Archive for August, 2012

Hi everyone:

This is a sequel for the blog entry I wrote earlier this week in which I offered to everyone a tribute concert in memory of Neil Armstrong. The videos offered there represented a wide variety of musical styles and tastes, and I hope you all enjoyed it. Or if you’re only just learning about it now, use the link above to head over there at any time. In addition to both of these tribute concerts, I invite you all to visit We Reach the Moon – a blog entry that I wrote in July 2009. It offers an affectionate look back at July 20, 1969 and my own account of watching the moon landing at my grandmother’s home in the small Quebec town of New Carlisle.

There are a lot of songs about the moon, space travel and related subjects. Just do a search on Google or similar search engine using “moon songs” as your query, and you’ll see what I am talking about. What I offered last time was only a small sample of what one can listen to – more about that later on. So with that in mind, I thought it might be fun to keep the concert going and sample some more videos. As I did before, I want to offer a broad cross section of musical styles, including rock and roll, jazz, folk, classical music, country, and blues.

Just like last time, admission to this concert is free. The concert venue is right here on this computer. You can access it at any time, and watch as many or as few videos as you want, and in any order you like. You can share both of these blog entries via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn… you name it. I would love it if both of them are sent around the world – and maybe beyond too!

Also like the previous presentation, although I have tried to keep this to a minimum, there may be some videos that offer commercials before the music and/or pop-ups that advertise a number of products and services. These can be easily disabled. If you encounter any technical difficulties or other problems, while I do apologize for any inconvenience you might experience, please note that all I am doing is offering these videos for your enjoyment. I have no control over their content or how they are presented.

One change from my “Fly Me to the Moon” concert is that aside from doing so here in this prologue, I won’t offer comments this time – I will let the videos themselves do the entertaining for you. In total there are something like 40 videos offered this time, featuring artists as diverse as The B52’s, Elton John, Hank Williams Sr., Bruno Mars, Dolly Parton, Queen, Chris de Burgh, The Byrds, Norah Jones, and The Beatles. I have also brought back a couple of the artists who were involved in that first concert, as Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald do a great duet on “Moonlight in Vermont”.

As a Canadian, I am delighted to say that once again we are well represented here. For example, William Shatner does a terrific version of Elton John’s “Rocket Man”. Michael Buble does a very smooth rendition of “Moondance”. Neil Young performs a beautiful acoustic version of “Harvest Moon”. My last video is none other than the legendary Stompin’ Tom Connors singing “You Might Think It’s Goofy, But the Man in the Moon is a Newfie”.

Also in keeping with what I did last time I have sometimes offered more than one video of the same song. For example, even though “Bad Side of the Moon” was written by Elton John, I first heard it on the radio performed by a group from my hometown of Montreal, April Wine. It was only later on that I discovered that Elton had done it first. So I thought it might be fun to include both of them doing it.

Another pairing that I wanted to include is Chris de Burgh’s beautiful “A Spaceman Came Travelling” – which is sometimes played every year during the Christmas season because many people see the birth of Jesus in its song’s meaning. So I included his version of the song with a very haunting performance by Gregorian. A final one is to combine David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” (or as some people like to call it “Can You Hear Me Major Tom?”) with a song by Peter Schilling entitled “Major Tom”. That’s because many people (including me) like to think of Schilling’s song as a sequel or continuation of Bowie’s. Why not watch both of these videos and then make your own decision?

As I mentioned before, it would be impossible to feature every single song or other music that refers to the moon or to space travel in general. So following my last video offering, I will offer links to a few Web sites that discuss “moon songs”, and include references to many of the songs found in both of these presentations.

I hope you enjoy both of these musical tributes – and while the “trigger” for both of these entries was the death of Neil Armstrong, I hope that in a broader sense both of these video concerts are interpreted as not just for Neil Armstrong but can also honour all the incredible men and women who have contributed to the space programs of all nations, from the earliest explorations in the 1950’s, through the manned missions of both the USA and USSR which culminated in the Apollo missions to the moon, right through to the present day efforts of many nations – most notably the International Space Station. Also as noted before, let me invite all of you to visit We Reach The Moon – 40 Years Later. OK, enough from me, let’s go to the videos. Time to blast off and do our own exploring. Enjoy!

Walking on the Moon – The Police

Man on the Moon – REM

Rocket Man (I Think It’s Gonna Be A Long, Long Time) – Elton John

Captain James T. Kirk (aka William Shatner) does his own take on “Rocket Man”

Moon Over Bourbon Street – Sting

Space Oddity (Can You Hear Me Major Tom?) – David Bowie

Major Tom (Coming Home) – by Peter Schilling

Everyone’s Gone to the Moon – Jonathan King

There’s a Moon in the Sky (It’s Called the Moon) – the B 52’s

Harvest Moon – Neil Young

Moonshadow – a live performance by Cat Stevens

Cat Stevens “Moonshadow” – an animated short film

Spaceman – by Harry Nilsson

Mr. Spaceman – by the Byrds

Mr. Spaceman – as performed live by The Byrds on The Smothers Brothers Show

From Here to the Moon and Back – Dolly Parton

Moondance by Van Morrison

Moondance – as performed by Michael Buble

Moonlight in Vermont – Ella Fitzgerald with Louis Armstrong

Moonlight in Vermont – Jane Monheit

Shame on the Moon – Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band

Bad Moon Rising – Creedence Clearwater Revival

Sitting on the Moon – Enigma

Mr. Moonlight – The Beatles

39 – by Queen

39 – an acoustic performance by Brian May

There’s A Moon Out Tonight – by The Capris

Moon Song – performed by Norah Jones

Bad Side of the Moon – performed by April Wine

Bad Side of the Moon – Elton John

Talking to the Moon – Bruno Mars

Rusalka (Song to the Moon) – by Antonin Dvorak

Howlin’ at the Moon – Hank Williams Sr.

Telstar – by The Tornados

A Spaceman Came Travelling – by Chris de Burgh

A Spaceman Came Travelling – as performed by Gregorian

In the Misty Moonlight (Any Place is All Right, Long As I’m With You) – performed Dean Martin

I’m the Urban Spaceman – by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band

(You Might Think it’s Goofy, But) The Man in the Moon is a Newfie – Stompin’ Tom Connors

As promised, here are some links to Web sites that talk about “moon” songs. Feel free to visit any of them and perhaps they will inspire you to try your own space concert:

Moon Songs to Celebrate July 20 – Moon Day

Top 10 Songs About the Moon – from a Yahoo Blog

A Selection of Songs About the Moon – With Lyrics

40 Songs About the Moon

Watch 10 Moon Song Videos in salute to the March 2011 Super Moon

I hope you enjoyed this tribute concert by way of video to Neil Armstrong. As well as my other offering Fly Me to the Moon. And for more about Apollo 11 and the very first moonwalk (sorry kids, it wasn’t Michael Jackson!), have a look at: We Reach the Moon 40 Years Later, As always, thanks for reading this blog entry.

Until next time!

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Hi everyone:

This is the first of two “tribute” concerts that I compiled during August 2012, not only in memory of Neil Armstrong, but also in salute to the millions of men and women who have contributed to humanity’s voyages into space since the American and Soviet Union’s space programs began in the 1950’s and have since been joined by many nations worldwide, including Canada. In addition to this one, I invite you to also visit: Walking on the Moon – The Tribute to Neil Armstrong Continues. No matter which one (or both!) of these blog entries you visit, I hope you enjoy them, and will share them with others.

As I write this entry, it is late August 2012. And the world is mourning the death of a true American hero, Neil Armstrong. The first man to walk on the moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969 passed away this past weekend at the age of 82. I already noted his passing the other day by writing a new prologue for a blog entry that I wrote in July 2009, forty years to the day after that historic event.

I thought that was the extent of my remembering Neil Armstrong and thinking about the impact of July 20, 1969 and its lasting impact on society. But then a funny thing happened. Last Sunday (August 26) I had the chance to spend the day with my parents and other family members over in Mississauga. You might say it was an “end of summer” party, a chance for a few of us to get together on a warm August afternoon. Since it takes about an hour for me to make the journey via GO Transit from my apartment in Hamilton over to the nearest GO station to where my parents live, I often take a book to read, or I will listen to a CD or my portable radio.

In this case, I was listening to a Toronto radio station – and just as our train pulled out of Aldershot station to begin the run along the Lakeshore West GO line to Mississauga they happened to play a wonderful recording of “Destination Moon”. When the announcer came back on a few minutes later, he mentioned how much he enjoyed the song and it was just right for a Sunday morning. But in my mind as I sat there on the train, I couldn’t help but think of Neil Armstrong. Although the announcer didn’t say it, playing the song could be seen as a musical tribute to him.

And that’s what gave me the idea for this blog entry. Today, as my own way of paying tribute to Neil Armstong, and saluting him and his NASA colleagues who made it possible for human beings to walk on the moon, I offer to all of you a tribute concert. Admission is free of charge, there are no tickets for sale. Instead of a concert hall or other venue, the location is right here on your computer. What time is this concert? Anytime you like. Who are the performers? A wide variety of musical talents are ready to take the stage and perform just for you.

