Tuesday, 4 October 2011

A Short History of Tennis at the Olympics

There isn't much tennis on atm so I thought I'd take a gander at tennis at the Olympics.  It's been an Olympics sport since the first modern Olympics in Athens,1896 (although for men only of course, a lady might chip a nail or become a lesbian), it was won by a British man, John Pius Boland.  Scant information available, certainly no fancy photos (of the tennis, but here's a nice Greek weightlifter) but since you had to be entirely amateur to compete at the Olympics back then you can almost guarantee he was rather posh. 

Ladies were allowed to compete four years later, in Paris and Charlotte Cooper (three times Wimbledon champ) won the singles and mixed doubles and became the first female Olympic tennis gold medalist.  Incidentally, until 1904 only the winners received medals (silver medals) and diploma, and runners-up a copper medal and diploma.  The International Olympic Committee (IOC) have since retroactively awarded gold, silver, bronze to the 1st, 2nd, 3rd places in the 1896 and 1900 Olympics.
The Men's event featured three former Wimbledon winners in the semi-final, once again I point out there were few people who had the resources to travel and compete without turning professional so it isn't surprising the same names cropped up in finals.  One guy, Lawrence Doherty got to the final when his older brother Regie stepped aside, as they wouldn't play each other in a 'minor tournament'.  Ouch take that Olympics...burn. 

The women were clearly too distracting in their full-length tennis skirt, and they weren't included in the 1904 Olympics, in St Louis.  Shockingly, as there was only one foreign entrant, the host nation won every medal going.  But this was an entirely competitive tournament, as you can see in this picture of the Olympic tug-of-war...

Women were allowed back in 1908, this was in London and the British team were extremely successful; 146 medals, 56 gold, 51 silver, 39 bronze.  Only 22 countries had participants though (the UK competed as the UK and some Irish athletes boycotted the games with some American support), and in some events only British athletes competed.  In the mens 400metres an American athletes was disquliafied and the final was re-run but the two other American athletes refused to run to protest the judges decision.  Meaning British man Wyndham Halswell (posh) won the one man final, and gold medal.  In tennis they played indoors and outdoors, and women competed in the singles but not doubles, there was 50 competitors; 40 men and 10 women from 10 nations which must have been thrilling for all concerned. 

The 1912 Olympics in Stockholm don't seem to be at all interesting.  After that the First World War proved something of an interruption, the 1916 games had been scheduled to be held in Berlin but these were cancelled.  In 1919, the Paris Peace Conference created new states and new sanction on who could compete.  Budapest had been selected to host the games but as the Austro-Hungarian Empire had been a German alley the games were transferred to Antwerp.  Germany, Austria, Turkey, Bulgaria, Hungary were banned from the games, Germany remained banned until 1925 and held a series of Winter games.

Tennis disappeared from the games after 1924 and didn't return until 1968 for unknown and entirely suspicious reasons I believe.  On return, in Mexico, it was only a demonstration exhibition.  The games were really known for the massacre that killed 44 people ten days before the start of the games, or the black power salute of two black American sprinters (Tommie Smith and John Carlos) on the medal podium.  They were suspended from the US team and banned from the Olympic village.  And Czechoslovakian gymnast Vera Caslavska turned and walked away from the podium as the Soviet anthem played in a protest against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia- she was subsequently forbidden to travel and compete at sporting events.

To Be Continued...