TOKYO 2020 PRAISES SHROPSHIRE’S HIDDEN OLYMPIC HISTORY
The world has been saddened by the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. In Shropshire the 134th Wenlock Olympian Games will also not be taking place in July. On a brighter note, one Wenlock Olympian event did go ahead when hundreds of students played, sang and danced in the Live Arts festival in March. Those talented youngsters who won Live Arts gold, silver and bronze medals may be the only people to get such awards this year!
Interest in the work of William Penny Brookes is worldwide. In April a lecture, planned to be given in Athens about the links Brookes had with the revival of Olympic Games in its spiritual home Greece, has had to be cancelled. A newspaper in Shanghai, with 40 million readers, recently asked for an article on the history of the Wenlock Olympian Society in place of news on the Tokyo Games. As part of their preparations to host the Tokyo 2020 Games, members of the Japanese organising committee visited Much Wenlock in 2014 to watch the Olympian Games. After the visit Professor Sanada said:
“The Olympic movement began with the ancient Olympic Games and was revived by Coubertin after his visit to the Wenlock Olympian Games. The vision of Tokyo 2020 involves sport, education and culture, and we in Japan recognise the importance of the legacy of Dr Brookes and the Wenlock Olympian Society.”
While William Penny Brookes is recognised as an important and inspirational historical figure around the world it is only nearer home in Shropshire and around the region that he remains “hidden history.” Last year Tokyo sent a researcher to Much Wenlock to research and report back on the legacy of Brookes then and now, how it inspired the modern Olympic movement and how it influenced the Tokyo Games. The researcher, Megan Jefferies of the International Academy for Sports Studies, University of Tsukuba, Tokyo has completed the report entitled, ‘The Origins, Foundations and Impact of the Wenlock Olympian Games.’
A few of Megan’s findings are:
“The story of Brookes and the Wenlock Olympian Games are a ‘hidden history’ and one that cannot be denied as a contributing factor and major influence on the modern Olympic Games today.”
“The fact that both the Wenlock Olympian Games are now well into their second century of existence and are stronger than ever is a glowing testament to their beliefs and work” (Jacques Rogge, IOC President 2013).
“Pierre De Coubertin: … it is apparent through the extensive historical documents kept in the WOS archive that Coubertin was in fact influenced by the work of Brookes and his success in running the annual Wenlock Olympian Games.”
“Dr William Penny Brookes was a remarkable individual who put the needs of the town first and tried to improve the well-being of those who lived there in every way possible. In addition to this he made efforts to revive the Olympic Games by creating first the Shropshire Olympian Games, followed by the National Olympian Games and the National Olympian Association despite facing various opposition along the way.”
“Once again showing the determination and courage of Brookes in pursuing his ambition of reviving the Olympic Games. Overall, the story of Dr William Penny Brookes and his creation of the Wenlock Olympian Games is one that does not receive enough credit or exposure, which may be due to the death of Brookes being the year before the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. In all the work of Brookes and the Wenlock Olympian Games has not only shown to be a contributing factor to the Olympic Movement and modern Olympic revival but also shown that the power of sport can have on the community in the town of Much Wenlock.”
Megan also writes “I would like to thank the Wenlock Olympian Society not only for their hospitality but also their willingness to help throughout the whole data collection process. They are a credit to the work and legacy that Dr William Penny Brookes created.”
Copies of Megan’s report are available form firstname.lastname@example.org
NEW – The Online Archive
In an exciting development the Society has recently published its digital archive online. This website provides people with access to all digital images within the Society’s archive. Chris Cannon, the Society’s archivist, has frequent and regular requests for such images which will now be available to people around the world within a few clicks. The archive can be accessed via this link:
Our thanks go to the staff of AMMBA Ltd – and particularly to Matthew Jeffs and Robbie Beake who provided the technology and effort to produce this service.
Preserving the ideals of Dr William Penny Brookes – the inspiration for the modern Olympic Movement.
Chris Cannon – the Wenlock Olympian Society archivist has written an article for the journal of the International Society of Olympic Historians. The article describes the background to the return of the four silver ‘Tilting at the Ring’ cups first awarded some 140 years ago to Charles Ainsworth. These cups made there way to Zimbabwe before being returned to Much Wenlock last year. The article can be found here: ISOH article.
The first Wenlock Olympian Games took place in 1850 and the next ones are scheduled for July 2017. Click below for details of the next event.
The Live Arts Festival has taken place each year since 1979. Competitions were held in the performing arts as part of the original Olympic Games.
Wenlock Olympian Society
Founded in 1860 by William Penny Brookes “to provide annual competitions in sports and the arts for people of every grade”, a significant part of the modern International Olympic Games’ history…