Why the marathon is the length it is - and other stories around the Games
Britain is hosting the Olympic Games for the third time in 2012, so it's no surprise there are many stories and facts which have built up around the locations – many of them world-famous venues in their own right. From the length of the marathon, to the events which inspired the creator of the Modern Games, there are some great anecdotes and quirky facts around the destinations.
In 1908, Windsor hosted the marathon, which started outside the castle. At the time the actual race distance wasn’t fixed. Moving the starting point from Queen Victoria’s statue to East Terrace so that spectators wouldn’t hinder the athletes added 700 hundred yards to the total distance. A few changes at the White City finishing point meant the eventual race distance was 26 miles 385 yards and this was officially adopted as the length of the Marathon in 1924
Weymouth and Portland is the sailing venue for the London2012 Games, but there is another link with the capital: Portland stone, dug from the quarries there, was used to build St Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace (as well as the United Nations building in New York).Weymouth was also a favourite with King George III (subject of the film The Madness of King George) who spent 17 summers holidaying in the Dorset resort town.
CYCLING ROAD RACE
There may be one or two unexpected spectators at the cycling road race as it speeds past Hampton Court Palace: the historic building is reputedly >haunted: Catherine Howard, fourth wife of King Henry VIII, is said to frequent the Haunted Gallery, and there are reports of other spirits in the building!
Cyclists may not have time to enjoy the view from Box Hill on the road race, but many others have done so from this beauty spot, not least the characters in Emma, in the book of the same name by Jane Austen – a pivotal scene in the story took place at a picnic on the hill.
Hugh Laurie is best known as the grouchy doctor in the popular TV series House: less well known is that he rowed for the University of Cambridge – presumably inheriting his skills from his father, William George Ranald Mundell Laurie, who with his partner won the Gold Medal for the coxless pairs for Britain in the 1948 Games, when the rowing was held at Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire.
The town of Much Wenlock may not be hosting the London2012Games, but it has been credited with inspiring Baron Pierre de Coubertin, creator of the Modern Olympic Games. He visited the Shropshire town and was inspired by the ideas behind the Games, first held there in 1850. The programme for this year’s games included archery, athletics and other London2012 events, but also sports not on the Olympic calendar such as bowls, and golf.
THE COTSWOLD GAMES
Even older than the Much Wenlock Games is Robert Dover’s Cotswold Olympick Games, which have just celebrated their 400th anniversary, and began as an annual sporting fair that honoured the ancient Games of Greece. The programme here includes shin-kicking (yes, competitors literally try to kick each others’ legs) and tug-of-war.
The most valuable item on show at Lord’s Cricket Ground, venue for the archery events, is a small urn – containing the Ashes of English cricket! After England lost to Australia (for the first time on home soil) at The Oval in 1882,the Sporting Times carried a mock obituary to English cricket which concluded that: "The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia". A few weeks later, an English team set off to tour Australia, with the captain vowing to return with "The Ashes”. They are now played for by the two national teams every few years but are kept permanently at Lords. The term is also now commonly used to describe other sporting encounters between England and Australia such as rugby league .
Wimbledon, the world’s greatest tennis tournament, could be said to exist because some gardening equipment broke down! The story goes that a Pony Roller was donated to the club in 1872 to keep the croquet lawns flat (tennis not having been invented by then – the club adopted tennis in 1875). In 1877 the Pony Roller broke and it was going to cost £10 to fix it and the club could not afford it. So they held a small tournament of gentlemen in July of that year, sold tickets to the public at one shilling each and raised just over £17, so the pony roller got fixed and they had a bit of a profit. That prompted them to make it an annual event. The roller can be seen on a tour of the grounds – it was only “retired” in 1983 (the pony wore leather shoes so that it did not leave hoof prints in the grass).
Tennis players at the Olympics will be able to wear coloured clothing – normally the rule at Wimbledon is that tennis kit must be predominantly white. White was the adopted colour for tennis clothes because if you wore patterns and colours and ran around on a warm summer’s day you would sweat, and the darker colours showed sweat stains but white did not, so the ladies still looked elegant when they came off court. Gentlemen wore the same clothes as they wore for cricket. (No-one knows where the club colours of purple and green came from – although the club has checked every minute book of every committee, and the decision was never made).
And finally….London2012 takes place in East London, home of the Cockneys and rhyming slang. Want to get a taster of it? Try the cash ATM outside Victoria Station where you are asked if you want the information in English or Cockney: if the latter, you will be asked to insert your Bladder of Lard (card) then input your Huckleberry Finn (pin) and then you may want to choose Sausage and Mash (cash) – and so on.
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