The Olympic Gold Medal that Surprised Even the Organizers | The Olympics On The Record

The Olympic Gold Medal that Surprised Even the Organizers | The Olympics On The Record


A sports fan travelling back in
time to 1952 would feel right at home. Many of the teams
that dominate sports today were already well established. You wouldn’t be surprised
to learn, for example, that the Canadian
ice hockey team won gold at the Oslo 1952
Olympic Winter Games, or that the United States
basketball team dominated in Helsinki
that summer. But individual sports
like athletics have a way of
defying our expectations. Who could have predicted that an event like the Olympic
1,500m final would be won by an athlete
from, say, Luxembourg? Luxembourg had never won
an Olympic gold medal. With a population then
of only 250,000 people, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is squeezed into
the heart of Europe, a country so small you could
walk across it in a day. The country had won only one
Olympic medal in its entire history. But in the 1950s, Luxembourg
did have a contender in middle
distance running, an athlete by the name
of Josy Barthel. Typical of his era, most of
Barthel’s competitive running had been done in the army. And while being the fastest
runner in the Luxembourg Armed Forces
is impressive, it does not necessarily buy you
an easy ticket to the world of
international athletics. Barthel had reached the final
of the 1500m at London 1948 without ever threatening to
win a medal. He finished ninth. So Barthel already had at least
one thing going in his favour – low expectations. Four years on, now aged 25, Barthel lined up in the final
in Helsinki. Werner Lueg of West Germany
was the pre-race favourite. He warmed up for the Olympic
Games by matching the
1500m world record. And Bob McMillen of the United
States was the dark horse, having switched from
the steeplechase to the mile. Among all these talents was
Josy Barthel of Luxembourg. All eyes were on the favourite,
Lueg, at the start, and as early
as the first lap, he was really showing
his strength. Lueg of West Germany leads,
Rolf Lamers second, Barthel of Luxembourg
moves into third. One lap to go! Lueg is still ahead on
the bend, but he’s tiring. Barthel has taken over in front
from the favourite. Bob McMillen of the United
States is closing too, but can Barthel hold him off? It’s going to be close
as they head to the line. This is going to be
a remarkably close finish. Barthel wins gold! Barthel of little Luxembourg
has won the 1,500m! And that’s a new Olympic
record, too. It became clear that something
exceptional had just happened. Barthel had won Luxembourg’s
first-ever gold medal with a new Olympic record. And you know what that means. For the first time
in Olympic history, the whole world got to hear… the wrong national anthem. Games organisers
couldn’t find Heemecht, the Luxembourg national anthem. They even struggled to find
the right flag. The anthem had never been
played at the Olympic Games. So in honour of that great
moment, here is Heemecht. Enjoy.

14 Comments

  1. Sur l'une des photos, on a le jardin du Luxembourg qui se trouve à Paris, donc en France. Sinon superbe exploit pour ce sportif.

  2. 0:20 Actually I am very surprised that Canada won gold back then. Usually the USSR dominated ice hockey until the pros were allowed to compete.

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