Part Two - The Opening of the First Olympic Games
The next day marked the opening of the games, and tired with travel as we were, our first thought was to get quietly to the hotel and rest. But no such fortune as that awaited us. The streets were thronged with people. There was a brass band welcoming us insistently, overwhelmingly. Banners - blue and gold for the Boston Athletic Association, orange and black for Princeton - were waving above the crowd. As if by magic, a procession formed. We found ourselves engulfed, marched away - we knew not whither; the quiet hotel became a distant dream.
It was some building of governmental significance that we finally arrived. Our welcome was magnificent. There were speeches, cordial, we had no doubt, long, we were certain. There was champagne, much of it, and until we were able to explain the reason for our abstinence, international complications threatened. Training? What did that signify? A strange word. Come, a glass of wine, to pledge friendship. No? Very well, then, so be it. Strange people, these Americans! Yet they forgave us courteously enough. We had a welcome of the finest, and it was late indeed when we at last reached the haven of the Angleterre.
The next morning, April 6th, the first day of the games was clear and bright. We spent the morning quietly at the hotel, and shortly before noon left for the Stadium.
Up to this very moment we had not the slightest idea of what the games meant to Greece. We did not know whether the huge Stadium would contain a thousand spectators, or ten thousand. Yet as we drove through the city, slowly the magnitude of the whole affair began to dawn upon us.
Through the streaming crowds we came to the entrance, to find every one of the sixty thousand seats in the vast enclosure occupied, and people standing in crowds upon the surrounding hills. In the space within the running-track Samaras, the Greek composer, led the musicians in his majestic "Overture to the Olympic Games." Shortly before two o'clock the King, accompanied by the royal family, entered the Stadium, and in a few words, formally opened the Olympic games of 1896.
The sound of a trumpet announced the first event - the trial heats in the hundred-meter run. One by one the contestants filed out upon the track, representatives of a dozen different nations. Those of our team whose events did not fall upon the first day were seated in the Stadium with the other spectators, looking anxiously for the three Americans, Curtis, Burke and Lane.
As the runners lined up for the first heat, we saw Curtis in the middle of the line, the blue and gold unicorn of the Boston Athletic Association showing upon his breast. In a dozen seconds the pistol cracked, Curtis leaped away in the lead, held his gain, increased it, and crossed the line, a winner with plenty to spare. At the entrance to the Stadium stood a tall flagstaff, on which the flag of the nation winning each event was to be hoisted, and a moment later we saw the Stars and Stripes flutter out upon the breeze.
It was a sight to stir the blood. Forgetting that we were in a country where college and club cheering was unknown, we sprang to our feet, and our shouts rang out most lustily across the field: "B. A. A. ! 'rah! 'rah! 'rah! B. A. A. ! 'rah! 'rah! 'rah! B. A. A. ! 'rah! 'rah! 'rah! Curtis!"
For a moment people turned and stared at us with a certain dazed surprise, as if wondering whence we had made our escape, and then all at once they seemed to grasp the meaning of our effort. We had, by good fortune, chanced to please the popular taste, and the cheer, from that moment until we left Athens, was in constant demand. All that afternoon we heard from venturesome beginners, eager to learn, tentative and dispirited "B-ah-ahs!" And when we cheered on our own account, their efforts to join us produced a discord of such sound as I never heard before, and surely never expect to hear again.
Ellery Harding Clark A.B., LL.B. (Harvard). Lawyer; formerly a member of the Boston school board and of the Boston board of aldermen. For four years a member of the Harvard track team; represented the United States at the Olympic Games at Athens, 1896, winning high and broad jumps; all-round athletic champion of New England, 1896, 1897, 1909; all-round athletic champion of America, 1897, 1903; author of law treatises, novels and books on athletics.
News | Articles | Trivia
| Profiles | Vintage
Video | Vintage Photos | Contact
Us | Site Map | Home