How is all this done? By video, of course. What I will present here are some videos from YouTube and other sources of various musical acts performing songs which have “Moon” in their titles, or make some reference to the moon (or in one case to Neil Armstrong himself) in the song. You can watch the videos in any order you wish, or at any time. And through the magic of e-mail, you can share this concert with anyone you like. In each case, I will offer a commentary about the song in question and then follow with 2 or 3 selections of various groups performing it.

One last thing – some of these videos may offer short commercials before the presentation. My apologies if necessary. These commercials tend to be rather short – and do offer a Skip feature if you wish to just go to the video itself. Apologies as well as for any technical difficulties associated with these videos. All I am doing here is presenting them by way of links. I have no control over their content or any other issues. Make sure your volume controls are set at an approprirate level and that you’re in the mood for a great concert. Whenever you are ready, to borrow a line from one of our featured songs: “let’s take a trip in our rocket ship” and let’s head for “destination moon”. Here we go!

Let’s start with the title song for this tribute concert: “Fly Me to the Moon”. This is a song that was written in 1954 by Bart Howard and soon became one of the most popular songs of the decade. Time has not diminished its popularity, it’s still well known and loved by many generations of music fans. It has been recorded by numerous artists through the years, and during the 1960’s became widely associated with the American space program and with the Apollo missions. In fact, one Web site I checked even noted that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had a recording of Frank Sinatra singing it with them during Apollo 11 and that Aldrin played it during their stay on the lunar surface. There are many references to it in popular culture – for example, if you are a fan of the WKRP in Cincinnati television series, you will recall that “Fly Me to the Moon” was what the doorbell of Jennifer Marlowe’s penthouse apartment would play.

Given that Armstrong and Aldrin had a recording of Sinatra singing it with them during their stay on the moon, what better choice than Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, the Chairman of the Board, singing it as only Frank Sinatra himself could. Just click on the link to listen to Fly Me to the Moon – performed by Frank Sinatra accompanied by Roy Lowe and his band.

And to put a Canadian spin on all this, if you want to try another video, here’s one of our greatest exports, Diana Krall, in a wonderful live performance at one of Europe’s best known jazz events the Marciac Jazz Festival. Great stuff!

Let’s continue with “Destination Moon” – the song I heard on the GO train on Sunday morning. This is another song from the 1950’s that is well known and loved by many, especially if you are a jazz or blues fan. It was written by Dinah Washington, who was considered the most popular black female recording star of the decade. Even today, many people still say she was “The Queen of the Blues”. A wonderful compliment indeed. This song may be one of her best known ones, although many people also remember her for another 50’s r and b classic “What A Difference A Day Makes”.

As part of our Neil Armstrong tribute concert, here’s a great video of Ms. Washington singing it. And since I did mention that I wanted to share more than one video for each song, let me offer another performance, from the legendary Nat “King” Cole.

And that’s not all. Since I want to feature Canadians in our tribute concert, let me offer a third and final video rendering of the song for all of you. This one comes from Deborah Cox – a Toronto jazz and blues singer and songwriter This video offers a slightly different spin in that the performance is done within an interview setting at a Washington DC television station. I think Ms. Cox offers a wonderful tribute to Dinah Washington. It’s really well done, I hope you agree!

Our next song is “It’s Only A Paper Moon”. This one is a bit older than our previous songs – it was written in 1933 by Harold Arlen, with lyrics by E. Y. Harburg and Billy Rose. If Harold Arlen’s name sounds familiar to you, it should. Arlen wrote over 500 songs, many of which have become classics that are loved by millions. How about “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from the Wizard of Oz”? Arlen wrote that one. Also in his catalogue are a few other tunes you might know such as “Get Happy”, “That Old Black Magic” as well as arguably the best positive-motivational song ever recorded “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive”.

“It’s Only A Paper Moon” was written for a Broadway play “The Great Magoo”, and while the play didn’t go far, the song was featured in a movie released in the same year entitled “Take A Chance”. Later, the song was recorded by bandleader Paul Whiteman. In spite of all this, it enjoyed limited success in the 1930’s, but during and after World War 2, artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Nat “King” Cole made it into a popular hit. Hmm – if both Ella and Nat performed the song, it has to be a great one and worthy of inclusion in our tribute concert.

So in the spirit of “ladies first” let’s start off with the incredible Ella Fitzgerald performing the song. Then, let’s give the guys a turn and bring back Nat “King” Cole for an encore performance. You can never get enough of Nat, so I am more than happy to have him perform another tune.

By an interesting coincidence our next song also was written in 1933. “Moonglow” was written by Will Hudson and Irving Mills and words by Eddie DeLange. The song soon became one of the best known pieces of the so-called “Big Band” era that dominated the 1930’s and 1940’s and its popularity was boosted by recordings from a number of groups, including Benny Goodman and his orchestra. Through the years, “Moonglow” has become a jazz standard, and has only increased in popularity over time. My mother and step-father grew up in the 1930’s and both of them have told me that “Moonglow” was a song that everyone listened to back then. Millions still do today. Speaking of Benny Goodman here’s a great video of Benny and his quartet performing it. Very smooth and great to listen to. I also want to offer another wonderful performance of the song – this time a duet featuring Tony Bennett and Alberta’s own k.d. Lang.

“Blue Moon” is our next number – and once again we reach back to the 1930’s. It was written in 1934 by one of the greatest songwriting teams of all time, Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart. Like many Rogers and Hart songs, it was written with movies in mind, first intended for an MGM film “Hollywood Party”, and then for another release from the studio “Manhattan Melodrama”. In both cases, things didn’t work out and while the tune remained intact through a few versions, the song didn’t reach its final form until Hart wrote “Blue moon, you saw me standing alone…” and the rest is history. Over time, the song has been featured in many films – including at least two Marx Brothers comedies as well as the 1978 film “Grease”

It has been recorded countless times – I think the first time I ever heard the song was as performed by the American rock and roll band Sha Na Na. It’s always been one of their trademark songs. My favourite recording is a wonderful, heartfelt and soulful performance by the Canadian group The Cowboy Junkies as part of their debut album “The Trinity Session” (recorded at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in downtown Toronto – hence the name!). Hard to believe that it’s the same song as what Sha Na Na did – the arrangement is so different. But it’s so beautifully and exquisitely performed.

The song has also been recorded by such greats as Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard Billie Holiday and Mel Torme. It’s also used as an anthem by the Manchester City soccer club. In short, “Blue Moon” has became a classic and a superb piece of music. For our first video presentation let’s listen to Blue Moon as performed by Sha Na Na.

After this, let’s listen to how The Cowboy Junkies perform “Blue Moon”. In fact, I actually have two versions to share with all of you. OK – I admit it, I couldn’t decide which one to use because they are both spectacular. The first one is taken from “The Trinity Session” with some wonderful graphics designed to complement the song’s theme The second video is a live performance as shown on BBC Four, in an arrangement that is very much like the one they did for “The Trinity Session”. Another reason why I love both videos (and which makes it so hard to choose) is listening to Margo Timmins, the group’s lead singer. What a remarkable voice – I just melt every time I hear her sing. Wow!

One final video for “Blue Moon” – a wonderful rendition of the song by the American country music group “The Mavericks”. Very nice, soulful and a delight to listen to and watch. experience it for yourself by clicking on this link

Our next “moon song” is another one from the film world. “Moon River” was written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer in 1961, and was featured in the famous 1962 movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, starring Audrey Hepburn. It soon became the signature tune for Andy Williams, a popular American singer of the 1960’s, to the point where it also used as the theme for “The Andy Williams Show”. Just like the other songs in our tribute concert, this one was also widely recorded in a variety of arrangements by many of the leading musicians of the day, including B.B. King, Lena Horne, Jay and the Americans and Paul Anka. In more recent times, “Moon River” has been covered by perfomers as diverse as Rod Stewart, Dr. John, REM, Willie Nelson and Jane Monheit.

Now on to some video presentations. Given that it’s his signature tune, I would be remiss not to offer you a performance of “Moon River” by Andy Williams himself. Just click here and you’re good to go. Connie Francis also handles the song well check it out for yourself here. Finally, a lovely instrumental version of the song performed by English clarinest and bandleader Acker Bilk. Very lush and smooth indeed. A very nice effort, especially if you like instrumentals.

For our final two performances, let’s move to the world of classical music. Or at least for one piece that I’m sure everyone knows. Beethoven’s Piano Sonata number 14 is better known as The Moonlight Sonata. This performance was recorded at New York’s Julliard School of Music in November 2010, and the pianist (Tiffany Poon) is only 13. I noticed in the comments section below the video that some people criticized Ms. Poon for her pacing, which at times does seem rather slow, but it is still very well done. Especially for someone that young. She is a great talent with a promising future. I suspect we will be hearing much more from Ms. Poon as the years go by. For a second video performance of the Sonata, here is world renowned pianist Claudio Arrau. Beautifully played, with great sensitivity and passion. Or at least that’s my take on it!

