The Amsterdam 1928 Olympics was the first Games in which an Olympic flame burned brightly over the Host City for the duration of the competition. In all, 46 nations competed at the Games, with the United States winning 22 gold medals, more than double the total of any other nation.
Two of the greatest names in Olympic history were in action in Amsterdam. The Flying Finn Paavo Nurmi, competing in his final Olympics, won one gold and two silver medals on the track. This increased his career total of gold medals to nine, which remains an Olympic record (although he now shares the honour with Russian gymnast Larissa Latynina, US swimmer Mark Spitz and US athlete Carl Lewis.) In the pool, American Johnny Weissmuller won gold in the 100m freestyle and 4x100m freestyle relay. He would later find fame playing Tarzan in a series of Hollywood movies.
Amsterdam is remembered as the first Olympics in which women competed in athletics events. The first women’s athletics gold medallist was 16-year-old American Elizabeth Robinson, winner of the 100m. She remains one of the youngest athletics champions in Olympic history. However, it could be argued track participation did almost as much to hinder as help the growing support for women’s sports. Male officials were so distraught at the exhausted state of the women runners after the 800m final that no race of that distance or further was held for women at the Games until 1964.
Australia at these Games
Australia sent a team of 19 athletes to Amsterdam, returning with four medals: one gold, two silver and one bronze.
The three champions responsible for the medals are each regarded among the greatest Australians ever to compete in their respective sports. As well, each of the three men won gold medals at another Olympics beside Amsterdam. They are also all better known by their nicknames than their Christian names – a strange quirk of fame and fate which links them still.
The only gold medallist was rower Henry “Bobby” Pearce in the single scull, who would repeat his success at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1932. Pearce, who grew up rowing in Sydney Harbour near his family home, dominated international sculling for more than a decade. Such was his standing among his peers that he was chosen to carry the Australian flag at the Opening Ceremony. He was famed not only for his athleticism but also his sportsmanship and manners – in Amsterdam, he famously stopped rowing during his quarter-final to allow a family of ducks to safely cross in front of him. He made up the lost ground and won the race.
Andrew ‘Boy’ Charlton, Australia’s golden boy of the pool at the 1924 Olympics, returned to the Games and won two silver medals, in the 400m freestyle and 1500m freestyle. The bronze medal was won by cyclist Edgar ‘Dunc’ Gray in the 1000m time trial, an event he would be crowned the Olympic champion in at Los Angeles in four years time.
Another milestone was reached for women’s participation in Amsterdam when Edith Robinson became the first Australian women to compete in athletics at an Olympics. She competed in both the 100m and 800m events, but did not advance to the final in either.
In total, Australia competed in five sports in Amsterdam: aquatics (swimming and diving), athletics, cycling, rowing and wrestling.