Up in the air

The 1900 Summer Olympics attained a height of elegance and quirkiness that few games have managed since. Known as the Games of the II Olympiad and held in Paris. From Wikipedia: ‘Some unusual events were contested for the only time in the history of the Games including automobile and motorcycle racing‘. In this novel category, France won every single medal but two, including gold, silver and bronze in the ‘Delivery Van – 500 to 1200kg – Electric – 300km’ category. Unfortnately no record car type or driver survive. According to the Journal of Olympic History (pdf) there’s some debate as to whether these events could realistically be described as ‘Olympic’, given that prize money was often awarded.

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Nevertheless, the city to city race was hotly contested, often by those entering cars from their own company. Drivers included René de Knyff, the director of Panhard, Selwyn Francis Edge, Louis Renault (who won a gold medal in a car built by the company he founded and was later – probably unfairly – accused of collaboration with the Germans) and Baron Adrien de Turckheim, manager of the Luneville factory of the Societe Lorraine des Anciens Etablissements de Dietrich & Cie, a car maker that could trace its industrial origins to the late 17th century.

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Other unique events in 1900 included cricket, croquet, pelota and ballooning, the latter another pursuit, like motor racing, that flourished in France at the time. The event was also probably an offshoot from the Exposition Universelle, held concurrently. The Exposition was
carefully reconstructed in 3D
a few years ago: there is also a host of archive material available. The 1900 Games weren’t especially well organised, with accusations of cheating (‘Three marathon runners from the United States contested the result saying the French runners who got first and second places took a short cut, and the proof was they were the only contestants not spattered with mud.’) and poor organisation. Some even claim that ‘Very few [Exposition visitors] even knew the Paris Olympics was underway.’ Nonetheless, Paris went on to hold the Games in 1924. Olympic Venues Past, Present and Future as Seen From Space.

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There was also some fishing: ‘Apparently, at a series of competitions in August, some 600 fishermen, of whom 40 are from 5 other countries than France, participate, and final prizes are awarded.’ Many more gems to be found at the LA84 Foundation’s Sports Library, which ‘houses one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of sports information’ Much of which is searchable.

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