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Paris 1900: the Games on exhibition


Almost exactly 107 years ago, on 14 May 1900, the Olympic Games which marked the transition to the 20th century opened in Paris. However, there was no opening ceremony to celebrate this event. The Games formed part of the Universal Exhibition, a gigantic fair and an ode to modernism, which opened on the same day. Their integration into the Exhibition greatly diminished the Olympic character of these Games. Nonetheless, the Paris 1900 Games had a certain innovative aspect which is worth remembering.

Olympism breaks through barriers
The Paris Olympic Games in 1900 were the second Games of the modern era. The first took place in Athens in 1896, and were enthusiastically greeted. For this reason, the Greeks were keen to keep them. Their wish was not granted, and Paris hosted the Games in 1900. The principle of rotation was an important element for Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games. This principle proved to be a decisive factor in the spread of Olympism throughout the world.

Women join in
In Paris, women’s competitions were also held. Thus, women made their first appearance at the Games. Tennis provided the first female Olympic champion: Britain’s Charlotte Cooper. In golf, America’s Margaret Ives Abbott was victorious. The presence of women at the Games had only just started, and would grow and develop: in 2004 in Athens, of the 10,568 athletes present, 4,306 were women. Out of a total of 301 events, women took part in 10 mixed events and 125 exclusively female events.

Some of the participants in the 1900 Games figure amongst the athletes having the most Olympic medals. For example, American Ray Ewry, “the Rubber Man”, with his eight gold medals in athletics (1900-1908); and Belgium’s Hubert Van Innis, who won nine medals in archery (1900 and 1920), and is still this sport’s top medal-winner.

Movements broken down
Also in 1900, Frenchman Etienne Jules Marey, a pioneer of chronophotography and biomechanics, made use of this sporting event to take an impressive series of images which broke down the athletes’ movements and enabled them to be analysed. In this way, we can see and explain the technical efficiency of America’s Alvin Kraenzlin’s hurdling action. Unlike the other competitors, he took the hurdle with a straight front leg. This movement was an innovation thanks to which he achieved great success in the athletics events. It is still used today.

Games of the Belle Époque
The start of the 20th century was a period of triumphant progress. Motoring, aviation and cinema were budding new areas which promised great development. Just like the Olympic Games, newly revived in their modern format. In this sparkling Belle Époque, the 1900 Games made their contribution to history, in spite of the shadow cast over them by the Universal Exhibition.


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