BBC Olympic Games History documentary | The Olympic Games: A Mirror To Society | English Subtitles


Olympia, 2028. Tanzanian Frank Edward Akhwari receives the laurel wreath, symbol of his victory in the marathon. On the eve of the closing ceremony, he is the final athlete to receive the ultimate reward at the very first edition of the modern Olympic Games. After 1600 years of oblivion, the European Sports Association is trying to put the Olympic Games back at the center of the international stage. Symbolically held at the Sanctuary of Olympia, these first games struggled to attract 500 athletes from 20 different countries. In a world dominated by highly monetized sport, the games extol ancient sporting values and the absence of financial stakes. But none of this ever happened. On June 23, 1894, one man will succeed in relaunching the Olympic spirit and turn the games into a global event. Our history is no more than a series of incredible events. Every one of us can influence its course. (dramatic music) (electric guitar music) (speaking in foreign language) (dramatic music) The most infinitesimal of our decisions can influence the future of humanity. To know the past is to foresee the future. In 392 of our era, the Christian Roman Emperor Theodosius I declares a ban on pagan events. November 25, 1892, Baron Pierre de Coubertin announces the idea of reestablishing the Olympic Games. April 6, 1896, in Athens, the first edition of the modern Olympic Games is officially opened. These three intimately connected events are the key moments in the history of the Olympic Games. (clapping) Olympia, Ancient Greece, 152 BC. Leonidas, champion of Rhodes, is on the start line. (dramatic music) Early in the day he already won two other races. The heat of the sun on his naked body intensifies his weariness. However, his muscles are ready for the ultimate battle. The one that will take him over the finish line first. The one that will offer him victory. The one that will raise him to the level of legend. (dramatic music) In the fifth century BC, the Greek world is a brilliant civilization. However, each Greek city is independent. Athens, Sparta, Corinth, or Thebes may well all be Greek in culture and language, but they are also rivals. These enemies waged terrible fratricidal wars. Only two things appear to rise above this ancestral rivalry. The struggle against the common enemy, Persia. And the staging of major sports competitions like the Olympiads. The ancient Olympic Games. The oldest written evidence proving the existence of the ancient games in Greece dates back to 776 BC, almost 2,800 years ago. They say that Hercules himself, son of Zeus, built the first stadium at Olympia, the sacred sanctuary of the Greeks. Since then, every four years, a truce requires every city to grant a pass. Athletes and spectators may then travel freely to the sanctuary. Both a sports gathering and a pilgrimage, the Greek Olympics were much more than mere games. For the Greeks, the athletes reflect the ideal of a harmonious balance between mind and body. Uniquely open to men and strictly forbidden to non-Greeks, the events pit the champions of each city against each other. Races on foot. Or carrying weapons, javelin and discus throwing, wrestling, boxing, chariot racing. The victors received the crown of olive leaves and are vetted as heroes. Statues are erected in their memory. Coins struck in their likeness. Poems written to their glory. The ancient games are so important that the Greek calendar is not divided into years, but into Olympiads, representing a period of four years. However, in the second century before our era, a new participant enters the games. The Roman Republic. Like the Greeks, the Romans love the games. Greece, conquered by the legions is annexed. The Greek Olympiads are thus added to the long list of Roman competitions. In 27 BC, the Republic becomes an empire. The games turn into a spectacle. In the Coliseum, gladiators fight each other to the cheers of 70,000 spectators. While at the Circus Maximus, horse drawn chariots compete in ferocious races. The whole Roman engineering genius is put into service of entertainment. Huge awnings protect the spectators from the sun. Amphitheaters are flooded to stage real naval battles. Exotic forest settings are reconstructed to present fights between wild beasts and men. In the fourth century of our era, the Greek Olympics still exist on the fringe of the 175 days devoted to the games. Now, Christianity has slowly imposed itself as the empire’s unique religion. Pagan worship is marginalized. The games are considered to be barbaric practices. Particular targets, gladiatorial contests. In 392, Roman Emperor Theodosius declares the definitive banning of pagan worship. The following year, the Olympiads are banned in turn. After more than a thousand years, the Olympia site is abandoned and falls into oblivion. Welcome to the memory of humanity. Here we can control time, analyze and compare billions of events and alter them to rewrite history endlessly. All the events in our history however minute they might be are memorized and interconnected. It only requires one to be changed for all the others to be shaken to the core. Amateur or professional? In Ancient Greece, athletes were not paid. They competed for the fame and for their city. However, the champions became important personalities in their native city and received all sorts of advantages. An ancient form of sponsorship. From the fifth century BC, certain athletes lured by gain decide to represent a city other than their native one. These shifts of allegiance were considered to be treason. Statues of fallen champions were even destroyed to erase their memory. The boundary between amateur and professional athlete was already difficult to determine. Olympia archeological site mid 19th century. Concealed beneath 1,400 years of dust, the ancient sanctuary is about to resurface. The western world has been passionate about its past. And