An Olympian Bookmark
The Summer Olympics of 1928, known officially as the Games of the IX Olympiad, was hosted in Amsterdam, Netherlands. They were the first to bear the name “Summer Olympic Games,” and were remarkable for several reasons.
Amsterdam was a proud host that year, having bid and lost for the 1920 and 1924 Games, this time beating out Los Angeles which would go on to host the Games four years later. Besides marking the return of Germany to the Olympic fold, the 1928 Games were also notable for the lighting of the Olympic flame (at the top of a tower placed inside the stadium) during the opening ceremony and remained lit throughout the Games; the torch relay came later.
From May 17 to August 2, a total of 2, 883 athletes (2,606 men and 277 women from 46 nations competed in 109 events in 14 different sports. Of the participating countries, three—Malta, Panama and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) were there for the first time. And Germany—who would host the Games eight years hence—returned for the first time in sixteen years. The country made a stellar showing too with second place (behind only the United States) with 31 medals, ten of them gold. The Netherlands, who hosted the games came in eighth with a total of 19 medals.
For the first time the parade of nations, which is part of the opening ceremony, started with the contingent from Greece, the original home of the Olympics, and ended with the team of host country, a tradition that continues to this day.
The most interesting fact for me about these Games, though, was the participation of women in two fields where they had never been allowed before despite objections from Pope Pius IX—athletics and gymnastics. Athletics, also known as track and field, encompassed, for the men, seven meter runs of varying lengths, two meter hurdles, a steeplechase, a relay, adecathlon, a marathon, various jumps, pole vaulting, shot put, and discus, javelin and hammer throws. Women competed in two metre runs (100 and 800) a meter relay, a high jump and a discus throw. Unfortunately, during the 800-meter run (approximately 880 yards) several women collapsed. Such was its effect on Olympic officials that women were not allowed to run longer than 200 meters in the Olympics until 1960!
There was only one U.S. female winner in athletics that year, but she made up for her small number with an incredible story. Elizabeth (Betty) Robinson was a 16-year-old student who did not know she was a good runner until a teacher spotted her running after a train and timed her in a corridor back at school. She competed in her first meet only four months before the 1928 Olympics, finishing second only to the American record holder. At her next race, she actually matched the world record, though her time was not officially recognized. It was during her fourth 100-meter competition—at the Olympics—that she equalled the world record officially, winning the final by half a meter, taking home the gold for that event. (It was not her only medal; as part of the 4x100 relay team, she also took a silver for that event.)
Then, three years after her Olympic triumph, she was badly injured in a plane crash. The man who found her thought she was dead, so he put her in his car trunk and drove to a mortician. She lived, but for seven weeks was unconscious. It took her two years before she could walk normally, but her sprinting days were over. Her leg could not bend fully at the knee thus preventing her from assuming the start position. She did, however, compete in relays, and in 1936 won a second gold medal as a member of the U.S. 4x100 relay team.
Women were also, for the first time, admitted to the gymnastics events whereas swimming was a more or less evenly divided event. There were 11 swimming events of which five were women’s and six were men’s. Weightlifting, not surprisingly, was for men only as was wrestling. Other events included boxing, cycling, equestrian, fencing, field hockey, rowing, sailing and water polo among others. Johnny Weissmuller, later to star in Hollywood’s Tarzan films, won two gold medals in swimming.
The football (soccer) event, which became the precursor to the first World Cup which began in Uruguay in 1930, was won by Uruguay over its bitter rival, Argentina. Up until 1928. the Olympic tournament was seen as the world championship even though the game’s governing body, the FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) was somewhat at odds with the amateur status of Olympic competition. When in early 1928, four “home” associations in the UK voted to withdraw from the FIFA in opposition to its rules on player payments, it set in motion the organization of the new FIFA World Cup tournament.
“We are here to represent the greatest country on earth,” General Douglas MacArthur, president of the American Olympic Committee, arrogantly proclaimed just before the start of the Games. “We did not come here to lose gracefully. We came here to win—and win decisively.” His prediction was right, though. The U.S. team would win 56 medals, claiming first place among competing nations for the third Olympiad in a row.
But this Olympics was more than a batch of gold, silver and bronze medals. For 40 years it held a record of which to be proud—that athletes from 28 different nations had won gold medals. It was truly a world event at a peaceful time. That atmosphere is perhaps best exemplified by the experience of Australian rower Henry Pearce who, midway through his quarterfinal race, stopped rowing to allow a family of ducks to pass single file in front of his boat. Despite the loss of time, Pearce won the race and, later, the gold medal as well. He was a winner in all respects—and in some ways so was was the Games of the IX Olympiad.
More photos can be viewed at the Olympic Movement.
Bookmark specifications: 1928 Olympics
Dimensions: 6” x 2”
Almost since her childhood days of Mother Goose, Lauren has been giving her opinion on books to anyone who will listen. That “talent” eventually took her out of magazine writing and into book reviewing in 2000 for an online review site where she cut her teeth (as well as a few authors). Stints as book editor for her local newspaper and contributing editor to Booklist and Bookmarks magazines has reinforced her belief that she has interesting things to say about books. Lauren shares her home with several significant others including three cats, 900 bookmarks and approximately 1,000 books that, whether previously read or not, constitute her to-be-read stack. She is a member of the National Books Critics Circle (NBCC) and Book Publicists of Southern California as well as a longtime book design judge for Publishers Marketing Association’s Benjamin Franklin Awards. You can reach her at