Pierre de Coubertin was by no means the first person to revive the ancient Olympic Games. The idea was born much earlier in the Renaissance period, with its great interest in the classical world. Hence the first Cotswold’Olimpick Games’ were held yearly in England from the early 17th century, aside from the Cromwellian period, and there were lots of similar events in other countries well before the first of the modern Olympics in Athens in 1896.
An Olympic Association formed in southern Sweden organized its Games at a racecourse at Ramlösa (Helsingborg) in 1834, with four series of events that included jumping over a horse and climbing a mast, in addition to running various distances. They were all held on the exact fine summer’s day in July.
The first event was a kind of gymnastics competition, in which there were seven competitors. It was won by a student from the old university of Lund. He was awarded not a laurel wreath, but a golden ring. This was followed by a race in which an apprentice blacksmith finished before nineteen other runners, he was likewise rewarded, while the winner of the wrestling tournament, where seven men took part, was given a silver jug.
Competitors in the final event had to climb a slippery pole some 10m (33 ft) high, with a silver cup moving into the first person to bring it down from its perch at the top. As this favoured the first ones to try, lots were drawn to decide the sequence. However, the hearts of the audience went out to not the winner, but to a young boy who later shinned up the sterile pole in wonderful style, and they made a collection for him.
He originally meant to hold the Games every year, but waited until 1836 before trying again. The events were the same, with the inclusion of a writing contest in which those who entered had to compare the early Olympics with medieval tournaments as well as the usefulness of reviving combat sports.
Scharteau afterwards turned to Stockholm, where comparable Olympic events were scheduled for 1843 from the large open area known as Gärdet. Unfortunately, they proved to be a dismal failure, not due to a lack of public support, but the reverse. They were too popular! Far more people came than the officials anticipated or could deal with. Tickets were sold, but there were tens of thousands of gatecrashers and all ended in chaos. Moreover, the winner of this slippery mast-climbing event had only just received his prize when it had been snatched from him by one of the spectators, whereupon a new event was added to the program, a wonderful chase after the culprit, who turned out to be a 14-year-old boy.
Scharteau did not attempt to hold his Olympics again and sixty-nine years were to pass before Stockholm was the host city for Olympic Games once more. This time, however, they had been on a much grander scale and enjoyed much greater success.