Friday 5 March 2021

Nicholson's Olympic Gold

 One day in 1928, the painter William Nicholson was astonished to learn that he had won a gold medal at the Amsterdam Olympics. Reasonably enough, he had assumed the Olympics were concerned only with sports, but in fact medals in the arts were still being awarded in 1928, and indeed the tradition lasted right through to the 1948 Olympiad. What Nicholson did not know was that his publishers, Heinemann, had submitted a 30-year-old illustrated book of his, An Almanac of Twelve Sports, to the Olympics awards committee. This was a collaboration with Rudyard Kipling, his friend and neighbour in Rottingdean at the time – woodcuts by Nicholson, rhymes by Kipling. Here is Kipling's contribution for June's sport – Cricket: 

'Thank God who made the British Isles
   And taught me how to play,
I do not worship crocodiles,
   Or bow the knee to clay! 

Give me a willow wand and I,
  With hide and cork and twine,
From century to century
  Will gambol round my Shrine.'

Hmm. I don't think he was really trying there.
   Anyway, Nicholson was delighted with the unexpected Olympic news and flew out to Amsterdam with his wife, enjoying four days at the Games, hearing his name read out on the loudspeaker and seeing the Union flag duly flown. 'We had wonderful weather,' he recalled, 'and enjoyed it more than any adventure we ever had. The Olympic people were nice to us and we saw all the world jumping their horses over impossible things. 

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