recess radio program

8/06/2004
The Youngest Olympians
    by John Cech

With the Olympics beginning next week, there is sure to be a peak of curiosity about the games – especially among the young athletes in your household. One of the impressive new visual guides to the modern Olympics may help with some of those questions. The book is called Swifter, Higher, Stronger : A Photographic History of the Summer Olympics by Sue Macy, with a foreword by Bob Costas. This generous-sized overview includes wonderful vintage photos from as early as 1896, when the first modern Olympics were held, due in large part to the tireless work of Pierre de Coubertin who was inspired by the idealism of the ancient Olympics that held that "neither birth nor fortune gave any man advantage. All, whether rich or poor, obscure or noble, might enter." (14) Swifter, Higher, Stronger is full of handy, eye-friendly charts and fascinating information, especially in its "Almanac" section. Did you know, for instance, that the youngest recorded participant in the games was a 10-year boy gymnast from Greece named Dimitrios Loundras, who performed on the parallel bars. The youngest gold-medalist was 13 – the U.S. diver Marjorie Gestring who won the spring-board competition at the 1936 games in Berlin. Alas, there aren’t photos here of these athletes, but there is a terrific one of Betty Robinson, who was the first female gold-medalist in track and field, using the crouch start that the United States had introduced to the running competitions.

Another helpful feature of the book is its listing of additional resources for further research and information – like other books, videos, and the internet. On the web, you’ll find a whole site devoted to the U.S. Olympians at www.usolympicteam.com, with biographies, event background, schedules, and results. And if you’d like to follow the spirit of internationalism in your home during the weeks of competition, you’ll want to visit www.olympic.org – the official site for the games. Here you’ll find answers to frequently asked questions about the Olympics as well as a pretty jazzy slide show of images that evokes the remarkable talents of these incredible athletes – who still have the ability, as they did thousands of years ago, to stop the world for a few minutes every four years as they run and dive and jump and row.

Copyright 2004 © John Cech

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