British Olympic Movement

‘Revivalist Games’ - Robert Dover’s ‘Olimpick Games’

Signs of interest in the ancient olympic Games came in early 17th Century Britain. The country was experiencing growing interest in classical Greek and Roman studies. Robert Dover, an Englishman from Norfolk, was one of the leaders of this movement. He decided to revive the idea of the ancient olympic Games and every Whitsun, from 1612, he encouraged people to take part in his own “Olimpick Games”. These games were held in Chipping Camden, Gloucestershire.

People of all classes took part in the events on Dover’s Hill. The events consisted of running, horse riding, jumping, wrestling, fencing, hunting, coursing and throwing. In addition to the sporting events there was a cultural festival, including games such as chess, dancing, poetry and music. Local authorities prevented the games from continuing in 1852 due to “rowdiness and dangerous activities”. However, in 1980 they were revived by local people and today are celebrated in June each year.

Robert Dover’s Olimpick Games -

The Wenlock Games - Britain’s Olympic Contribution

The revival of the Olympic tradition was the brain-child of the French nobleman, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. One of the major influencing factors on Coubertin’s thinking was the work of a Shropshire doctor, William Penny Brookes.

In 1850, Brookes started the Wenlock Games. He had a keen interest in the values of antiquity and felt that a healthy body was as important as a healthy mind. The Games were held annually at Linden Fields, Much Wenlock and consisted of traditional English rural sports.

Coubertin travelled extensively during the 1880s and 1890s researching for a programme to reform French education. He believed that the French were physically degenerating and wanted to revitalise the youth of the nation through physical activity. It was during these travels that he was invited by Brookes to the Wenlock Games. Coubertin’s enthusiasm and appreciation of the Games were evident by his statement:

“Much Wenlock is a town in Shropshire, a county on the border of Wales and if the Olympic Games that modern Greece has not yet been able to revive still survive today, it is due not to a Greek but to Dr W.P. Brookes. It is he who inaugurated them 40 years ago, and it is still he, now 82 years old but still alert and vigorous, who continues to organise and inspire them”.

Wenlock Olympian Society -

The Olympic Movement


“To contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”

International Olympic Committee, ‘Fundamental Principles’, Olympic Charter

Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games, was born in Paris in 1863. An active sportsman himself, he was interested in reforming the French education system to include a more sports oriented curriculum. Much of his influence came from his visits to British public schools as well as his relationship with Dr William Penny Brookes (please see above).

In 1894 Coubertin held an international conference in Paris to discuss the idea of a modern Olympic Games. Twelve countries attended and 21 others sent a letter supporting the idea. At the conference on 23 June, 1894, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was formed. It was agreed that there would be an international sports competition held every four years - the Olympic Games. Coubertin believed that international competitions between amateur athletes would help promote friendly relationships between people from different countries.

“Why did I restore the Olympic Games? To ennoble and strengthen sports, to ensure their independence and duration, and thus to enable them better to fulfill the educational roll incumbent upon them in the modern world. For the glorification of the individual athlete, whose muscular activity is necessary for the community, and whose prowess is necessary for the maintenance of the general spirit of competition.”

(1894) Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the Olympic Movement

For Pierre de Coubertin, the Games were more than an athletic event. They were to enhance human development and make the world a better place to live in. To this end, Coubertin tied the staging of the Games and his work with the IOC to a set of ideals. These ideals have become known as “Olympism”.

Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the quality of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.”

These ideals can be summarised in the following goals:

• personal excellence

• fair play

• cultural understanding

Olympic Charter:

The fundamental rules of the Olympic Movement are contained in the Olympic Charter. This governs the operation and organisation of the Movement and stipulates the rules and guidelines for the celebration of the Olympic Games.

You can download the Charter on the IOC’s website:

Britain’s Olympic Games


Since the resurgence of the modern Olympic Games in 1896, Great Britain is one of four countries to have hosted the Games twice or more. France, Germany and the United States are the other countries.

Originally the 1908 Games had been awarded to Rome. However, London was given them when the Italian authorities informed the IOC that they did not have sufficient funding. After the 1900 and 1904 Games had been overshadowed by the World Fairs, held concurrently with the Games, the London Games were the most successful to date.

The Organising Committee was lead by, Lord Desborough, President of the British Olympic Association (BOA). The Olympic Stadium was at White City and cost £40,000. It had a 68,000 capacity and inside the track there was a 100m x 15.24m pool for the swimming events.

Rowing was held at Henley, tennis at the All-England Club, yachting at Ryde on the Isle of Wight and the new sport of motor boating was on Southampton water. The main competitions took place in July but the entire programme lasted from April to October.

In total there were 21 sports, including figure skating. The most famous event was the marathon. Originally, the distance was to be 25miles. However, when the start was moved to Windsor Castle it became an exact 26miles. Princess Mary then requested that the start be moved again, to begin beneath the windows of the royal nursery. This would enable the children to see the race. The distance then became 26miles and 385yards. This distance is still used today.

Great Britain won the most medals with 56 golds, 50 silvers and 39 bronzes.


After six years of war and two uncelebrated Olympic Games in 1940 and 1944 the world was looking forward to a peaceful gathering of the Olympic countries.

A postal vote in 1946 gave the 1948 Games to London. Britain still had food, petrol and building rationing. Therefore, the Games became known as the “Austerity Games”. The British Olympic Association was the Organising Committee under the leadership of Lord Burghley, President of the BOA. They built nothing. A cinder track was laid inside Wembley Stadium and other venues were adapted. Despite all of this the Games were considered a great success.

The defeated nations of the war - Germany and Japan - were not invited. But there were over 4000 competitors, representing 59 countries, in the Parade of Nations at the Opening Ceremony. Many brought their own food. Accommodation for the athletes was not in an Olympic Village but at local RAF camps, schools, universities and hotels.


On 6 July 2005, London was awarded the right to host the XXX Olympic Games and XIV Paralympic Games at the 117th IOC Session in Singapore. Following four rounds of voting by IOC members, London eventually triumphed by taking 54 votes from a possible 104.

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) is responsible for the preparation and staging of the 2012 Games. Led by Lord Sebastian Coe (Chair) and Paul Deighton (Chief Executive), it has a clear and simple vision: "To stage inspirational Olympic Games and Paralympic Games that capture the imagination of young people around the world and leave a lasting legacy."

Visit their website for further information:


The Olympic Flame burning at the Pierre de Coubertin Grove, Olympia
Pierre de Coubertin - founder of the modern Olympic Games
1908 Official Games Poster
1948 Official Games Poster
Olympic Medical Intitute Training Centre British Olympians Gallery Chill Zone London 2012