vision for the Olympic Games is hailed as one of modern sports greatest
Baron Pierre de Coubertain was almost certainly inspired to create
the global games festival after a bureaucratic fact-finding mission
that led him to a small town in Shropshire.
was while enjoying the efforts of the people of Much Wenlock as
they battled for honours in pursuits such as quoit-throwing and
cricket, that Coubertain realised the potential for the modern Olympics.
the man behind these humble beginnings was a burly, bearded doctor
called William Penny Brookes.
Wenlock Games were open to "every grade of man"
the man most usually associated with the modern Olympic revival,
had not conceived of the competition that he helped organise in
Athens in 1896 until he went to Britain to try to find out more
about sports in English public schools.
learnt of Coubertain's visit and invited the Frenchman, then 27-years-old,
to come to the Much Wenlock Olympian Society's games held every
year in his town, situated about 20 miles west of Wolverhampton.
was impressed with what he saw and sat up with Brookes long into
the night discussing how the Wenlock games might be translated on
to a bigger stage.
influential and wealthy Frenchman was inspired to channel his energies
in the direction of what had long been Brookes' dream - a modern,
international games, the first of which took place in Athens in
Brookes did not live to see the Olympic revival - he died months
before aged 86 - much of what happened at the first Modern Olympiad
was based on his own ideas.
1896 Olympics were open to all sportsmen from across the world.
were no restrictions based on social class, much like the Wenlock
Games, which were designed by Brookes for "every grade of man".
Women were not at this stage welcome to compete in either games.
concept of moving the Olympics from city to city was also based
on another of Brookes' ideas.
well as his town contest, the doctor had helped establish the National
Olympian Association (NOA), which featured yearly sporting festivals
held across England.
of these was at London's Crystal Palace, where another bearded giant
of Victorian sport, WG Grace, took part.
year the NOA games were held in a different town or city, and the
place which hosted them financed the meeting, as is the case with
the Olympics today.
Cromarty, a historian, filmmaker and public relations secretary
of the still-surviving Wenlock Olympian Society, said: "Coubertain
took that model.
realised he could have the first games in Athens and then he would
move it from city to city.
was something which had never been done before and was unknown,
apart from Brookes."
Wenlock Games are still contested
the modern games' opening ceremony drew its inspiration from Much
Cromarty said: "The Much Wenlock procession was very spectacular.
came through the town round the games field, very similar to the
opening ceremony in the Olympics today.
Coubertain came to Much Wenlock in 1890 he saw that and loved the
Antonio Samaranch, then president of the International Olympic Committee
(IOC), visited Much Wenlock in 1994 and laid a wreath at Brookes'
acknowledged the GP's contribution: "I came to pay homage
and tribute to Dr Brookes, who really was the founder of the modern