Jim Thorpe during the 1912 Olympic Decathlon competition (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm celebrates centenary of 1912 Olympics, stadium and the foundation of IAAF

Tomorrow night (17), the Swedish capital will host the 46th edition of the world famous DN Galan meeting, the 10th of this summer’s series of 14 Samsung Diamond League meetings. And if ever there was an historic moment to experience athletics in Stockholm this is surely it.

The DN Galan is one of the oldest meetings on the international invitational circuit, and a glance at the list of stadium record holders is like reading a who’s who of track and field athletics. Michael Johnson, Wilson Kipketer, Ivan Pedroso, Maria Mutola, Gail Devers, Trine Hattestad are just a half a dozen of the greats from this meeting’s illustrious history.

Yet the 46th edition tomorrow is somewhat dwarfed by the three 100th sporting birthdays which are also being celebrated this year: the anniversary of the 1912 Olympic Games (athletics events 6 – 15 July 1912), the inauguration of the stadium (1 June 1912), and the foundation of the IAAF, Athletics’ world governing body which was born at a meeting of the representatives of 17 nations who gathered together in Stockholm on 17 July 1912, just two days after the completion of the Olympic athletics events.

The beauty of the venue of the DN Galan is the fact that to all appearances the stadium remains largely unchanged since those games of 1912, a factor which is both a blessing and a curse for the organisers. The latter because they annually have to meet the demands of a 21st century sports event using the facilities built for the beginning of the 20th century.

But any athlete, official or for that matter media colleague who feels any frustration with the working conditions here should take the opportunity to visit the passage way which runs underneath the home straight tribune and connects the track to the stadium’s former changing rooms. Inset into the centre of the brick and stone floor which runs the length of the corridor are pine wood boards that allow athletes to walk or warm-up wearing their spikes, a passageway virtually unaltered since 1912. Here you can follow in the very footsteps trod by the likes of Jim Thorpe and Hannes Kolehmainen, embracing the echoes of a simpler age of athletics heroes. Stockholm’s stadium is Athletics’ history. The 83 World records and bests which have been set on its track and infield are themselves a World record for any stadium.

Of course 1912 was during an era of heroes and not heroines coming before female participation in the Athletics events began in 1928, and in most other respects too it is hard to compare those 1912 Games of 30 athletics events contested by just 534 males athletes from 26 nations, with the 47 events, 2231 athletes (male 1160 and female 1071) from the 200 countries who were on the official entry lists for the Games of the XXX Olympiad, London 2012. Even the circumference of the track was different, as it was in most of the early Games, with Stockholm’s track in 1912 measuring 383 metres.

Yet helping to reconnect us to times gone by, tomorrow night with a duly respectful nod to 1912, the officials will be wearing special uniforms whose design has been inspired by the Stockholm Olympics.

Who cares about a little working inconvenience when you can watch two-time Olympic Shot Put champions Tomasz Majewski and Valerie Adams compete in the same arena that graced Ralph Rose the two-time gold medallist (1904/1908), who missed out on a third title in 1912 by just 9 centimetres. Likewise while newly crowned Olympic champion Keshorn Walcott is back in Trinidad being nationally honoured for his unexpected London triumph, who in the Javelin Throw line-up tomorrow, couldn’t find inspiration from the stadium which witnessed Eric Lemming’s second Olympic title (normal competition).

The Stockholm stadium with its two giant towers stands more like a castle in the city, a proud, robust and picturesque redoubt to the modern world and that very fact that it has remained largely unchanged by time is the core of its enduring appeal.

Chris Turner for the IAAF