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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
Olympic Games

The modern Olympic Games, taking place every four years, were inaugurated in Greece in 1896. This was achieved largely on the initiative of a French baron, Pierre de Coubertin, who hoped to revive in Europe the manly ideals which he felt were represented in the ancient Greek games, held at Olympia from at least 776 BC (they lasted 1000 years, until banned by a Roman emperor in about AD 393).

The range of competitive events in the modern games was small at first but has steadily extended – including now, to the amazement of many, synchronized swimming with clips on the competitors' noses. The games have been held in Britain only twice, on each occasion in London (1908 in the newly completed *White City, 1948 at Wembley). Women played tennis in the 1900 games, skated from 1908 and swam from 1912, but did not compete in track and field events till 1928.

Although the credit for establishing the modern games goes rightly to Coubertin, the idea itself was not his. The Greeks had made several attempts during the 19C to revive the Olympics, and the baron had a British predecessor of whom he was well aware. At Much Wenlock, in Shropshire, a local doctor and MP – William Brookes – established in 1850 the Wenlock Olympian Society, with the stated aim of improving the moral, physical and intellectual well-being of the local people by awarding prizes at an annual athletics contest.

There were laurel crowns, and medallions depicting the Greek goddess of victory; and in 1890 the Wenlock games made a considerable fuss of a distinguished visitor, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. In an article later that year, entitled Les Jeux Olympiques à Much Wenlock, Coubertin wrote that the real impetus for the Olympic revival had come, 40 years earlier, from Dr Brookes. But after the heady success of the Greek games in 1896, Much Wenlock had no further mention in the baron's reminiscences. Meanwhile the Shropshire town continues to hold each year what it calls the Wenlock Olympian Games.

A parallel Olympic movement, the Paralympic Games, has been closely linked with the main event since Rome in 1960. This has a more direct origin in Britain, at *Stoke Mandeville in 1948.

The most popular quatrain of all has been the one offering a romantic escape into the life of a bohemian:
Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse – and Thou

Beside me singing in the Wilderness –
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.


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