Topics of coins

The 28th Olympic Games: Athens 2004

Ancient Greece, the cradle of European culture, which bore excellent philosophers, poets, sculptors and mathematicians, also originated the first sport events. In 776 BC Koroibos was recorded as the name of the winner of one stade foot race at the games in Olympia.

Numerous events were organised in ancient Greece to worship gods, celebrate religious holidays or funerals. Among well-known athletic contests were the Panathenaean Games, the Eleusinian Games, the Isthmian Games, and the Nemean Games; however, those were the Olympic Games that became the most famous. In Olympia, under Zeus's attention, the ideals of virtue, beauty, wisdom, fight (kalokagatia) and the divine peace (ekecheiria) during the games came into their fullest and most powerful realization.

According to professor Witold Dobrowolski, archaeologist and art historian of the University of Warsaw, „while all others considered sport solely as a form of entertainment, Greeks treated it seriously enough to raise it to the rank of a philosophy of life, and all kinds of sports events became the foundation of education as such".

Having lost its independence and having been incorporated into the Roman Empire, Greece experienced a gradual decay of its state and a downfall of sports. In the year AD 393 the emperor Theodosius I the Great issued a ban on the Olympic Games. „The Olympic ceremonies, held every four years, were quenched" — wrote a Byzantine annalist, Georgios Kendrenos, in the eleventh century. By that time 292 Games had passed, the 293rd were supposed to be held.

It was not until many centuries later when the idea of the Olympic Games was revived. The founder of modern games, French visionary and romantic Pierre de Coubertin, who studied history and pedagogy at the University of Paris, was an ardent admirer of Greece and physical culture. He acted under the influence of three factors: fascination by ancient Greece continued from his adolescence and fuelled by the excavation of the ruins of Olympia, pedagogic observations made in Anglo-Saxon countries, and speculations of great French and British thinkers.

In June 1894 at a convention of sports organisation representatives from several countries held at the Sorbonne University in Paris, which turned into the first Olympic Congress, the International Olympic Committee was established.

The first modern Olympic Games were held on 6 - 15 April 1896 in Athens. 245 sportsmen from 14 countries took part in the event (Coubertin himself was against the participation of women). The programme of the Games included 10 sport disciplines. The first Olympic champion was an American James Connolly, who won the triple jump contest. Louis Spiridon, the winner of the marathon, became a Greek hero. Interestingly enough, the winners were awarded with a silver medal and a crown made of olive tree leaves. Poles under their own flag appeared for the first time during the summer Olympic Games in Paris in 1924. Before that, in 1919, the Polish Olympic Committee was established. A team made of 77 athletes took part in the Paris games. Poles won two medals: a silver - track cyclists in 4 kilometres team race, and a bronze - an equestrian, captain of cavalry Adam Królikiewicz, on the horse Picador.

The first gold medal for Poland was won by Halina Konopacka in 1928 at the Olympic Games in Amsterdam, throwing a discus at a distance of 39.62 m and establishing a world record. The second gold medal was also won in Amsterdam by Kazimierz Wierzyński, for a collection of poems entitled „Olympic Laurel" in the Olympic Art Contest. Altogether Polish artists won 8 medals in such contests, including 3 golds.

At the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, 1932 Janusz Kusociński won a heroic victory in men's 10 km, defeating excellent Finns and a horrible pain of his bleeding, sore foot. Another gold medal was won by Stanisława Walasiewicz in women's 100 m.

The Nazi Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936 did not bring us a success in the form of a champion's title. However, the brown medallist in javelin throw, Maria Kwaśniewska, was elected the beauty queen of the games.

After a 12-year break resulting from the Second World War, a small Polish team participated in London games in 1948. Boxer Aleksy Antkiewicz won a bronze medal. In 1952 in Helsinki, resident of Gdansk, soldier of the general Anders's army Zygmunt Chychła opened a glorious chapter of Polish boxing. He won the first gold medal in that discipline, being the first gold for Poland after the Second World War.

In Melbourne in 1956 a new generation of Polish sportsmen and sportswomen made a meaningful appearance. Elżbieta Duńska-Krzesińska equalled her own world record in long jump and climbed the top podium. In the final run of the javelin throw contest Janusz Sidło lent his javelin to his Norwegian colleague Danielsen, who sent it to the farthest distance. Thus the Pole won the silver. It was the only medal he won, taking part in five Olympic Games. Two silver medals in sabre fencing were the announcement of future world successes of Poland's fencers.

In Rome in 1960 Poles won 21 medals, including 4 golds: Zdzisław Krzyszkowiak in 3 km steeplechase, Józef Szmidt in triple jump, Kazimierz Paździor in boxing and Ireneusz Paliński in weightlifting. The Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964 witnessed the outstanding run in women's 4 x 100 metres relay of Teresa Ciepły, Irena Kirszenstein, Halina Górecka and Ewa Kłobukowska — winning over the American team and breaking the world record. Three gold medals were won by Polish boxers Józef Grudzień, Jerzy Kulej and Marian Kasprzyk. Józef Szmidt, having recovered from a serious injury, won his second gold medal.

