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Paris 1900 - Key Moments

ESPN staff
October 12, 2011
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A poster promoting the Paris Olympics © Getty Images

The year of the international exhibition
Dreaming of a huge festival in his own country, Baron Pierre de Coubertin appeared disappointed by the second Games, held in 1900. He had taken over responsibility for the event in Paris, despite Greece's insistence on a permanent site in Athens.

That year, Paris was preoccupied with the International Exhibition, of which the Eiffel Tower had been the showpiece. While the baron wanted to use this event as a springboard, it proved more of a hindrance. With no opening or closing ceremonies, the Games were spread between May 14 and October 28, in indifference and confusion, to the four corners of the capital. De Coubertin later said: "It's a miracle the Olympic movement survived these Games."

Makeshift venues
Competing in makeshift venues, about 1,000 athletes from 24 countries took part in 18 disciplines.

Some were open to women, notably tennis and golf. England's Charlotte Cooper became the first female champion, winning both singles and doubles in the tennis.

The star of these Games was America's Alvin Kraenzlein, who excelled on the track. He set an unprecedented Olympic standard by winning four individual titles in the course of one Games. He collected gold in the long jump, 60m dash and both the 110 and 200 hurdles.

As in Athens, the locals laid down the law, walking away with 101 medals (26 gold). But, with help from athletes such as Kraenzlein, it was the Americans who dominated the track and field events.

Despite the presence of the Republic's president, Emile Loubet, at a number of events, these Games were neither grand nor striking.

They wound up as they had started, with little panache and the hope that St. Louis would stage them in 1904.

Father of the hammer throw
Despite the sour taste left in the mouths of those who experienced or participated in the first Olympics of the 20th century, the Paris Games did produce some unforgettable sporting moments.

It took a man originally from County Limerick in Ireland to provide the shine the Games sorely lacked. In doing so, big John Flanagan, who had emigrated to the United States at the age of 28 and was working in New York City, set an Olympic record.

Three consecutive gold medals in the hammer throw (1900, 1904, 1908) gave Flanagan something special to add to his already-coveted English and Irish titles, as well as his American titles, won three years in a row (1897, 1898, 1899).

Already the proud, sole holder of the record for throwing past the 50-metre mark, in the dire circumstances that were to engulf an Olympiad that was neither conducive to true competition nor attractive to the spectator, Flanagan provided the purist sports fan something to cheer about.

Policeman guards his gold
The policeman gave notice of his intention to dominate with a throw of 51.11 in a competition prior to the Paris Games. A throw of 49.73 brought Flanagan his first Olympic gold medal in the colours of America, his adopted country.

Following the 1900 Games, Flanagan retained his superiority in the event as American champion, but by the time it came around to competing in St. Louis, Flanagan, born on January 9, 1868, was already 36. In the eyes of many, he was too old, and he increasingly was up against younger competition.

Yet Flanagan's forte was his personalised, and very effective, technique. Turning twice in the circle before releasing the hammer, he was able to compensate for age.

It was this technique that, in 1904 in St. Louis, brought him a second title. He was closely trailed by compatriot John DeWit.

Flanagan also took part in the 56-pound weight throwing event, promptly taking silver with a throw of 10.16.

Digging deep
If the decision to compete at St. Louis had caused Flanagan to reflect on his sporting ability, his American title in 1907 must have given him, at age 39, some extra confidence. Add to that a pre-Olympic throw and new world record of 53.35, and any criticism aimed at the man, obviously an athlete in the prime of his career, was easily discounted.

In 1908, the London bookmakers favoured a younger challenger, Flanagan's compatriot Matthew McGrath, whom Flanagan previously had beaten in the national championships. Trailing McGrath and another American, Cornelius Walsh, at the second throw, Flanagan had to dig deep to find something special to surpass a modest throw and potential third place. With his fourth throw, Flanagan came good for second position, much to the anxiety of the young McGrath. Flanagan's final throw was enough to unnerve his younger compatriot, who missed his final attempt, handing the Irish-American his third, and historic, consecutive Olympic title.

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