The last piece of music in our concert comes from Sergei Rachmaninoff. He wrote some incredible melodies and in this case we’re talking about his Piano Concerto number 2. What? Say again? In 1945, two American songwriters (Buddy Kaye and Ted Mossman) decided to take a portion of the Concerto and turn it into a song. They called it “Full Moon and Empty Arms”. It was first recorded by Frank Sinatra later that same year, and became an instant hit. It would also be recorded by performers such as Sarah Vaughan, Robert Goulet, the Platters and Jim Nabors. Yes, that Jim Nabors – people may know him as the goofy “Gomer Pyle”. But in reality he is an excellent singer. If you need proof, he sings “Back Home Again in Indiana” every year before the start of the Indianapolis 500 auto race. It’s amazing.

Now for some video performances of the song. First, given that Frank Sinatra led off our concert with “Fly Me to the Moon”, it’s only right that we bring him back to close out this thing. Here’s Full Moon and Empty Arms – sung by Frank Sinatra. Next, let’s bring out Eddie Fisher performing the song complete with a piano and string arrangement that one might say pays tribute to Rachmaninoff As an aside, although Eddie Fisher was one of the most celebrated performers of the 1950’s, he may be best known to younger audiences today as the father of actress Carrie Fisher, who was a virtual unknown until she took on the role of Princess Leia in the “Star Wars” films. Finally, a very nice jazz flavoured interpretation performed by Erroll Garner

OK everyone – our musical journey is nearly done. Before we prepare to return to Earth, let’s bring all the performers out here for a final curtain call. They all deserve a great round of applause, so put your hands together and let’s all give them a great reception.

An encore you say? All right, if you insist. Here’s a couple of videos from the world of contemporary music. First, here’s the pride of Klein, Texas, Lyle Lovett performing a song called “Here I Am”. Now this is a bit of a stretch at first glance. There is no reference to the moon here. Except that one of the lines in the song does indeed mention Neil Armstrong. Hey folks, I’m choosing the songs, right? Besides, I really like Lyle Lovett’s music. He draws on many musical styles including jazz, blues, gospel, folk and country. I don’t quite know how he does it, but it works.

Second, I present for the final encore of this tribute concert the incomparable Warren Zevon performing one of his best known songs “Werewolves of London”. Sure, this one may seem like a stretch too. But there is a connection to the moon here, work with me for a moment, folks! If you’re familiar with the myths and legends surrounding such creatures as vampires or werewolves, then you know that the werewolf only appears with the coming of a full moon.

Although there are many versions of the song available on video, I chose the one I did not only because the photos used often match the appropriate lyrics being sung in that part of the video (including a neat picture of Lon Chaney walking with the Queen – nice piece of graphic liberties there!) but in each chorus you do indeed see pictures of a wolf howling with a full moon in the background.

I’m sure that after seeing these last two selections, you will tell me that it is time to wrap up this tribute concert. After all, both Lyle Lovett and Warren Zevon presented songs that aren’t exactly on the mark here. I did have to explain why I chose them, after all.

So let’s bring this blog entry to a close. This is my affectionate tribute, by way of videos, to one of the great heroes of the 20th century, Neil Armstrong. As I mentioned when I wrote my We Reach the Moon – 40 Years Later, blog entry, the moon landing in July 1969 was one of those moments that define history. If you grew up during the 1960’s or earlier, I would bet that you know exactly where you were and what you were doing when we all held our breath to see if that tiny lunar module would arrive on the moon’s surface, and then a few hours later when Armstrong took those first historic steps. I hope you all enjoyed watching these videos – and may he rest in peace this day and forever.

One last thing before I go – as I mentioned back at the beginning, if you enjoyed this tribute concert and the many videos contained here, I invite you to visit Walking on the Moon – The Tribute to Neil Armstrong Continues. That’s right. I had so much fun putting this one together that a couple of days later I compiled a second one. Good thing there are so many songs about the moon, space travel and related subjects out there. I hope you enjoy it.

Until next time!

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Hi everyone:

If any of you read either the first or the second of my blog entries about Olympic trivia (or both of them!), you might recall I mentioned that I just might do more of these in future. So in that spirit, here comes part three. I also realize that in my most recent posting, I suggested that it might be wise to take a break from everything “Olympic” for a while now that the London Games are over. So while it may seem at first glance that I am not following my own suggestions, I have found a lot of Olympic trivia and other interesting facts over the past three weeks or so, and thought it might be fun to share some of this with all of you. So without any further adieu, here is part three in my ongoing series. I hope you enjoy it. Ready? Let’s get started.

Given that we have just finished the London 2012 Games, the British capital might be a good place to start. The 1908 Games had originally been awarded to Rome as part of the International Olympic Committee Congress held in Berlin in 1904. But after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in April 1906, the Italian government felt it was more important to use whatever funds had been designated to stage the Rome Olympics to help the city of Naples, which had been badly damaged by the eruption. In response to the situation, the IOC held another meeting to select a replacement for Rome. London won the honour beating out Berlin and Milan. I find it a bit odd that Milan was a candidate city, given that it was also in Italy. After all, if the government felt it could not support Rome, wouldn’t the same conditions have applied to any other Italian city? No matter, London was awarded the Games.

The organizers decided to hold them at White City, in conjunction with the Franco-British Exhibition being held at the same time. This practice of combining the Olympics with a major fair or exhibition was the accepted norm back then. It may explain why even though the 1896 Athens Games were held from April 6 to 15, the next three Games (1900 Paris; 1904 St. Louis and 1908 London) were all held over a six month period, rather than the 17 day cycle that is now used. I sometimes wonder why this format was adopted. Maybe Pierre de Coubertin and the others responsible for reviving the Olympics felt that they were not established enough yet to go it alone. But I think the most important reason was that in each case, the Exhibition’s organizers wanted to ensure their own success by including sports events. And what better sports events to include than the Olympics?

The 1908 Olympics were also the first ones to include winter sports in the program. Or maybe I should say “winter sport”. Four figure skating events were held on October 28 and 29, just before the Exhibition’s closing on October 31. Although I gather the IOC had always intended on having winter sports at the Games, I’m not sure if it was supposed to be an “add-on” to the Summer program (as it was here, and also again at the 1920 Antwerp Games), or if it was always intended for them to be their own separate event. No matter, the first Winter Games were held in Chamonix, France in 1924 and it wasn’t long before they took their rightful place in the Olympic movement.

The 1908 Games were also the first ones to codify and standardize many of the rules of competition, as well as allowing judges for some of the events, and in particular those from outside the host country. The most famous example took place at the 400 metre final. Four competitors took part, 3 Americans and 1 British runner, Wyndham Halswelle, who went into the race as the favourite – probably because he had broke the existing Olympic record in a time of 48.4 seconds in a previous heat. As one might expect when most of the runners are from one nation, the Americans won. But then things became interesting. Depending on which source you consult, either Halswelle lodged a protest immediately following the race (claiming that he had been interfered with on a couple of occasions by the Americans) or the officials in charge called the interference at the time. In either event, it was determined that one of the other runners (John Carpenter) had blocked his way and prevented Halswelle from passing him as they ran together down the home stretch. And another episode had taken place during the first 50 metres, a second American (William Robbins) had used similar tactics to stop Halswelle from passing him.

As part of the investigations, it was discovered that while blocking runners was allowed under American rules, it was illegal under the British ones. Halswelle’s protest was upheld and the race results were declared void. Also, the officials ordered the race to be run again two days later. This time it was the Americans who protested. But given that the race was in Britain and governed by British rules (or at least it’s safe to assume), their appeal was denied. In response the Americans chose not to participate which left Halswelle to do the entire course alone. Which he did in a time of 50.2 seconds. Not bad for a solo effort. Not only did Halswelle become the Olympic champion, but the fact that he did so alone resulted in the only “walkoff” in a final event in Olympic history.

The story does not end there. As a result of the 400 metre race, a couple of major changes were made to track and field (or as they are officially named at the Olympics: “athletics”). It was decided that as of the Stockholm Olympics of 1912, all events would be run in separate lanes. This had not always been the case at the time, and I think it’s a safe bet that this was the main reason for Halswelle being blocked by the American runners. The other major development was the establishment of the International Amateur Athletics Federation, designed to standardize rules and regulations and to serve as the governing body for track and field worldwide.

Although it is now accepted that the official head of state from the host country opens the Games (as Queen Elizabeth II did for London 2012), this has not always been the case. For example, at the 1904 St. Louis Games, it was opened by David Francis (who was the President of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition). When Los Angeles hosted the Games for the first time in 1932, it was the Vice President (Charles Curtis), who did the honours. Perhaps following this precedent, the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics were opened by Vice President Walter Mondale.

