in Antwerp, the Olympic Peace Games

100 years ago, in Antwerp, Belgium, the 7th Olympic Games were held in modern times. Two years after the end of World War I, they symbolized the return to peace.

“After four years spent under German rule, Antwerp has regained all its silence last year and has been able to receive delegates from all the nations of the world, from those who defended the great cause of freedom with their blood or propaganda.” 100 years ago, in the August 15 issue, Le Matin newspaper describes with exaltation the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games VII in modern times which has just taken place in the Belgian city of Antwerp. “A greeting with seven cannon shots is heard and a flight of carrier pigeons swings to the sky, while above the stadium’s triumphal arch is the white Olympic flag with five interconnected rings raised”, we can also read in the daily Le Temps.

The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Antwerp on 14 August 2020. © Wikimedia, La Vie au Grand Air, 20 September 1920

Antwerp, martyr city

Barely two years after the arms race that ended the First World War, men no longer collided on the battlefield but on the sports arena. The last competition dates back to Stockholm in 1912. The VI Olympics were to be held in Berlin, but were canceled due to the conflict. Four years later, Antwerp was not chosen by chance. The Flemish city, the city of martyrdom, was unanimously designated in April 1919, during the Lausanne Congress, as a symbol of Belgian resistance to the German attack of 1914. While weapons during the Great War were silent, this Olympiad is one of peace. But who is remindedthe newspaper L’Œuvre, “yesterday’s enemies” do not participate in the celebration. Big losers in the conflict, Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria are excluded, a total of 29 countries from five continents are represented.

At the stadium in Antwerp, the opening ceremony is very political. During the sportsmasters’ parade, the French, who are crowned with the latest military victory, are applauded. according to TheMorning. “Our representatives, elegantly dressed in white with a blue collar and a white beret with the tricolor cocktail lost worn, never received such an ovation,” says the special envoy with a very patriotic tone. The blue-white-red selection is the largest with 409 participants, “a real army”, as emphasized the newspaper La Vie au grand air.

All athletes gathered in Antwerp are represented by the Belgian swimmer Victor Boin, who for the first time in Olympic history takes the Olympic oath. “The narrator explains that he has never violated the laws of honor and only worked for the purity of sports,” tells Excelsior. The Olympic flag also flies for the first time at the stadium. It was imagined in 1913 by the Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin, who is the originator of the renovation of the games and represents the five parts of the world.

Sporty achievements

But with only a few months of preparation, the Belgian organizers could not work miracles. As the country is barely recovering from four years of occupation, conditions are rudimentary. “Many of the 2,626 competing athletes from 29 countries had to sleep on cots during the length of the game” Official website of the International Olympic Committee (CIO).

This does not prevent them from achieving performance. One hundred years later, the names of great masters still resonate. American swimmerEthelda BleibtreyShe made her mark on the competition by winning gold medals in all events included in the women’s swimming program and broke three world records in the process. She “inspires generations of female athletes”, emphasizes the IOC.

American swimmer Ethelda Bleibtrey and her compatriot Duke Kahanamoku at the 1920 Antwerp Games.
American swimmer Ethelda Bleibtrey and her compatriot Duke Kahanamoku at the 1920 Antwerp Games. © Wikimedia, Library of Congress

On the athletics track, it was Paavo Nurmi, nicknamed “Flying Finn”, who distinguished himself by winning three gold medals and one silver medal, the beginning of an exceptional Olympic career. The 72-year-old Swedish shooter Oscar swahn will also go down in history as the oldest athlete to ever win an Olympic medal and win a silver medal. On the French side, the delegation is ranked 8theranked with 9 gold, 19 silver and 13 bronze. Tennis woman Suzanne Lenglen stands out in particular with three medals, including women’s singles and mixed doubles titles. His national champion Joseph Guillemot also managed to beat Paavo Nurmi in the 5000 meters.

Paavo Nurmi at the 1920 Antwerp Games.
Paavo Nurmi at the 1920 Antwerp Games. © Wikimedia, Unknown Author (Suomen Urheilumuseo)

A century later, their heirs are deprived of OJ due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Tokyo Games, originally scheduled for July 24 to August 9, 2020, will theoretically take place from July 23 to August 8, 2021. Despite this postponement, IOC President Thomas Bach was keen to mark this anniversary: ​​”One hundred years After hosting the Olympic Games of the city of Antwerp, the spirit of the organizers continues to teach us that by working together we can face enormous challenges, we should always maintain this legacy of unity, peace and power when faced with new and unforeseen global challenges. “In 2024, it’s Paris’ turn to host the world’s biggest sporting event. The Games of XXXIIIeThe Olympics will take place exactly 100 years after those already organized in the French capital.