400 years of the Olimpicks

By the time you read this page, the 2012 Olimpick Games will probably be over. The official opening was scheduled for 7.30pm on Friday 1 June and the event was due to end with a torchlit procession at 10.10pm that night. Between those times, contestants were set to engage in a range of traditional athletic pursuits such as tug-of-war and shin-kicking.

I am, of course, referring not to the much-hyped London 2012 Olympic Games, which have yet to take place, but to the Cotswold Olimpick Games, which were founded 400 years ago this year to honour the ancient games in Greece.

The annual event, held in the hills above Chipping Campden, was established in 1612 by Robert Dover (c1580–1652), a Cambridge-educated barrister, author and wit. He presided over the games for its first 40 years and tried to ensure that competitors engaged in good-humoured rivalry with a sense of honest sportsmanship — something that is not particularly evident in much of the modern Olympic Games.

Robert Dover’s Olimpick Games were interrupted by the English Civil War in 1642 but started up again after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. They continued yearly until 1852 but then lay dormant for more than a century until revived in 1965.

It is generally accepted that the modern Olympic Movement was kickstarted by the Wenlock Olympian Society Annual Games, which began in 1850 in Much Wenlock, Shropshire. Baron Pierre de Coubertin visited the Olympian Society in 1890 and was inspired to establish the International Olympic Committee, which went on to organise the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.

Nevertheless, the Cotswold version can justifiably lay claim to being the first event to resurrect the spirit of the ancient Olympics.


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