History records that the Olympic Games originated in ancient Greece
nearly three thousand years ago, died out around 393 AD, and were
triumphantly reborn in 1896, in the Greek capital of Athens. Rather
less well known is how, during the intervening centuries, an
assortment of British writers, romantics, sportsmen and visionaries
helped nurture that revival. Indeed, as sports historian Dr Martin
Polley argues in this, the 12th book in the acclaimed Played in
Britain series, our nation's fascination with all things Olympian
has played a pivotal role in shaping the Games as we know them
today, culminating in London becoming in 2012 the first city ever
to stage a third modern Olympiad. Consider, for example, that the
first published use of the word `Olympian' in the English language
dates from around 1590. Its author? William Shakespeare. And that
the first games of the post-classical era to adopt the formal title
`Olympick' took place in the Cotswolds village of Chipping Campden
in 1612. It was an English traveller, Richard Chandler, who
rediscovered the lost site of Olympia in 1766, and a Shropshire
doctor, William Penny Brookes, who, in 1850, founded the Much
Wenlock Olympian Games, an annual community festival that inspired
Pierre de Coubertin to revive the Games at an international level.
Other Olympic festivals surfaced in London (to celebrate Queen
Victoria's accession), in Liverpool, and in the north-east town of
Morpeth, while the words `Olympic' and `Olympian' became steadily
more ingrained in the popular imagination throughout the Victorian
era. Britain's Olympic heritage gained added momentum in the 20th
century. At White City in 1908, London built the world's first
modern, purpose-built Olympic stadium, while in 1948 London stepped
in to save the Games by offering Wembley Stadium. Also in the late
1940s, at Stoke Mandeville hospital in Buckinghamshire, the modern
Paralympics were born when sporting contests were organised for
injured servicemen. Thus the 2012 Games represent the culmination
of over four hundred years of British enthusiasm and ingenuity; an
attachment that has left in its wake a trail of fascinating
stories, characters, sites, buildings and artefacts. Leading the
reader on a marathon journey, The British Olympics charts them all,
making this a vital and entertaining source for anyone with an
interest in the Games, in sport, and in the wider narrative of
Britain's social and cultural heritage.
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