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The Great Bevil Rudd

The seventh Modern Olympic Games, Antwerp, 1920

The honour to host the sixth modern Olympic Games was in 1916 awarded to Berlin, the capital of Germany. But at that time, unfortunately, the nations of Europe were at war with each other.

It all started when the crown prince of Austria, Duke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo in Serbia on 28 July 1914. This was the spark that ignited what was to become known as “The Great War”.

Within a month Austria declared war on Serbia. Russia joined the war on the side of Serbia. Germany joined the war on the side of Austria. Within days Europe was on fire.

This war devastating lasted until 11 November 1918.

The International Olympic Committee at first tried to save the 1916 Games. A tradition at the Ancient Olympic Games at Olympia was that all wars should cease during the time of the Olympics, and that once the Games were over, the warring parties would resume their battles.

One of Pierre de Coubertin’s ideals was that the Modern Olympic Games should contribute to peace in the world. During the war in Europe the International Olympic Committee tried to intervene. They approached the different nations to find out whether they would agree to a cease fire during the Berlin Olympics.

As the nations at that stage did not trust each other, none was prepared to be part of such an agreement.

When the Europe fought itself to a standstill in 1918 the International Olympic Committee immediately looked for a candidate to host the next Olympic Games in 1920. The Belgium city of Antwerp was already invited in 1914 to host the seventh Modern Olympic Games.

When the Belgium Olympic Committee indicated that they were prepared to host the Games, the IOC did not hesitate to accept the offer.

At the Games 2 692 sportsmen and women form 29 nations participated. Of these 64 were women.

South Africa was represented by the country’s largest team ever. In the team of 48 a woman was for the first time included. She was the swimmer Blanche Nash. Unfortunately she was eliminated early in all her events.

The outstanding member in the South African team was Bevil Rudd. Bevil was a student and Rhodes Scholar at Oxford when the war broke out. He immediately joined the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. In 1916 he was redeployed to the tank corps.

The tank at this stage began to replace the horse in war. Rudd was commissioned and in 1918 he was decorated with the Military Cross (M.C. ) for outstanding leadership and bravery in the field of battle.

When the war was over he went back to Oxford. His feats as an athlete were phenomenal and by 1920 he was approach by the Olympic Committees of Great Britain and South Africa to represent them at the Games in Antwerp.

Fig.7. Click on image to enlarge

He took up the offer from South Africa. (fig 7) At the Games he first won the 400 meters. He then went on to win a bronze medal in the 800 meters and a silver medal in the 4 x 400 meters relay. Thus he became the first, and up to now, the only South African athlete to win a full set of medals at a single Olympic Games.

The tennis player, Louis Raymond, and the bantamweight boxer, Clarence Walker also won Gold Medals for South Africa.

The unluckiest South African Olympian was the cyclist Henry Kaltenburn. He entered the road race in Antwerp. As was the case in Stockholm eight years earlier, when the South African Okey Lewis won, this race was again an individual time trial. This time it was decided over 175 kilometres.

When the entire field was clocked, Kaltenburn’s time was almost 1 minute 28 seconds faster than the second placed cyclist. While celebrating his Gold Medal an official informed the South Africans that an objection was received from the Swede Harry Stenqvist.

The route for the race crossed a railway line six times. Stenqvist now claimed that at one of the crossings he had to wait four minutes for a train to pass. After the incident was investigated, the officials deducted four minutes of the Swede’s time.

With this time deducted he was now faster than that of Kalternburn. The South African had to settle for the silver medal.

The President of the South African Olympic Committee, Mr Henry Nourse, was at the meeting of the International Committee in Antwerp invited to join their ranks. He remained a member until his death in 1942.

The eighth Modern Olympic Games, Paris, 1924

Today events at the 1924 Olympic Games are best remembered as it was depicted in the film “Chariots of Fire. ”  The film was produced in 1981.

At the Games 3 092 athletes from 44 nations participated. This was the best attended Games up to this time.

South Africa was represented by 30 athletes. After the disappointing performance by Blanche Nash at the previous the selectors this time decided not to include any woman in the team.

The outstanding sportsman at the Games was the phenomenal Finnish long distance runner, Paavo Nurmi. Having won three Gold Medals at the 1920 Games he added a further five Gold Medals to his collection during the 1924 Games.

For South Africa the Games was somewhat of a disappointment. Willie Smith, the bantamweight boxer, won South Africa’s only Gold Medal.

This Games was also the last Games where rugby and tennis were part of the sports festival. Tennis made a re-entry into the Games in 1988, but rugby (the 15-man code) has been out in the cold ever since.