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Antwerp 1920 - Overview

Doves of peace

After an interruption of eight years due to the First World War, the Olympic Games returned to action in Antwerp. The Beglian city, which had been severly bombed during the war, was chosen to host the Games shortly after the end of the conflict. The Games did not welcome Germany nor its allies, and were organised with one underlying necessity for the 29 nations involved: austerity.

In some senses this Olympiad was historic: the five-ringed Olympic flag and oath - pronounced by Belgian fencer Victor Boin - made their first appearance (even though the oath had been read during the intercalated games in 1906). Another innovation was the public's involvement in the releasing of hundreds of doves during the opening ceremony, symbolising the return of peace to the continent of Europe.

A Finnish surprise

The United States came top with 40 gold medals, with a total of 94, although the athletics events were ill-attended, notably due to the elevated price of tickets for the competitions.

One surprise victor was Finland, mostly thanks to a young long distance specialist - a 23-year-old who won three gold medals and one silver, a certain Paavo Nurmi. The other big Finnish name at these Games was Hannes Kolehmainen, who, having won the 5000 and 10,000 metres in 1912, went on to win the marathon event.

As in Stockholm, the Hawaiian swimmer Duke Kahanamoku was the fastest in the 100m freestyle, while the Italian fencer Nedo Nadi left Antwerp with five titles. His brother Aldo had to make do with 'only' three team titles and an individual silver medal in the sabre event.

American boxer Edward Eagan, who won an Olympic title in the light-heavyweight category, became the only athlete to win both summer and winter Olympic titles after his bobsleigh gold medal with three other team members during the Games in Lake Placid (1932).

Overall, the first post-war Games of the modern era allowed the peoples of Europe to find hope and strength in a sporting and spirited atmosphere.

Copyright 2008 Agence France-Presse.

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