A great injustice has been committed at the Olympics, at nearly every Games since 1900. Despite de Coubertin’s visions of diversity and equity, the Olympics have neglected to include great champions time and time again and is likely to continue to do so. Since you’ve already noted that today’s topic is the equestrian events, you surely see I mean that the horses do not win medals.
Before you scoff, let me ask if you can name any horse that has won the Triple Crown? American Pharoah…Justify… what about the speedster with the giant heart, Secretariat? Now, can you name their jockeys? In the racing circuit, these noble engines of speed are given their due. Not so in the Olympics.
Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the equestrian events: their history and evolution as well as notable riders, including an American To Watch. I’ll try to include the name of steed as well as the medalist, where I can, because even historians don’t always list the horse’s name. A travesty!
Stagecoach Is A Comin’
Horse-based competitions were first featured in the II Olympiad in Paris, although most of the events were discontinued afterward. Polo was contested as a team sport for five separate Games, with teams from mixed countries, representing their clubs, kind of like corporate sponsorship today. Just as there are high jumps and long jumps for humans, horses also competed for medals in both disciplines, with High Jump medalists going six feet up and Long Jumpers twenty feet across. For comparison, today’s human world records are about eight feet up and nearly thirty feet across. But men don’t weigh 1000 lbs.
Why is the Olympic ideal so pervasive? The Games themselves have, practically from the beginning, been fraught with controversy: politics, scandals, poor sportsmanship, cost overruns. Every journalist seems to find something to criticize or yawns at the competitions, calling them bloated or lackluster. Every pundit declares that this time, because of all the fighting between countries and cost overruns, the Olympics are really dead. Consider this summation written by John Robert Tunis:
That the Olympics are … productive of keen competition, new records, immense crowds, profitable weeks for the hotel-keepers and shop-owners of the city in which they are held… But that they have succeeded in becoming a beneficial force in the spreading of peace and good will throughout the world… is not so certain. For, as Mr. George Trevor of the New York Sun said recently…: “The history of the Olympic Games since their arrival in 1896 has been marked by sporadic dissension, bickering, heartburning, and one or two old-fashioned rows.”
John Robert Tunis, Harper’s, August 1928.
And that was back in 1928. Still, the Olympics endure.
The reason that this athletic tournament has lasted for over a hundred years is not because of the sporting achievements, not because countries crow over piles of medals, and not even because they embody tremendous entertainment for the viewing public. The Olympic ideal has lasted because of the dude who pulled together all the fractious national egos to reinstate the modern Games in the first place: Pierre de Coubertin.
At some point, most of us have played badminton in some form, likely as children, batting the shuttlecock over the net, into the net, or into a tree. That stately version, like most games that are pastimes rather than sports, bears little resemblance to the speedy free-for-all that is Olympic badminton.
As the second choice in my A to Z challenge, my 26 days of blogging about the Olympics, I openly warn you, gentle reader, that I prefer to look towards the “little sports.” Too much of American Olympic conversation centers on the big six–basketball, swimming, gymnastics, diving, sprints, and beach volleyball. While I won’t ignore those topics entirely, you should not expect to see a post about the Dream Team or the Perfect Ten.
Instead let us turn our attention to things we know less about–canoeing perhaps, keirin, field hockey, epee… oh, here we go… BADMINTON.
The English Sport that Probably Came from Asia
If your history of badminton only has one sentence, it probably says: Badminton was invented in 1873 when the duke of Beaufort introduced the game at his country estate in Badminton. Credit is always given to the wealthy and prominent. I’ve always found it hard to believe that the 4th Earl of Sandwich was really the first person who thought to put meat between pieces of bread. That was fiction.