original idea that the inhabitants of Europe and the other four continents had better compete rather than make war, and meanwhile they can travel and meet other nations as well.
(We already know that his hope that the Olympic Games would bring about world peace did not come true. Three Olympics were cancelled: the one in 1916 due to the First World War, one in 1940 and the summer and winter games in 1944 due to World War II.)

Birth of the Modern Olympic Games

The next location was Paris, the first Olympics, where even women could compete. These Games were often recalled as the Olympics of chaos. As I have already mentioned, the World’s Fair was held in the same year and actually, organizers degraded the Olympics into a marginal event. According to memoirs, the chaos was so big that competitors had to find out themselves where and when to compete.
The first up-to-date Olympics were held in Stockholm, where a new Olympic Stadium was built and some technical novelties were introduced like the semi-automatic timing and the photo-finish. 

Hungary at the Olympics

At the Olympics of Stockholm, Hungary fought its biggest battle before the start. Nowadays at the opening ceremonies, sportspersons can march in under their national flags and boards, but during the Austro-Hungarian Empire that was far from obvious. Kaiser Franz Joseph was against Hungary’s marching in under its own flag, but Baron de Coubertin’s word proved to be stronger: Hungary and Bohemia could march in separately from Austria, but behind the Austrians. Regarding our results: three gold medals, two silver medals and three bronze medals for the Hungarian team, with our fencers’ walloping triumph.

There were a couple of Olympic Games where some countries were either not invited or boycotted the Games. The 1920 Summer Olympic Games in Antwerp were the first, where the defeated countries of WWI were not invited. They were to be held in Budapest originally, but Hungary as a defeated country could not receive the right to organize them, thus the event took place in Belgium. Naturally, it was not the only time when Budapest occurred as a possible location. The MOB (Hungarian Olympic Committee) decided in 2015 that it would suggest the application of Budapest as a location for the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics and the Hungarian Parliament adopted the suggestion.

The next Olympics in Berlin in 1936 were the first modern Olympic Games, when an Olympic Flame was ignited. Although one could think that this tradition comes from ancient times, it was a feature that the German propaganda added to the event. Two European countries – the Soviet Union and Spain – were not invited to these Games by Hitler.

In the following newsreel, you can see the Hungarian team coming home from Helsinki (László Papp, Öcsi Puskás and Imre Hódos among others). The Helsinki Olympics in 1952 are known as the most successful Games for Hungary, because our team returned with 16 gold medals. Hungary could not top that since then. I wish we managed to do it in 2016!

Translated by Zita Aknai