August 3, 2012

Poetry Friday--Olympics Poetry

Last week I wrote about Poetry and the Olympics and ended by sort of issuing a challenge to write a poem inspired by the Olympics. Silly me. I thought it would be simple, but I am so easily distracted by the wonders of the internet that I got caught up in the 1908 Olympics held in London, and spent altogether too much time chasing links.

Here's a bit of what I learned: 2,008 athletes participated in those games, and of that number, 37 were women. Yes, women participated! If you click on the montage above you'll be able to make out seven women--they're the ones in the knee-length, or longer, skirts! I can clearly see one woman archer (Sybil Newall). The six women who seem to be performing artistic gymnastics, must in fact, be figure skaters practicing off the ice. There were only three events open to women in 1908--archery, skating, and tennis. None of the six gymnastic women, though, appear to be doing anything that resembles tennis.

I did a little digging in old newspapers online and found several articles from 1908. This one is from The Logansport Pharos Tribune (Indiana) and is dated June 27.

The women archers participated in the Women's Double National Round, which is described in the above article (click on the image and it will open in another window and be easier to read). The British won all the medals since the only women competing were British! In fact, of the 37 women athletes at the games, 25 were British archers. [Although if you add up the total number of women listed for the events by Wikipedia, it seems to add up to at least 42. Given more time, I would have tried to verify the numbers. In any case, the number of women who participated fell far short of the predications of the newspaper article.]

The gold medalist archer was Sybil "Queenie" Newall who was nearly 54 years of age. She was, and remains to this day, the oldest woman to win an Olympic gold medal!

© Diane Mayr, all rights reserved.

The oldest man to win an Olympic gold medal was Oscar Swahn of Sweden who was 64 when he took the gold in shooting in 1912. Swahn was also a participant in the 1908 Olympics, and, at the 1920 games, he won a silver medal. Fast forward to 2012, and we find 71 year old, Hiroshi Hoketsu, competing in the equestrian event of dressage! In yesterday's event he wasn't a medal winner, but what the heck--he didn't come in last!

I found it odd that figure skaters competed in the 1908 summer games, but the Olympics stretched from April through October that year. So much to learn, so little time...

I didn't spend as much time working on an Olympics poem as I needed to. I didn't research Queenie, so for all I know, she may have been a stay-at-home mom when she wasn't competing. I tend to doubt it, though! I imagine that any woman, even if she was a member of the royalty, still had to work long and hard to excel.

If you're looking for GOOD Olympics poetry, check out the poetry games at NPR, and make sure you vote for your favorite.

Stop by On the Way to Somewhere for the Round-Up this week.

Photo montage courtesy The National Archives (Great Britain). Photo of Queenie Newall courtesy Wikipedia.


  1. Incroyable! What a fascinating post (and photos).

    Your poem gave me a good laugh. Thanks!


  2. Humor is a good thing, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

  3. Thanks for taking us along on your 1908 Olympics journey! Fun to see the mind of a researcher follow a fact trail!

    And as for Queenie -- You go, girl! (or the case may be...)

  4. I like the way you put it, Mary Lee, "the mind of a researcher follow a fact trail." But, actually, it's more like ADD old-lady gets sucked into the internet and can't (or won't) get out!

  5. Neat. I know very little about women's history when it comes to sports. The poem is true and funny!

  6. So much good information here, Diane. And I love your "Olynpic Archer" poem. Queenie looks determined enough to end all discussion!

  7. This is so interesting - I love the photo you found, and your poem definitely does Queenie justice! At our County Cub camp (500+ cub scouts...)this year the theme was the Olympics and each base had a different Olympic Games/Country for its activities. The one for Sweden mentioned Oscar Swahn (amazing, and great that his record still stands!) - but the one that really stood out for me (though I just had to look up her name) was Magda Julin who won the figure-skating gold medal in 1920, when she was pregnant...

  8. Oh, Marjorie, if you don't write Magda Julin's poem, let me know!