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The Little-Known History of How the Modern Olympics Got Their Start - in rural England

As London gets set to host the XXXth Olympiad, acclaimed sportswriter Frank Deford explains their unlikely origins.

The story goes back to to 1612, Captain Dover and the Cotswold Olympick Games, but hits its stride in 1850, in Much Wenlock, under the aegis of the local doctor, Penny Brookes.

. . .unlike the sanctimonious claptrap that suffocates the Games today, Penny Brookes knew how to put a smile on the Olympic face. His annual Much Wenlock games had the breezy ambience of a medieval county fair. The parade to the “Olympian Fields” began, appropriately, at the two taverns in town, accompanied by heralds and bands, with children singing, gaily tossing flower petals. The winners were crowned with laurel wreaths, laid on by the begowned fairest of Much Wenlock’s fair maids. Besides the classic Greek fare, the competitions themselves tended to the eclectic. . .

We'll draw a quick veil over these, and mention that the king of Greece donated a silver urn to the annual pentathlon winner.

Meanwhile, across the Channel, a future Olympics muse, the Baron de Courbetin, was lit up by Tom Brown's School Days, a book a friend of ours calls a cracking good read. This encounter with Tom and British schools led to something inspired.

But as you can see, the story is a bit complicated, so we leave you, with our best wishes, with Deford.

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