the taste for antiquities spreads across Europe. But even though the sanctuary is emerging from oblivion, the Olympiads are still dead. However, in Europe, the Olympic age is incontestably in the air. Several initiatives try to relaunch this great ancient event, but none comes to fruition. And then a visionary personality enters the stage, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. A cultivated young socialite, the Baron devotes much of his time to sport. Riding, rowing, fencing, boxing, pistol shooting. It’s while traveling in England that Coubertin has a revelation. While observing students at English universities, he realizes there’s a connection between the practice of sport and the character building of the individual. It’s a new way of looking at education. Sport develops independence in the young. Forges their characters. Team sports teach leading together and becoming good citizens. Returning to France with this conviction, he determines to devote his life to spreading it. And he has a long road ahead because at that time, it was common to say that sport produces idiots, cardiac cases, cripples, and oafs. However, Pierre de Coubertin’s vision goes still further. He defends sport. But also its free access. For him, sport must be international. Sports leagues all over the world should join together. On November 25, 1892, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the union of French athletic sports societies, he sets out for the first time his idea of restoring the Olympic Games. Two years later, on June 23, 1894, his vision becomes reality. At the Sorbonne University in Paris, the conference for the restoring of the Olympic Games decides to work towards the renaissance of the ancient competition. The International Olympic Committee, or IOC, is founded with Demetrius Vikelas at its head. A Greek, a symbol in itself. And so on April 6, 1896, in Athens, in front of more than 60,000 spectators, the first Olympiad of the modern Olympic Games bringing together 241 sportsman from 14 different countries is officially open. We have just reached a turning point. A turning point is a key event. A crossroads in our history whether the world swings one way or the other. Through his determination, Baron Pierre de Coubertin manages to resurrect the Olympic ideal of the Greek Olympiads through a new sports competition, the modern Olympic Games. His energy and his passion overcame the difficulties and today the games are a major global event. If the Baron had not carried through this project, we could easily imagine that the idea would have remained within sporting circles. It was already alive at the period, notably in the United Kingdom. It might have been necessary to wait for the 21st century for fresh attempt to see Olympiads renewal. Driven by sports enthusiasts nostalgic for the ideals of antiquity. The first editions would have been very modest. On the fringe of major global sports events. But, perhaps closer to the ancient Olympiads. Faster. Higher. Stronger. For Pierre de Coubertin this formula perfectly expresses the spirit of the modern games. Surpassing oneself. The Olympic Games become a formidable human adventure. Going far beyond a simple sports competition, they embody a powerful symbol of universality. Each games must take place in a different city, in a different country. As the Olympiads unfold, a whole ceremonial ritual is established. The athletes coming from all over the world are united under the same flag. Designed by the Baron himself, the symbol of the linked rings connected one to another represents the five continents. After World War I which tore Europe apart, it waves for the first time over the Antwerp Games. An oath is also introduced. In the name of all the competitors, an athlete vows to respect the Olympic ideas. In the name of all competitors, I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic games respecting and abiding by the rules that govern them. In the true spirit of sportsmanship. For the glory of sport and the honor of our teams. At the Stockholm Games in 1912, women finally officially obtained the right to take part. In 1924, the IOC organizes what will become the first Winter Olympics in Chamonix. Very quickly, medals replaced the ancient wreathes. The winner receives a gold medal, second a silver, and third a bronze. Starting with the Lake Placid Games in 1932, the medals are presented on a podium with the winner in the center. At the Berlin games of 1936, an ancient ritual is adapted. Henceforth, a flame lit on the very site of Olympia is carried by relay to the organizing city. The final carrier has the honor of lighting the huge bowl that is not extinguished until the end of the competition. Gradually all the competitors are gathered together in an Olympic Village. They even create Paralympic Games to enable those with a handicap to take part. All this universal symbolism makes the Olympic Games this very special event. So different from any other. From the olive wreath to the gold medal, in antiquity, Greek athlete’s main reward was a wreath of leaves. In our day, we reward Olympic champions with a medal. In 2016, at the Rio Olympics in Brazil, 2,488 medals were struck, of which 812 were gold. Each medal weighed 500 grams. Of which 30% was recycled material. The gold medals are actually made of six grams of gold. The rest is silver, which gives them a value of around $600 U.S. dollars. In addition to these medals, athletes also receive bonuses from their respective countries. For example, each French gold medal winner in Rio received 50,000 Euros. The Pierre de Coubertin medal, also known as the sportsmanship medal however is very special. It is awarded to athletes who have demonstrated a true spirit of sportsmanship. For example, it was awarded to the German athlete Luz Long during the Berlin Olympic Games in the heart of Nazi Germany. He helped and advised a black competitor allowing him to gain the top step of the podium. According