Mexico City, 1968. Indescribable Games at an altitude over 2000 metres above the sea level. Irena Kirszenstein-Szewińska established a world record in women's 200 m, and won her second Olympic gold medal, similarly to Waldemar Baszanowski in weightlifting and Jerzy Kulej in boxing.

Munich, 1972. Foilist Witold Woyda became the first Polish Olympic sportsman to win two golds in one Olympiad. Polish football team beat Hungary in the finals, scoring 2 : 1, and won the Olympic gold. Józef Zapędzki, once again, was the best in pistol. Władysław Komar, a two metre-tall shot putter wept of happiness standing at the top podium. These Games also had a tragic dimension — a Palestinian terrorist attack and the death of Israeli sportsmen.

Montreal, 1976. Irennissima! Irena Szewińska in an outstanding performance in 400 metres won her third gold, establishing a new world record. Altogether, she has won seven Olympic medals. 19-year-old Jacek Wszoła enchanted with his youthful joy and effectiveness, beating the favourites in high jump. „We are going for the gold!" - announced Hubert Wagner, coach of the volleyball team before their departure for the Olympics. He and his players kept their word. Janusz Peciak became the champion in pentathlon. In Montreal Poles won 26 medals, including 7 golds. Tadeusz Ślusarski was the best in pole vault.

Moscow, 1980. The political crisis had impact on the Olympic movement. Americans and several other national teams boycotted the Games. For us, the most glorious experience was the triumph of Władysław Kozakiewicz in pole vault, the breathtaking run of Bronisław Malinowski in 3 km steeplechase and the unexpected victory of equestrian Jan Kowalczyk.

Los Angeles, 1984. Polish team refrained from taking part in the Games, as it was the case with several other teams from the so-called eastern block. Once more politics had an upper hand over the Olympic idea.

Seoul, 1988. Waldemar Legień in judo and Andrzej Wroński in wrestling both won gold medals on the very same day.

Barcelona, 1992. The heroes of the team were the pentathletes. Arkadiusz Skrzypaszek won two gold medals — individually and in the team contest. Waldemar Legień climbed the top podium once more. The football team, after a ravishing match with the Spaniards, won the silver medal.

Atlanta, 1996. On the very first day Renata Mauer won the gold medal in the air rifle shooting contest. Fantastic Greco-Roman style wrestlers Włodzimierz Zawadzki, Ryszard Wolny and Andrzej Wroński won three gold medals. 19-year-old Mateusz Kusznierewicz won Finn sailing races. Paweł Nastula continued the tradition of Polish gold medal in judo. Artur Partyka fought a splendid duel in high jump with Charles Austin. Robert Korzeniowski won his first gold medal in race walk.

Sydney, 2000. The hero of the team was Robert Korzeniowski, winning two gold medals. Further two medals were gained by hammer throwers: 18-year-old Kamila Skolimowska and Szymon Ziółkowski. Renata Mauer-Różańska, having failed to win in the air rifle contest, won in another discipline — rifle three positions. The first gold medal in rowing was won by Robert Sycz and Tomasz Kucharski.

In Summer Olympic Games Poles have won 241 medals so far, including 56 golds, 73 silvers and 114 bronzes.

And how will it go in Athens? Athens applied for the organization of Olympic Games as early as in 1996, on the centenary of modern Olympics. However, the members of the IOC selected Atlanta instead. Only in the competition for the organisation of the 2004 Games the capital of Greece beat all other candidate cities: Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Rome and Stockholm. Games of the XXVIII Olympiad will be held on 13 — 29 August 2004, with 10,500 sportsmen and sportswomen from 201 countries. They will compete in 37 disciplines in 38 sports facilities. There will be 301 medal ceremonies. Poland will be represented by about 200 sportsmen and sportswomen, competing in 21 sport disciplines. Poles will take part in only one team game — men's volleyball. There will be 16,000 sportsmen and sportswomen, trainers, coaches and sports officials living in the Olympic Village, with Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee, among them. In preparation for the Olympic Games, the capital city of Greece gained some new sports facilities, primarily a beautiful stadium, as well as a modern airport, motorways and ring roads. The Athens underground has been expanded, and one of the most beautiful Olympic Parks has been built. Millions of bushes and thousands of trees have been planted throughout Athens. The Games will be covered by 21,500 journalists and technicians, including 16,000 radio and TV reporters, 5,500 press reporters and photographers. The safety and security of participants will be assured by a personnel of 45,000 people, including 25,000 policemen, 7,000 soldiers, 3,000 security agents, 1,500 firemen, 3,500 private security employees and 5,000 volunteers.

Magdalena Janicka
Polish Olympic Committee