Sunday, 9 September 2012

132: The First London Olympics

Contrary to common belief, the first Olympics were held in London in 1666.  There were outdoor games in ancient Greece too, but the modern games began amongst the ramshackle dwellings of England’s capital city.  City governors thought it would bring much needed income to the area and merchants paid handsomely to set up stalls around the city.

 Ordinary Londoners though, were not in favour of the games.  Their labour was bought even more cheaply as men hoping for work streamed in from miles around.  Prices went up and they couldn’t afford basic necessities.  In some areas the worst slums were cleared by landlord who built inns hoping travellers would stay there.

The tradition of the flame started quite by accident.  No torch bearers were planned, no cauldron holding a fire symbolising hope and triumph.  It was thought to have begun when angry demonstrators readying a light dropped sparks inside a tinder-dry slum home near a bakery.  They left and took to the streets but the sparks crackled into life and the flames ate the building, then its neighbour and quickly spread across large parts of the poorest areas.

The first Olympic running events were frightened Londoners sprinting to escape the flames chasing them from their homes.  The first Olympic relay teams were groups of tavern owners passing buckets and bowls of water between the river and their fiery properties.

The first Olympic long jumpers tried to jump between the roofs of neighbouring buildings, hoping that was safer than attempting burning staircases.  The first Olympic high jumpers were stuck in back yards and scaled the walls that kept them in.

The first Olympic equestrians were rich persons fleeing heedless of the poor their mares trod underfoot.  The first Olympic cyclists were brave souls riding in to the area of the fire, trying to find those who may be trapped and unable to walk or run away without help.

The first Olympic swimmers thought the dark waters of the river might protect them from the heat, forgetting about the waste and disease floating in there that was just as like to get them in the end.  The first Olympic divers saw them trying and jumped from windows of burning upper floors, but many didn’t reach the water at all.

The first Olympic boxers and wrestlers found themselves fighting in their bid to escape.  Some looted on their way and were caught, others were robbed and more still just found themselves trapped and lashed out in primitive response.

The first Olympic weight lifters were those who help people trapped in the charred remains of the city, powering up beams and fences to free both dead and alive.

The first Olympic flame was nothing like the symbol of hope, peace, harmony and goodwill it has come to mean in living memory.

Inspiration: The Great Fire of London (and the Olympics)

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