Speaking of Queen Elizabeth II, she is the only person to have officially opened a Summer Games more than once. In addition to London 2012, she did this at the Montreal Games in 1976. When you consider that her father (King George VI) opened the 1948 Games, and that her great-grandfather (Edward VII) had done so in 1908, this task has certainly run in the British royal family – they have now done this four times. When you also consider that the Queen’s husband (the Duke of Edinburgh) proclaimed the 1956 Melbourne Olympics officially open, that makes five times that the royals have performed this role.

The 1932 Los Angeles Games took place from July 30 to August 14, and marked the beginning of the 17 day cycle that is now used at all Winter and Summer Olympics. With the exception of the 1896 Games in Athens, all the others had taken place over several months. They were also the first Games where athletes were housed in an Olympic Village that had been specifically designed and built for them – or at least the 1206 male athletes were, the 126 female athletes stayed at the Chapman Hotel, located on Wilshire Boulevard.

This was also the first Games to have a victory ceremony for each event soon after its completion, along with a podium, and the raising of the gold medalist’s national flag. Prior to then, medal presentations had taken place on the final day of the Games as one large event – maybe as part of the closing ceremonies. It should be noted that those 1932 Games were not a complete success. The Games coincided with the global Depression and as a result many countries couldn’t afford to send teams to what was then considered a remote part of the world. The number of participating athletes was the lowest since 1904 and only about half the number that had been in Amsterdam in 1928.

The 1956 Melbourne Olympics were the first Games ever held in the southern hemisphere – which might explain why they were held from November 22 to December 8. After all, the seasons are reversed from what we are used to here in Canada, so even though we might think of November and December as a bit too cold to stage a Summer Games, when you consider that it was springtime in Australia, that was the perfect time of year. In September 2000, the Games returned to Australia (this time in Sydney) and the southern hemisphere will host them again when Rio does so in August 2016.

One could also argue that Melbourne marked the end of European “dominance” of hosting the Games. During their first 60 years, there had only been two other times (St. Louis in 1904 and Los Angeles in 1932) when they had ventured outside of Europe. While the Games have returned to Europe six times since then (Rome 1960, Munich 1972, Moscow 1980, Barcelona 1992, Athens 2004 and London 2012), Melbourne’s successful Olympics proved to everyone that they could be held anywhere in the world. Time has proven that idea to be correct – the Games have truly become a global event and it’s good to see that many nations around the world have had a chance to host them. Rio 2016 will mark the first time that the Games will have been hosted in South America, leaving Africa as the only continent that has not done so. But when you consider that South Africa did an excellent job in hosting the FIFA 2010 World Cup, maybe it’s time to bring the Olympics there too.

We noted earlier that the Los Angeles Games of 1932 were the first ones to adopt the 17 day cycle that is now used for all Olympics. The 1988 Winter Games in Calgary were the first Winter Games to do so. Calgary also offered the first Games conducted in a completely smoke-free environment. This was the case not only for the athletes but the spectators too. Although such environments are the “norm” today, it was a revolutionary idea back then and one should applaud the Games organizers and the International Olympic Committee for instituting such a policy. As one of the many legacies from Calgary 1988, these same guidelines have been used for all Olympic Games since then and it’s pretty safe to assume that this will continue into the future.

As mentioned earlier, the Stockholm Games of 1912 were the first Games where athletic events were run in lanes (and as the Canadian 4×100 metre men’s relay team found out a century later in London, you are disqualified if someone runs out of their lane). Stockholm also marked the first time that electronic timing was used where appropriate, and loudspeaker systems also made their debut. The now well-established pentathlon and decathlon events also were introduced at these Games, and Japan became the first Asian nation to participate.

As we saw at the 1908 Games when the marathon was adjusted to its now established distance (and the winner was disqualified because others had helped him reach the finish line), the next edition held at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics also caused a sensation for a couple of reasons. A Japanese runner may have set the record for the longest time to complete an Olympic event, and I dare say that it’s a record that just might stand for all time. Or maybe not – more about that in a moment. But since you are bound to ask about it, the story goes like this. Kanakuri Shizō started the race along with everyone else, but after a time was reported missing. Upon investigation it was learned that he had dropped in on a party being held at a villa near the marathon route in order to quench his thirst (or at least this is what one source I checked says. Another suggests that he had been in poor health ever since arriving in Sweden, partly from the long journey but also from the local food, to the point that he lost conscienceness during the race and was being cared for by some farmers). Regardless of which story is true, Shizō’s difficulties are hardly surprising if you consider that the 1912 marathon was apparently run on an extremely humid day, estimated at 40 degrees Celsius. The Web site which mentions these conditions also noted that many of the runners experienced health problems due to the extreme heat, including hyperthermia.

Later the same day, he boarded a train back to Stockholm and returned to Japan the next day without notifying officials who recorded his status as missing (even though he went on to compete in the 1920 and 1924 Olympic marathons). In an interesting twist of fate, Swedish television were able to locate Shizō in Japan, and in 1966 they invited him to return to Sweden and resume the race where he left off. He did so and completed the marathon in a total time of 54 years, 8 months, 6 days, 8 hours, 32 minutes and 20.379 seconds. Although this was not officially sanctioned by the IOC or any other governing body representing track and field/athletics, it is a remarkable story.

And as I noted above, although the case could be seen as a bit tenuous, you could even make the argument that he has the record for the longest time to complete an Olympic event. After crossing the finish line, he noted: “It was a long trip. Along the way, I got married, had six children and 10 grandchildren.” Today, Shizō is revered in Japan as “the father of the marathon” and died in 1983 at the age of 92.

The second reason why the 1912 marathon is remembered carries a sadder note. A Portuguese runner, Francisco Lázaro, died from heat exhaustion, the only athlete to die during the running of an Olympic marathon. An unfortunate development on many levels, such as the fact that this was the first time Portugal had sent athletes to the Games (as did the aforementioned Japan, Iceland, Egypt and Serbia – who would not return to the Games as a separate nation until the Beijing 2008 Olympics).

The 1912 marathon actually marked the third Games in a row where the event had some unusual twists. We have already discussed what happened during the 1908 Games in London, but no history of the Olympic marathon would be complete without going back four years earlier to the 1904 Games in St. Louis. Thomas Hicks of the United States actually finished second in the marathon, but was soon awarded the gold medal when the winner, fellow American Fred Lorz, was disqualified. As an aside, an article documenting some memorable Olympic moments suggests that Hicks might have been the first Olympic champion to have taken performance-enhancing drugs. Sound familiar? The article mentions that Hicks also had problems during that marathon, to the point where his trainers gave him some strychnine and egg whites as a stimulant to keep him going. I can’t help but wonder how effective all this was, the same article notes that in spite of the aforementioned treatment, Hicks barely made it across the line.

In a story that mirrored what happened many years later to Rosie Ruiz at the 1980 Boston Marathon, it was discovered that Mr. Lorz had not run the entire race after all. Instead, he had covered most of the 25 miles (40 kilometres) in a car. Apparently, Lorz had completed the first nine miles (ca. 15 kilometres) of the marathon, but then stopped running due to exhaustion. The car in question actually belonged to his manager, who give him a lift for the next eleven miles (about 20 kilometres). But then the car broke down and Lorz had no choice but to run the final section, and did so well that he crossed the line first. But just as in the Ruiz case (she had actually used the Boston subway and then emerged out of the crowd to run the final half mile of the race), Lorz admitted to cheating after a number of spectators told an inquiry that he had not run the entire race and he was disqualified. In fact, as a 1904 article written shortly after the race as well as the article I noted earlier which outlines some memorable Olympic moments point out, the event may have been one of the strangest moments in Olympic history.

An interesting spin on all this is that even though Lorz was originally banned by the Amateur Athletic Union from competitive running, he later apologized and was re-instated. One of the first marathons held after his re-instatement was the 1905 Boston Marathon. Wouldn’t you know it, he won! This time he had done it for real, in a time of 2 hours, 38 minutes and 25 seconds.

The Montreal Games of 1976 are remembered for many reasons. As someone who lived in Montreal at the time, it was a special thrill to see the Games come to my hometown. I could offer many comments about it all (another blog entry perhaps?), but I include them now because the 1976 Olympic Flame had a unique journey to Montreal. As is tradition, the Flame was lit in an elaborate ceremony at Olympia, the home of the ancient Games. And then made its way to Athens.

But when the Flame did leave Greece for Canada by air, it did not do so by plane. Instead, a special sensor was used to detect its ionized particles and changed them into coded impulses. The impulses were transmitted by satellite to Ottawa where they activated a laser beam which recreated the Flame in its original shape and form. From Ottawa, Canada conducted the shortest Torch Relay in Olympic history for the distance from our capital city to the host city of Montreal. As an aside, we have also held some of the longest Relays in Olympic history, given that both the Calgary 1988 and Vancouver 2010 Games featured Torch Relays that extended across Canada and involved thousands of people. I don’t think we have the longest one, though. For the 2004 Games in Athens, the Flame was lit in Olympia as usual, but instead of going directly to Athens and staying there, it was sent on a global Relay that visited the five continents before returning to Greece – the first and to date only time in Olympic history that this has been done.

