Paris in 1900 was mostly forgettable, regrettable Poor facilities, scheduling left French embarrassed

February 25, 1996|By Bob Herzog | Bob Herzog,NEWSDAY

As part of the countdown to the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, a chronological look at past Olympiads will appear each Sunday. If the 1900 Olympics had been made into a movie, the title would've been "Forget Paris." French baron Pierre de Coubertin, who had launched the Olympic movement in 1896 with the Summer Games in Athens, was ashamed at how poorly his hometown handled the Games. "We have made a hash of our work," he said.

Coubertin had envisioned a gala Olympic setting for Paris, complete with new stadiums and parks, and classic Greek architecture. Officials turned down his request, however, and, instead, the Olympics were combined with the World's Fair that Paris was holding that year.

The results were devastating: inadequate venues not centrally located; poor publicity; confusion among officials, athletes, reporters and spectators on schedules and results; an eclectic mix of sports that included golf, rugby, cricket and croquet, but no boxing or wrestling; and most puzzling of all, a calendar of events that ran from May 20 until Oct. 28.

Out of this confusion emerged a number of fine performances from the 1,330 athletes representing 22 nations. Great Britain's Charlotte Cooper became the first women's Olympic champion, capturing the singles title in the lawn tennis tournament in the same summer she won at Wimbledon. She was one of 11 women who competed for the first time at the Games.

One of the most decorated American athletes in Olympic history, Ray Ewry, won the standing high jump, standing long jump and standing triple jump, all discontinued after the 1908 Games. In his career, Ewry captured 10 Olympic titles (including two in 1906, an unofficial Olympiad). He had been partially paralyzed as a boy, but through exercises built up enormous strength in his legs that allowed him to win events where no running was required.

The biggest star of the second Olympiad was American Alvin Kranzlein. He won the 60 meters, 110-meter hurdles and 200-meter hurdles, but became involved in a Tonya-Nancy-style controversy in his long-jump victory.

Organizers feared poor attendance if they scheduled major events on Bastille Day, so they moved the long jump final to Sunday, July 15. This caused a major conflict for many American athletes, since they represented colleges that observed the Christian Sabbath and did not compete on Sundays.

Among those affected was Meyer Prinstein, a Jewish student from Syracuse University who was the world record-holder in the long jump and the leader after the preliminaries. Prinstein honored his school's wishes by withdrawing from Sunday's finals.

Kranzlein, however, went to Penn, which allowed its athletes to compete if they so chose. He leaped 23-6 3/4 , beating Prinstein's prelim jump by a half-inch. Prinstein said he felt "betrayed" by his rival and demanded a jump-off the next day. When Kranzlein refused, Prinstein started a fight and landed some punches before being pulled away by teammates.

France won the most medals, but the United States dominated track and field, winning 17 of the 23 titles. The host nation did manage to win the final event, the marathon, just as in Athens in 1896. However, in Greece the event concluded in a packed stadium with the home crowd cheering wildly.

In Paris, the marathoners meandered through back streets in oppressive heat on a course that had several obstructions; when the race was over, no one really knew who had won. It took 12 years for Frenchman Michel Theato to learn officially that he was an Olympic champion. Now that's a marathon.

"It's amazing the Olympic movement survived that celebration," Coubertin said of the Paris Games.

1900 Games

Site: Paris

Dates: May 20-Oct. 28

Men: 1,319

Women: 11

Nations: 22

Medals leaders:

.. .. .. .. .. .. ..G .. ..S .. ..B .. ..T

France .. .. .. ...29 .. .41 .. .32 ...102

United States .. ..20 .. .14 .. .19 .. .53

England .. .. .. ..17 .. ..8 .. .10 .. .35

Belgium .. .. .. ...8 .. ..7 .. ..5 .. .20

Switzerland .. .. ..6 .. ..2 .. ..1 .. ..9

Austria .. .. .. ...4 .. ..0 .. ..4 .. ..8

Germany .. .. .. ...3 .. ..2 .. ..2 .. ..7

Denmark .. .. .. ...2 .. ..3 .. ..2 .. ..7

Italy .. .. .. .. ..2 .. ..2 .. ..0 .. ..4

Hungary .. .. .. ...1 .. ..3 .. ..2 .. ..6

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