to the Olympic Committee, it is one of the noblest honors an athlete can receive. Since 1936, it has only been awarded 22 times. August 1, 1936, swastikas mingle with the Olympic rings. In front of 100,000 spectators, the Fuhrer declares the 11th modern Olympic Games open. At the end of the games, the Third Reich is staggering under the weight of medals. Far ahead of the United States, it wins 89 medals, of which 33 are gold. Televised on closed circuit TV for the first time, the games are, for the Nazi regime, an excellent means of showing the entire world the power of the Germanic race. The only shadow, although champions in the trials of strength such as shot put or weightlifting, in athletics the Germans cannot keep pace with the Afro-Americans. In Berlin, in a stadium covered in swastikas, and in the shadow of Nazi salutes, before the eyes of the Fuhrer and the cameras, the black athlete James Jesse Owens sweeps up four gold medals. The games seem to be moving slowly away from the ideal of universality to become a new field of conflict. Without soldiers where the athletes, often in spite of themselves, become tools of propaganda and demands. 1968, the Mexico Olympic Games, Tommy Smith and John Carlos, two black American sprinters step onto the podium to receive their medals. Suddenly, they drop their heads and raise their fists clad in black leather gloves. To the eyes of the world, the athletes denounced the oppression of black Americans. 1972, at dawn on September 5th, eight Palestinian terrorists take Israeli athletes hostage to protest the occupation of Palestine. The rescue attempt ends in a bloodbath. And all the hostages are murdered. During the Cold War, the Olympic Games become an ideological battleground between the eastern and western blocks. The Americans boycott the Moscow Games. The Soviets those of Los Angeles. The Olympic Games turn into a political and publicity showcase. Boosted by media coverage, the event that was conceived as a source of inspiration becomes a mirror to society. [Female Moderator] 2,800 years ago the names of the winners were proclaimed after each competition. For the greatest champions, a statue might be erected. The athlete wrote his name in history. In 1924, the Paris games are covered by 1,000 reporters. In 1936, in Berlin, the games are broadcast on screen for the first time. In 1960, Rome was able to transmit events live throughout Europe. Cassettes are loaded onto planes each evening and cross the Atlantic for the United States. The Los Angeles Games of 1984 mark a turning point. For the first time the event is entirely financed by the private sector and sponsors. Today, 20,000 reporters are accredited compared to 10,000 athletes. Television broadcasting rights have risen from just over one million dollars in 1960 to nearly two billion in 2012. Sport and the modern media are closely related. Press, radio, cinema, then television. And today, the internet. The Beijing Games were followed by nearly five billion television viewers. A goldmine for advertising rights. One of the heroes of the Olympic Games, Amil Zatopec once said, a runner must run with dreams in his heart and not money in his pocket. Right from start Pierre de Coubertin introduced a rule. The games must remain amateur. Money must not tarnish the Olympic ideal. However, in 1973, the IOC agrees to review amateurism. In the 1980s, the word is stricken from the Olympic charter. From now on, money gets closer to the heart of the games. The games have a monumental media impact. The economic spinoffs are colossal. In 2008, the 11 sponsors of the Beijing Games spent 900 million dollars for the rights to use the Olympic brand in their advertising. The recent choice of cities in emerging countries to host the games is clearly part of the policy of winning new markets. The games have become a global marketing tool. Sport, a universal product, performance and records, an ultimate end. Sport has become spectacle. The important thing is no longer to take part, but to perform. Although early attempts at doping are observed as early as 1904, the phenomenon explodes in the 70s. From the Soviet block athletes pumped up with growth hormones to the American sprinters shot full of steroids, cheating becomes a state affair. You must win. It’s a matter of national honor. Never mind the price, even that of the life of the athletes. And they even go so far as to force athletes to get pregnant before the events to increase their physical capabilities. Only to abort afterwards. Today, increasingly tight anti-doping tests are trying to stem the tide. But in a world where breaking records has become a cult, the question is, how far is society prepared to go in order to obtain the unobtainable? But that is another story. At Olympia, the names of cheaters were carved on the statues leading to the stadium to be seen by all. In our day, numerous records are stained with doubts around doping. Athletes are surrounded by scientists. Their performance scrutinized on monitors. Overspecialized, for a time they become super men. Despite all this, the games remain a unique moment. A moment when one person can alone reach the Olympic firmament using only the strength of their will and their perseverance. From Nadia Comaneci to Carl Lewis. From Usain Bolt to Michael Phelps. Athletes from all over the world have carved their exploits in our memories and our hearts. They have proved that technology is not enough. That money can’t do everything. That dreams and courage were still a powerful motor in reaching the top step of the podium. At the Mexico Olympics in 1968, Tanzanian John Stephen Akhwari was last to finish the marathon. More than an hour after the winner. Battered by the ordeal, he arrived bleeding and limping. When asked why he didn’t abandon, he replied, my country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race. They sent me 5,000 miles to finish it. (dramatic music)

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