One final tidbit from Montreal. The award for the most sparsely-populated country to win an Olympic medal goes to…(envelope please!), Bermuda! Although the British colony had only 53,500 inhabitants in 1976, Clarence Hill made history by winning a bronze medal in boxing – the heavyweight category to be more specific.

That’s all for this edition of Olympic trivia and other interesting facts about this incredible global event. I have so much more that I could share with everyone, so I guess you can expect to see another installment in this series coming soon to a computer near you. Thanks for reading this and I hope you all have a great day.

Until next time!

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Hi everyone:

It’s an unusually cool and rainy mid August day here in Hamilton, a welcome break from our hot, sticky and rather dry summer. The London 2012 Olympics have now ended. The Flame has been extinguished, many (if not all) of the athletes, officials and others associated with the Games have left the British capital for home and the focus of the Olympic movement now shifts back to the Winter Games, and in particular to Sochi, the Russian city which will host the next edition in February 2014.

But before we close the book on London, let me offer a few comments and observations in no particular order of preference – merely ideas that come to mind.

For openers, I want to offer warmest congratulations for a job well done to the citizens of London and also to the entire British people. In particular to those directly involved in the Games, from Sebastian Coe (the president of London’s Organizing Committee) to the thousands of volunteers and everyone and anyone in between. This was the third time London had hosted the Games, and to quote Lord Coe’s words from the closing ceremonies on Sunday night: “Britain got it right”.

His words can be interpreted in many ways. They got it right in terms of hosting the Games themselves. Everything went very smoothly and there were few criticisms. Yes there were inconveniences for Londoners (such as special reserved traffic lanes for Olympic vehicles), but based on what was presented in the media that I heard about, the citizens showed their usual resolve and got into the spirit of the Games.

Another reason why the London Games will be remembered as a success is because the host team also “got it right”. The British Olympic team, or as they were more affectionately known, “Team GB” did themselves proud. Although I think most of us would never admit it, I have always felt that a key indicator of success at any Olympics is how well the host team does. When the hosts win lots of medals and enjoy other successes on and off the sports field, it lifts the country’s spirits and I think it’s more likely than the average citizen will embrace the Games. And the Brits really delivered there. It was their most successful Olympics in many years – depending on whether you measure overall success by number of gold medals or by the overall total, Team GB was in the top five.

And as you watched Team GB rack up the medals, there was also a corresponding sense of patriotism and national pride welling up inside the British people. Of course, one could argue that our friends had a great headstart, given that 2012 also marks the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. Indeed, it almost seemed like the celebrations of that event from earlier this summer had only just concluded when it was time to crank it up again for the Olympics. I’ll wager that many of the world’s media who covered both events racked up a ton of frequent flyer points flying back and forth from their homes to London. To cite one example, I wonder if the CBC should have just rented a flat for the veteran anchorman of The National, Peter Mansbridge, and just let him stay in London all summer. Might have been cheaper than flying him back and forth between Toronto and London.

Looking back at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, many have said that it was a “coming-out” party for Canada. That we exhibited a tremendous amount of pride, patriotism and a renewed confidence in our national identity. And that the “after-glow” lasted for long after everyone left Vancouver and may still be there today. It sounds like our British friends have experienced much the same thing in London. Although I did watch a lot of CTV’s Olympic coverage both on television and online, I also looked in on how the British covered the events, including watching BBC1’s coverage of both the opening and closing ceremonies. And I couldn’t help but notice that what happened to us in Vancouver was happening all over again in London. You could sense the confidence, the passion, the pride and patriotism rising up inside the British people as the Games progressed.

Even for someone like me, a proud Canadian but with some British heritage too, I couldn’t help but join in the party. Yes, of course I cheered for our Canadian athletes – but I was cheering for Team GB too, and was delighted with every medal they won. To return to Lord Coe’s remarks, you could say the British people “got it right”. It’s been quite a year for Britain when you combine the Games with the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. It may be a long time (if ever!) before the Brits have that kind of year again. It seems that they made the most of it, and for that I offer them my warmest congratulations. Even when life returns to normal again (as it soon will), I hope our British friends use the “glow” of both the Games and the Diamond Jubilee celebrations to really make a difference, both within their country and also on the global stage. The British have a long and proud history, even if the once-great Empire no longer exists. May they also enjoy a proud present and an even better future. I wish them all the best and will watch one of my ancestral homelands with great interest for many years to come.

Having said all this, however, there’s a large part of me that is glad the Games are over. Sure, we saw some wonderful athletic performances and those 17 days in late July and early August created millions of lasting memories. The whole world is going through “Olympic withdrawal” this week. But I said that I am glad that the Games have concluded because those 17 days are very intense and in many ways we are all bombarded with everything “Olympics” to the point where on the final day, you almost want to scream “Enough already!” For my part, I always seem to feel “Olympicked out” by the time the final day arrives. And that while the closing ceremonies may seem a bit sad and poignant, some of me always feels like it can’t come soon enough because of this assault on the senses. Not to mention all those TV commercials that you seem to only see during the Games. The ones that look so cute and sound so funny on day one drive us crazy on day seventeen because we have now seen them a thousand times a day. Or so it seems.

So in that sense, perhaps it is a good thing that the Summer Games are only held every four years. Or that a few years ago the International Olympic Committee decided to stagger the Games so that while the Summer and Winter Games would each continue on four year cycles, they would alternate every two years between them. As I write this, I do feel “Olympicked out”. I’ll bet that many of you feel the same. How about it folks? Now that London 2012 is over, I suggest that it’s time for a break. Let’s all agree to put anything Olympic-related on hold until February 2014 when the Winter Games are reborn, or perhaps a few weeks before that. OK, maybe that’s not realistic, but at least let’s give ourselves an Olympian “time-out” if only for a little while. To the end of 2013 perhaps? Sounds like a plan to me, I hope all of you reading this think so too!

In particular, as I have noted before, I have become a bit fed up having to listen to CTV’s constant playing of that “I Believe” song over and over again. It may have been cute and corny and maybe even a bit fun at Vancouver 2010. But as I have mentioned elsewhere in my blog, I soon tired of it even back then, and by about day 2 this time I was ready to throw my remote at the TV, or at the very least hit the “Mute” button or switch to another channel. I noted with great interest that the CBC has just won the Canadian rights for 2014 in Sochi, as well as for the next Summer Games to be held in Rio in 2016. While I congratulate CTV for doing an excellent job of covering the last two Games, as they pass the baton back to CBC I hope that “I Believe” is retired. I guess we’ll know in February 2014.

I can’t say goodbye to London without reflecting just a little on what took place over those 17 days. Like every other Games, London generated its special moments and memories. 85 countries won at least one medal at the Games, with three of them (Cyprus, Guatemala and Grenada) reaching the podium for the first time ever. In Grenada, the government declared a national holiday to celebrate.

Many athletes took advantage of the Games to raise themselves to a whole new level. Hundreds if not thousands of personal best times were set. A lot of world records fell in London, although there seems to be some question about exactly how many there really were. A BBC Web site that breaks down the Games by numbers mentions that 27 world records were broken. But according to the gang at Yahoo Sports, the real number is 30. In addition to (and part of ) those numbers, close to 70 new Olympic records were set according to one source I consulted. And if that’s not enough, as part of their coverage of the closing ceremony, the BBC reported that 44 world records were set and 117 Olympic ones. I find this one a bit strange because you now have the same organization (the BBC) producing two very different sets of information. I suppose all this means that it’s hard to get an exact determination, but regardless of the actual figures, you can’t deny that the athletes really shone in London.

In addition to all those record breaking performances, some countries broke very long medal droughts. For example, when our Canadian women’s soccer team won bronze, it was our first medal in a traditional team sport since the men’s basketball team took silver at Berlin in 1936. A Swiss equestrian rider won an individual gold medal, their first in that discipline since 1924. When the Brits struck gold in the team equestrian event at Greenwich Park, it marked the first time since 1952 that they had won that event. When a Ugandan won the men’s marathon on the very last day, it marked that country’s first gold medal since Munich in 1972. And on it went. But it was not just the medal winners who cherished their time in London. I’ll bet that every single athlete who competed, no matter what sport or how well they did, will cherish their Olympic experience and remember it forever.

And of course all of us who were spectators, whether we were lucky enough to actually be in London and watch it live and in person, or if we watched it on television or online also have our own memories. But if the memories themselves are not enough and you would like to have your own souvenir (in essence owning a piece of the Games), I just learned earlier today that you can do so by visiting London Memorabilia 2012 I understand that proceeds will be used to help defray the costs of the Games. More about those costs in a moment.

