The second modern summer Olympics started in Paris on May 14, 1900. Les jeux Olympiques (lays yuh oh-lam-peak) were part of the Exposition Universelle celebrations. Unlike today’s games, they continued until October. Of the 1,000 competitors, women were included for the first time. A Haitian-born athlete who competed for France was the first black athlete to win a medal. Another first was the scheduling of events on Sunday, which caused enormous protests from athletes.
It was an extraordinarily contentious Games, with a parallel competition being held simultaneously in Paris by a rival athletic organization. The results of the marathon were hotly contested; the course through the Bois de Boulogne was so poorly marked that athletes got lost. The French athletes allegedly arrived at the finish line ahead and curiously unspattered by mud, unlike the other runners. Some of the more unusual events at these games were fishing, boules, fire fighting, life saving, pigeon racing, and kite flying, canon shooting, ballooning, cricket, croquet, underwater swimming, an aquatic obstacle race, tug-of-war, and automobile and motorcycle races. Possibly the most exotic event was Basque pelota, a sort of cross between handball and cricket, also known as Jai Alai. Twenty-four nations competed officially and France led the medal count with 101 – more than 50 more than the next closest nation, the United States. As for my nation, Canada, it looks like we might as well have stayed home. I hope our athletes at least got lots of croissants and baguettes for their efforts. I also hope we’ll do better in London in 2012.