Wednesday 8 February 2012

Olimpicks News

More than once, as regular readers will know, I have looked back fondly to the early 'modern' Olympic Games, contrasting these jolly and eminently civilised affairs with the joyless hypertrophied big-money fascistic spectacle about to be inflicted on the unfortunate city of London. What I had not realised was that the first Olympic revival took place not in the 19th century, but exactly 400 years ago, in 1612, near Chipping Camden in the Cotswolds. They were staged, with royal approval, by one Robert Dover, a lawyer, author and wit, for motives which remained unclear to him. As he recalled,
'I cannot tell what planet ruled, when I
First undertook this mirth, this jollity,
Nor can I give account to you at all,
How this conceit into my brain did fall.
Or how I durst assemble, call together
Such multitudes of people as come hither.'
Events in the Cotswold Olimpicks included, as well as a bit of running and jumping, horse-racing, coursing with hounds, dancing, sledgehammer throwing and fighting with swords, cudgels and quarterstaffs. For the more sedentary, there were games of chess and cards (for small stakes), and food and drink galore. Cannon were fired from a temporary wooden structure known as Dover Castle to signal the start of events, and much fun was had by all.
Naturally, the games fell out of favour as the Puritans made their presence increasingly felt, and they were suspended altogether for the duration of the Civil War and Commonwealth. Revived at the Restoration, they gradually declined into a drunken rout, before being stopped altogether in 1852. But that was not the end of the story: the games were staged again for the Festival of Britain, and have been held every year since 1966, though in a somewhat different form from Dover's original games. Events now include tug-of-war, shin-kicking, gymkhana, piano smashing and, of course, dwile flonking (for an explanation of which, Wikipedia cannot be bettered).
The irony in all this is that the Cotswold Olimpicks were mentioned in British Olympic Association's application for the 2012 Games, as 'the first stirrings of Britain's Olympic beginnings'. Let us hope it was not this detail that swayed the IOC in London's favour - that would be too sad.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Joey Joe Joe Jr.8 February 2012 at 23:15

    Brilliant stuff Nige! Curious to learn more about shin-kicking and dwile-flonking, I found youtube quite instructive. I take it the Olympic Committee's enthusiasm means these events will be included in the 2012 games. I see from the deleted comment Seb Coe's been over writing abuse again?