Now that London is in our collective rear-view mirror and we turn forward to Russia in 2014 and Brazil in 2016, I can’t help but wonder about the lasting legacy of the Games. Sure, London is probably still on an Olympic-induced “high” and likely will be for some time to come. Especially when you consider that the Paralympic Games will be starting in a couple of weeks using many of those same facilities and continue into September. But eventually the cheering crowds will go home, some of the Olympic facilities – such as the main The Olympic Park will be transformed for other uses such as converting the Olympic village into housing units, and things will return to normal for Londoners and for the British people. But what about the future?

I mentioned the costs of the Games just now, there are varying reports on just how much London 2012 cost. For example, that same BBC Web site I mentioned earlier that breaks down the Games by numbers stated a figure of 8.824 billion pounds. One of Britain’s leading newspapers, the Guardian, noted a figure of 9 billion pounds. The Daily Mall went one better and suggested that the actual cost was more like 11 billion pounds and rising. No doubt there are other figures out there. But no more which costs you believe, that’s a lot of money! And since this type of dollar figure now appears to be the norm for any host city, I can’t help but wonder about the future. How many cities will be scared off by that amount? There are always activists and others who say that the money is better spent on things like affordable housing, income support for the poor, increased food and shelter programs, better roads and public transit, better health care for our communities – just to name a few examples. They dismiss the Olympics as a waste of money and subscribe to what many have called the “bread, not circuses” syndrome. In other words, don’t spend these vast sums of money on mass events like the Olympics. Keep the money here and use it to fund programs that help us look after each other and improve the quality of life for all.

In some respects, I agree with those who say Olympic money could be better spent on the necessities of life. Modern life is a mess and we all struggle to get by. In my own case, if you read some of my blog entries about my life, it has been a real battle for me just to survive. And I am far from the only one. But I would also argue that there are many benefits to hosting an Olympics, and that they actually can achieve many of those things that activists cry out for. First of all, many infrastructure projects such as the ones I noted above actually get done faster because of the timelines dictated by the Games. Many host cities have used them to revitalize all or part of their city. Barcelona’s 1992 Games saw many major redevelopments across the city and region that are still reaping benefits some 20 years later. And in the case of London 2012, the Games has been a catalyst to revitalize much of the city’s East End, a long neglected part of town that really needed a make-over and as part of the Games long-term legacy will breath new life into their community.

I would also argue that while there are always urgent life needs that must constantly be funded by governments and other sources, there are times when one should take a leap of faith, imagine life beyond your fingertips, and invest in things like the Olympics. I think of some of our greatest achievements (such as the Apollo missions to the moon in the 1960’s – just to cite one of countless examples). I submit to all of you that if we had followed the social activists and not funded projects such as NASA and the 1960’s space race, we might still be back in the caves of our long-ago ancestors. Much of the social, economic and human progress we have achieved through the centuries might never have happened.

Yes, we all have a responsibility to help our fellow men and women. Especially the less fortunate and the vulnerable who really struggle each day. And governments and other agencies should provide funding to help do that. To what extent and how much will always be debated. But events like the Olympics help bring people together and if only for a couple of weeks every four years (or every two if you look at the staggered Summer and Winter schedule), we can forget the world’s problems and work together. It’s always better for nations to battle one another on the sports field instead of on the battle field.

There is also an atmosphere, an electricity, a “buzz” in the air when you are actually at a global event like the Olympics that is priceless and can never be measured. It has been there in London during these now-completed Games. It was in Vancouver at the 2010 Games. I remember feeling it in Montreal when we hosted the Summer Olympics in 1976. I felt it again to a lesser but still powerful extent when the 2003 World Road Cycling Championships were held here in Hamilton. No doubt that “buzz” will exist in Toronto when the Pan American Games come here in 2015. That atmosphere is powerful and intoxicating. Rubbing shoulders with people from around the world and the exchange of cultures, ideas and other factors that result can only be positive, and help us all strive for a better planet.

And what about that “feel-good” sense of patriotism, pride and a boost of national self-confidence that I talked about earlier? It was felt across Canada during Vancouver 2010 and many will say that even now, over two years later, it is still present across our land and makes us a better country. It has now happened in Britain during these Games. You can’t put a pricetag on that, or how it may impact a nation’s psyche and resolve to get things done in the future. I’d say that’s another positive that hosting an Olympics can bring.

Sure, I may not care much for a song like “I Believe” that has been the theme of the CTV Olympic coverage in both London and Vancouver, or John Lennon’s “Imagine” that was performed in London at the closing ceremonies. As I have mentioned here on my blog in the past, I find songs like those rather cornball, syrupy and at times even a bit annoying. Phrases like “I believe in the power of you and I” or “Imagine all the people sharing all the world…I hope some day you’ll join us and the world will live as one” may seem unrealistic, hokey and present a distorted view of our world. But even I will admit that there’s nothing wrong in reaching out for something beyond your grasp. To always try to improve yourself and make the world a better place. Maybe that’s what those songs are really trying to say, and even I can’t fault them for that. And while I may not be inspired by them, millions of people are. If they use the spirit embodied there to make their lives better, I applaud them for doing so.

But as I often do when writing these blogs, I digress. To return to my original comments about the lasting legacy of any Olympic Games, while they may be incredibly expensive, and perhaps have become too big, bloated and have lost the original vision as expressed by Pierre de Coubertin and others who drawing their inspiration from the ancient Games founded and strengthened the modern Olympic movement, I think they are still a force for good in our world. I hope I have presented that argument in a convincing way here. May the Olympic Games, both Summer and Winter, continue to be that force for good and inspire everyone to do their best in every aspect of life for many years to come.

And so the London 2012 Olympics are over. The Flame has been extinguished and life goes on. But it won’t be long before another ceremony is held at ancient Olympia in Greece and the Flame will burn again, this time bound for Sochi, Russia. As I end this blog entry, may that Flame burn brightly inside all of us and may the spirit of the Games live in each of us every day. If we can all do that, perhaps songs like “I Believe” or “Imagine” may become reality one day after all. Would it really hurt us all to try? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Until next time!

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Hi everyone:

Once again, I am writing about the Olympics. Makes senses when you consider that it is early August 2012 and the London Games are now ending their first week. It’s a safe bet that anything “Olympic” related is hot right now, so in that spirit, let me offer some Olympic trivia and other unusual facts that I discovered. In order to make this easier for my readers, I will divide this into multiple sections. At least two to begin with – but I may add more over time. So without any further delay, let’s have some fun and look at some fascinating trivia and other aspects of the world’s largest sporting event. Here we go!

London is the first city to host the Summer Olympics three times (1908, 1948 and 2012). Athens hosted the Games in 1896, 1906 and 2004, but the 1906 Games are not considered “official” by the IOC, so the Greek capital, just as with other cities such as Los Angeles and Paris, has only had the Games twice. Given the fact that the most recent Athens Games were in 2004 and Greece’s current political and economic problems, I don’t think the Olympics will be back there any time soon.

Ever wondered why the marathon distance is the way it is? Blame the British royal family. Until the 1908 London Games, the accepted distance for the marathon was 25 miles (the approximate distance from the ancient site of the Battle of Marathon to Athens – from which all marathons today are descended). But when the 1908 Games came along, things changed. First, Princess Mary (who would later become Queen Mary – the wife of King George V and grandmother of the current Queen) asked that the start of the marathon take place at Windsor Castle (and in particular just below the Royal Nursery). Then it was changed again so that the race would end below the Royal Box at London’s White City Stadium. This led to the establishment of the final distance at 26 miles, 385 yards. By the time of the 1924 Paris Games, this had become the accepted standard for all marathons, and it is still true today.

It seems that there are two accounts of why the Royal Box became the finish line. The first was that it was requested by Queen Alexandra (Edward VII’s consort; mother of the future King George V and aunt to Kaiser Wilheim of Germany) apparently because she thought it would add a royal touch to what many thought of as the Games signature event. The second account I have heard is that British officials suggested this to the race organizers. Seems that back at the Opening Ceremony, the American flagbearer (Ralph Rose) refused to dip the Stars and Stripes in salute to the King when walking past the Royal Box. Some felt this was disrespectful to the monarchy and that placing the finish line directly below the Royal Box would restore its prestige. No matter which story is true (or if there is another account out there), the marathon continues to be a popular event, not just at the Olympics, but in many places around the world.

As an aside, the 1908 marathon would become famous for another reason. The first runner to enter White City Stadium was Dorando Pietri of Italy. But the run had taken so much out of him that he was completely disoriented and in bad shape. It is said that Pietri collapsed several times and at least one point even ran the wrong way. As he neared the finish line, two race officials (Jack Andrew, the clerk of the course and Dr Michael Bulger of the Irish Amateur Athletic Association who served as the chief medical officer for the race) took pity and offered assistance. Pietri eventually did cross the line first and was declared the winner. But when the second place runner (Johnny Hayes of the USA) learned what had happened he launched an appeal on the grounds that he had been the first runner to complete the race unassisted. It was accepted and Hayes was announced as the Olympic champion. Pietri was later recognized for his achievement, when Queen Alexandra saw what happened, she arranged for a gilded silver cup to be awarded to Pietri the next day.

