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Olympic Games: Fun facts

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Olympic Games: Fun facts


With the 2016 Summer Olympic Games kicking off in Brazil, how much do you know about the sporting spectacle? Check out our fun facts.

Famous figures turned Olympians

  • Actress Geena Davis showed she was also a star performer in sport, when she took part in US trials for the Olympic Archery team for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Archery team
  • The man who went on to become US Army General, George S Patton, took part in the first Olympic Modern Pentathlon at the Stockholm Games in 1912
  • Renowned child development expert Dr Benjamin Spock scooped Olympic gold in the Men’s Eight rowing event in Paris, at the 1924 Games
  • The father of well-known actress Grace Kelly was a US Olympic rower. John Kelly took gold at Antwerp in 1920 and won 126 consecutive single skull races
  • Norway’s Crown Prince Olav (who was King from 1957 to his death in 1991) came out on top at the 1928 Games in Amsterdam, taking gold in the Six Metre Sailing class
  • Before swinging to fame as “Tarzan,” Johnny Weissmuller picked up five swimming golds and a bronze in water polo at the Paris 1924 and Amsterdam 1928 Games. He also became the first man to swim 100 metres in under a minute
  • “Oddjob” in the James Bond movie “Goldfinger” was also an Olympic weightlifting star. Harold Sakata won silver for America at the 1948 Games in London

Human stories

  • America’s Ray Ewry, who was confined to a wheelchair as a child due to polio, picked up 10 gold medals between 1900 and 1908 in the Standing Long Jump, High Jump and Triple Jump.
  • Running barefoot, Ethiopian Abebe Bikila won the marathon at the Rome 1960 Games. He also goes down in history for becoming the first black African to scoop an Olympic gold medal
  • A fear of flying almost cost Mohammad Ali dearly. Then called Cassius Clay, he almost didn’t go to the Olympics in Rome in 1960 – where he picked up a gold medal
  • American diver Greg Louganis caused a shock in Seoul in 1988, when he hit his head on the platform during a qualification phase. He went on to scoop gold
  • Australian rower Henry Pearce stopped halfway through his quarter-final race to give way to a family of ducks pass in front of his boat at Amsterdam 1928. A French competitor got past him, but Pearce managed to pull it back and win gold
  • World class Hungarian shooter Károly Takács injured his right hand with a grenade. He taught himself to use his left hand and went on to take gold in 1948 and 1952
  • Equatorial Guinea’s Eric Moussambani had only been swimming for six months when the Sydney 2000 Olympics came around. He completed the 100 freestyle in 1 min, 52.72 seconds – the winning time was 48.30 seconds
  • Britain’s John Pius Boland wasn’t planning to take part in the Olympics in Athens in 1896. He went to the city as a fan and ended up competing in the tennis – having been convinced by Greek player Dionysios Kasdaglis. Boland beat Kasdaglis in the final
  • Hungary’s Olivér Halassy lost a leg in a road accident when he was a child. He went on to win two Olympic gold medals, and one silver in water polo between 1928 and 1936
  • Naim Suleymanogll, only 1.47m tall, achieved the first of his world weightlifting records when he was 16. He picked up three Olympic titles and earned the nickname “Pocket Hercules”

Sport history, special rules

  • The first bicycle, believed to have been designed by Frenchman Comte de Sivrac in 1970, was not very functional. Why? It didn’t have a steering system and pedals. It also had a wooden frame and solid wheels
  • Leather footballs were filled with feathers and hair in ancient China
  • Football became so violent in medieval England that it was banned for more than three centuries. Rival towns used to go up against each other in the streets, using a pig’s bladder for a ball
  • Golf, which began in Scotland in the Middle Ages, was initially banned by King James II because it interfered with archery practice
  • Golf landed on the moon on 6 February 1971. US astronaut Alan Shepard hit a six-iron shot after arriving in Apollo 14
  • Did you know the word “gymnastics” comes from the Greek for naked? In fact, early athletes sued to perform without clothing. Women were not allowed to take part or watch
  • Hockey comes from the French word ‘hocquet,’ which means shepherd’s crook
  • Synchronised swimming first made a splash as a sport for men in the 1800s. It’s now one of two disciplines in today’s Olympics to be only be contested by women, with the other being Rhythmic Gymnastics
  • Table tennis came from humble beginnings. A champagne-cork was used as a ball, cigar-box lids for bats and piles of books as a net in England around 1880 – when it was an after-dinner game
  • Table Tennis was banned in the former Soviet Union in the early 20th century because of fears over eye damage
  • Weightlifting athletes can lift up to three times their body weight when competing

Olympic Games history

  • The first official Olympic basketball tournament was held outdoors at the Berlin 1936 Games, on courts made of sand that turned into mud when it rained
  • Boxing was banned at the Stockholm 1912 Games, under Swedish law. Women’s boxing made its debut at the London 2012 event
  • Diving’s Olympic debut in Saint Louis in 1904 was distance diving. The winner was the competitor who remained underwater for the longest distance
  • The Italian and Hungarian fencing teams settled a scoring controversy with a real-life duel after the Paris 1924 Games
  • Golf returns to the Olympics this year after being absent for more than a century. It was first played at the Games in Paris in 1900 and was removed after 1904
  • Hockey is the only team sport to boast Olympic medal-winners from every continent
  • The longest wrestling contest in Olympic history took place in Stockholm in 1912, when a middleweight match between Russia’s Martin Klein and Finland’s Alfred Asikainen lasted for 11 hours. Pre-point scoring, matches went on until one competitor was forced to the floor

Olympic records

  • The tallest basketball player to compete in the Olympics is China’s Yao Ming, at 2.29 metres
  • The youngest Olympic champion is believed to be an anonymous French boy. He was picked from the crowd to act as cox for a Dutch pair at the 1900 Games in Paris. The boy, aged no more than 12, was at the victory ceremony before vanishing
  • Hungary’s Alfréd Hajós was the first Olympic swimming champion of the modern era, winning the 100 metre freestyle at Athens in 1896. His father drowned in the river Danube when he was a teenager
  • Michael Phelps is the most successful Olympian of all time: picking up 22 medals at Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012, including 18 golds


2012 London Olympic Games site

2016 Rio Olympic Games site

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