The number 8 is considered the luckiest number of them all in Chinese culture. So is it any surprise that the Opening Ceremony for the Beijing Olympics began at precisely 8:08:08 p.m. local time on August 8, 2008?

The first Paralympics were held as part of the 1948 Games. The name is a hybrid of the two words “Parallel” and “Olympics”. The Stoke-Mandeville Games took place on the same day as the Opening Ceremony and consisted of 16 athletes, who were in fact disabled British World War 2 veterans. Although the Stoke-Mandeville Games continue to this day, the concept behind them grew and evolved over time into what we now know as the Paralympics.

The 1904 Olympics were actually awarded to Chicago. But the organizers of the St. Louis World’s Fair were afraid that this would shift the focus away from their event. They threatened to organize a series of parallel sporting events as part of the Fair and encourage athletes to go there instead of to Chicago. In response, the IOC decided it might be best to move the Games to St. Louis, and did so in 1902.

During the rowing competition at the 1928 Games Australian rower Henry Pearce decided to stop halfway through his quarter final race because a family of ducks happened to be passing just in front of his boat. During those few seconds the French crew overtook him, but once the ducks were safely by, Pearce resumed and he eventually overtook the French and won the gold medal.

The most unusual event may have been the pigeon shooting competition held at the 1900 Paris Games. Because they used live pigeons, some 300 in fact. It’s the only time that animals have been used in this way in Games history. I’ll bet the folks at PETA will be glad to know that.

Olympic Games are awarded to the host city seven years in advance and voting is done by secret ballot. In July 2005, the IOC convened in Singapore and on the agenda was selecting the host city for 2012. In one of the closest votes on record, London beat out Paris 54-50. While we will never know for sure, some have speculated that it might have been the 2 Finnish delegates who carried the day. Seems that just before the vote, French President Jacques Chirac commented that “After Finland, Britain has the worst food in the world”. Probably didn’t sit too well with the Finns, so it wouldn’t be surprising if they voted for London.

What’s unusual about the Games of the VI, XII and XIII Olympiads? They were not held due to wars. But the numbers were not revoked, which is why the London Games are considered the Games of the XXX Olympiad, even though only 27 have been held. In case anyone is wondering, the cities who missed out (Berlin in 1916; Tokyo had been the original host for 1940 but the IOC later transferred them to Helsinki after Japan attacked China in 1937 and many nations threatened to boycott the Games in protest; and London in 1944) eventually got their chance to host the Games after all – in 1936 (Berlin), 1948 (London), 1952 (Helsinki)and 1964 (Tokyo) respectively.

By the way, as one might expect, the Winter Olympics had a similar story. The first Games were not held until 1924, so World War 1 was not a factor. But the 1940 Winter Games were originally awarded to Sapporo, Japan – but were transferred to St. Moritz, Switzerland for similar reasons to what we saw above. But some conflicts between the St. Moritz organizers and the IOC meant that the location was changed again, this time to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany (the 1936 hosts). All this, of course, became a moot point when World War 2 began in September 1939. The 1944 Winter Games had been awarded to Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, but obviously could not be held.

But just as with the Summer Games, the above locations were eventually awarded Winter Games. St. Moritz hosted the first post-war event in February 1948. Cortina d’Ampezzo hosted the 1956 Games. Sapporo finally got their chance in 1972. The Winter Games have not been back to Germany since 1936, and the only time the Summer ones have returned was Munich in 1972. In an ironic twist, however, Munich did offer a very strong bid for the 2018 Winter Games, but lost to South Korea.

At the 1948 Games, the British national anthem “God Save The King” was only played three times. Once at the opening ceremonies. At the closing ceremonies. And the third time was when Princess Elizabeth (the current Queen) arrived for the first time. I find this interesting given the Olympic tradition that at every victory ceremony the national anthem of the gold medal winning country is played. I mentioned in part two of this series that Great Britain is the only team to have won at least one gold medal at every Summer Games. Which would have included 1948. Guess I may have to look into this one at a later date, but for now we will go with what is noted above. But no matter how many times “God Save the King” really was played during those Games, it pales in comparison to “Deutschland Ueber Alles”. The German national anthem was played 480 times during the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In a related bit of trivia, those Berlin Games were the first Olympics to be televised.

At the ancient Olympic Games, all the competitors did so in the nude. And given that the only competitors were free men (not slaves), who could speak Greek, would it be safe to speculate that lots of Greek women were in attendance? Then again, it’s also quite likely that only men could watch it too. Sounds like an interesting research project. While we may never know for sure if women were allowed to watch the ancient Games, one Web site notes that the word “gymnasium” comes from the Greek root “gymnos” meaning nude; so the literal meaning of “gymnasium” is “school for naked exercise”.

OK – now that all the women reading this just might be getting excited (no, this isn’t “50 Shades of Grey” gals!), perhaps it’s time to end this one. After all, I did say that I had a lot of material and felt it would be wise to break this into multiple sections. So let’s all take a break and I’ll be back soon with part two. If it is laid out this way on your computer, just scroll down the page. If not, then follow the appropriate link and you’ll be there soon.

Until next time!

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Hi everyone:

Do I have your attention? Has everyone taken a break from this multi-part series about Olympic trivia and other interesting facts? And perhaps most important of all, have all the ladies calmed down after reading how at the ancient Games all the competitors were naked men? No matter, when everyone is ready let’s get back to work. Here we go:

We left off by talking about the ancient Olympics, so here’s another one from back then which you all may enjoy. In the ancient Olympics, the philosopher Plato (427-347 BC) was a double winner of the pankration, a form of martial arts that blended elements of boxing and wrestling. It was a real free-for-all, the only apparent rules were that you couldn’t bite your opponent (sorry Mike Tyson!) or gouge out their eyes. I’ll bet today’s MMA folks would have loved this sport.

Coxswain Lesley Thompson-Willie of London, Ontario became the first Canadian athlete to medal in five different Olympic Games when the women’s eights rowing crew won the silver medal at London 2012.

The only Olympian ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize was Philip Noel-Baker of Great Britain, who won the silver in the 1500 metres in 1920.

One could question how successful the 1900 Paris Olympics were. One Web site I checked mentions that the Games actually had more athletes than spectators.

The only female athlete not to be given a sex test at the 1976 Montreal Games was Princess Anne, who competed for Great Britain in the equestrian events. Guess the organizers felt that putting the Queen’s daughter through this might be a tad inappropriate.

Here’s one that I can’t quite fathom. A research study was done on the athletes at the 2004 Athens Olympics who came from “combat” sports such as wrestling and boxing. Seems that those who wore red clothing fared much better than the folks who wore blue. Not sure what this proves except that some people either had too much time on their hands, or some foundation had some grant money left at the end of a fiscal year and wanted to use it.

A related story which to me is in the same category comes from The Wall Street Journal. They did a study of all the gold medal winners at London 2012 and determined that 15.5% cried while their national anthem was being played at their medal ceremony. Although I gather only 7% of Chinese athletes did (Mr. Spock would be proud of them!) I gather that the same study mentioned that nearly one quarter of them (24.5%) kissed or tried to bite their gold medal when the ceremony was over. My question to the WSJ is – who needs this information and why should we care about it?

Speaking of gold medals, when the first modern Games took place in 1896, they were not awarded at all. Instead, the winners received silver medals, while bronze medals were awarded to the second place finishers. At the 1900 Paris Games, there were no medals awarded at all, not unlike the ancient Games (where winners were crowned with olive branches). Instead, cups and trophies were given to the winners. The first gold medals were awarded at the 1904 Games in St. Louis, and it has become the way to acknowledge Olympic champions ever since. And while we’re on the subject, the last Olympic gold medals that really were gold (as in made entirely out of gold) were awarded at the Stockholm Games in 1912. Now the so-called gold medals are actually made of sterling silver, then covered with a thin coat of pure gold (6 grams or .21 ounces). IOC rules specify that each medal must be at least three millimeters thick and 60 millimeters in diameter.

Perhaps taking their cue from the ancient Olympic Games, only men competed at the 1896 Athens Games – although I don’t think they did so naked! According to Pierre de Coubertin (who is generally acknowledged as the founder of the modern Games), including female athletes would be “impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic, and incorrect.” But in an interesting twist of fate (especially when you consider de Coubertin was French!), when the 1900 Games were held in Paris, women officially competed in tennis and golf. I’m saying it this way because some Web sites note that women also were in the croquet competition, and at least one woman took part in the sailing competition. More about her in a moment!

There is some debate over who was the first woman to win an Olympic competition. Some say it was Charlotte Cooper, who won the tennis competition for Great Britain at the 1900 Games. But others feel that it was a Swiss woman (Countess Hélène de Pourtalès) who was part of a sailing team at the same Games that won gold in a competition held earlier than the tennis.

We Canadians are very proud of Clara Hughes, one of just a handful of athletes in Olympic history who have won medals at both the Summer and Winter Games. She did it in speedskating in the Winter, and in road cycling in the Summer. But an East German woman (Christa Luding-Rothenburger) has taken this idea to another level. She achieved a unique place in Olympic history by becoming the only person to win medals at the Winter and Summer Games in the same year (1988), She won a gold medal in speedskating in Calgary, and then won a silver in track cycling in Seoul – roughly the same sports as noted above with Clara Hughes. Given that the Games are no longer held in the same year (they are now staggered so that while each Games are still held on a four year cycle, they alternate every two years between Summer and Winter), this is not likely to happen again.

In a related story, the only one athlete has ever won gold medals at both the Winter and Summer Games. American Eddie Eagan won a boxing gold at Antwerp in 1920. Twelve years later he was part of the host team at the 1932 Lake Placid Games and won gold as part of the team bobsled event.

Great Britain is the only country to have won at least one gold medal at every Summer Games. That trend, of course, has continued at London 2012, and when you consider they are the host country, the cheers would no doubt have been heard worldwide.

I love this one – turns out that two athletes have won gold medals competing for two different nations: Daniel Carroll won gold as part of the Australian rubgy team in 1908. But by 1920 he had moved to the USA and repeated the feat as part of their team. The other is Georgian weightlifter Akakide Kakhiashvili who won his first gold medal at Barcelona 1992 as a member of the Unified Team. Four years later he was back to defend his title and did so. But by this time he was competing for Greece at Atlanta 1996 and repeated it yet again at the 2000 Games in Sydney.

The oldest man to compete in the Summer Games was Oscar Swahn of Sweden, who did so in shooting at the 1908, 1912, and 1920 Games. He also became the oldest gold medalist at the young age of 64 years and 280 days old when his country hosted the Games in 1912. Eight years later in Antwerp he became the oldest athlete to win a medal of any colour when he won silver in 1920 aged 72 years, 281 days old.

For those of you playing along at home, you’re right. This means that the same person holds the record as the oldest gold medal winner and the oldest silver medal winner too. I didn’t find any info on the oldest bronze medallist is, but that might be fun to research some time.

The oldest woman to compete in the Olympics was British rider Lorna Johnstone, who participated in Equestrian at the 1972 Olympic Games at 70 years old and 5 days.

Since we have just talked about the oldest person to win a medal in Olympic history and someone is bound to ask, the answer to the question about the opposite end of the age spectrum (as in the youngest medalist in Olympic history) appears to be 12-year-old Inge Sorensen from Denmark, who won a bronze medal in the 200-meter breaststroke in 1936. Given that many Olympic sports now have minimum age requirements, I think Miss Sorensen’s record is pretty safe.

In the history of the modern Olympic Games, five countries have been represented at each Games. Four of them are Great Britain, France, Switzerland, and Australia. The fifth one, as one might expect is Greece. After all, Greece was home to the ancient Games and Athens hosted their revival in 1896 and again in 2004. In fact, when we dig a bit deeper here, we learn that Greece is the only nation to compete under its own flag at every Summer Games.

As for the other four, yes they have had a presence at each Games, though not always as part of official teams. Switzerland is on this list even though they did not send a team to the 1956 Melbourne Olympics – however, they had competed in the equestrian events which were held several months earlier in Stockholm due to quarantine regulations. When the 1904 Games took place in St. Louis, France didn’t send a team. In spite of this, one French athlete did compete for the USA. In 1896 Great Britain competed under the name of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. For the 1908 and 1912 Games Australia participated as part of a combined Australasia team with New Zealand. This explains why Greece has the honour noted above.

That’s all for now. I hope you have enjoyed this look at some Olympic trivia. As I noted back at the beginning, this was intended as a multiple part blog entry. And that’s what it is. Thanks for reading both parts of this series. Will there be a part three sometime in the future? Given the Games rich history, I would say the odds are pretty good.

Until next time!

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Hi everyone:

It’s Thursday August 2 – hard to believe that the Summer Olympics are now nearly a week old. Those opening ceremonies that I talked about here in my blog seem so long ago now. And like all Olympics, some remarkable stories are unfolding. Or at least I think they are.

How about the Canadian men’s eights rowing team, rebounding from a terrible opening race last Saturday where they finished last, to making the final race yesterday and finishing with a well deserved silver medal. Or the fact that ol’ Father Time seems to caught up with American swimmer Michael Phelps. Although he has won enough medals to become the most decorated athlete in Olympic history, he has looked very ordinary this time, after practically destroying the competition four years ago in Beijing. How about the local favourite, Bradley Wiggins, winning the men’s cycling road race. And in the process becoming the first man in history to win both the Tour de France and the Olympic road race in the same year. Speaking of cycling, let’s also salute Canada’s amazing Clara Hughes, who has won medals in both the Summer Games (in cycling) and the Winter Games (in speed skating). In the final event of her career (the women’s road race), she finished fifth. A great result made even greater when she told people that she had suffered a major accident this past spring which had forced her to compete and train for several weeks with incredible pain and some broken bones. Clara, we are all very proud of you and wish you the very best as you end your Olympic journey.

Another story from London that has really fascinated me is the supposed controversy over where the Olympic Flame is being displayed. The people at Vancouver 2010 decided to have the Flame outside, where the public could see it, get their photos taken near it (not right beside it due to security concerns) and just enjoy seeing it out in the open. But the London organizers have decided to follow Olympic tradition and have the Flame located inside the main Stadium. While some folks have lobbied the London organizers to follow the Vancouver model, it appears that the Flame will stay exactly where it is. And I agree with them. Yes, I thought it was a nice touch in Vancouver to have the Flame displayed where they did, but I also think it is entirely up to each Games organizer to decide this policy. If Sebestian Coe and his team who are running the Games feel that they want the Flame inside the Olympic Stadium, then that`s where it goes.

While we`re on this subject, I have often thought it would be a really neat idea for future Olympics if the Flame is sent out after the lighting ceremony in Olympia, Greece not just to the next host city, but also to all the cities that have ever hosted a Summer or Winter Games in the past. And that each of these cities set aside a public place where a cauldron would be installed. So that when the Flame is lit during the opening ceremony of an upcoming Games, that it is also lit in all these other cities, either on the same day or the next one. A small ceremony would be held at the cauldron site in each city, and just as in the Olympic city itself, the Flame would burn in the other ones for the duration of the Games, and be extinguished on the final day, perhaps at the same time as at the closing ceremonies themselves. So to explain what I am driving at, when the Flame was lit last Friday night in London, it would also have been lit in those public square cauldrons in cities like Beijing, Seoul, Athens, Sydney, Los Angeles, Calgary, Sarejevo, Sapporo, Albertville, Innsbruck, Lake Placid, Rome, Berlin, Paris, Tokyo and of course in my hometown of Montreal, the host of the 1976 Summer Games. How about it folks? Think we should lobby the IOC and see if they might accept the idea?

All these stories are fascinating, but as you have likely guessed from the title of this entry, today I want to talk about a really shocking story that just came to light yesterday (August 1). It seems that the somewhat low key sport of badminton has been rocked by controversy. That a group of players from countries such as China, South Korea and Indonesia were accused of trying to fix their matches. Deliberately losing so that they could face a lesser opponent and give them a better chance of reaching the medal round. I find this just astonishing. That people would not do their best in a sports competition, but instead make sure they lost on purpose. I applaud the officials for scolding the teams at the time, and those people who ultimately decided to throw the athletes out of the Games. And if I had been in the arena when that was happening, I would have booed and jeered along with the rest of the crowd. Not that I am an expert on such things, but it seems to me that if you are going to cheat, or set yourself up to throw a sports match, don’t make it look like you are. From where I sat, watching the highlights last night, it looked pretty obvious that these teams had colluded with each other to fix the result.

I don`t know what this is, but to me this is not sportsmanship. This is not the glory of sport or the honour of our teams (to borrow a line from the Oath that athletes promise to adhere to during the opening ceremony). This is just out-and-out cheating. Trying to rig the deck in your favour. Whether these teams were ordered to lose on purpose (as some have rumoured in the case of the Chinese players) or if they decided on their own to do so, there is no excuse for this type of behaviour. Whether it is in sport or in life as a whole, you owe it to everyone to always do your best. To go for the gold and leave it all out there on the field of play or other location. To do less than your best is to short-change yourself and your team-mates. I doubt if any of those players will read these words, or other media coverage. But if they do, let me say this to you folks. You should be ashamed of what you tried to pull. You have disgraced the sport of badminton and indeed the entire Olympic movement. Let this be a lesson to you and all other athletes out there that this is just plain wrong and will never be accepted.

That’s my take on what many commentators, broadcasters and others are already calling Shuttlegate. As the London Games near the end of the first week and get ready for the second, I wish all those participating the very best of luck. And always do your best. You owe your fellow athletes, the Olympic movement and the billions of us watching around the world, nothing less.

Until next time!

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